Autumn in Atlanta: Photo Mash-Up #1

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

“Today the winds picked up, temperatures dropped a bit, big clouds are moving in, the air is laced with the scent of wood fires, and showers of fallen leaves swirl down from the tall canopies. I realize that ‘looks like autumn’ and ‘feels like autumn’ are two different things. Today feels like autumn.”

From Seeing Trees: Discover the Extraordinary Secrets of Everyday Trees by Nancy Ross Hugo and Robert Llewellyn:

“It seems to me a big mistake to hype only the two or three weeks in autumn when fall leaves are supposedly at their peak. This may help drive tourism, but it does nothing to improve seeing. There is actually a long progression of leaf color turning in the fall, and watching the progression is much more satisfying than just showing up for the climax. For me, fall actually begins in July when I find the first red tupelo leaf on the ground, proceeds through the yellow walnut leaf showers of August, progresses through the sumac reds of September, crests with the multicolored maples of October, then winds down with the hickory ambers of November. The late burst of ginkgo yellow in November is almost a curtain call.”

Last autumn was a bit of a bust in my neighborhood because of a long stretch of rain and wind that tossed out most of the turning leaves within a few days. The fall photography I posted here consisted of some reprocessed photos that I had taken on several trips to New York state (see Autumn in New York), some individual photos posted with quotations (as Single Frames: Autumn Close Up), and a few sets from my garden and photo walks at Grant Park and Oakland Cemetery (see the blog category Autumn 2018). This year is shaping up differently: with a warmer than average September and October and less rain, the fall color is late to appear here in my urban forest. Smaller trees — especially young maples and oaks — are well into their fall turn, and some trees that typically drop leaves with little turning are well into their dropping phase. There’s still a lot of green, but with a good look around I found many fine color changes taking place so far that I’ve posted as:

Four Small Signs of Early Fall

More Small Signs of Early Fall

Even More Small Signs of Early Fall

Autumn Tints at Twilight

Burnt Orange and Singed Pumpkin

Light fascinates me this time of year: the longer shadows created especially in late afternoon by the shift toward winter sun mixes so well with the changing colors. At about 4:00 PM on any partly overcast day, the leaves — slightly translucent in their waning days, but flush with iridescent color — seem to glow. I often just go out and look for the subtle or even surprising color variations, like those on a Japanese Maple in front of my house. The tree’s color is headed toward orange and yellow, but I noticed these two tufts of leaves turning red (with a splash of purple). The first frame below shows the two red clumps, about twenty feet off the ground and five feet from each other; followed by separate zooms on the left and right red leaves. Zoom lenses are great to use for this kind of photography, enabling me to move in close enough to isolate the red clumps separately, and create different kinds of foregrounds and backgrounds than those I typically create with macro shots.

With the excellent weather this year, I’ve spent several mornings taking new photos at Oakland Cemetery, an especially fun place for fall photography because of the enormous variety of trees, shrubs, and other plant life that fill its 48 acres. It’s not possible to cover the entire property in a few hours of photo-shooting, especially this time of year when the partial color change segregates and highlights some of the early color amid the remaining green, and The Photographer finds himself obsessively marveling at the abundance of colors in a single tree. Here are some scene-setting shots, showing an area that I’ve spent a lot of time in, where you can see how nicely the colors are turning among three sections of the property.

It’s also a great place to play in the light, something I tried to do with these three photos of a tree (whose name, unfortunately, I don’t know) that produces oval-shaped leaf clusters that are almost like vines. They’re in the process of turning from green to yellow and orange, and bright light filtered through some surrounding oak trees gave these tiny leaves a nice luminous glow.

Here’s a variation on the third image above, a bit of an abstraction with no background and some amped-up leaf detail:

And here is the original RAW image, followed by the two variations, for comparison. I used Lightroom’s spot removal, radial filters, and brushes to eliminate some of the leaves (from the top right corner and bottom of the image), and to soften and darken the background elements in the second version; then duplicated and increased those adjustments in the third version to completely eliminate the background.

