Monday, September 15, 2014

As one of my friends said, "What is lacking here in interesting scenery is compensated for by incredible clouds."  It's true. There is a fairly consistent pattern of cloud formation that often leads to rain in the afternoon and evening.  (It's 6:30 PM and raining now in fact.)  I was getting the mail at about 5 o'clock and was dazzled by the western sky.  I am beginning to enjoy having my little Canon S100 digital for immediate gratification, and grabbed it quickly to record a bit of the drama. A little futzing around in Photoshop dumped the color, and hyped things up a bit.  Still, it ain't REAL photography! ;-)

Well into adulthood, I admit to having had a fear of  'the south' that was linked to the awful behavior of mobs and individuals during the '60s in response to desegregation and the civil rights movement.  Bombing 'black' churches, lynching, burning down houses of African Americans who chose to speak out and up, fierce police dogs attacking peaceful protestors, yahoo bigots screaming racist slurs and a host of other despicable practices made the region anathema.  And, of course, the slave cabins and images from Kingsley Plantation continue to reinforce the notion that this is not a region to visit let alone live in if you are a white, liberal, Yankee.

But, having now been a full time resident of north Florida for more than a year, I feel there has been significant change, and my discomfort has abated.  I know there was no dearth of racist intolerance and bigotry in many other regions as well, but the consequences of red-lining, block busting, unfair hiring and firing and a host of other sins didn't make the headlines the way what happened in the segregated south did.  A bad rap?  I don't think so, but now is not then...thankfully!

So, it is wonderful and refreshing to read the story linked below, and view the images of a North Carolina itinerant photographer made of different stuff.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Yeah, I kittens or sunsets!  Well, Scooter is 14 and by no means a kitten.  He's a retired cat who can be so laid back that a squirrel will walk past him and not even notice he's there, nor will Scooter twitch a whisker in his direction (true!).  He doesn't have many teeth left, but could still defend himself with claws if he had to.  Perhaps cognizent of his seniority, he is far warier than he used to be and often prefers to be on the screened in porch (or 'lanai', to use the local term) looking out rather than actually being outside...less stress I think.  He periodically adopts perching places that range from a pile of clean laundry, to an empty basket for magazines, or a favorite padded chair seat, and now, to this little table by the front door.  His one principal interest is napping, and he's extremely good at it.  After these pictures were taken, he walked away, jumped up on his favorite chair, and went to sleep.  The perfect retiree!   "I am kitty!  Hear me snore!"

N.B.  As I am now posting the occasional digital image, I'll identify film from pixels for most posts.  These are scans of film exposures made on a tripod with the P67, 135mm lens on Delta 100.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

This will be an odd post, and there won't be a photograph or two included.  Rather, I am posing an open question and looking for serious answers.

I am at a total loss as to the way certain contemporary photography disregards most of the criteria I consider essential to a good picture.  In my email today was a new issue of an online photography magazine that baffles me. What I see there over and over again is haphazard lighting, indifferent color...usually somewhat washed out, random composition that seems to deliberately disdain coherent organization, centers of interest that aren't interesting, subjects that wouldn't hold my attention for a moment in reality, a voyeuristic view of people who have no apparent reason for being photographed, and a host of other sins of omission, and commission.  These photographs get published on line and in books, and garner praise by virtue of their being chosen, but without an explanation of why.  (I find it hard to believe anyone would buy any of these pictures for their walls, and I'd love to know how many copies of such books get sold.)

The alternative isn't kittens and sunsets, saturated and over sharpened color landscapes with pristine, dead calm water and snow capped mountains.  I realize that stuff is often kitsch, and is as guilty of  egregious sins as the work I am referring to in the paragraph above.  I make no brief that plodding along with endless variations of Yosemite in winter and the like would be preferred alternatives.
Nor do I  think umpteen Kennabe long exposure style photographs should be thought of as 'better'  art, whatever that is.  I am not writing in praise of stagnation. I also do not contend that my own photographs should garner any particular attention.  But, at least they're honest attempts to meet  standards that have been well established over time. And that's the heart of the question I'm posing...why have those standards been abandoned, and why does deliberate ugliness command the approval of the arbiters of 'fine art' photography???   

So, if you have a comment that will enlighten me, please make it.  If it makes no ad hominem attacks, and uses presentable language, I'll post it.  I apologize in advance for the 'captcha' nonsense that imposes, but I can't seem to disable it.  Comments are delayed until I can check them, but I won't ignore any that meet the two criteria I mentioned.  Thank you in advance! publishes a wide range of photobooks that run the gamut from wonderful to execrable, so look there for examples of the best and worst. 

