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

Purple and Yellow Irises

From “The Handling of Colour” in Irises: Their Culture and Selection by Gwendolyn Anley:

“There is no flower which reflects the changes of light so sensitively as the iris….

In the pale light of early morning as the sun lifts over the distant woodland, the colours wake and come to life out of the dusk of night. There is something wraithlike about them at this hour, a pearly beauty which passes almost before it is realized. At noon the flowers are at the height of their glory: imperial yellow, royal purple, wine red and tender blue, lavender and soft pink — a wealth of colour which cannot be surpassed by any other genus.”

From 100 Flowers and How They Got Their Names by Diana Wells:

Iris [in Greek mythology] was the messenger of the gods and the rainbow linking earth with other worlds. She escorted souls along her iridescent bridge to another life, and she herself used it to join the thoughts of gods and men. She was that longed-for connection to those whom we love intensely, but who are suffering without our awareness, and it was she who was sent to tell Alcyone, still praying for the safety of her husband Ceyx, that he had already drowned.”

“The flag iris is supposed to have saved the life of the sixth-century Frankish king Clovis, who then succeeded in conquering much of France under the Christian banner. God, or common sense, showed Clovis, trapped by the Goths at a bend in the Rhine, flag irises growing where it would be shallow enough to cross the river and so escape. In gratitude he adopted the iris flower as his emblem, and it became the symbol for the kings of France. Irises were on Louis VII’s banner during the Second French Crusade (1147) and were called fleur de Louis, which in turn became fleur-de-lis….”

Irises are blooming!

Actually, they’re about done blooming; I’m working through photos I took during the week of May 2, and here are the first ones (from Oakland Cemetery’s gardens). With storms that came in during the weeks that followed, I was glad to have gotten to the irises before they suffered rain- and wind-damage, and will be posting additional photos soon.

This purple iris was in its late days, its petals fully unfurled and topped with a crown about the size of a baseball by itself. From that comparison, you can get a sense of the overall dimensions of the flower — about five baseballs, perhaps one of the largest irises I saw on my photoshoots and replete with a variety of colors, including shades of purple, blue, orange, and bits of red. “At noon the flowers are at the height of their glory” — from the Anley quotation above — certainly seems about right: I took these photos just before noon on a sunny day, which helped me capture the full range of colors this iris can exhibit.

I think this gallery and the next one show the same variety of yellow flag iris, the first one featuring very typical iris shapes…

… with this one showing some dramatic variations during its early stages of opening. I took these photos at about the same time as the purple irises above, snagging all the yellow and orange color shades that the flower can display. My favorite image is the second one — which is especially fun to look at in its full-sized version: here.

Thanks for reading and taking a look!

Tales of Two Grapevines (4 of 4)

From “The Appeal of Black & White” in Black & White Photography by Michael Freeman:

“[Far] from a universal march towards more colourfulness, there is now a significant and growing reverse flow in photography, towards the new black and white. It’s new because it’s created from colour with processing software that makes the experience a delight, which means that you don’t even need to decide at the start that it’s a black-and-white image you’re after. You can even trawl your archives with a reconsiderate eye and look for images that might work more powerfully, or at least differently, in the single range called grayscale.

“So … what is this persistent appeal of black and white? There are some semi-practical answers, and a trawl of internet opinions throws up emphasis on form, shape, line and texture, as you might expect. Basically these all have the root argument that removing the distraction of colour allows you, actually compels you, to concentrate on other things. There is also the corrective argument — when the colour is somehow spoiling your idea for the shot, just switch. However, it seems to me that there must be deeper reasons, maybe not all of them easy to pin down. In fact, the underlying appeal of black and white ought to be difficult to describe, because surely any art form that has the potential to move people must have some enigma to it.”

From “Black & White Craftsmanship” in Black & White Photography by Michael Freeman:

“One recognised darkroom master was Ansel Adams, and he also wrote extensively on the subject. His 1982 book The Print is not just a classic of photo instruction, but peculiarly relevant to contemporary black-and-white digital processing. Peculiar because it confines itself to the wet darkroom and shows none of the technology that we now all use. Relevant because it deals with the fundamentals of turning [an] already-taken shot into a final image….

