"Pay attention to the world." -- Susan Sontag

Daylilies, Lilies, and Amaryllis on Black (1 of 5)

From “Attention and Design” in The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction by Matthew B. Crawford:

“When viewing two-dimensional representations, whether photographs, paintings, or screens, we are not able to move around and gain different perspectives on the scene depicted…. [We] normally orient ourselves in our physical environment according to an axis of proximity and distance, and this basic orientation is not available when the world appears through mediating representations.

“According to Alfred Schutz, the spatial categories we employ in everyday life arise from our embodiment. A person is ‘interested above all in that sector of his everyday world which lies within his reach and which arranges itself spatially and temporally around him as its center.’ Relative to this center, one carves up the surrounding world at its egocentric joints: right, left, above, below, in front of, behind, near, far. The world within ‘actual reach’ is basically oriented according to proximity and distance. This reachable world ’embraces not only actually perceived objects but also objects that can be perceived through [attention].’ Thus it includes, for example, things behind you that are close but currently out of sight. The content of this sector is subject to constant change, due to the fact that we move around.

“This idea of orientation around a bodily center helps us to see how the attentional environment that has emerged in contemporary culture is novel and somehow centerless. Recall that the basic concept at the root of attention is selection: we pick something out from the flux of the available. But as our experience comes to be ever more mediated by representations, which remove us from whatever situation we inhabit directly, as embodied beings who do things, it is hard to say what the principle of selection is. I can take a virtual tour of the Forbidden City in Beijing, or of the deepest underwater caverns, nearly as easily as I glance across the room. Every foreign wonder, hidden place, and obscure subculture is immediately available to my idle curiosity; they are lumped together into a uniform distancelessness that revolves around me.

“But where am I? … Is the mouse-click a kind of agency? This gesture, emblematic of contemporary life, might be seen as a fulfillment of the thinned-out notion of human agency we have signed on to when we conceive action as the autonomous movements of an isolated person who is essentially disengaged from the world.”

From “You and It” in Collected Poems of Mark Strand by Mark Strand:

Think what you like, but
It really is the same. Oh,
You can walk around on it
All right and, watching the speed
With which it falls back, fool
Yourself into thinking it changes,

Or, standing with your head
On it, think it above you
With all the grass of summer
Hanging down, mindless
Birds at your feet, your blood
Rushing up to greet your shadow.

But move, and only the angle
It is regarded from changes.
Turn up the stones and they
Reveal what has always been
Uppermost. Put them back?
And you are where you started.


This is the first of five posts (yikes!) where I’ve taken the daylily, lily-lily, and amaryllis photographs that I’ve been posting over the past few weeks, and re-rendered some of them on black backgrounds. I wasn’t originally planning to do that because it can be so time-consuming (imagine spending about an hour on each one of these images, and doing that for 76 of them) — but with this long streak of temperatures seeping above 100 degrees every day, I’ve been keeping the outdoors outdoors and myself indoors more than usual.

For these five posts, instead of searching for quotations or verses about the flower families as I usually do, I decided I would look for quotations about photography that are not from books about photography, and poems about the summer season. The excerpt from the poem “You and It” by Mark Strand above seemed to capture, coincidentally, my experience of photographing flowers — as I often photograph each one from many different angles and positions, and most of them don’t survive the “cutting room” where I try to eliminate all but the ones I’m most technically satisfied with that represent what I saw, when I saw it.

And the poem echoes the rather obtuse selection from Matthew Crawford’s The World Beyond Your Head, in that both describe actual experience in the world, and the way we position our physical bodies to capture variations on that experience. Crawford, of course, is contrasting our worldly experiences with our virtual experiences, raising questions about the latter — something I also did when I quoted him in one of my earlier posts on using AI image generators: Irises on Black / Notes On Experiences (2 of 2) and its companion post Irises on Black / Notes On Experiences (1 of 2).