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

I confess to owning a neat little Canon point-and-shoot digital camera in addition to my 'real' film cameras.  Because I don't take it very seriously, it's fun to use, and I enjoy the easy delete function I employ frequently.  The images below were made with it while driving back from my trip to Savannah and Brunswick.  I had been looking for cotton fields without success, but passed this dirt road that I got a glimpse of at 65 mph, and had to turn around to return to.  While taking a five hour class in Lightroom (a pixel processor), I converted the color image to monochrome and messed around with it a bit.  For me, color is literal and boring and becomes execrable when it's super saturated.  It gets even worse with the nightmare use of HDR. (high dynamic range). 

The idea of HDR is the notion that it records the full range of light the eye can perceive.  But, the eye does NOT register both bright and dark scenes simultaneously.  Our irises open up in low light, and close down in bright light.  Though we may quickly change from one to the other, they are not both viewable at the same time.  Another drawback is that rendering everything in the photograph with equal tonal importance allows no area to become significant ....aesthetically stupid!!   The look of HDR is contrived and false.  So is the rationale for using it.  More and more it seems that software engineers are dictating the criteria for photographic aesthetics, and like lemmings, vast numbers of digital photographers are drinking the Kool-Aid.  I will not be one of them. 

Sunday, August 24, 2014

While in Savannah, my friends and I spent some time in Forsyth Park.  It's a gorgeous and elegant place where people exercise, and walk, and sit and talk, and just enjoy being outdoors.  There is a prominent and much photographed fountain, and statue of  a Civil War hero of the Confederacy.  Of course, in some of the southern states, that war is referred to as the War of Northern Aggression, and not without reason although it both shocked and amused me when I first heard it called that.  Compared to Central Park in NYC, it's very small, but it has some echoes of "Poet's Walk" at the south end.  There are far fewer benches in Forsyth, and a dearth of buskers, but there is abundant Spanish Moss that immediately tells all y'all you be in Dixie now,..... Bubba! ;-)

Thursday, August 21, 2014

During my trip to Savannah and Jekyll Island, I only exposed two rolls of film.  Today, I developed the other roll that included some Forsyth Park images, and a few from Jekyll Island.  I like this one from JI.   I think the witchy trees contribute an eerie sense to a quite ordinary scenic overlook viewing bench.  As the temperature was in the 90s, the humidity oppressive, and swarms of gnats were buzzing about without mercy, it's no wonder no one had chosen to sit there.


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

August in the southeast is a time to allow for liberal doses of indoor hibernation.  Days go by in the 90s without  a weather forecaster's comment about a heat wave....of course it's a heat wave...what's to discuss!???  It's is the obverse of winter time snow and ice up north.  Even its worst, though, there is still nothing to shovel, nor any reason to be housebound.  No...get in your car and drive to the mall...always 72ish, and comfortable.  Boring as it is, at least you can walk around.   

This past weekend  I visited Savannah with some friends to see a photography exhibit at SCAD.  It was a retrospective of the regional photographer, Jack Leigh.  Beautiful work shown in an exquisite city that can charm the feathers from a peacock!  The next day, I drove to Jekyll Island to revisit driftwood beach.  The weather was witheringly hot and humid, but I did the best I could nonetheless.  Here are two from that visit.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

There are two more monographs I've obtained that I am enjoying a lot.  One is by the late Georgia photographer, Jack Leigh titled The Land I'm Bound To.  The other is by George Tice titled Seacoast Maine.  Both are vivid evocations of place, and both do it well.   Many of Leigh's photographs share themes with those of Tice, and there's no doubt that he's been influenced by that master, but Leigh is genuinely of coastal Georgia and is original and true to that subject.  I mention this because I need the influence too.  This flat Florida landscape isn't easy to photograph the way the rolling hills, and open forests of New York are.  Both Leigh and Tice use fog as an important filtering element, but that's not so common here.  Coastal Florida, though, has incredible clouds that form on many summer afternoons and often bring local downpours. The photograph here was made standing at the edge of the little roadside pullout where I found the bent over tree in my previous post. The clouds were not spectacular, but were good enough!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Until I feel ready to resume the Kingsley project, I will continue to look for other stuff to photograph here.  I've had the best luck along one particular drive that also brings me to the plantation road. It makes me a bit twitchy to drive past it,  but I'm forcing myself to wait while my imagination incubates what to do next there.   These two were made within a mile or so of each other.  It seems the best 'scapes here usually involve sky and water.  But sometimes, there are trees that compel a photograph as well.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Two things happened to me in the last two days that have had an impact.  One was a Charlie Rose interview with Sally Mann in which she demurred having talent, but acknowledged having tenacity.  To that end, she declared a willingness to rephotograph a subject as many times as it took to get it 'right', and then persistence in the darkroom to realize the best the good negative could surrender.  The second was the purchase of two monographs.  The first was 'here far away' by Pennti Sammallahti, and the second was Wynn Bullock, 'Revelations', a retrospective.  Their impact was to smack me upside the head about what it takes to 'make a picture', rather than render a negative.  Without Photoshop, these traditional artists bring drama and dynamic tension to what would be very ordinary images by intense burning and dodging.  Sometimes those techniques are so subtle you don't notice they've been applied, but the success of other images is entirely due to those blatant manipulations.

