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

Daylilies, Lilies, and Amaryllis on Black (5 of 5)

From “Places of Awe” in Places of the Heart: The Psychogeography of Everyday Life by Colin Ellard:

“On Christmas Eve, 1968, Apollo 8 astronaut William Anders took a photograph that was destined to become one of the most famous images in human history. As the tiny spacecraft that he shared with astronauts Frank Borman and Jim Lovell rounded the moon and revealed the blue globe of planet Earth, Anders raised a Hasselblad camera, exclaiming with all the enthusiasm one is likely to ever hear from a fighter pilot with the United States Air Force: ‘There’s the Earth coming up. Wow is that pretty.’

“Although very few of us have been lucky enough to travel into space and experience awe by looking at the Earth from a remote viewpoint, everyone has had experiences that they would categorize as ‘awesome’ (and not just in the recent banal sense of that word). When awe strikes us, we are certain of it. We can be overcome by awe when we encounter a dramatic natural phenomenon such as an inky starlit sky, a thunderstorm, or a majestic view of a mountain range or canyon, or even by simple reflection….

“[We] can also be overcome by awe in built settings…. Such experiences bring us outside the narrow confines of the body space, encouraging us to believe that our existence constitutes more than just a beating heart inside a fragile organic shell. We have a sense of boundlessness as the limitations of time and space that hold us aground are suddenly swept aside.”

From “As Imperceptibly as Grief” in The Selected Poems of Emily Dickinson by Emily Dickinson:

As imperceptibly as grief
The summer lapsed away,–
Too imperceptible, at last,
To seem like perfidy.

A quietness distilled,
As twilight long begun,
Or Nature, spending with herself
Sequestered afternoon.

The dusk drew earlier in,
The morning foreign shone,–
A courteous, yet harrowing grace,
As guest who would be gone.

And thus, without a wing,
Or service of a keel,
Our summer made her light escape
Into the beautiful.


This is the fifth of five posts where I’ve taken this summer’s daylily, lily, and amaryllis photographs, and recreated them on black backgrounds. This post features a last batch of amaryllis.

The previous posts are Daylilies, Lilies, and Amaryllis on Black (1 of 5), Daylilies, Lilies, and Amaryllis on Black (2 of 5), Daylilies, Lilies, and Amaryllis on Black (3 of 5), and Daylilies, Lilies, and Amaryllis on Black (4 of 5).

The poem from Emily Dickinson above is thematically about the ending of summer — a bit of wishful thinking on my part since we’ve been subjected to more days with excessive heat warnings in July and August than I’ve experienced since moving to the southeast. It does make a guy long for the cooler, breezier days of autumn — and even though those are quite a few weeks off, the slightly shorter days with earlier sunsets are good reminders that the seasonal change will come, just not quite yet.

Thanks for taking a look!

Daylilies, Lilies, and Amaryllis on Black (4 of 5)

From “Old Pictures” in Living, Thinking, Looking by Siri Hustvedt:

“Photographs have long been seen as markers of the past, a way of preserving what was in what is….

Unlike paintings, which can invent a subject, photographs preserve a subject in a real moment in time. Despite the fact that well before the era of Photoshop, camera images were manipulated (remember the Cottingley fairies), it is an idea that has had long-standing power. What fascinates me most about photographs are their personal and public uses as tokens of memory and the fact that their efficiency, or lack of it, in terms of seeing and remembering, works precisely to the degree that they are not like visual perception and memory in the brain. Photographs are produced mechanically, which means that, unlike painting, they are created outside human perception, but, like paintings, they exist as representations outside our bodies. At the same time, we look at photographs with our eyes. The vagaries of human vision apply to photos just as they do to all other perceived objects….

“Perception and its crucial cohort, memory, are complex dynamic systems in the brain and have both implicit (unconscious) and explicit (conscious) features. Although scientists once subscribed to a primitive notion of memory storage — you perceived an object and then lodged it intact in your memory — neuroscientists now believe that when you retrieve a memory, you are not retrieving an original memory but rather the memory you last retrieved. In other words, we edit. Memory changes. It is now obvious that
the brain is not a camera; it is not a computer; it is not a machine. Despite the fact that new technologies are developing seeing-machines that can recognize people and objects, and many of us work with remembering-machines, our computers, every day, there is little lust for machines that, to use the neuroscience term, reconsolidate memories over time, that unknowingly rewrite or reconfigure the scenes and faces of the past. Digital alteration is a tool for the conscious, not the unconscious mind.”