“Adams was at pains to insist that this wasn’t all about technique by any means. There is, he wrote, ‘great latitude for creative variation and subjective control’, and the process involved ‘endless subtle variations which are yet all tied to the original concept’.

“The reason why Adams and other serious printers made plans — actual physical plans on paper or on a work print — was that the clock was running, literally, whilst the paper was on the easel under the enlarger. Any dodging and burning had to be done in a finite and short space of time. In his book … Adams details the printing of one of his best-known photographs, ‘Clearing Winter Storm, Yosemite National Park’, shot in 1944. The basic exposure was 10 seconds, during which time the dodging had to happen — holding back areas that needed less exposure to make them lighter. Burning was always easier — adding exposure to darken areas — although it meant taking care not to let light leak onto any other part of the image….

Burning was done in stages — a few seconds concentrating on one area, followed by another few seconds somewhere else, all of this typically done with a timer on the floor with a foot-operated pedal…. Dodging tools were typically metal circles, ovals, and oblongs at the end of thin rods, often painted red, to which colour the silver bromide paper was insensitive. Burning tools were most commonly your hands, cupped and shaped. Otherwise you cut holes in large sheets of black paper or card. Adams made a distinction between the umbra (shadow) and penumbra (the soft surround), as the latter helped smooth the transition during dodging or burning so that this manipulation would not be noticeable in the final print….

The modern digital equivalent is called feathering, as on a radial filter.”

This is the last of four posts featuring two grapevines growing in my garden. For the first post and more on the series, see Tales of Two Grapevines (1 of 4). For the second post, see Tales of Two Grapevines (2 of 4); and the third post is Tales of Two Grapevines (3 of 4).

For this post, I selected nine photos of each type of grapevine and converted them to black and white. I’ve done a little bit of black and white work before, but converting these grapevine photos seemed like a new experience nonetheless. Because green and yellow colors dominated both the foreground and background of these photos, there was little to differentiate the main subject from the background once the photos were changed to grayscale. So I used Lightroom’s radial filters to remove most of the background, allowing its feathering to leave mostly subtle hints of light around or behind the subject. In some cases, eliminating the background meant that the subject was quite small for the size of the image frame, so I cropped the images to enlarge the subject (though not enough to create excessive noise or loss of detail).

Once I was satisfied with the background appearance of each image, I used Lightroom’s brush tool to add highlights to the more prominent leaves, along with a bit of extra texture and sharpening to increase details. I don’t do that very often with color photos (I typically reject and delete photos that require sharpening to make them look like they’re in focus), but I’ve noticed that when working in black-and-white in Lightroom adding a bit of texture and sharpening has a neat side effect: it brightens the highlights further, creating tiny pixels of light without giving the subject an over-sharpened look. As a last step for each photo, I used Lightroom’s color grading tool to add a bit of silver tone (emulating the matte-finish side of a sheet of aluminum foil) — which is actually done by just slightly increasing the color blue in shadows, midtones, and highlights.

Here are the Catawba Grapevine images…

… and here are those of the Concord Grapevine.

Thanks for reading and taking a look! Next up: Irises!! 🙂

Tales of Two Grapevines (3 of 4)

From The American Gardener by William Cobbett:

“There are many different sorts of grapes, that grow in the woods, climb the trees, cover some of them over, and bear and ripen their fruit. How often do we meet with a vine, in the autumn, with Grapes, called chicken grapes, hanging on it from every bough of an oak or some other timber-tree! This grape resembles, as nearly as possible, what is, in England, called the Black cluster; and, unquestionably, only wants cultivation to give it as good a flavour.”

This is the third of four posts featuring two grapevines growing in my garden. For the first post and more on the series, see Tales of Two Grapevines (1 of 4). For the second post, see Tales of Two Grapevines (2 of 4).

I crammed a few extra photos into this post, having decided after playing around in Lightroom that some of these grapevine images look great in black and white, so I’m working on that for the final post in the series instead of splitting these color images between two posts.

