Abandoned Farm House, Eastern Colorado

I’ve queued up another image from the archives–one with a similar story to the glowing gate from the previous post. In both cases, the capture involved archaic weaponry: a roll of Kodak negative film and an obscure 120 film camera. For this one, it was the Fuji 645W, an odd plastic camera known for its unusually sharp lens. I also owned the 645S–similarly designed with the addition of a “roll bar”. I liked them both because they were undersized. I could travel light and shoot without a tripod. Nowadays they’re stored in the basement in a shoe box near my record collection.

The abandoned house was discovered after an afternoon of zig-zagging through the plains. As usual, we were out on the greyest roads on the map.  Once you get into this part of the country you begin asking yourself,  “Now what do we do?”

My companion took no pictures, but I was engaging the question.

The plains are the least photographed part of North America–a fact which is even more astonishing when you realize that they represent about a third of the United States.

As I’ve written before, this is a place which is currently reexamining a number of historic assumptions–having had a lengthy quarrel with invading Europeans. At the moment, the plains are back in charge, especially west of the 100th meridian where the middle of North America is filling up with ghost towns. It’s the same story from Saskatchewan to the Texas panhandle.

There have been books which tell the of the struggle, and Willa Cather’s My Antonia is a personal favorite. But the contest has also being written into the the photographic record. Two photographers come to mind: John Vachon and David Plowden.

Vachon was an artist employed by the FSA seventy years ago during the depression, and was one of the first photographers to focus a lens on the life and landscapes of the farming population of the Dakotas.  By the 1930’s it was already apparent that this was not an easy place for a gig. He took many images, but none is more deeply felt than the one of school children playing in a snow storm.  It was recess. It looks cold, and the children are constructing a fort. Behind them: a one-roomed schoolhouse in blowing sheets of snow. A few decades later, Plowden published The Floor of The Sky. This time, many of the photographs were in color.  The photographer wisely chose to make C Prints. They were warm-toned, bittersweet and full of lonely grass.

Both photographers looked closely at the people as well.  As I flip through their books nowadays, it’s hard not to notice the similarity between the furrows in the fields and the deep lines in the faces.

There’s a link for Vachon’s image (at the Library of Congress) below in the comments.

And, keeping within this theme–two related posts from a few months ago:

https://johntodaro.wordpress.com/2010/12/06/one-room-schoolhouse-western-south-dakota/

https://johntodaro.wordpress.com/2011/01/26/abandoned-home-approaching-storm-north-dakota/

West Texas: Encounter With the Glowing Gate

West Texas is an area with a lot in common with other parts of the Southwest, but there is a striking difference:

Private property–on a scale unknown anywhere else in the United States.

If you go there expecting to recreate you are ushered down to the 1 million acres of Big Bend National Park.  Don’t think twice about it…it’s well worth the drive. But before you even get there you’ll have passed by a number of colossal ranches, some rivaling small European nations in size. In other words: this is not southern Utah (a place which could be described as the world’s largest primitive campsite).

I’ve made numerous trips to West Texas because Big Bend is hard to stay away from. It was on the rebound from one of those vacations that we encountered the glowing gate.

There’s not much to the story.  We were motoring across an expanse of grasslands as the sun was preparing to set.  I saw the gate and pulled off the road. Grabbing my Hasselblad, I stepped into the dry air. The gate burst into a furious red color which is difficult to forget.

The picture was made on negative film with my incomparable Superwide.  We weren’t far from Marfa, a place reknowned for its mysterious lights and the minimalism of Donald Judd.

The glowing gate has had several incarnations. It began as a C Print a few weeks after I took the picture.   Years later it was drum scanned and then “remastered” into Photoshop.  Can we begin feeling nostalgia for drum scans?

Nowadays the photograph is dressed up with pigment inks, but it’s pretty much the same old print. By happy chance, I’d used good film that day and an equally suited lens.

I wish I could tell you otherwise, but Photoshop has never been needed to amplify the red of the gate. It’s always been there, a dormant clump of silver halide hunkered down in the negative–chemical evidence triggered by an event from the previous century.

Photography from the Sea Kayak: Bullhead Bay, Southampton

A few years ago, I paddled up to this dinghy while exploring the wetlands of Bullhead Bay in my sea kayak.  The bay is a good place for this sort of exploration and much of the land from there up to Scallop Pond has been preserved by the Town of Southampton and The Nature Conservancy. The picture was taken in November–a time of the year when you pretty much have the estuary to yourself. In this setting, the boat seemed appropriately named.

The picture was captured on transparency film using  a Contax G2 with a 90mm lens. In order to do this, some preparations were needed.

Once I was positioned close to the dinghy, I inflated a paddle float and placed it on my paddle. Holding the paddle behind my back, I braced myself against the water. By using a paddle float in this fashion, you create a relatively stable outrigger from which you can then carefully take some photographs.

The 90mm is a fast lens, and this situation is a good example of when you might prefer a fast prime to a zoom. A slower zoom would’ve been unusable at ISO 100, and also would’ve been very difficult to stabilize while trying to shoot one-handed.

Because I was willing to take an expensive camera out onto the bay without any waterproof housing, I was taking some chances. To minimize the risk of water damage, I sealed my equipment in a water-tight dry bag which I then sat on top of my lap. I also stashed a bottle of fresh water in my cockpit so that I could wash my hands before handling the camera. The deflated paddle float was bungeed to the boat. After taking a few pictures the camera went back into the dry bag and I continued on my way.

Attempting this procedure in rougher surf requires a bit more attention to bracing properly, but I’ve done it successfully several times.

The picture at the link below was taken near Cedar Point with the same camera and the same film.  On that occasion,  I was bracing myself against a fast moving tidal rip in thirty feet of water:

http://johntodaro.com/buoy-6-profile.htm

The red dinghy up above required a bit of post-processing. The first step was to make a high-res scan on my Epson V 700. After a bit of clean-up work I settled on a cropped square image which made it very compatible with a number of my full-frame images from the Hasselblad. One thing I’ve noticed about scans from Provia F is that the intensely blue bias of the film often benefits from a bit of desaturation in Photoshop.

Prairie Mail

I still have un-posted images from last summers’ trip.  As I wrote here back in September, we’d gone into New Mexico the long way (driving in from Oklahoma). When the time came to return to Oklahoma City, we steered clear of the interstate, electing instead to follow the crumbling remains of Route 66. Ostensibly, we were looking for pictures, although I was the only one taking them.

Admittedly, this was a conscious attempt to take the sort of trip where you’re not sure what’s coming next. That sort of thing  still seduces me although it just as often disappoints. Back in the ’70’s it was easier to do this because we hadn’t yet located our commitments. There was no rush in those days because it was a time for lingering.