I'm in a learning process with the slave cabin pictures.  I need them to be much more dramatic, and that's not easy given what they are in reality.  Here are two that I've pushed to the edge of credibility, although they still look less than I want them to.  So, I may have to rephotograph the lot in a different way.  Tenacity and patience are the crucibles of progress. 

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

When the Kingsley slave cabins were inhabited, the area around them, and all the acres beyond were cleared for cultivation.  The riotous growth of flora in the interval from then until now is astonishing to a northerner who is accustomed to slow growth, and a minimal understory.  One would expect clutter, but whole forests of trees risen as these are is a phenomenon new to me.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Standing in one of these cabins on a hot, sunny day becomes very uncomfortable very quickly.  This is one of only a couple of frames I exposed last week when I preferred to stay in the shade and make photographs from a distance.  If I used a digital camera I suppose I'd be much less choosy about what to photograph, and 'shoot' a great many more frames.  But, with film, I take a lot of time to select subjects.  Despite the heat and glare, I took a while with this one. My shirt was wet when I walked away to seek relief under the shade trees nearby. 

Friday, June 27, 2014

More by accident than design, I drove to Kingsley chasing some gorgeous clouds and found myself stopping instead at the cabins even though I promised myself I wouldn't.  The weather is hotter than it was in May, but the light is still about the same...bright sun, and strong shadows, so I hadn't much expectation of anything looking different.  As I was inclined to stand in the shade, I chose to regard the cabins from a distance (although I also got into one and made some exposures there too.)  It's taken a long time to decide to include some of the contemporary settings for these buildings...particularly a palm tree or two, but they're there, so they need to be photographed.  The forested image is similar to one I've posted earlier, but different enough to present.  In the end, if I can only choose one, it will be nice to have several to pick from. 

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

I am no fan of palm trees.  In fact, I think they're rather ugly, and I am eager to fell the one that inhabits our front lawn in favor of a deciduous or some such leafy tree native to this area.  But, being the true softie that I am, I wouldn't take down our palm tree without regret.  And, when I come across one living a solitary life, I feel a degree of compassion.  Go figure!

Friday, June 13, 2014

As I've not yet lived here for one full year, I can't anticipate seasonal weather patterns as I could in New York.  But when there's 'weather' other than relentless sun, it's pretty compelling.  These three photographs are from the same roll as yesterday's post.  The first two were made as a storm was gathering, and the third as it cleared from my immediate area.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

These photographs are the first in my respite from the Kingsley project.  Oddly, they were taken on the road that leads to the plantation, but not because I was going there.  However, that road is more interesting to me than any other I've discovered in this overgrown landscape with its impenetrable  jungles, and flat terrain that doesn't provide even minimally elevated points of view.  As looking to the land is so unproductive, looking to the sea and the sky is crucial, and celebrating interesting trees is a daily quest.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

I think it may be time to give the Kingsley project a rest.  I could easily burn more film there, but a lot of those photographs would be tiresomely repetitious.  As I've never done a project like this, I'm curious to discover how patience and percolation will inform it when I return.  It may require the light of a different season, or a lot of rain, or longed for fog, or human presence to stimulate new images that are different enough to be included.  In fact, I just discovered that descendents of the enslaved residents of the plantation are well known to the NPS people who maintain the place, and they attend various commemorations and ceremonies that are held there.  Meeting some of them would be a huge thrill whether or not they ever were photographically a part of this work. Here are a final two for a while that I took on June 1st.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

The range of textures among these cabin remains is extreme.   These restored walls have been stuccoed with a material made from sand and oyster shell based lime.  The National Park service (using volunteers, I think) has done some wonderful work with a few cabins whose walls now look as they likely did when new.  The lintels are impressive, too, as I think they may have been hand hewn at least somewhat after being sawn.  They look authentic anyway.   Originally, the windows would have had wooden shutters to keep out as much nasty weather (and flying critters) as possible. Sooner or later I'll make an appointment with the person in charge of the plantation to get my facts checked, although I've read enough to believe I've been fairly accurate. 

