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.
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.
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.
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.
The first two images in this gallery show closeups of an over-wintering rosebush, busting out some tiny red and orange leaves. The remaining images are red flowering quince shrubs.
This final gallery shows some miniature (about the size of a large marble) white daffodils that I found yesterday popping up from their bed of pine bark. They seemed pretty happy with the warm temperatures (in the 60s) and some nice filtered sunlight.
I was experimenting with a new lens — actually a used lens, a Minolta 70-210mm “beercan” — that I bought just last week for $55. I remembered owning this same lens decades ago, having used it with a Minolta film camera; and recalled that it produced colorful soft backgrounds while effectively capturing close-up detail. This was my first outing with the lens: I took these photos from about twenty feet away, with the lens extended to 180-200 millimeters as a “closeup zoom” test, and really got a kick out of the “retro” feel of its steel body and very smooth operation. Buying a used lens can sometimes be an “iffy” proposition, but I think I scored a victory with this one! 🙂
“We all know what time is until someone asks us to explain it; then, even physicists find the nature of time to be inexplicable. Time is more baffling than space. It seems to flow past us or we appear to move through it, making its passage seem subjective and incomprehensible. Yet a camera can purposely stop time and spatially add the aspect of physical dimension within a framed area of visual space, giving photographs exceptional properties that other visual media do not possess….”
“When it comes to photographic imagemaking, people have plenty of questions about cameras but don’t often ask about how best to accomplish their visual goals. What determines the success of an image is not the camera, but the knowledge of the person operating the camera. The principal job of a photographer is looking, which defines all photographic processes. Good photographs are made by learning to see. Good photographers become skilled at following their eyes and seeing things others overlook…. A good photograph creates a memory in a viewer by communicating an experience to another….”
“The visual energy of a color depends greatly on its relationship to other colors and its placement within a scene rather than on the size of the area it occupies. Imagine a white, in-ground swimming pool on a calm and clear afternoon reflecting harmonious blue-sky colors that are even, smooth, and unified. Now throw in a red beach ball. Pow! It generates a visual explosion that surprises the eye and instantly becomes the point of emphasis. Its solitariness stands out as a point of visual magnetism. Its atypical individuality within the unified space introduces needed variety into the composition….”
Is it spring yet? No, ‘fraid not, but I’ve decided to wrap up my winter photo series with two last posts featuring some hints of the season not too far away — a bit of spring preminiscence, shall we say. In another month or so — unless we have some freezing weather or a freak two-inch snowstorm — we’ll be all set to once again pretend it’s spring and there will be very little to differentiate wintery photos from springy ones. Meanwhile, I’m working on a series of architectural detail photos — something I hardly ever do but wanted to try — which prompted me to learn more about symmetry and balance in photographic composition, and I’ll start unrolling those in a few days.
The first gallery shows some paperwhite lilies from Oakland Cemetery gardens, growing in a shady spot near the cemetery’s entrance. Despite their small size and the fragile, translucent white of their blooms, they seem perfectly happy to flower all winter long — in smaller quantities, perhaps, but still producing some nice floral clumps.
There are several varieties of the plant in the following gallery growing on the property, both white versions like these and some red/pink variations that I’ll upload for the next post.
After scouring a few of my plant and southern gardening books, I just couldn’t identify this one, so I used the web site Plantnet to see if the internet would help. This was the first time I’d used Plantnet — where you can upload multiple photos of flowers or other plants, and get a response with probable identities. The site suggested that these were flowering quince shrubs, which I confirmed by searching for flowering quince images and comparing them to my photos.
This gallery features camellia blossoms; camellia is a hardy winter-blooming shrub or small tree that apparently produces a large volume of blooms all year round, shrugging off cooler winter temperatures. The blooms are a richly saturated red, and the petal that had fallen from another branch — in the first two photos — seemed to add a nice, elegant touch to the unopened flower.