Nowadays, following the remnants of this historic route calls for an attentive driver. It requires that you navigate safely over graded gravel with only occasional breaks of pavement. I was that driver but I was having my doubts. There can be adventure on the ghost-road, depending on how you define it.

The first day we crossed through some of the most formidable open spaces left on the continent. There was heat which soared like an eagle well beyond 100 degrees. My wife and son occupied their seats in our rattling subcompact. They were gazing out the window while maintaining their trust in the car’s air conditioner. We’d picked up our toy-shaped economy car at the airport and we were now putting it through the ropes.

As you might recall, the southern plains suffered from an outrageously protracted drought last summer. By late August, the prairie was seared.  You felt like you were passing over a landscape that had been turned inside out.

The picture:

A row of mailboxes could be a subject you’d ignore under normal circumstances, but out here on the Panhandle it grabs you by the collar. On the plains, the appearance of ordinary things can take you by surprise. To put it another way: It’s wide open here. The mailboxes have a way of standing out.

Perhaps there are places on earth where all our various artifacts become the metaphors of transience. The plains are well stocked with such visuals–whether they be the boarded-up motels, the dried up gas stations, or the weedy abandoned homes. The mailboxes were in use, but they sure looked vulnerable.

As our trip progressed, it became clear that change was coming.

September had arrived and the edges of the drought were eroding. In Tucumcari   we flipped on the TV in our motel room and watched as a large number of storm cells moved onto the weather map. It appeared that the rains that’d gone missing for a half a year were finding their way back home.

The next day, we were never out of view of a thunderstorm. They were everywhere–flashing their sticks of lightning and rumbling across the horizon like dinosaurs. Several times we drove into into a chilly breeze ripe with the scent of ozone, and twice we encountered downpours that lasted for several miles. The rain felt good but it went away fast.

Sometimes when I look at the photograph of the mailboxes I see a lesson in humility. There was a storm coming when I took this picture, and we were treated to beneficial rains.

A lot of people have seen the worse end of what these storms can  bring.

View From the Haerter Bridge: Panasonic Wide Converter (DMW-GWC1)

Here’s a photograph captured with my new Panasonic Wide Converter…a Micro 4/3 camera accessory which is also known as the DMW-GWC1. If you ask me, better names must certainly exist.

As I’ve explained in other posts, the converter attaches to the Panasonic 14mm f/2.5 and presto—you have an 11mm lens. This is equipment for those who occupy a very specific niche: The Micro 4/3 completist, or at least anyone in possession of the 14mm Panasonic lens who’s curious about a wider field of view (and doesn’t want to fork up the $600-plus for the comparable Olympus lens).

The picture was captured as a RAW file (handheld, and using a Panasonic GF2). The RAW was converted to JPEG in order to publish it here at my site. No color adjustments were made, and the file hasn’t been sharpened. A slight reduction in contrast was employed in order to make the image more internet-friendly. (Keep in mind–you really should be checking out at these photographs on a MAC monitor anyway if you want them to be spot-on, a point which is especially relevant when it comes to highlight detail.)

If you’re wondering, the gradation from the upper left to the upper right in this photograph is entirely natural (the sun was shining a few degrees starboard). Happily the files from converter photos show only a slight (but acceptable) amount of vignetting. If you’re horrified by any vignetting, the post-processing fix will cost you all of four seconds. Barrel distortion is present, but can be likewise dealt with in Photoshop. If you’re not shooting architectural subjects it may not matter anyway. Overall, the optics of the converter seem  comparable to the 14mm lens it attaches to.

The location of the picture:  Sag Harbor, USA…on the eastern end of fish-shaped Long Island where our wild roses are now blooming.

Several more of my converter photographs along with additional comments may be found at the following links:

https://johntodaro.wordpress.com/2012/05/18/swan-at-havens-beach-panasonic-wide-converter-dmw-gwc1/

https://johntodaro.wordpress.com/2012/06/04/sag-harbor-photography-wall-and-flowers-shooting-with-the-dmw-gwc1/

My friend Peter (at .documenting.the.obvious) has  published a more thorough review of the DMW GWC1, (especially as regards vignetting, barrel distortion and corner sharpness). Visit his post at the link below but please take some time to enjoy his many unusual photographs:

http://dothob.wordpress.com/2012/06/23/into-the-great-wide-open/

Sag Harbor Photography: Wall and Flowers – Shooting with the DMW-GWC1

I’ve been working with my Panasonic wide converter, a recently introduced accessory which is also known as the DMW-GWC1. If you ask me, there are gasoline additives with sexier names–but don’t let that scare you off.

As I noted several posts back, the DMW-GWC1 is screwed onto the front of Panasonic’s popular 14mm Micro 4/3 lens. Once attached, the lens is persuaded to yield a wider field of view (about the same as a 22mm lens on a 35mm camera). If you’re accustomed to using a 28mm, the converter is decidedly more expansive.

The first thing you notice is the increased depth of field, something which opens up many new creative possibilities. This is especially true when used on cameras like the Panasonic G3 with it’s full range of manual controls and live viewfinder. The second thing you notice is that whatever is close to your lens has an appearance of being much further away.

Over the last few days, I’ve been using the converter on subjects that are well below the horizon–a technique which is admittedly counterintuitive. A lens this wide has an enormous appetite for skies, but summer is on the way and  there’ll be plenty of time to go looking for clouds.

The Hydrangeas were discovered while walking up to the coffee shop a few mornings ago in Sag Harbor Village. The image was captured quickly without the need of a tripod.  I was in full shade. Everything’s in focus in the picture because there’s more depth of field than you can shake a stick at. Moments later I was sipping coffee and making sure my lens cap was affixed to my converter. The bulbous glass accepts no filters, so you have to be careful.

The image is essentially a copy of the RAW file with no further color or contrast correction.  To me, that’s a good sign.

As you can see, the converter performs well in low light, yielding images that are both bright and fully accurate in terms of color. I haven’t yet pushed this thing into more challenging light and contrast, but I can tell you that within the gentle gamut of shade, it’s fine.

Nice work, Panasonic.

My other two posts for the DMW-GWC1 may be found here:

https://johntodaro.wordpress.com/2012/05/18/swan-at-havens-beach-panasonic-wide-converter-dmw-gwc1/

https://johntodaro.wordpress.com/2012/06/06/view-from-the-haerter-bridge-panasonic-wide-converter-dmw-gwc1/

For those into the particulars, the image was handheld @ 200 ISO, f9.o @ 1/100. I was using the Panasonic G3.

Reflections on Water Reflections

A few weeks ago, I spent a couple of days photographing details around the public docks in New Bedford MA.  There’s a commercial fishing fleet there and the boats are brightly painted. For those so inclined, this provides unusually good conditions for observing the mercurial nature of reflecting water.

Abstract photography can mean a lot of different things. These days there’s more things to cook up with photographs than there are with potatoes. Abstractions can be entirely manufactured in Photoshop–which is fine. But let’s face it–you can end up taking the photo out of the graph in the process.

