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!

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Happy Inauguration Day!

From Our Time Is Now by Stacey Abrams:

My America sees my brother and my sister as the promise of what our nation can and must become — a place of extraordinary success that transcends barriers and a place of redemption that defies the cynicism of our politics. This is a vision that only comes into being when everyone has a true voice in our futures. America, for all its faults, has always been a place of promise and renewal, of mistakes made and the constant pursuit of atonement. This is a new manifesto for our progressive future, one emboldened by understanding that our time of waiting is over. The fight for our future has already begun.

From Walden and Other Writings by Henry David Thoreau:

Renew thyself completely each day; do it again, and again, and forever again.

On a chilly and cloudy morning this week, I went hunting for a bit of midwinter color. The landscape seemed bleak following a stretch of below-freezing weather we recently endured … but then I stumbled across this audacious daffodil, the first one I’ve seen … starting to bloom in a splash of sunlight as if spring was already here. It appeared as an appropriate metaphor for this day, when our new President and Vice President will assume office, and two new Senators from Georgia (yay!) will be sworn in. After a challenging couple of weeks that marked the beginning of our new year, this tiny flower shifted my mood entirely — and in a few days I’ll post some more photos of a surprising gallery of color I found after it inspired me to take a calmer look at the world around me.

Happy Inauguration Day!

Update: It’s official! From The Biden-Harris Administration at The White House web site; here we go!!!


New Year’s Day 2021 (Finally!)

From “Gerontion” by T.S. Eliot in The Essential T.S. Eliot:

After such knowledge, what forgiveness? Think now
History has many cunning passages, contrived corridors
And issues, deceives with whispering ambitions,
Guides us by vanities. Think now 
She gives when our attention is distracted 
And what she gives, gives with such supple confusions
That the giving famishes the craving. Gives too late
What’s not believed in, or if still believed, 
In memory only, reconsidered passion. Gives too soon 
Into weak hands, what’s thought can be dispensed with 
Till the refusal propagates a fear. Think
Neither fear nor courage saves us. Unnatural vices
Are fathered by our heroism. Virtues
Are forced upon us by our impudent crimes.
These tears are shaken from the wrath-bearing tree.

The tiger springs in the new year. Us he devours.

From “Four Quartets” by T.S. Eliot in The Essential T.S. Eliot:

For last year’s words belong to last year’s language 
And next year’s words await another voice.

You may have thought it would never end, but it did: 2020 is finally over, and a new year has begun. Happy New Year!

In a decade, or maybe in half a decade, we’ll already be looking back on 2020 as a transitional year — though I’d have to be Nostradamus to predict how we’ll characterize the transition. You’ve probably caught some of the 2020 recap stories that are popular at a year’s ending (many of which atypically included the words “Good Riddance”); one of the reasons 2020 seemed so long was that it was jam-packed with life-disrupting events, all accumulating to create not only anxieties but to make us reflective about aspects of society, culture, politics, and economics that seemed overlooked until recently. Paraphrasing the title of a short story by Joyce Carol Oates, “where have we been, where are we going?” is going to be an obsessive question for some years to come.

I wandered over to my favorite sanctuary earlier this week, in search of something that might capture a feeling about the ending of The Longest Year — but all I found was a half-dozen faded roses. We’d just had a couple of freezing days smack-dab in the middle of temperatures in the fifties and sixties, so hardy flowers that still manage to bloom in late fall and winter here had faded and shriveled in the cold. Still I got caught up a little in the appearance of these roses: even though they looked like they’d melted, a lot of their original color remained. So while they might not fit the traditional image of “beautiful” — their purple and magenta colors combined with the softened flower petals still struck me as not entirely unpleasant.

Flowers representing a new year vary by culture, but while searching for some ideas around that, I learned that Queen Anne’s Lace — in the language of flowers — is said to represent both sanctuary and safety, so seemed like good stand-ins for the beginning of a new year, as we (hopefully) move into a period of decreasing peril and increasing stability. I took these photos earlier in 2020, in June, and had some fun in Lightroom accentuating the minute flower detail, freshening up the lacy whites, and fading the backgrounds to give the flowers their deserved prominence.

Here are a few experiments, from the same trip to Oakland where I found the faded roses. The first two are of a fine piece of fuzz, originally against a mostly green background — which I converted to pale yellow then increased shadows and dark colors to highlight the fuzz. The first photo on the second row comes from an intentional overexposure, just aiming the camera at a this seed structure against the cloudy sky and using the last camera settings I had used to photograph the fuzz. I wanted to see what detail and color I would be able to recover from a monochrome, overexposed image.

For the last photo: I made fog!

If you’re interested in the “sausage factory” aspects of these experiments, here are the same four images in before-and-after pairs. My goal with the first two pairs was to render something that looked more like late fall or winter; to bring out seed detail against a winter-white sky on the third pair; and two transform the last pair into a different kind of photo emphasizing the cluster of seed stalks toward the right side amid dry grasses. Select any of the images to compare before and after versions in a slideshow.

Thanks for reading and taking a look!


Merry Christmas!!

From “A Christmas Carol” in A Christmas Carol and Other Christmas Writings by Charles Dickens:

“‘It’s Christmas Day!’ said Scrooge to himself. ‘I haven’t missed it. The Spirits have done it all in one night…. I am as light as a feather, I am as happy as an angel, I am as merry as a school-boy. I am as giddy as a drunken man. A merry Christmas to everybody! A happy New Year to all the world!…’

“He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world. Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them; for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset; and knowing that such as these would be blind anyway, he thought it quite as well that they should wrinkle up their eyes in grins, as have the malady in less attractive forms. His own heart laughed: and that was quite enough for him….

“He had no further intercourse with Spirits … and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless us, every one!”

Below I’ve accumulated all my holiday photo galleries from this year’s “Days to Christmas” series. Click the links atop each gallery if you would like to see the original posts and the quotations I selected to go with them.

Thanks for reading, and taking a look … and:

Merry Christmas everyone!

Ten Days to Christmas: Peace

Nine Days To Christmas: Four Santas, Two Gnomes, One Jester, and Some Very Skinny Reindeer

Eight Days To Christmas: Tiny Baubles

Seven Days To Christmas: Red and Green (and One Jolly Chimp)

Six Days To Christmas: Silver and Gold

Five Days To Christmas: When Nature Does the Decorating

Four Days To Christmas: Winter Solstice

Three Days To Christmas: A Gathering of Angels, One (Tasmanian) Devil, and One Small Dog

Two Days to Christmas: The Light Still Shines

One Day To Christmas: Happy Christmas Eve!


One Day To Christmas: Happy Christmas Eve!

From A Christmas Story by Jean Shepherd:

“It was well past midnight anyway and, excitement or no, I was getting sleepy. Tomorrow was Christmas Day, and the relatives were coming over to visit. That would mean even more loot of one kind or another.” 🙂

From NOS4A2 by Joe Hill:

“The snow came down fast and hard and steady, and there was something blue about the light, so it was as if she were trapped in a secret world under a glacier: a winterplace where it was eternally Christmas Eve.”

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