From “Fairies” by Rose Fyleman in The RHS Book of Garden Verse by the Royal Horticultural Society:

There are fairies at the bottom of our garden!
It’s not so very, very far away;
You pass the gardener’s shed and you just keep straight ahead —
I do so hope they’ve really come to stay.
There’s a little wood, with moss in it and beetles,
And a little stream that quietly runs through;
You wouldn’t think they’d dare to come merrymaking there —
Well, they do.

There are fairies at the bottom of our garden!
They often have a dance on summer nights….


This is the fourth of five posts where I’ve taken this summer’s daylily, lily, and amaryllis photographs, and recreated them on black backgrounds. This post features a first batch of amaryllis.

The previous posts are Daylilies, Lilies, and Amaryllis on Black (1 of 5), Daylilies, Lilies, and Amaryllis on Black (2 of 5), and Daylilies, Lilies, and Amaryllis on Black (3 of 5).

I had never heard of the Cottingley fairies until reading about them in the book of essays by Siri Hustvedt, quoted above. This fascinating episode in the history of photography and image manipulation very nearly sent me down a new rabbit hole — or fairy hole (how rude!) — but for now I stuck with just reading the Wikipedia article and taking a quick look at the book The Coming of the Fairies by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (of Sherlock Holmes fame) and a few other sources. Having never read a Sherlock Holmes book — I’ve only seen various adaptations of Doyle’s Holmes in films and television series — I didn’t know that Doyle was interested in spiritualism, and, as such, was an early adopter of the fairies-do-exist meme. Doyle was highly influential in his treatment of the images as real, along with Edward Gardner of the Theosophical Society — who infamously stated that the images were “straight forward photographs of whatever was in front of the camera at the time.” This delightful equivocation is a fine example of how ambiguity about manipulated images helps move them into mainstream thought to get treated as realistic, when in fact they are not.

The Cottingley fairies hoax emerged during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century interest in spirit photography, the belief that cameras were capable of capturing images of ghosts and other supernatural entities, though the fairies were posited as real rather than as examples of characters from the spirit world. It was only in the 1980s — recent enough! — that the two girls that created the original five fairy photos publicly admitted they had faked the photographs, despite prior investigations that described how the images had been manipulated. It’s certainly a testament to the enduring power of images — even faked or manipulated images — that the genesis of these five photographs was still being discussed for decades after they were first produced.

I was going to post the five images in a small gallery here, then learned that the copyright status of the images is disputed — they’re not necessarily in the public domain — but you can see them in sequence with a concise overview of their history at The Cottingley Fairies as well as in the Wikipedia article.

Thanks for reading and taking a look!

Daylilies, Lilies, and Amaryllis on Black (3 of 5)

From “Daisy Chains” in A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit:

“The technology and conventions of photography have given a particular look to each generation’s images, while history, fashion, and food have left their impressions on each body, so that nearly everyone in a given era has a kind of kinship to each other they don’t to other generations….

“Before the 1960s, light and air themselves seem to have had an almost undersea depth and luminosity, in which skin glowed opalescently and everything seemed to have a faint aura slaughtered by the newer black-and-white films made with less silver in the emulsion. I think most Americans who didn’t live through it think the Depression took place in a world of rough-hewn but secretly seductive black-and-white surfaces, as though texture itself could be a wealth to counter all that poverty. And the early part of the last century, when light was harsh and came from high above, was full of hollow-socketed stern faces above bodybelying clothes….

“There are fossils of seashells high in the Himalayas; what was and what is are different things.”

From “Laughing Corn” by Carl Sandburg in The Complete Poems of Carl Sandburg:

There was a high majestic fooling
Day before yesterday in the yellow corn.

And day after tomorrow in the yellow corn
There will be high majestic fooling.

The ears ripen in late summer
And come on with a conquering laughter,
Come on with a high and conquering laughter….

Some of the ears are bursting.
A white juice works inside.
Cornsilk creeps in the end and dangles in the wind.
Always — I never knew it any other way —
The wind and the corn talk things over together.
And the rain and the corn and the sun and the corn
Talk things over together.

Over the road is the farmhouse.
The siding is white and a green blind is slung loose.
It will not be fixed till the corn is husked.
The farmer and his wife talk things over together.