Being a traditionalist, I’m biased toward abstract images that you have to go out and find.  Maybe it’s the hunter-gatherer in me, or maybe it’s because it’s a bit like dumpster diving. In truth, it’s probably more related to the dismay I feel after draining away the day in front of a computer.

The New Bedford Docks were crawling with abstractions. They were ubiquitous: water…boats, and peeling paint.  The job was simple. I had to capture them with my camera, while trying to ignore the inquisitive looks of the fishermen.

The first photographer to achieve any degree of notoriety for abstractions was Aaron Siskind. A half century ago, he found lots of meaning in scrufty paint, parts of signs and other random stuff. If you enjoy black and white photography without a frame of reference, Google him and you might be impressed.

There’s a lot of debates in camera clubs these days about what constitutes an “abstraction”. Purists argue that the viewer should remain completely clueless as to what they’re looking at. I’m no hardliner when it comes to this. If you figure out that it’s a picture of reflecting water, then so be it. One of my photographer friends thinks I should be calling some of my pictures “semi-abstractions”. I’m fine with that too, as long as it doesn’t mean it’s something like decaf coffee.

When it comes to abstractions, water is in a class of its own.

The photograph above was recruited from the reflections formed by a pair of boats. I’m not a musician but I like improvisation. As far as I can tell, this is about as close as it comes to improvising with a camera.  You watch the water carefully and shoot on impulse. When it feels right, that’s the time. You’re playing visual jazz, as it were.  Photographing reflections requires getting into the flow of changing events. That’s another thing I like about it. It seems like good practice for life in general.

The image above is entitled Reverie, and I’ve also made a sister image which I entitled Daydream:

Swan at Havens Beach – Panasonic Wide Converter DMW-GWC1

Back in January, Panasonic announced a new line of converters for their Micro four thirds cameras which included a fisheye, a macro, a wide converter (which modifies their 14mm lens to 11mm),  and a telephoto (which converts their 42mm to 84mm).  The only one that interested me was the wide converter because I already owned the 14mm.  At $130, the decision was a no-brainer. After the obligatory wait of four and a half months,  it finally showed up on Amazon this week. I bought one a couple of days ago and it arrived last night.

If you own Panasonic’s 14mm lens you’re getting the equivalent view of a 28mm lens on a 35mm camera. The DMW-GWC1 converter changes the view to 22mm. In the days of film, I frequently used the 903 SWC Hasselblad, so I’m already comfortable with a view this wide.

This morning I took my G3 over to Sag Harbor for some pictures with the converter. When I opened up my RAW files in Photoshop an hour ago I was pleased to see pictures that were bright and sharp. This picture, by the way, was photographed handheld @ f5.6 at only 1/50 second. You can click on it if you’d like to see it a little bigger.

I’m not sure yet if the profile for the converter is supplied in the most recent ACR upgrade from Adobe, but you can easily correct for any vignetting or barrel distortion manually in Photoshop. Be warned: both ailments occur with this converter, (especially barrel distortion) so if you’re unwilling to deal with it in front of your computer, then this gadget is not for you. With my first few landscapes (including the one up above), I didn’t find any of those corrections were necessary. If I was shooting architectural subjects, I would’ve corrected for barrel distortion. Vignetting?  On wide fields of view–I sorta like it (at least in small amounts).

Do I consider these things drawbacks to the converter?  Well…if you’re only spending a $130 for a 22mm field of view, you can’t demand perfection. (I used to spend about that much for the filters on my Hasselblad.)  To me, the biggest issue is corner to corner sharpness especially if you want to shoot wide open.   Stopping down isn’t a big deal for me since I already tend to do that with prime lenses. If you do find a bit of fall-off in terms of sharpness–again, you can compensate for it in your post processing.

Once you take your converter out of its box, it easily twists onto an adapter ring (supplied)–which then screws onto the front of the lens.  The converter doesn’t come with a pouch, but it does have the front and back caps.  Mounted on the 14mm on the Panasonic G3 the camera is a bit too large to be truly called a “point and shoot”. I’m fine with that because it’s ergonomic. Even with the converter attached, the camera is considerably smaller and lighter than any 35mm camera.

btw– you can’t screw a filter onto front of this converter…so be aware of your bare glass at all times.

I’ve posted more images from the converter here at these two links:

https://johntodaro.wordpress.com/2012/06/04/sag-harbor-photography-wall-and-flowers-shooting-with-the-dmw-gwc1/

https://johntodaro.wordpress.com/2012/06/06/view-from-the-haerter-bridge-panasonic-wide-converter-dmw-gwc1/

For specs, pictures and more info about all four of these converters,  visit the review at dpreview:

http://www.dpreview.com/news/2012/01/09/Panasonic_Converterlenses

Unruly Thoughts on Photography’s Origins

My last post concluded with this thought:

“…there’s no analogy in photography for the expressiveness of flung paint–and in truth, the two mediums are much further apart than they often look.”

A harmless form of woolgathering: photography vs painting. 

My preoccupation with this subject goes back to my salad days when I suffered with an absorption for art history.  I liked reading about painters back then, and didn’t start calling myself a photographer until a few years later. For better or worse, I still amuse myself by dismembering the two art forms.

Does any of this really matter?

No.

At any rate, the game plan with this post is to stay focused on photography (and to discuss its origins). To keep things sufficiently disorganized…we’ll start with painting.

The earliest known paintings are in Australia where in some places, they’ve found pictographs that are older than recorded languages. Because of that, they even predate “religions” (as we currently define them).  The pictures were painted 50,000 ago during the Stone Age. Tens of thousands of years later, similar paintings show up in France and Spain.

No one has the key. The paint is there on the rocks but the motives are completely gone. We assume the paintings had ritualistic significance. If that’s true, then the world’s first paintings might well have been the work of shamans. To me, paintings that old are not about art or individual expression (at least not the way we define those things today).   These were people who were nose to nose with survival in a way that was both constant and existential. Because of that, the first paintings were created under circumstances that were so radically different from our own,  that we have no point of reference.

Are the origins of painting different from the origins of photography?

Yes.

The  Camera Obscura was known throughout the ancient world, but the discovery of how to record an image using light-sensitive materials only came about after the Enlightenment. The first permanent photograph was made in 1826 by French inventor Joseph Niépce. Niépce’s discoveries took place during an invigorating period of research which had gradually spread through Europe after many centuries of torpor. After his initial contribution, photography took off like a hockey puck–getting passed along from one good player to another. Daguerre in France, Talbot in England, and Florence in Brazil–all three adding substantial and surprising refinements.