I think it may mean something that after spending a lot of time with Adobe Firefly for those two posts, I subsequently lost interest in it, feeling mostly the kind of digital angst Crawford implies above. I’ll probably try again once its capabilities are incorporated into a Photoshop update (it’s currently available in a beta version of Photoshop, which I’ve decided not to install) because I’d like to see what happens if I apply some other creative styles to my own photographs. It might be interesting, for example, to render my own images as watercolor paintings, or in a Hudson River School style, or perhaps as antique botanical illustrations. I’ve tried each of these with Firefly, but since I can’t yet do any of that with pictures I’ve taken, the results lack meaning and just seem like a flood of randomly generate images of no personal significance. So, for now, I’ll stick with my black backgrounds — which I can do with the tools at hand, and (hopefully!) result in images that you find compelling.

Thanks for reading and taking a look!

Amaryllis! Amaryllis! (3 of 3)

From “Summer-Flowering Bulbs” in A Garden of One’s Own by Elizabeth Lawrence:

“There are two ways of determining the best plant material for a given location. One is to study the native flora, and the other is to experiment with plants from similar climates. Gardeners on the Pacific Coast have already discovered that their hot suns and periods of drought supply the conditions necessary for maturing certain bulbs from tropical and subtropical countries, and we are beginning to learn that many of them can be grown with equal success in the Southeastern states.

“Some of the Eastern catalogues list a few tender bulbs, but most of them must be ordered from California growers. Among the plants contributed to American gardens by the warm countries are representatives of the three great bulb families: the Amaryllidaceae, the Liliaceae, and the Iridaceae….

“The Amaryllis family is a major source of bulbs for mild climates. Their grace and charm is suggested by the poetic and mythological names of some of the genera: Lycoris and Nerine for sea sprites; Amaryllis for the nymph celebrated by Theocritus and Virgil; Hyacinthus for the unfortunate shepherd, beloved of Apollo; and Zephyranthes, flower of the west wind….

“Amaryllis, the genus which gives its name to the family, has only one species, although many closely related forms are known as amaryllis.”

From “A Memory of Amaryllis” in The Story of Amaryllis and Other Verses (1908) by Viola Taylor:

Have you grown old, or is the soul still young,
Within that body that was once so fair?
And has true silver touched the powdered hair?
While you have proved too well the song once sung
That rang so sadly, like a passing knell —
You will grow old, in the evening, by candlelight.

Have you grown old, and with uncertain touch
Do you now finger what you once forsook —
The dusty pages of a pious book?
You did not, dear, love praying overmuch
When you were young, but liked to smile and tell
You will grow old, in the evening, by candlelight.

No! rather say you passed in your full bloom,
With your sprigged pannier’s first more sober hue,
The mellow lights of autumn warm on you,
As in your rose-heaped, closely curtained room
You sang to some last love a last farewell —
You will grow old, in the evening, by candlelight.


This is the last of three posts featuring photos of Amaryllis flowers that I took at Oakland Cemetery’s gardens this year. The previous posts are Amaryllis! Amaryllis! (1 of 3) and Amaryllis! Amaryllis! (2 of 3). In the final two images below, you can see a full view of one of the plants I photographed from various close-up angles for these three posts.

As this is likely the last of the amaryllis flowers I’ll photograph this year (though I am picking out some daylily, lily, and amaryllis photos for my black-background treatment), I thought Viola Taylor’s poem “A Memory of Amaryllis” fit pretty well. It’s from her 1908 book The Story of Amaryllis and Other Verses, which I puzzled mightily about in a post last year (see Red and Pink Amaryllis (1 of 3)) — when trying to figure out if the amaryllis poems in the book were about amaryllis flowers, about the life of a person known to her as “Amaryllis”, or even about Greek mythology associated with the plant family name “amaryllis”. But this year, since I have access to three artificial intelligence chatbots — see Easter, Madonna, and Regal Lilies (2 of 3) for more on that — I decided to give ChatGPT, Google Bard, and ClaudeAI a twirl to see if they could help me out. Maybe I should call them my Three AI-migos — though it may be premature to consider them friends.

Anyways! I sent this question to each chatterbot…

There is a book of verses called “The Story of Amaryllis” by Viola Taylor. Are the references to “amaryllis” throughout this book about a person named “Amaryllis” or plants in the amaryllis family?

… which both ChatGPT and Google Bard interpreted as a request for information about a living person, and gave an answer that sounded like “Us AIs don’t know nothing about no people” — with Bard actually getting a little snippy about it. ClaudeAI, however, seems to have nailed it, providing this nice overview of Taylor’s verses:

Based on some quick research, the references to “Amaryllis” in the book “The Story of Amaryllis” by Viola Taylor are about the amaryllis flower, not a person named Amaryllis.

