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

A White Begonia, an Orange Hibiscus, and a Red Japanese Maple

From “Begonia (Begoniaceae)” in Garden Flora: The Natural and Cultural History of the Plants In Your Garden by Noel Kingsbury:

“Begonias are named for Michel Bégon, a French colonial governor, by botanist Charles Plumier (1646–1704), probably to thank him for giving him a post as an official plant collector in the colonies. They have been used medicinally, while one Chinese species, Begonia fimbristipula, is commercially available as a herb tea….

“Botanical classification is complex and the subject of several recent research projects. These are very much enthusiast plants: currently 66 sections are recognised and some 10,000 cultivars have been raised over time.”

From “Hibiscus (Malvaceae)” in Garden Flora: The Natural and Cultural History of the Plants In Your Garden by Noel Kingsbury:

“There are some 750 species of Hibiscus, whose name is derived from the Greek for the closely related mallow. Overwhelmingly they are found in the world’s tropical regions, both Old and New Worlds, and include trees, shrubs, perennials, and annuals….

“In those temperate regions with warm and humid summers, the range in cultivation is boosted by a number of herbaceous perennial species from the U.S. Southeast, which have enormous flowers….”


Here we are at the end of the first week of November, and a bit of fall color is finally starting to paint its way into my neighborhood.

Over the past few days, this Japanese Maple in front of my living room window has turned dark red, its leaves casting a red-orange glow over everything in that room. I’m fascinated by the color, because of its unusual intensity and something else: this maple has lived for years in the shade of a gigantic street-side Bradford Pear tree that has made several previous appearances here, but that Pear is no more. It split in two a few months ago during an intense summer thunderstorm, falling against a telephone pole at the sidewalk in front of my house, then last week the remaining half-tree was cut down by city workers. So now the Japanese Maple is no longer hidden in the shade, and when early morning sun lights up this window, it’s gorgeous! The wild-n-crazy begonia growing there looks pretty cool too!

These two galleries show the last of my late summer/early autumn photos.

The first three pictures are blooms from a begonia called “Senator IQ” — one of three I have in pots on a patio table under an umbrella, where it grows well in the moderate light and sends its tiny flowers over the edge of the table to seek out the sun (as plants like to do). I prefer this kind of begonia because its leaves are very dark green — and that with the shade from the patio umbrella makes it easier to highlight the white blooms with minimal background darkening in Lightroom.

Here are some flowers from an “Orange Hibiscus” — which was the name on the handwritten plant tag in the pot I purchased it in. I’m not sure if that’s supposed to be its actual name, or someone just went for the obvious moniker. Anyway, I’ve renamed it OrangeOrangeOrange Hibiscus, because that seems to fit at least as well. The plant was mixed in with other annuals and perennials at the garden center, so I’m not sure if it will hold out through the winter and produce new blooms next year — but it’s still going strong and has added several inches to its leaves and stems despite cooler temperatures and darker days.

Here you see some of the blooms at various focal lengths through a macro lens. In several of the photos you’ll also see little swatches of pink or magenta near the center of the flower. At first I thought these were artifacts and started removing them in Lightroom, then realized (after a little research) that these magenta/pink highlights are colors in wavelengths intended to attract pollinators and direct them toward … the pollinating spot! Smart plant!

Thanks for reading and taking a look!

Begonia Leaf, Backlit, in a Window on a Rainy Day

From More Than a Rock: Essays on Art, Creativity, Photography, Nature, and Life by Guy Tal:

“In photography, as in every other medium of art and communication, the finished work can never contain every fact found at the scene. If the artist is skilled enough, however, he may unfold a complex experience by arousing the right kind of connotations in his viewers. To do so, he must possess an understanding of, or intuition for, visual perception — how their viewers’ brains relate visual information to experiences, emotions, and sensations.

“Through the power of perception, an artist may literally control the brain of the viewer, prompting them to produce a desired experience and reaction, oftentimes far exceeding the simple recognition of what is contained within the frame. This is a concept known as Equivalence, originally described by Alfred Stieglitz and later expanded upon by Minor White.

“Viewers of a work of visual art are no different from viewers looking out a window. They may not have the actual experience of being on the other side, but they have enough information for their mind to form an idea of what it might feel like. Art goes beyond that. More than just a window, it is a deliberate arrangement that can be consciously designed to prompt desired reactions.”

Photography subjects are everywhere; you just have to look, right? It occurred to me over this past weekend — one full of clouds, rain, cold wind, and temperatures sticking pretty close to the thirties — that I could have just as much fun taking pictures of eclectic household objects in my makeshift photo studio of macro and zoom lenses, LED lights, and flashlights as I would wandering the garden or the parks nearby. And I’d stay warm and dry in the process!

While trolling my curio cabinets and bookcases for subjects to frame, I noticed this begonia leaf near my living room window standing out from the others, having caught a splash of sunlight diffused through the drizzle outside. It was a new leaf, one that appeared about a week ago as a tiny cone at the end of its stem, fully opening over the weekend. The begonia gets moved away from the window every year when I put up the Christmas tree and decorations, gets a little thin and wobbly while the tree occupies its favored spot, then starts putting out new leaves as soon as I move it back in front of the window.

While searching for quotes about windows and natural light for this post, I found the one I included above that refers to “equivalence” — an artistic concept developed by Alfred Stieglitz initially through a series of photographs of clouds. He called this series “Equivalents” and characterized the concept as one about abstraction in images where, theoretically, there is no need to engage in further interpretation of the subject or meaning of the image. The object represented in the image is simply what it is, and its sole intention to evoke a state of mind or emotion. Theories of photography, of course, are constantly churning around the meaning of images, whether they’re actual or abstract representations, their symbolism and their relationship to other arts — and the Equivalents of Stieglitz are perhaps best situated in that context, as a developmental step in photographic theory and as a technical development where Stieglitz pushed through limitations of film and darkroom capabilities available at the time.

Here are three photographs of the same begonia leaf from different angles; my goal with these photos was to retain the sense that the leaf was glowing in the window, while it was cold, cloudy, and wet outside.

Here are black-and-white variations, where the conversion from color emphasizes the leaf detail in a different way. The slightly silver overtone comes from adding a bit of blue color to the images’ shadows, highlights, and midtones using Lightroom’s Color Grading tool, a function that replaces the split-toning tool available in earlier versions of the software.

Enhancements were made (!!), of course, and here are before-and-after versions of the three photos — where I shifted the overall tone from warm to cool (it’s winter, after all!), added some detail, and brightened the leaf colors while softening the background.

More soon, thanks for reading and taking a look!