But in truth, it wasn’t a team effort. They were individuals–free-lance inventors who worked with one eye over their shoulder in order to monitor the competition. Interestingly, the art form’s seminal years took place during the same time as Darwin’s research. It was a period when innovation was in full bloom, and there was a flood of design everywhere. Free inquiry had finally become as cherished as the religion which formerly repressed it. In that sense, photography had very different origins than those of painting. It was discovered by inventors, and not by shamans.

If you like, consider my picture of the rainbow in this fashion:

The picture was taken near a railroad–and to make a point, let’s say that I photographed it that way in order to demonstrate that photography has been on a journey.  Ever since its earliest days, its inventors have been the travelers. They’re on the rails, and no one knows where the trip ends. Recently, the tracks took a swerve, and in sense, those of us who call ourselves photographers lived through nothing short of a sea change.  In case you missed it, we don’t record on light sensitive materials anymore and it’s no longer about chemistry.

Nowadays we displace electrons. But the inventors that brought this thing forward into the digital age were probably not much different from Niépce and Daguerre.

Let’s go further:

The rainbow represents light. Painters have had their pigments since day one (even back in the cave). But it’s  been different for us photographers because we work with light.

The lens has been our brush all along.

By happy chance, photographs of rainbows are more than just shuffled electrons. Even in the earliest photographs, it was patently clear that these new types of images were capable of triggering a complex range of emotions. It’s true: they document the world around us, but they also function viscerally.  No matter how much they’re tethered to technology, photographs will always be able to ask to the good questions. And that includes the ones that have no answers.

I pick up the tintype of my great grandmother and wonder who she was. Thankfully, we no longer require shamans for most of our mysteries.

As an afterword of sorts,  a person comes to mind:

Baruch Spinoza was a 17th century philosopher whose importance is understood even to those who’ve never pored through his books (myself included). There weren’t any photographs in his day,  but the pieces were falling into place. I like to think that he was one of those helped it come to pass.

Spinoza was Dutch, born to Portuguese parents in Amsterdam. He lived out his days between 1632 and 1677. Today, we remember him for his philosophy and arguments for rational thought. In many ways, his writings set the stage for the Enlightenment. The revolution that began with his philosophy was one of the events that would eventually lead to photography.

It wasn’t easy for Spinoza because he lived in trying times. He was Jewish, but was reviled and shunned by his own community for doing little more than thinking unauthorized thoughts. Had he been a Catholic, or had he been in another country his situation could’ve been far worse: these were the times of the Roman Inquisition. Fortunately, no one forced him into silence. He remained in Holland where a slightly more tolerant society at least granted him permission to think. He encircled himself with like-minded heretics–intellectuals, people with a sincere desire for change.  He was able to write, but his greatest writings were to remain unpublished until after his death.

It was with more than a little irony that I first realized that Spinoza made a living as a lens grinder. He died young, at 44, succumbing to tuberculosis–a condition which was said to have been seriously exacerbated by the fine dust he inhaled while grinding lenses. A tragic way to die indeed. But I like to think of his death in a different light, especially in terms of its symbolism. He was a lens grinder after all, and my hunch is that if  he’d ever constructed camera lenses they would’ve performed with the finest resolution.

Perhaps Spinoza showed us the world through a different sort of lens.

Here was philosophy that clarified and resolved thirteen centuries of morbid orthodoxy. Here were writings that flung open the doors of the Dark Ages. Here was a person who rekindled the light of antiquity.  In the details of his life, we witness the resilience of curiosity. In his unwillingness to be silenced, new light was cast upon the meaning of individual freedom.

In that sense, Spinoza’s work was a lens. I like to think he would’ve been delighted with the invention of photography.

Abstractions: New Photographs From New Bedford

The photographs were taken last week at the commercial fishing docks in New Bedford, Massachusetts. There are close-up details (and reflections) of boats, and studies of metal and wood surfaces from around the docks. In truth, many of these images could be more accurately described as semi-abstract. All were shot without a tripod which encouraged a free-flowing sense of connecting ideas.

New Bedford is a city with a waterfront revitalization in progress and is worth visiting if you’re in southern New England. The National Park Service administers New Bedford Whaling National Historic Park which includes a museum and visitor center located within walking distance of where the pictures were made.

Any of the thumbnails above can be enlarged by clicking on them. Email me if you have any questions about what you’re looking at.

Not Just For Portraits…the Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm f1.8

In December, as I’ve mentioned, I picked up a lens for my Panasonic Micro 4/3 outfit – the Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm, a lens of such beguiling compactness, it could snuggle up next to a golfball. But more to the point, it’s the very satisfying speed (f 1.8) which has been making most of the news.

By designing it both small and fast, they’ve escorted handheld telephoto imaging into a new dimension. Interestingly, the M. Zuiko suggests a miniature version of my much-used 90mm Sonnar (for my Contax G2)–a Zeiss telephoto that was another good performer when used without a tripod.

Much has been written about the lens’ ability to deliver a creamy soft focus when used wide open (aka bokeh). As you might know, this is an old technique which is quite the rage at the moment. And it is true–with this lens, a very shallow depth of field is possible, to an extent not previously achievable with point-and-shoot.  If you’re into bokeh, this lens is your huckleberry.

Needless to say I’m generally not using it for portraits (nor for shallow depth of field). The picture above demonstrates how an effective handheld picture is possible in low light outside. My camera was set at ISO 400, at a moderate f 9 aperture, with a shutter speed of 1/400. Because I was only ten feet from my subject, the depth of field achieved here (with a handheld camera) is quite impressive throughout the image.  Plus, because this lens is so fast, the image was recorded in the very sweet central area of the glass. (Using a zoom I would’ve been shooting much closer to wide open, and would’ve also required a tripod which would’ve made this particular image nearly impossible to take.)

To me, getting handheld images like this is a testimony to the compactness of this lens, and the beauty of the Micro 4/3 system.  The 45 f 1.8 is capable of delivering stunning bokeh wide open, moderate bokeh when used around f 5.6 (something which I often employ when shooting in fog), and superb depth of field at the higher f stops (which, in truth, is even greater than a comparable 35mm lens because the lens construction for Micro 4/3 is so much smaller).  In these terms, the Olympus 45mm f1.8 is extraordinarily versatile and one of the most usable telephotos ever made.

The lilliputian character of this lens relates directly to the Micro 4/3 sensor. It should be interesting to see if the (significantly larger) Sony NEX 7 system will have a comparable fully automatic prime telephoto available in the next year. I doubt it, but even if one comes along, it’s likely to be larger. For landscapes I much prefer a fast telephoto that’s usable without a tripod. I’m not ditching my Panasonics, and I suspect there’s an argument to make for using both formats.

BTW–This is how I’m currently working with my 4/3 primes:

I pack the Panasonic G 3 and the GF 2 into a small Tenba bag. The weight of both cameras (and all three prime lenses) is less than my old Hasselblad 180mm. That’s a lot of lightweight equipment using very little space. I keep the 14mm Panasonic on my G 3 and the 45mm Olympus on my GF 2. Since my GF 2 is silver, the lens is quite bewitching when paired this body.

