“If one might have only one Lily in the garden, it would have to be the beautiful old White Lily that has been with us since the end of the sixteenth century. Although we may take it to be the oldest of its kind in cultivation, we do not by any means know all about its wants and ways. For of all Lilies known in gardens it is what is called the most capricious. When we say a plant is capricious, it is, of course, a veiled confession of ignorance, for whereas we may well believe that the laws that govern the well-being of any plant are more or less fixed, and with most plants we can make sure of the right way of culture; in the case of this Lily we cannot find out what those laws are; and though it has been more than three hundred years in our gardens, we can only give general advice as to where and how it will do well.
“A plant so lovely should be tried in every garden.”
From a multi-day lily hunting expedition at Oakland Cemetery’s gardens, I separated out photos of white lilies and “painted” their backgrounds black. Below is the first to two batches.
“Named for French botanist Pierre Magnol (1638–1715), Magnolia is a famously old genus. It is also hard to define; current thinking suggests 200-plus species. Some botanists favour splitting it, others dumping the entire Magnoliaceae into it. The fossil record is rich, with family members dating back 98 million years, and Magnolia itself being of Cretaceous origin, i.e., contemporary with the dinosaurs but before bees: it is thought the first magnolias were pollinated by beetles.
“Magnolia flower buds are used for treating sinus problems in Chinese herbalism, and the bark… is prescribed for a wide range of conditions, although it does contains high levels of alkaloids and concerns have been raised over its safety. Flowers are used for flavouring, or at least ornamenting, certain Chinese teas, while buds are deep fried and eaten as a spring delicacy; they are somewhat tasteless, but the petals make an attractive addition to a salad….
“Wreaths of M. grandiflora foliage are traditional in the American South (they dry slowly and can be kept for months), and the flower, an emblem of the Confederate army in the U.S. Civil War, remains a potent symbol of the white American South…The 1989 film Steel Magnolias conjures up an image of something beautiful but also very tough; the tree symbolised the character of the women in the film….”
Despite making over sixty trips to Oakland Cemetery’s gardens over the past year, I hadn’t previously turned my camera toward any of the large magnolia trees growing on the property, some originally planted in the late 1800s and still thriving. They tower in height second only to the gigantic oak trees for which the property was originally named (see Early Landscapes: The Trees of Oakland), produce an enormous volume of blooms, and shed leaves as large as footballs that drop in a circle surrounding each tree’s trunk. The circles are as wide in diameter as the trees are tall, and as thick and bouncy as the beds of discarded pine needles you might find in any ancient forest.
Magnolia tree branches are some of the densest and most twisty-looking structures in the plant kingdom, I swear, making it a challenge to find a focal point for composing a photo. It’s also true that very few of their flowers are at a height I can get too without a ladder, which of course doesn’t fit in my photo bag. Nevertheless, with a zoom lens and the luck of finding a few branches hanging low to the ground (like the fourth photo below) I took a few dozen photos of the blooms that I could zoom in close enough to “fill the frame” — expecting I could figure out how to isolate the blooms from the entangled branches once I got at them in Lightroom.
Here are the first three, where I kept most of the leaves directly attached to the bloom stems in the frame, while blacking out all the rest.
Here’s one of the few flowers I found close enough to the ground (about five feet up) that I could get a shot that included the Internal structure of the flower, conveniently framed by an old and highly photogenic stone wall. If you’d like to get a closer look, click here.
Here are the last three, where I isolated just the flower — or, in the last photo, isolated the flower with a few of the leaves that (for reasons only the tree understands) were all reversed, showing the yellow-gold backs of the leaves instead of their dark green fronts.
Here are before-and-after versions of the seven photos, with most of the adjustments complete in both versions, but where I turned off the black background mask to show the blossoms in their original context: a mass of leaves and lots of blown-out highlights from sunlight filtering through the branches. It was a fun experiment to see if I could get results I wanted from the originals: creating the illusion that I’d taken macro photos of the magnolia blooms when, in reality, I used a zoom lens and stood about twenty feet from the trees to get these photos. It was also a lot of work — about two days of brushing black over the backgrounds and fine-tuning the mask — but I’m glad I gave it a shot.
