Southeastern Winter Abstracts (1 of 2)

From The Photographer’s Mind: Creative Thinking for Better Digital Photos by Michael Freeman:

“[What] inspires a photographer to raise the camera may be entirely without substance, something that pervades the entire scene. In this case, I’m specifically thinking about light, and most of us at some time simply find the lighting conditions so attractive or interesting that we want to photograph them interacting with something, anything. Exactly what the light is striking becomes much less important than its own quality…. Color, too, attracts the attention of some photographers as a subject in its own right. Even more than light, it offers the possibilities of abstracted compositions in which the color combinations themselves appeal, regardless of what physical objects they are part of.”

From More Than a Rock: Essays on Art, Creativity, Photography, Nature, and Life by Guy Tal:

“It may seem that the photographic medium, recording light reflected off actual subjects, is unsuitable for abstraction, but this is obviously not true. Like any other artist, the photographer may willingly omit significant details to force their viewers into an experience they may not notice if distracted by the literal recognition of superfluous elements. 

“In a sense, every photograph extracts a selection of elements from a greater context, allowing the artist to isolate such things as line, pattern, and form by means of careful composition, to a point where the literal subject may become altogether unrecognizable. As such, in photography we can talk not only about a work being abstract or literal, but also about degrees of abstraction.”

As I mentioned in a previous post — Work, Walk, Discover: Hydrangeas in Winter — I’m working on several sets of photos from numerous walks through the ‘hood, where I’m hunting out bits of winter color. For this post and the next one, I separated out those images that were more abstract — those with simple or stark shapes and textures. Here’s the first batch, showing the presence of a dominant color (or two) against a textured natural or manmade (concrete, stone, or brick) background.

Here’s the second batch. On one side of a roadway that bisects the cemetery gardens, there are a dozen flowering dogwoods that, of course, have lost their leaves but are already beginning to produce buds that will burst out as new flowers in late February or early March. These eight photos — simply colored, monochromatic, almost black-and-white — seemed to work out well because it was a cloudy day and the filtered sunlight gave their whites and grays (as well as muted blues and background greens), a bit of silver cast that processed nicely in Lightroom.

From the first two photos, you can see how densely the branches and buds on a single tree are packed; and behind them are another dozen or so additional dogwoods that added to the sense that there are hundreds more flowery branches, just dormantly biding their time. While walking among these trees, I found just one remaining spent leaf turned by autumn, the tiny marionette — surprise! — in the last photo.

Thanks for reading and taking a look!


Happy New Year!!

From Billy and the Minpins by Roald Dahl:

“No child has ever had such an exciting young life as Little Billy, and no child has ever kept such a huge secret so faithfully. He never told a soul about the Minpins. 

“I myself have been very careful not to tell you where they live, and I am not about to tell you now. But if by some extraordinary chance you should one day wander into a forest and catch a glimpse of a Minpin, then hold your breath and thank your lucky stars because up to now, so far as I know, no one excepting Little Billy has ever seen one. 

“Watch the birds as they fly above your heads and, who knows, you might well spy a tiny creature riding high on the back of a swallow or a raven.

“Watch the robin especially because it always flies low, and you might see a nervous young Minpin perched on the feathers having its first flying lesson. 

“And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places….” 


Walk, Work, Discover: Hydrangeas in Winter

From “The Walker’s Waking Dreams — Rousseau” in A Philosophy of Walking by Frederic Gros:

Rousseau claimed to be incapable of thinking properly, of composing, creating or finding inspiration except when walking…. It was during long walks that the ideas would come, on the road that sentences would spring to his lips, as a light punctuation of the movement; it was paths that stimulated his imagination….

“Walk, work, discover…. Trampling the earth with his heavy shoes, disappearing into the brush, wandering among ancient trees. 

“Alone, and surrounded — or rather filled — with the quiet murmur of animals and trees, the sigh of wind through the leaves, the rattle and creak of branches. Alone, and fulfilled. Because now he could breathe, breathe and surrender to a well-being slow as a forest path, without any thrill of pleasure but absolutely peaceful. A lukewarm happiness, persistent as a monotonous day: happiness just to be there, to feel the rays of a winter sun on his face and hear the muffled creaking of the forest.”

I’ve been prowling my neighborhood, hunting for splashes of winter color. I’ve ended out with a large, slightly unwieldy batch of photos that I’m organizing into a half dozen galleries, that I’ll be working on and posting over the next week or so. Unlike summer and spring here in the southeast, green no longer dominates the scenes that become my photographs. Where green is present, it’s typically found in hardy grasses; or more commonly, among the ivy varieties whose color shifts from deep green to a shadow-filled version, where aqua or blue are emphasized by seasonal changes and the softer light of a winter sun. Backgrounds, especially, transition toward muted gray, chocolatey brown, and pastel variations of yellow, orange, and gold. My eye moves toward the surprising shapes and textures of plants in their dormant stages, and how those forms stand out as abstractions of their growing season versions.

The two galleries below include images of hydrangeas — bits of hydrangeas — that I found shaded by the trees of Oakland Cemetery’s gardens. The first gallery features those where pink and red was still present on the leaves, after their fall turn and while still barely attached to their stems. The white filaments on some of the leaves — a form of mold or fungus — presented some interesting (that is, frustrating) challenges for the photographer because their contrast with the red shades created a difficult-to-overcome sense that they were out of focus … fuzzy, that is. To (attempt to) improve their appearance, I used radial filters in Lightroom individually over each of the leaves, reducing whites, highlights, and saturation then adding a bit of texture and sharpening to emphasize the veins in the leaves over the cottony fungus.

Except for the last photo below, this second gallery shows side-by-side pairs of the same clumps of spent flower clusters, framed differently. I did very little post-processing on these nine images, mainly some brightness and shadow changes to soften and darken the backgrounds and emphasize the remnants of the buds — which through the zoom lens looked almost like they were suspended in mid-air, held up as they were by tiny threads. Our eyes tend to pass over sights like this; but zoom and macro lenses provide a view of the world that our unaided sight typically misses.

Thanks for reading and taking a look!


Four Days To Christmas: Winter Solstice

From On Looking: A Walker’s Guide to the Art of Observation by Alexandra Horowitz:

“It was December twenty-first, the winter solstice. The business of being a pedestrian in the city had changed: any mosey that crept into people’s summer gait had been replaced by the determined fast stride of the winter walker. It was cold out, and I hunched my shoulders in a futile attempt to warm my ears and bully the chill away.”

From Winter Sunshine by John Burroughs:

“[It] may be later in the season, well into December. The days are equally bright, but a little more rugged. The mornings are ushered in by an immense spectrum thrown upon the eastern sky. A broad bar of red and orange lies along the low horizon, surmounted by an expanse of color in which green struggles with yellow and blue with green half the way to the zenith. By and by the red and orange spread upward and grow dim, the spectrum fades, and the sky becomes suffused with yellow white light…”