The odd man out is my equally speedy 20mm f 1.7 which I can quickly install onto either body when needed. Having two bodies affixed with prime lenses makes it very easy to switch horses in the middle of a shoot. Advice: if you already have a GF body and are considering the G 3 (or GX 1)–keep your original camera. With prime lenses in your bag, having more than one body makes a lot of sense.

Here’s some specs on the lens from the Olympus press release:

http://www.olympus-global.com/en/news/2011a/nr110630zuiko45e.html

Taking Photographs: Getting Psyched For Winter Beaches

It’s 16 degrees this morning, and if that doesn’t feel cold enough, we’ve got 30mph gusts–winds that will be coming down on us out of the northwest like they finally mean business.

This is weather, in other words, which is sure to wake us up.

That being said, the sun is shining with an icy radiance, much like those January mornings back when we were kids. When I was in Sag Harbor earlier today, I re-discovered the satisfaction of stepping into a warm building. Bank, post office, or five-and-dime–we become more of a community when it’s freezing out. I say: bring it on. To hell with warm weather. The absurdly balmy climate we’ve been “blessed” with lately here in the middle latitudes has actually been depressing (my opinion). This is the argument:  The earth has a bit of a fever. Shouldn’t we be rooting for the planet? Shouldn’t we be wishing for it to be cold out when it’s supposed to be?

Winter is my favorite time to photograph beaches, but I’ll need to clarify that. In truth, I’ve taken pictures on days that are cold enough in November to feel like winter. Ditto for March and April, (months that have sent me home with popsicle fingers on more than one occasion).

Many of you live far enough south to never see snow on a beach. Others are trapped in ocean-deprived deserts or in situations where taking yourself to a frigid beach comes with very little appeal. I admit that it’s not easy to be out there taking pictures in a salt-soaked wind that’s cutting into your bones like a sushi knife.

But there’s tantalizing things going on–especially for photographers.

After a heavy snowfall, the slush that forms on the beach is beyond compare. A high tide can tease a beach full of snow into a distinctive foamy pulp. After getting gnawed at by the tides, it often refreezes. It can be crunchy (like walking on styrofoam)–or a whipped frozen froth speckled with sand and seaweed. It’s hard to tell what you’re walking on exactly. I once bought a set of “tripod snowshoes” which I’ve yet to try out, but I’m not sure if they’d work in the variable states of beach slush.

Up on the dunes, winter can come with ravishing views. It’s possible to find beachgrass encased in the ice of sea-spray (see my other post today). This is beautiful stuff–something rarely glimpsed. Several winters I’ve encountered large blocks of ice that dot the sand as far as you can see. In my rangering days on Fire Island I once rode on horseback into such a landscape. It was surreal–a blue and white polka dot beach with no one in sight in any direction. My horse trotted between the ice blocks while I took the pictures. Somewhere I have a photograph I took that day.

The beach in winter can be rewarding. My advice: dress warm, wear high boots (or snowshoes), and find some gloves that will permit you to use a digital camera. Keep in mind that microscopic buttons and dials are difficult to operate with fingers full of congealed blood. Beyond that, avoid changing lenses. Avoid using tripods without rubber grips. Make sure your camera batteries work in low temperatures. At all times, remember that you’re heading out into the absolute worse conditions for optics–salt, sand, dampness, ice and all the rest of it. Clean your camera when you get home…and whatever you do don’t drop it!

Footnote: I’ve included the picture up above in my Beach Days gallery. I admit that it was taken under conditions that almost no one would associate with a “beach” day.  Anyone I would have encountered out there would’ve been fully clothed and their umbrellas would’ve only come in dark colors. In other words, there were no stripes anywhere and no lotions.

I’m suggesting we expand the common view: some days should be considered beach days for reasons other than the ordinary ones. Indeed, maybe every day is a beach day of sorts.

Ask a duck– it’s not always about getting a tan.

Some Words for Micro Four Thirds, Prime Lenses (and the New Mexico Plains)

I promise this won’t be a review. Well at least not exactly. I will take this opportunity to crank out a bit of a “rolling plug”

I started working in the 4/3 format earlier this year using a Panasonic Lumix GF2 and a pair of those morsel-sized a la carte lenses. I have the 14mm and the 20mm primes which translate into a 28mm and 40mm respectively (0n a 35mm camera). These lenses are sometimes referred to as “pancakes” and we can rest assured that whoever conjured up such a name had a functional imagination. (We could also call them truffles, or slightly flattened cupcakes).

There’s been plenty of hype about this format along with all the hyperactive comparisons that we’ve come to expect at regular intervals every time a new product arrives. Rejoice in knowing that I won’t contribute anything else to that particular subject.

Those in love with increasing numbers of megapixels got their fix a couple of years ago when the format first surfaced. Plus there was a larger sensor. We now know that the RAW files produced by any of the Olympus or Panasonic bodies will serve you well if you caress them properly. But … be warned:  If you own one of these cameras, don’t doubt for a minute that you’ll be seriously tempted by the next wave (spelled: NEX 7). If you decide to chase that carrot next February it will be your strictly your decision. My advice is to sit back and relax. Be a tortoise. Avoid the bleeding edge. They’ve stumbled onto a nice balance between performance and weight here at the moment — and we might as well enjoy it.

My friend (and fellow photographer) John Ellsworth told me last week that handling one of these micro 4/3 lenses is something like handling a “chess piece”. I enjoyed the thought. (He was actually referring to the Olympus M Zuiko 45mm f1.8, another lens which I finally sprung for). John and I are old enough to remember what 120 film cameras feel like when they’re hanging around your neck.

Anyway, the photograph above was taken with the Panasonic GF 2 (and the 20mm f1.7). With this camera, I’m able to focus the picture and adjust the exposure by the very simple act of touching the screen, (something which I still regard with amazement). I’ve been surprised to read that touch-screen navigation has aggravated some photographers. It seems there’s those who’d rather twist a dial. I’m fine with the touch screen because it appeals to my severely limited capacity to follow instructions. Look at it this way: touching a screen requires only one finger and turning a dial takes two.

I’ll admit that since I bought this camera I’ve been cornering opportunities to explore the speed of these lenses. Believe it or not you can perform a variation on street photography far from any lamppost. The 20mm lens is also capable of producing shallow depth of field. In Japan they call this effect “bokeh”. I’m still uneasy with the pronunciation but I’ve been using the word a lot lately because it’s a lot sexier than saying “shallow depth of field”.

At any rate, my camera was hand-held for this picture and was therefore free to shoot six or seven variations in several positions and all in less than a minute. I feel like I’m playing jazz when I’m not off mucking around with my tripod and its multitude of extended joints. Let’s face it;  tripods are a bit clunky by nature. They also require at least three fingers to operate. That makes them even more complicated than turning a dial and much more so than touching a screen. I use them strictly when I need to.