On March 24 and April 21, I swooped into a nearby pharmacy and got my first and second Covid-19 vaccinations, so as of May 5 was considered “fully vaccinated” according to the CDC guidelines. While I’ve not attended any rock concerts or orgies (!!) yet, it’s been nice to get out a bit and not feel alarmed at the prospect of being in the vicinity of other human beings. Visiting a garden center seemed like going to an oasis at this point, and with another trip or two, I’ll have completed flowery acquisitions for the neglected garden I added nothing to when the pandemic first hit.

I managed to avoid going to any physical stores since February 2020, having decided early on I’d try not to be another disease vector and have everything delivered. And though I’ve gotten a bit spoiled by placing grocery store orders online and waiting for bags of food plop on my front porch, it was nevertheless a pleasant experience to do something as mundane as grocery shopping on a lovely spring day. I donned my trusty dinosaur mask …

… and headed off with a long list of whatnots to pick up. Entering the grocery store felt like a bit of sensory overload; for someone who studies colors and shapes and lines, there sure are a lot of them in your average market — and they’re especially intense when you haven’t seen them for over a year. Color, especially, kept distracting me; I briefly wished I had brought my camera with me, then I thought maybe posing the tomatoes for a photograph would be frowned upon.

Having become something of an online grocery shopping expert and critic, I have to point out that buying groceries online — while certainly convenient — is so linear and stale in its web design that it completely misses the boat on a key shopping experience: browsing! The tech guy in me has always imagined it could be a lot more captivating, like allowing you to zoom up and down the aisles of a virtual reality version and pick stuff off shelves with your VR fingers. Instead, all you get is lists and tiny pictures that vaguely resemble what you’re buying, and you miss out on the spontaneity of stumbling across something you didn’t know you wanted.

Such was my experience today in the frozen foods aisle. I was barreling toward frozen veggies and frozen pizzas, when the word “Tillamook” caught the corner of my eye. I had forgotten about Tillamook ice cream for over a year, and stopped my cart so hard its wheels actually squealed and I pulled a partial donut. Behind the glass door, I found glorious Waffle Cone Swirl, threaded throughout with caramel so fabulous it actually glows. The only reason I’m eating dinner tonight is to have a big blob of this ice cream for dessert. (Their cheeses are excellent also, especially when they’re on sale.) Am I a product photographer now? 🙂

I get ice cream, you get grapevines … sorry (not sorry). Here are the last of the Catawba Grapevine color photos; I’ll post the black-and-white versions in a few days.

Occasionally I like to take pictures of just the tendrils, for some reason. These are from the Concord Grapevine. As you may be able to tell from the photo, the hooks shown in the second image tried to snatch the camera from my hands, a fact which may or may not be true.

Here are the rest of the Catawbas.

Thanks for reading and taking a look!

Tales of Two Grapevines (2 of 4)

From “May Day” in The Selected Writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson by Ralph Waldo Emerson:

“When trellised grapes their flowers unmask,
And the new-born tendrils twine,
The old wine darkling in the cask
Feels the bloom on the living vine,
And bursts the hoops at hint of Spring.”

This is the second of four posts featuring two grapevines growing in my garden. For the first post and more on the series, see Tales of Two Grapevines (1 of 4). For this post, I selected images where I photographed the smallest leaves I could find.

Here are a few wee leaves from my Catawba Grapevine. The magenta color that will adorn the back sides of the leaves for a few days is evident even in the leaf bud, as in the first photo; though by the time the vine gets as large as shown in the last photo, the magenta will be gone.

On the Concord Grapevine, the unopened leaves (most of which were half the size of a thimble) are about the same color as they will be when they grow up, but even at this stage show the complex structure that the vine retains throughout its lifespan. The first two photos — whose buds always remind me of creatures from the Alien movies — show that intricacy. If you would like to see the detail in full-sized versions, click here and here — or select “View full size” when looking at the images as a slideshow.

You can also see in these two photos that the tendrils emerge from the same leaf cluster as the leaves, appearing as tiny scythes (curving to the left in the first photo and to the right in the second) in its early days. As the leaves continues to open, the tendrils stretch out on their own from the same connection points, then split into two or more independent threads.