This is the third of five posts where I’ve taken this summer’s daylily, lily, and amaryllis photographs, and recreated them on black backgrounds. This post features a second batch of lilies.

The previous posts are Daylilies, Lilies, and Amaryllis on Black (1 of 5) and Daylilies, Lilies, and Amaryllis on Black (2 of 5).

Thanks for taking a look!

Daylilies, Lilies, and Amaryllis on Black (2 of 5)

From “Photography: A Little Summa” in At the Same Time: Speeches and Other Essays by Susan Sontag:

“Photography is, first of all, a way of seeing. It is not seeing itself.

“It is the ineluctably ‘modern’ way of seeing….

“This way of seeing, which now has a long history, shapes what we look for and are used to noticing in photographs.

“The modern way of seeing is to see in fragments. It is felt that reality is essentially unlimited, and knowledge is open-ended. It follows that all boundaries, all unifying ideas have to be misleading, demagogic; at best, provisional; almost always, in the long run, untrue. To see reality in the light of certain unifying ideas has the undeniable advantage of giving shape and form to our experience. But it also — so the modern way of seeing instructs us — denies the infinite variety and complexity of the real. Thereby it represses our energy, indeed our right, to remake what we wish to remake — our society, our selves. What is liberating, we are told, is to notice more and more.

“In a modern society, images made by cameras are the principal access to realities of which we have no direct experience. And we are expected to receive and to register an unlimited number of images of what we don’t directly experience. The camera defines for us what we allow to be ‘real’ — and it continually pushes forward the boundary of the real….”

From “Elegy (1)” in The Poetical Works of Robert Bridges by Robert Bridges:

Many an afternoon
Of the summer day
Dreaming here I lay;
And I know how soon,
Idly at its hour,
First the deep bell hums
From the minster tower,
And then evening comes,
Creeping up the glade,
With her lengthening shade,
And the tardy boon

Of her brightening moon.


This is the second of five posts where I’ve taken this summer’s daylily, lily, and amaryllis photographs, and recreated them on black backgrounds. This post features lilies, and the first post (of daylilies) is Daylilies, Lilies, and Amaryllis on Black (1 of 5).

One of my favorites is the fifth photo of the unopened flowers, where you see a single bud with a tiny vine twisted around its stem and growing toward the upper right corner of the photo. I wrote about that vine before — see Vines on Black / Vines in Films — where I described it as a creeper variation that quite successfully wraps itself around any other plant it encounters and shoots toward the sun, while rapidly invading the space it starts growing in. This was the first time I’d encountered it at Oakland Cemetery’s gardens, where I caught it in the act of “attacking” one of the lilies. With the photo converted to one with a black background, the presence of the tiny vine exerts additional prominence, whereas it might have gone largely unnoticed in the original photo.

Regarding the quotation from Susan Sontag’s At the Same Time above:

While On Photography is Sontag’s well-known book on photography and images, she takes up the subjects in most of her other nonfiction books and essays as well — one of the few writers I’ve read who embeds cultural analysis of images in writing on so many other subjects. Throughout her writing she attempts to address — often leaving us with more questions than answers — how images alter our understanding of reality, across the realms of documentary photography, art, and media information. She also regards images as always-manipulated — even those from the earliest history of photography — because at minimum they represent the photographer’s subject choice of what will be seen versus what will remain unseen; and, for documentary-style photography, she examines how the interpreted meaning of a photograph may change based on the words used to describe it. After reading this section of At the Same Time, I couldn’t help but wonder what she might think of our emerging AI capabilities, where images can be generated from text and have no necessary correspondence to any existing reality.

One of these days, I’d like to take on Benjamin Moser’s Sontag biography — Sontag: Her Life and Work — though I’ll admit that its 800-page length is a little intimidating. Still, I’d like to better understand how photography came to be such a gripping subject that she addressed it so often in her non-fiction writing, which I imagine the book will explain. I did recently learn that the biography is being adapted into a film, so maybe I’ll wait for the movie…. 🙂

Thanks for reading and taking a look!

Daylilies, Lilies, and Amaryllis on Black (1 of 5)

From “Attention and Design” in The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction by Matthew B. Crawford:

“When viewing two-dimensional representations, whether photographs, paintings, or screens, we are not able to move around and gain different perspectives on the scene depicted…. [We] normally orient ourselves in our physical environment according to an axis of proximity and distance, and this basic orientation is not available when the world appears through mediating representations.