Enough with cameras. Let’s move on to the West.

I’ve visited the eastern plains of New Mexico many times over the years and I always wonder why everyone else is driving though the place as fast as they can. I concede that there’s nothing much to see except for open space, which for me, is pretty much the point. This is not the Grand Canyon. If you spend any time out on the plains your expectations for normal landscapes will need to evolve. The scenery basically comes down to various combinations of grass and clouds, and (for better or worse) the ever present evidence of humans which usually takes the shape of  a fence. There’s cows everywhere but one thing about the plains is that you hardly ever see the people.  That’s okay, because their absence creates interest.

One visit didn’t involve taking any pictures. Many years ago my wife and I took a train ride west from Long Island. We took it all the way to Albuquerque just to see what it was like.

It was long.  Even compared to a bad day at the airport, this was a trip which slowed time down to a slurpy crawl.  It seemed like years before we were rid of the east (but once we were past Chicago things did get more interesting).  My favorite part was the morning after the second night. We got up and walked groggily through the train to a very lovely dining car. I remember cloth napkins. We were seated at small table and had the most delicious breakfast with a very compelling view. We were now chugging through the plains and were finally situated in New Mexico. All you could see was mile after mile of grass, clouds and the ubiquitous fences of ranching. It looked something like my picture up above except it was brighter because the sun coming up.

As I said, it wasn’t a day that I used my camera.  The train window took all the pictures and we stored them in our memory.

Winter Trees – Barcelona Neck

Barcelona Neck is a peninsula in Northwest Harbor that is home to the 500 acre Linda Gronlund Memorial Nature Preserve. Linda was a Sag Harbor native who died in the Pennsylvania plane crash which occurred on 9-11. The park has a network of well-maintained trails that explore field edges, salt marsh, second growth forest and beaches. There are many water views. My picture above was taken there a few years ago around this time of the year.

The peninsula has historic ties with Sag Harbor, although the park itself is within the Town Of East Hampton. It’s been said that homesick Spanish sailors thought the bluffs at the north end of the peninsula resembled those in Barcelona. On a clear day from on top you can see the distant archipelago formed by Plum Island, Great Gull, Little Gull and Fishers Island.

I gravitate to the park mostly to photograph fields, or more specifically to photograph the “gradient” of habitation as it fades gracefully into the woods. In some respects a lot of my pictures appear to be preoccupied with this, although it’s not usually a conscious function and is sometimes not successful.

Winter arrives in a week. If you live far enough north to have an ice rink in your birdbath then you’ll be enjoying a low angle of sun for another month. It can be a reason to plot an escape, perhaps to a warmer place with a sun on a higher perch. But on the other hand (if you stick around),  you can always grab a camera and try to harvest the light.

December Morning – Sag Harbor Bay From North Haven

North Haven, with it’s 360 degrees of shoreline, has endless opportunities for seascapes. On the east side beaches for example, the sun is currently rising perpendicular to the photographer producing beautiful light (especially if the seas are as calm as they were on Sunday morning).

From the north, there are a number of views of Shelter Island. From the southeast corner you’re looking at Jessup’s Neck in Noyack and from the northeast corner you’ve got a view of Southold. At the end of Route 114 you can watch the South Ferry making its endless rounds to Shelter Island.

This picture looks up along the east shore, and in the distance is Mashomack Preserve. The eastern part of North Haven is riddled with boulders and small patches of salt marsh; the other side is populated with high bluffs. Calm seas make either place the perfect locale for seascapes.

The best way to take it all in is with a sea kayak. From Long Beach you can circumnavigate North Haven in two or three hours. If you decide to paddle across to Mashomack you can stretch the trip to five. There’s also Genet Creek which is situated just to the west of the South Ferry launching area. Paddling into Genet will take you surprisingly far into the central part of the peninsula and much of the surrounding land is preserved. You can easily spend an hour or two poking around, slack tide being the optimal time for a visit.

This picture was taken with a normal lens which, in a way, is the least “obvious” of focal lengths. What interested me here was the repetition of shapes – the tongue of salt marsh being repeated by the shape of the largest cloud. Despite the placidity of the water, there is also a nice spiraling movement – clouds, reflections and the rocks in the foreground – something which I was hoping to capture more effectively with this lens.

Boat, Accabonac Harbor – Thoughts on Verticals

This very slender image of a boat was taken on the same foggy morning as the last two photographs.  Here’s another variation:

https://johntodaro.wordpress.com/?attachment_id=6475

With images like these I can’t deny that a lifelong interest in Japanese painting still provides inspiration.  Maybe “information” is just as appropriate as “inspiration” because what I’m remembering is an esthetic approach rather than specific paintings.

In the 70’s I discovered the Freer Gallery in Washington and museums with similar work in NYC. The Japanese paintings I was looking at were centuries old but had a sophistication and contemporariness that I couldn’t find in European art.  In my twenties, I couldn’t get enough of the stuff, particularly the verticals. The result has been a thirty year affinity with the idea of formatting photographs in this manner, especially if they’re monochromatic.

There are connections between Japanese design elements and American photography because interest in both arrived here at around the same time. Early painterly work by Alfred Stieglitz followed on the heels of impressionism and it’s affinity for things Japanese. More specific was Minor White’s imagery which its obvious connections to Zen Buddhism. My own teacher Anthony Nobile was an associate of White’s along with fellow student Paul Caponigro. A third student was the late Zen Buddhist roshi John Daido Loori whose ties with White continued to inform his photography until his final days.

My teacher, Anthony Nobile made beautiful black and white images of waterfalls and formatted them as simple verticals. One such image was published in a book entitled Octave of Prayer which is sadly out of print. I can tell you that thirty years later the memory of that photograph still invigorates the way I compose a picture including the one at this post.

Perhaps the modern world with all its clutter is constantly in need of an antidote. Japanese brush paintings are one such remedy. Photography provides another.

Photography 101 – Anthony’s Scissors

This begins a series of very basic pictures.

The images are monochromatic renditions of boats in the fog from a recent morning in Springs. Considering that it’s my 101st post here on WordPress there couldn’t be a more appropriate title than “Photography 101”.

All of us who take pictures with any kind of serious interest can benefit by being both teacher and student.  We remind ourselves what works behind the camera and then we pay attention. When we get out there with our cameras in a “101 state of mind” we start to see things better.

What works best for me is keeping things simple.

What that means is eliminating everything that’s not needed in the picture. In some cases that means eliminating 90% of your photograph (which is not easy). You get attached. You want all of it… the sky, the clouds, the water. But part of you knows it doesn’t work. Getting rid of the clutter isn’t always easy because it requires a critical eye. It calls for non attachment.