If you would like to read more about how tendrils work (they have lives of their own, I swear!), check out Tendril (plant anatomy) from the Encyclopedia Britannica.

Thanks for reading and taking a look!

Tales of Two Grapevines (1 of 4)

From Garden Flora: The Natural and Cultural History of the Plants In Your Garden by Noel Kingsbury:

Vitis (from the Greek for the plant) includes approximately 60 species. The distribution is almost entirely temperate northern hemisphere with some penetration into South America…. Nearly all Vitis species are lianas, are wind-pollinated, and have roots that can store considerable quantities of nutrients during the dormant season. They form an integral part of forests, climbing up trees to produce their leaves, flowers, and fruit often tens of metres above ground level. They are particularly lush in woodland edge habitats, where their ability to cover trees may result in them being visually dominant….

“The appreciation of the grape vine simply as an ornamental plant is a recent interest — a few centuries, compared to the thousands of years the plant has been cultivated for its fruit and its fermented juice.”

From The Secret Life of Plants by Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird:

“A climbing plant which needs a prop will creep toward the nearest support. Should this be shifted, the vine, within a few hours, will change its course into the new direction. Can the plant see the pole? Does it sense it in some unfathomed way? If a plant is growing between obstructions and cannot see a potential support it will unerringly grow toward a hidden support, avoiding the area where none exists.”

“When the tendril, which sweeps a full circle in sixty-seven minutes, finds a perch, within twenty seconds it starts to curve around the object, and within the hour has wound itself so firmly it is hard to tear away. The tendril then curls itself like a corkscrew and in so doing raises the vine to itself….

“Plants … are capable of intent: they can stretch toward, or seek out, what they want in ways as mysterious as the most fantastic creations of romance.”

This is the first of four posts featuring two grapevines growing in my garden. Even though I’ve posted pictures of these vines before (see Secrets Inside a Grapevine), I look forward to pushing my face and my macro lens into these two vines every spring and summer. Aside from the fact that they started as a gardening experiment (I didn’t know if they’d live because my back yard is heavily shaded), they ended out being among the longest living perennials I’ve planted (one now returning for seven seasons and the other one returning for eleven), I’m always fascinated by the shapes and forms they assume each spring. I’ve taken dozens of closeup photos of each one, attempting to approach them a little differently every time, trying out a variety of camera settings and using them as a subject to learn more about exposure, focal length, lighting and color.

There’s a wildness to their growth that at least partly accounts for my obsession with photographing them, and their largely unrestrained spread lets me create bits of drama with each image. Both vines continue to produce tiny new leaves throughout most of the summer, along with masses of tendrils that, occasionally, I snip from nearby bushes, plants, and even chairs to encourage them to take different paths. Both vines grow rapidly; like my wisteria and ivy ground cover, I keep an eye out for intrusiveness that can get out of control in a matter of days. Once their leaves drop off in late fall, I’ll trim each one back so that the woody stems are even with each plant’s supports, and it’s always entertaining (to me!) to see what tricks they have in store for the following spring.

This first vine — the younger of the two — is a Catawba Grapevine. It’s notable for the magenta colors on the back side of each new leaf, and many of the tendrils will start out as bright orange or red (as in the second photo) before they lengthen, start searching for targets, and gradually fade to light green as the leaves get larger and turn dark green (like the top leaf in the third photo).

The older vine, below, is a Concord Grapevine. It produces intricately structured leaves in a range of green and yellow-green colors, along with a large number of tendrils that (even confined by the pot and garden space it’s in) will reach nearly a foot in length before they latch onto something nearby.

The Concord’s more of a free-wheeler than the Catawba; its stems will stretch and hang suspended in the air much longer before the tendrils make attachments, which (from The Photographer’s point of view) can provide for some neat contrasts in colors, shapes, and lines.

This last photo is also from the Concord; it’s like a grapevine’s aspirational meme that I discovered one evening just before dark.

Imagine, for a moment, what this tiny leaf and tendril had to “know” about its surroundings to reach up, hook itself to that stick, and wrap around the stick to raise itself from the rest of the plant. Have a little fun and write your own caption! 🙂

Thanks for reading and taking a look!