Select any image in the gallery if you would like to compare the before and after versions in a slideshow.
“I put the camera away. I needed to rein in my thoughts before I could hope to accomplish anything. I sat in the shade of an old pinyon pine and closed my eyes and breathed in the sweetness of its sap. I waited a few moments until the calmness of the place, soft and persistent, began to circulate within me…. Words and ideas appeared in my mind and I wrote them down, starting with this: ‘Preoccupation is the enemy of inspiration.'”
“For a long time I attributed such healing powers to writing but did not quite experience them in photography. This changed … when I began to practice photography as a contemplative pursuit, by which I mean that I began to place the creative process — the thinking and doing — above what anecdotal images, good or bad, may result. I take my time; I consider; I imagine; I operate my tools without the use of automated shortcuts; I appreciate the tactile feel of the controls, the way the image in my viewfinder morphs in subtle increments as I make small adjustments to settings and composition; I stop to savor the sensations of chill or warmth on my skin and the scents and sounds of my surroundings; I identify birds and flowers and butterflies and rocks around me, and make mental notes to look up unfamiliar ones. It takes time and attention, not only toward making an image but also away from other, lesser things. I realized that the solace I always found in writing was not about writing, but about the writing process, which by its nature imposes such contemplation. And, once realized, I learned that solace could also be found in other things, if practiced with the same mindset.”
Most Americans, I believe, have typically experienced the lame duck period between presidential administrations as something relatively benign — a transition of about two months where handoffs occur between the outgoing and incoming teams, largely unnoticed as we move deeper into fall and winter around the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. But 2020 insists on ramming home the message that nothing is normal anymore. We get to witness the tragicomedy of a presidential campaign that won’t let go while the administration seems to have gone on break, only to spend its time in courtrooms where most of its cases fail and giving press conferences where “elite lawyers” drip with conspiracy theories, and, apparently, spray-on hair that can’t handle camera lights. Ah, well, such are the raspy, waning days of the Trump presidential family — not deserving that much of my attention since they will, without a doubt, be evicted in January 2021 — with their stunts becoming fodder for historians, sociologists, and psychologists of the future. Buh-bye!
If you would like to look forward instead of back, you can learn more about how President-elect Biden, Vice President-elect Harris, and their teams are preparing to assume office in January, on their dedicated web site at Biden-Harris Transition, where the news page is frequently updated.
I told a friend of mine a few weeks before the election — as it looked more and more like Georgia would support the Biden-Harris ticket — that if that happened, I was going to deck my house out in blue lights for the Christmas holiday, as a way of personally recognizing the flip and win. Well, here they are — 2,500 wee blue lights — ready and patiently waiting to be unboxed, stretched out, and festooned (!!) among the tree branches, along the windows, and atop various pieces of living room and dining room furniture.
Christmas decorating turns into quite a project (I usually do a little project plan (not really! (ok, really!!))) that commences around Thanksgiving and never quite finishes completely; and I’m considering leaving the bluely-decorated tree standing until the presidential inauguration. We’ll see about that part; while the lifelike tree in all its actual lifelessness can certainly stay up that long, I may get a little weary of it blotting out my living room window by the first of January or so.
I went hunting for some fall scenes to photograph early last week … but weirdly, there still wasn’t that much color to see. It’s so different from last year, when the whole city just glowed yellow, red, and orange even before Halloween; yet with nighttime/daytime temperatures in the 50- to 80-degree range, leaves are just falling without changing color. Last year’s color extravaganza — created by a couple of deep-freeze days in early October — seems like it’s not going to be repeated this year, but I’ll keep trying. 🙂
Below, finally, are the last few galleries of the summer lily series of photos — the first of which is a before and after version of one of the images. Thanks for taking a look!