A long time ago I was taking one of Anthony Nobile’s workshops. Our assignment was to take a black and white picture, develop it and return the following week.  I still have a distinct memory of working on my own picture. After a few days, the group of us gathered again in the garage where he conducted classes. Our chairs were pulled into a close circle around a portable heater.  Tony was an unorthodox instructor who spoke with very careful language so we were on the edge of our seats.

I remember him leafing though our pictures while his cat brushed against our shins. The room was quiet – monasterial.  After a few moments, he selected a landscape and held it up. Then we watched as he cut out a small rectangle with a pair of scissors. He raised the cut-up print looking something like a rogue priest holding the Eucharist.

All he said was,  “this works.”

It wasn’t religion (thank goodness) but it was a game changer for me. Someone else’s print had been cut up, but it could just as well have been mine. Tony’s pair of scissors ushered in a lengthy period of ripping up my own prints that lasted a couple of years. Occasionally there were some good moments – times when I pulled a picture out of the developer that actually worked.

It was around then that I began to understand the nature of simplicity in photography. That was 35 years ago and I’m still in 101.

Fish Traps – Northwest Creek East Hampton (photographed with the Contax G2)

The Contax G 2 is one my film cameras. Please note the use of the present tense in that sentence. You can’t buy a new G2 anymore, but mine is far from retired and I’ve still got the stuff in my refrigerator (film, that is).

The Contax G2 was one of the last great cameras from the film years because it was a petite rangefinder with an impressive array of fast Zeiss lenses (21mm, 28mm, 50mm and 90mm). I never owned the 21mm which required a separate clip on viewfinder, but I still own the other three – a trio made with the finest optical glass and costing only a fraction of what they used to charge for the nearly identical lenses made for Leica. This picture was taken with the 28mm. You can still find lenses for the G2 but it will call for foraging around on Ebay.

Interestingly, my G2 lenses can be also mounted and used manually on my digital Panasonic Lumix G3, an option which I’ve not yet explored. To tell you the truth, I’m a little hesitant. Putting these lenses on a micro four thirds body means having to purchase an adaptor in order to install a titanium lens on a plastic camera. You end up with a cute little camera with really heavy boots.

My advice for anyone with these lenses is to go find some film. They still make it.

Five  years ago I was taking my G2 onboard my sea kayak in all sorts of strange conditions. The day I took this picture I’d paddled over to Shelter Island from near Alewife Brook in East Hampton. When I got back home the sun was going down and I carefully removed my camera from its dry sack and waded out to chest-deep water.  The G2 was one of the most ergonomic cameras made for hand-holding a picture.

More on fish traps in my next post…

Seafoam, Waves and Boat Wakes – Close Up Photographs

Water…close up.

My interest here is simple – texture, shape, color and perspective.

When water is photographed this close, abstract elements tend to pull the picture away from its context.  This, in turn, is counterbalanced by the details. Here, the details are bubbles, sand and waves.

In each of these photographs, one of those things provides a frame of reference. It’s a game of cat and mouse between abstraction and reality which is unique to photography.

I’ve arranged the images in a vertical line which makes sense in terms of a sequence. You can enlarge any thumbnail by clicking on it. To find out where a picture was taken (or to figure out what you’re looking at) simply hold your cursor over the image for a moment and you’ll get a title.

Bon voyage.

                        

Images of Autumn Wetlands – Winchester NH

We took a trip to Massachusetts over the weekend which included a foray across the state line into southern New Hampshire. These images are from wetlands near Winchester related to the Ashuelot River. The Ashuelot, as it turns out, flows into the Connecticut River on the Vermont border, which eventually empties into LI Sound only a few “crow miles” from where we live. While walking on a beach near Montauk a few years ago I found a plastic sign from a nature preserve in Keene NH (very near where I took these pictures). Amazingly, it had worked it’s way down the Connecticut River to end up on a saltwater beach on eastern Long Island.

Southwestern New Hampshire is not the location of the White Mountains and it’s safe to say it’s not the part of the state that attracts all the tourists. In spite of that, it’s pleasant here and the region has much going for it, not the least of which is a great deal of biodiversity. The same thing can be said of the Pioneer Valley of Massachusetts from the Quabbin reservoir west to the Berkshires.

With respect to the foliage this fall, the reports of a “dull” year seem to be true; but only if it’s being evaluated against most people’s expectations. Chasing “peak” colors around the north country is a good way to get frustrated, and with respect to photography, has never made much sense. There are many reasons for this, not the least of which is that the intensity of leaf color matters a lot less than whether it’s cloudy or windy. Plus, there are situations when faded colors work.

The bottom line is, don’t let anyone convince you to stay home on a dull year for foliage.

What I found over the weekend was that a subdued fall can result in a delicately colored pallet. The Ashuelot wetlands in the early morning fog were full of colors that would’ve been ruined on a more saturated year.

Fort Union – Images II and III (Canon G10)

The pair of verticals were taken at Fort Union, in New Mexico (discussed in my previous post). On the trip, I used my older Canon G 10 for situations like these because they seemed to be asking for a telephoto. The tendency of telephotos to simplify potentially distracting elements can be very helpful in some situations. The Canon G series cameras (as well as the S series cameras) have well-deserved reputations for zoom lenses with lots of depth of field, even when maxed-out.

Fort Union is a good place for anyone who enjoys watching clouds, especially through a window. Being in New Mexico, just east of the Rockies, there’s no shortage of spirited skies.  The adobe walls also provide opportunities to frame “blue within red”.  The ruins create scale, and more importantly they create moods. Imagine photographs of the same clouds in these pictures without the foreground walls. Those pictures could be good ones too, but would be entirely different animals.

It would be an enjoyable project to photograph the sky through an individual window at this fort every day for one year.

Fort Union – Image 1 (Panasonic Lumix GF 2)

Fort Union is an historic site administered by the National Park Service which preserves the remains of the largest Federal fort along the Santa Fe Trail.  It’s located in New Mexico. The fort’s moment in history commenced during the latter half of the 19th century and lasted up until the arrival of the railroad. It’s an imposing reminder of what a city-sized outpost on the Santa Fe Trail might have once been like. After 100 years, it’s still surrounded by many square miles of prairie and a view of the Rocky Mountains. Although the wagons have long since vanished, it’s become a striking place to photograph, and one with abundant amounts of quiet.

This is the first of several pictures from the fort, a horizontal image with a view through a standing wall. The sun was caught at a good angle here, especially for revealing texture.

If you look closely, there’s a curious smaller window at the bottom of the rear wall.  The view through that window has been “shortened” by a rising knoll of grass behind the fort. The picture was captured with my Panasonic GF 2 and its normal 20mm lens.