I recently finished reading Melody Warnick’s book This is Where You Belong: Finding Home Wherever You Are, where the author provides practical suggestions for developing a greater understanding of and appreciation for the place where you live. Warnick’s book occupies a space in my library alongside John Stilgoe’s Outside Lies Magic: Regaining History and Awareness in Everyday Places, Rebecca Solnit’s Wanderlust: A History of Walking, Robert Macfarlane’s The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot, and Robert Archibald’s A Place To Remember: Using History to Build Community — books that explore the interconnected meanings of geographical spaces from perspectives of history, culture, human experience, and landscape theory. Photography and imagery also make an appearance in these books — sometimes indirectly — with their emphasis on “seeing places with a new pair of eyes” which prompted me to try and look at my photography differently on this year’s fall photo-shoots.

With that thinking in mind, I decided to experiment with some different types of images: studies that take advantage of the plentiful architectural structures on the grounds of the cemetery, and the contrast between their hard lines, textures, and colors and the plants that adorn the cemetery plots. Here are three examples — there will be more! — showing a bushy past-prime hydrangea against the stony detail of one of the mausoleums.

As with all the galleries on this post, select any image to see larger versions in a slideshow.

Thanks for reading and taking a look!


The Red and the Black, and the Red-and-Black Ant

From The Red and the Black by Stendahl:

A hunter fires a gun shot in the forest, his quarry falls, he hastens forward to seize it. His foot knocks against a two-foot anthill, knocks down the dwelling place of the ants, and scatters the ants and their eggs far and wide. The most philosophic among the ants will never be able to understand that black, gigantic and terrifying body, the hunter’s boot, which suddenly invaded their home with incredible rapidity, preceded by a frightful noise, and accompanied by flashes of reddish fire.

The protagonist of Stendahl’s 1830 novel The Red and the Black speaks these words aloud toward the end of the story. He’s learned that his attempt to inject himself into the upper strata of French society — using deceit, political maneuvering, and coattail relationships to try and hide his poor background — has led to failure and, worse, it’s turned him into a hypocritical, manipulated tool of the aristocracy. His social experiment didn’t end well, in other words; and he’s left with only those kicked-down, empty-husk feelings of being somebody else’s fool.

I read the novel back in the 1990s, when I had just started working toward a degree in philosophy (a degree I later converted to history), and remembered nearly three decades later that the book contained references to ants in a pivotal bit of dialogue. The original context of the quote is cultural, a statement of the character’s failed effort to penetrate the upper crust of a society entrenched in aristocratic concrete. The Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution, and capitalism are alleged to have swept all that concrete away, of course; but it may be more accurate to say that aristocracy has simply changed forms while using revised theories to explain itself. Unintentionally, I suspect, the quotation also expresses human anxieties about our relationship with nature, since we’ve barely progressed from acting as commanders and manipulators of nature to understanding our connections to a complex set of natural environments. Kicking out the ant’s nest — in a moment of indifference — may seem like a single, unsurprising, largely irrelevant act; but its implications (even as a social and cultural metaphor) are consequential. The natural environments we don’t understand and protect will eventually fail and take us down with them.

With the most recent weeks of head-spinning political news in the United States — which I’ve spent way too much distracted time trolling — it’s easy to overlook so many of the other stories that don’t get nearly enough attention, mostly because media coverage of the antics of our highly impeachable president and his cohorts drown them all out. Of interest here — because I like to puzzle about our place in the natural world — are the continued efforts by the current administration to roll back environmental regulations, reduce wildlife protections, and open public lands for private development. I found that the New York Times is tracking the rollback attempts — some successful, many legally challenged multiple times — here…

85 Environmental Rules Being Rolled Back Under Trump

… with links to background articles and frequently-updated information about the rollbacks. The New York Times page also references two other sites…

Harvard Law School’s Regulatory Rollback Tracker

Columbia Law School’s Climate Deregulation Tracker

… both of which provide a lot of detail on individual regulations and the impacts of reducing or eliminating them. I discovered these sites after reading about the administration’s challenge to California’s automobile emissions standards — which got me wondering what other climate and environmental regulations were being targeted for reversal. These sites are good ones to keep tabs on — because someday, somehow, someone will need to begin rolling back some of the rollbacks.