Some key points:

  • The amaryllis is a flowering bulb plant that belongs to the Amaryllidaceae family. Common species include the belladonna lily and naked lady lily.
  • The name “amaryllis” comes from Greek mythology, derived from the name of a shepherdess who shed her blood to win the love of the shepherd Alteo.
  • Viola Taylor’s book is a narrative poem that anthropomorphizes the amaryllis, telling the mythological story of Amaryllis through the perspective of the delicate flower.
  • Descriptions of the “crimson gown” and “flower fairy” in Taylor’s verses match the appearance of the amaryllis flower, with its bright red blooms and delicate, almost human-like form.

So in summary, while the name Amaryllis has mythological roots as a woman’s name, in the context of Viola Taylor’s botanical poetry, the references are likely about the actual amaryllis flower itself, not a person. The personification gives the bloom a voice to tell its Greek myth-inspired origins.

Anthropomorphism — which really needs to be a word I can actually pronounce, like, say, “anthropop” — is, of course, the tendency to ascribe human characteristics to non-human entities… and, perhaps, an AI chatbot’s attempt to mirror human conversation by responding with phrases like “Based on some quick research”.

Anthropop (see! it is a word!) is deeply embedded in human culture, reflected in all the arts, and continually used to help us understand the world and communicate about it. But personally I’ve often wondered if (non-human) beings are capable of something similar, though we may be anthroppoping if we think they are. Does a dog ever pretend to be a cat? Mine seems to — sometimes sneaking around the house, peaking around doorways, and jumping at me like a puss on the prowl — so I think it’s possible. And it’s a well-established fact (not a fact) that Thesaurus Rex — the first speaking dinosaur — emulated human vocals before humans spoke (or even existed!).

So ClaudeAI’s interpretation fits the verses in Taylor’s book very well, as Taylor charts the flower/person’s progress from birth to death, and even after-death, through nine related poems. The verse I quoted above is the seventh poem in the book, positioning the flowers as a memory just before they’ve returned to the earth, as they’re fading from their summertime vibrance — and possibly while thinking they were glad not to be daylilies, which were already dead….


Thanks for reading and taking a look!

Amaryllis! Amaryllis! (2 of 3)

From “Amaryllis Family (Amaryllidaceae)” in Botany in a Day by Thomas J. Elpel:

“If you have enjoyed a potted Amaryllis blooming in mid-winter, then you have met the Amaryllis family. Members of this family are typically perennial plants that resprout each year from underground bulbs. The leaves are usually somewhat juicy and tender, rather than fibrous.

“The flowers are often grouped in an umbel (like an umbrella), or sometimes solitary, and typically emerge from a spathe-like bract (a modified leaf wrapped around the flowerhead). Otherwise, individual flowers are typical lily-like blossoms with 3 sepals and 3 petals that are identical in size and color….

“As currently defined, the Amaryllis family encompasses an estimated 60 genera and 850 species, only a handful of which are found in North America. The potted flowers we know as ‘amaryllis’ were segregated from Amaryllis into a closely related new genus,
Hippeastrum, but the old name remains as the common name. Edibility varies significantly across the family. Onions (Allium) and their kin have sometimes been segregated into their own family, and may be yet again.”


This is the second of three posts featuring photos of Amaryllis flowers that I took at Oakland Cemetery’s gardens twice upon a time, within the past few weeks. The previous post is Amaryllis! Amaryllis! (1 of 3).

I took the photographs of the white Amaryllis in June, and took the rest just this week. The ones I took this week — while they resemble those in my first post — show off more saturated red, pink, and magenta colors. It’s mildly intriguing to me that the lighter colored flowers of the same family often appear a few weeks before those with richer colors, and having seen this same growth pattern several years in a row, I guess it might mean something. They are also less translucent — more light is absorbed by the flower petals than passes through, giving them a thicker appearing texture — so I wonder if they’ve evolved to better handle the long, hot (very damn hot!) days of a southern July than the varieties that bloom in early to middle June.

Thanks for taking a look!

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