Napeague Harbor Sequence – Petite Landscapes

This is is a sequence of four images from various points around the perimeter of Napeague Harbor.  There’s a number of ways to group these, but in this instance I’ve arranged them vertically to convey something of what you might find at your feet during a walk on the beach.  I like to think of these images as petite landscapes – photographs close to the observer, with most of the elements of the larger picture. Clicking on them will produce an enlargement.

For other sequences from Amagansett and elsewhere go to this link:

Hasselblad 903SWC … rambling thoughts

The image is a another from Shafter, TX done with my Hasselblad 903 SWC. The picture from my previous post today was taken about an hour earlier.

Interestingly, this picture was published in a January 1997 Shutterbug article for reasons that now seem strangely outdated. In those days, the magazine devoted one issue per year to the latest and greatest 120 film cameras, with additional articles about photographers working in that format. Due to the equipment discussions, there was excitement generated by that particular Shutterbug, and it was probably the closest the magazine ever came to having a “swimsuit” issue.  Back in 1997, it was an honor to have one’s work  show up on those pages.

Things changed quickly. These days it’s hard to imagine a time when none of us knew what a pixel was. To their credit, Shutterbug made the transition too. Nowadays the discussion revolves around the mystique of the digital SLR and the latest revolution in point and shoot.

In spite of all that, there are still those (including myself)  who savor the look and feel of 120 film cameras such as the 903. Like most people these days, I own a digital camera, but I’m not giving up my Superwide anytime soon. I keep a few rolls of film on hand and have no issue with scanning it. An extra step to the digital work-flow is barely a hassle and more than worth the effort.

Some technical thoughts about using the 903 Superwide:

The detachable viewfinder made for this camera is the easiest way to view an image. Over the years when taking a picture, I’ve generally left the viewfinder on and used it to compose my photograph. If you’ve never owned the camera, keep in mind that when using the detachable viewfinder, the lower portion of your view is obscured by the lens barrel. I’ve always gotten around this little snag by turning the camera sideways in order to view the lower part of my image. For focusing, I use the hyperfocal-focusing marks on the lens barrel.

If greater precision is needed for composing and focusing, a ground glass back is available from Hasselblad and may be used in conjunction with any of the prism finders. I use it with the PM 5. Using the ground glass back with a prism finder requires that you remove the film back, and that you’re okay with viewing an upside down image. It also requires a shutter locked in the open position with a good cable release. Once you’ve done all that and your picture is composed and focused, the ground glass back (and prism finder) is removed and the film back is reinstalled. Obviously, all this is done with the camera on a tripod.

Additional photographs I’ve taken with the 903 may be seen by clicking on this link:

https://johntodaro.wordpress.com/category/viewpoints/square-format-hasselblad/

Keep in mind that colors and contrast of the images at this site will be most accurate when viewed on a calibrated MAC monitor. This is most relevant to photographs that have a wide range of contrast such as many of the ones I photographed with the 903.

If you’ve got any other questions about the camera, feel free to post a comment.

 

Things to do in Moab … did he say, “admire the flowers?”

Consider this post a recess.

I recently was shopping in the health food store in Sag Harbor on Eastern Long Island and I was wearing my Moab hat. Someone came over and asked:

“What’s a Moab?”

A question like that isn’t that uncommon out here in the salt-soaked forests east of the Hudson River. In fact many people around are likely to assume the name Edward Abbey is an Edward Albee typo.

Me and Moab go back a long ways. It began in August 1978 when I was passing through what was then a town with only two places to eat. We were in one of them ordering breakfast and preparing to head up to nearby Arches National Park.  I was traveling with a close friend and my brother. It was the “salad years” for three of us and thanks to Edward Abbey, we had recently discovered Utah.

At the restaurant, I phoned home and my father informed me that Sagamore Hill National Historic Site had called. My father hated talking on the phone so I considered myself lucky. The three of us fished around for pocket change and I rang them up. The curator needed a staff photographer after Labor Day and I was offered the job.

I took it.

Many years later I returned to Moab with my wife and son and geez… had that place changed. They’d discovered over a thousand more arches inside the park. That made me feel old. Next they invented mountain bikes and all the people showed up. This was a clearly a town that had shifted gears since I first arrived.

You had to hand it to old Ed Abbey. He wrote Desert Solitaire and became the unwitting founding father of both Earth First and the Moab Chamber Of Commerce. Considering some of the pricey developments springing up,  you have to wonder what he’d make of it all.

I don’t know about him but I think that it’s good.

Some in southern Utah won’t agree, but the vacationing eco-tourists and Europeans on holiday are living proof that their state doesn’t require any more roads or mines, or forests full of cows. The good citizens need to remember that green types tend to travel with plenty of the green stuff. If Moab is any indication, more wilderness might actually boost their economy.

Enough with that. Now onto the photographs.

Nowadays there’s lots of good photographers exhibiting in Moab. In fact, the last time I was there, I’d say there were more photographers than gas stations. All of these guys are very good, although in Moab and everywhere else in Utah they tend to be white guys over fifty – something like myself.

And so… where are my arch pictures?

Unfortunately, I’ve got a tendency to withhold pictures that people want to see the most. I can’t help it, it’s my nature. I have photographs of arches but you have to wait. At any rate, Moab is one sweet town to walk around. Remember, that’s coming from a guy whose hometown got some sort of award from National Geographic (I keep forgetting to read the little sign they put up across from our library).

Thus, from Moab, I have flowers. Yarrow, Lantana, Roses and a Sunflower, all of which were photographed around Main Street, some near my favorite restaurants. I don’t know if Moab is overrated for anything but it’s underrated for flowers. My advice to visitors:  admire the flowers.

Some comments:

Yes, the Yarrow is dried up which in my opinion is the way it looks best – the place is a desert after all. The sunflower is complimented by a common garden hose which is the first one I’ve ever photographed. The final image is a fascinating one. I was struck by the way the two tripod legs looked and kept them in the picture. Photographers tend to avoid getting tripods in their photographs for obvious reasons but in this case, I let them be.  It’s a self-portrait, of sorts.

There are good textures in these pictures. People have seen them at different shows and think I took them in Paris.

I didn’t. They’re just from Moab.

Now for some off topic family favorites… and the rest of the photographs:

Favorite Waffle: Jailhouse Cafe ••• Favorite Mexican Food: Miguel’s Baja Grill ••• Best Deal: 99 cent Clif Bars at GearHeads ••• Favorite Thrift Store: Wabisabi (where my hat came from) ••• Favorite Bookstore: Back of Beyond (where my t-shirt came from) ••• Favorite Muffin: Chocolate Peanut Butter Vegan Muffin at Love Muffin Cafe ••• Favorite Shower: Slickrock Campground ••• Favorite Snack: Apricot Suncakes, Moonflower Market, Inc.

Favorite Utah National Park: Capitol Reef (sorry Arches)

Favorite Book About the Area: Park Slayer Pursuit,  a short book which my son wrote in 7th grade (sorry Mr. Abbey)