Ants, however, have their own less blatantly political concerns. Almost every late summer or early fall, I’ll see an entire colony relocating from one section of my garden to another. Most typically, the ants move from tunnels underneath a large pot or some barely visible spot in my English ivy to a location they consider more desirable. Earlier this year, I watched, fascinated, while hundreds of ants — most moving triple-file in one direction with many carrying their egg-luggage while a few sentries kept things under linear control — marched away from one side of the garden. They followed the outline of my brick courtyard, past stairs at the back door, along one of the hydrangea beds, up one side of a Japanese Maple, then down the other side of the same tree, to finally disappear beneath a thick section of ivy and into the ground.

Here are three photos of one of the ants, one that broke from the ant-pack and made its way out of the formation and up a wisteria vine:

I tried to find a music video to accompany the ant photos; you know, something like Flight of the Bumblebee, but more like March of the Ants. No luck, unfortunately; but I did find this one, a mesmerizing hour of ant motion and birdsong:

While searching YouTube, I came across this fine interpretation of the fifth movement of Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony, often referred to as the Pastoral Symphony. Beethoven wrote it as a nature study — not intending necessarily to imitate nature with music, but to express his feelings about nature in the framework of a symphony. The fifth movement follows evocation of a thunderstorm in the fourth movement, and musically represents the emergence of sunshine and peaceful feelings following the storm, combined with the appearance of birds and wildlife on the scene as clouds subsided. Even if you aren’t accustomed to listening to symphonies, give this bit a shot, and here are a few thoughts on enjoying it.

Regardless of your personal musical preferences, your appreciation of music relies, at least partly, on your memory of the melodies and how they evolve as the music progresses. For this piece, note how the melody changes at three minute-markers: 2:10, 4:00, and 7:30. Now listen again, but this time pay attention to how a few seconds of the preceding melody lead to these same three minute markers. On subsequent listenings, you can expand how much of the leading melodies you focus your attention on, resulting in a deeper understanding of what you just heard. Segregating bits of melody to hear how they relate to the rest of the performance becomes more automatic with practice, and can be swapped for following one or more instruments as their melodies travel through the piece — through a single movement, or even across the movements of an entire symphony.

I often use this trick to get accustomed to music I’m not familiar with, and it works equally well with symphonies, other forms of orchestral music, rock music, jazz, or any other kind. With vocal music — a song, a ballad, or an opera — the words tend to pull your mind forward through the music; the approach I describe here simply replaces the momentum you experience hearing the words of a ballad, for example, with focus on a snippet of melody or an instrument. The key to the trick is to let your mind latch onto something you can easily follow, then let your brain’s natural ability to organize concepts over time create an integrated musical experience.

Here is the piece:

Okay, now, just for fun, try this:

Start the first video of the birds and ants at a high volume; then start the video of the symphony — turning the volume down to about half. While playing both at the same time, you won’t hear the ant sounds that much, but — especially in softer moments of the symphony — the bird calls will come through clearly, and they’ll seem to line up with the symphony’s melodies. An audio illusion, possibly; or maybe a reflection of Beethoven’s genius: he constructed a series of melodies and rhythms that so accurately reflected an abstract feeling about nature, that they align indistinguishably with (what we think are random) natural sounds.

So … there you have it. In about a thousand words, we’ve traveled from 19th century literature, to a bit of environmentalism, to a poke at politics, to gardening and insect behavior, to classical music, then to (a version of) music appreciation. I think my work is done here for now, and autumn photo-blogging begins in earnest in a few days. Unlike last fall — when we were soaked by days of rain that quickly stripped away most of the fall color — the trees are full and only about 20% turned in my neighborhood, yet I already have about 500 photos (eeks!) to work through. Urban Atlanta has a reputation for its tree canopy (see Atlanta Tree Canopy by Trees Atlanta for a neat interactive tool), a nice sample of which you can see in this map image covering areas within walking distance of my house….

Imagine this neighborhood now, in the yellow, red, and golden orange colors of autumn!

I’m gonna need more film! 🙂

Thanks for reading!