“According to Alfred Schutz, the spatial categories we employ in everyday life arise from our embodiment. A person is ‘interested above all in that sector of his everyday world which lies within his reach and which arranges itself spatially and temporally around him as its center.’ Relative to this center, one carves up the surrounding world at its egocentric joints: right, left, above, below, in front of, behind, near, far. The world within ‘actual reach’ is basically oriented according to proximity and distance. This reachable world ’embraces not only actually perceived objects but also objects that can be perceived through [attention].’ Thus it includes, for example, things behind you that are close but currently out of sight. The content of this sector is subject to constant change, due to the fact that we move around.

“This idea of orientation around a bodily center helps us to see how the attentional environment that has emerged in contemporary culture is novel and somehow centerless. Recall that the basic concept at the root of attention is selection: we pick something out from the flux of the available. But as our experience comes to be ever more mediated by representations, which remove us from whatever situation we inhabit directly, as embodied beings who do things, it is hard to say what the principle of selection is. I can take a virtual tour of the Forbidden City in Beijing, or of the deepest underwater caverns, nearly as easily as I glance across the room. Every foreign wonder, hidden place, and obscure subculture is immediately available to my idle curiosity; they are lumped together into a uniform distancelessness that revolves around me.

“But where am I? … Is the mouse-click a kind of agency? This gesture, emblematic of contemporary life, might be seen as a fulfillment of the thinned-out notion of human agency we have signed on to when we conceive action as the autonomous movements of an isolated person who is essentially disengaged from the world.”

From “You and It” in Collected Poems of Mark Strand by Mark Strand:

Think what you like, but
It really is the same. Oh,
You can walk around on it
All right and, watching the speed
With which it falls back, fool
Yourself into thinking it changes,

Or, standing with your head
On it, think it above you
With all the grass of summer
Hanging down, mindless
Birds at your feet, your blood
Rushing up to greet your shadow.

But move, and only the angle
It is regarded from changes.
Turn up the stones and they
Reveal what has always been
Uppermost. Put them back?
And you are where you started.


This is the first of five posts (yikes!) where I’ve taken the daylily, lily-lily, and amaryllis photographs that I’ve been posting over the past few weeks, and re-rendered some of them on black backgrounds. I wasn’t originally planning to do that because it can be so time-consuming (imagine spending about an hour on each one of these images, and doing that for 76 of them) — but with this long streak of temperatures seeping above 100 degrees every day, I’ve been keeping the outdoors outdoors and myself indoors more than usual.

For these five posts, instead of searching for quotations or verses about the flower families as I usually do, I decided I would look for quotations about photography that are not from books about photography, and poems about the summer season. The excerpt from the poem “You and It” by Mark Strand above seemed to capture, coincidentally, my experience of photographing flowers — as I often photograph each one from many different angles and positions, and most of them don’t survive the “cutting room” where I try to eliminate all but the ones I’m most technically satisfied with that represent what I saw, when I saw it.

And the poem echoes the rather obtuse selection from Matthew Crawford’s The World Beyond Your Head, in that both describe actual experience in the world, and the way we position our physical bodies to capture variations on that experience. Crawford, of course, is contrasting our worldly experiences with our virtual experiences, raising questions about the latter — something I also did when I quoted him in one of my earlier posts on using AI image generators: Irises on Black / Notes On Experiences (2 of 2) and its companion post Irises on Black / Notes On Experiences (1 of 2).

I think it may mean something that after spending a lot of time with Adobe Firefly for those two posts, I subsequently lost interest in it, feeling mostly the kind of digital angst Crawford implies above. I’ll probably try again once its capabilities are incorporated into a Photoshop update (it’s currently available in a beta version of Photoshop, which I’ve decided not to install) because I’d like to see what happens if I apply some other creative styles to my own photographs. It might be interesting, for example, to render my own images as watercolor paintings, or in a Hudson River School style, or perhaps as antique botanical illustrations. I’ve tried each of these with Firefly, but since I can’t yet do any of that with pictures I’ve taken, the results lack meaning and just seem like a flood of randomly generate images of no personal significance. So, for now, I’ll stick with my black backgrounds — which I can do with the tools at hand, and (hopefully!) result in images that you find compelling.

Thanks for reading and taking a look!