Thursday, May 29, 2014

As strong and durable as tabby is, it is perpetually vulnerable to vegetation that so easily finds a foothold on its rough texture, and organic composition.  This is the only plant I've seen on any of the walls, and I'm loathe to report it to the rangers, or tear it out myself.  I don't think this one little guy will do any harm as long as he doesn't make friends with any newcomers.  I want to photograph it again in different light, but I had to be sure I had at least this one lest it be gone when I visit again.

Update:  I have replaced the photograph I posted with this one that is better I think.

Monday, May 26, 2014

One would think I could find nothing else to photograph given the persistence of Kingsley as my subject.  And, in a way that's true.  The last part of the trip there is visually more interesting than anywhere else in this area that I'm familiar with.  But, I am so intent on getting to the cabins I have ignored everything else that's interesting along the way.  I will insist to myself that that must not continue, and when something attracts my attention, I will stop and make a photograph if at all possible.  Nonetheless, here are some more of the cabins. 

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Every time I finish a roll of film at Kingsley and pack up my kit, I see something I know I need to photograph the next time I visit.  I'm itchy in that way just now remembering something I saw as I was leaving a few days ago that I don't want to miss.  I go back and forth between abstracts and 'documents', but the abstracts are the most visually interesting. So, I'll probably return tomorrow, because I can, but I expect that will provoke yet another visit in the next few days.  Too bad I can't rent a room there, and encounter the place afresh every day for a while. 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

In addition to the single cabin that's been almost entirely restored, there are several others that have been whitewashed with lime based stucco, and had lintels and brick fireplaces reconstructed or replaced (the lintels, I think).  The beams look hand hewn, and fit snugly on the tabby walls that support them.  Florida weather breeds mildew in abundance, so the 'dirty' look of the unrestored tabby is quite dramatic after one hundred plus years. The walls that have been stuccoed and whitewashed, though, are equally dramatic in their newly pristine condition. 

Sunday, May 18, 2014

During my rainy day trip to Kingsley, I exposed two rolls of film.  When I posted the two pictures last Thursday, May 15th, I had not developed the second roll.  That was accomplished yesterday, and I like some of those images more than the others.  So, I'm posting a new one, and a different (wider) view of what I posted before that I think I like better.  If this were a website and not a blog, of course, I'd only post the one I preferred, but you may be interested in seeing both and making your own choice.

Ultimately, I'll have to choose the best of all I take during the year, and they will comprise the series I'll try to do something with.  I was beginning to think I'd end up repeating a lot of ideas, but each time I visit, I see something I hadn't seen before.  I want to go again when there's a lot of rain to explore one of those new ideas that didn't get photographed last week, but did get noticed.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

I've been wanting to make a photograph within the lone, restored Kingsley cabin during heavy rain to capture the runoff from the gutterless roof.  It was finally possible today, and my luck was spot on as I arrived there, walked to the cabin, set up my kit, and framed a first image just as the rain began in earnest.  The cabins originally had wooden shutters, but the windows were glassless.  In summery weather, it must have been oppressively humid and buggy to live here..but,  the manor house was no less so in that era before even the idea of air conditioning existed.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

This photograph may be the last Kingsley image I post for a while.  I don't expect to return there until there is a weather change that might include fog, heavy rain, or some unusual light.  It's all too easy to find abstractions that are enhanced by strong shadows, but they become repetitious and not worth redoing when they're too similar to what I've photographed already.  The other good reason to stay away for a bit is to let my visual impressions of the place ferment and ripen.  When I visit again,  I'll either see things with deeper insight, or with an entirely new viewpoint, but I hope I'll come away with something fresh. 

Sunday, May 4, 2014

I've been waiting for a rainy day to make a particular photograph at Kingsley, and Friday, May 1st was such a day.  But, by the time I'd set up there was only drizzle, and the torrent of rain running off the gutterless roof of the one restored, model cabin just didn't happen.  So, another time for that.  Nonetheless, I trudged around in the light rain holding an umbrella over the camera and pod and found these.  It's good to photograph certain subjects in flat light as the contrast is reduced a great deal, but there is still plenty to deal with. 

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Eventually I'll sort through all the Kingsley photographs I've posted here, and select the ones I like the most and submit them with an essay somewhere.  But, it will probably be many months to a year before that happens.  They seem to almost self sort into abstracts and documents, and I can't bring myself to favor one approach over the other.  The abstracts neglect the reality of what these cabins were, but the documents ignore their abstract beauty.  So, the project may have to have two separate but equal parts, and I use that phrase with full awareness of its provenance.  The legacy of slavery was institutionalized racial segregation, and it has only been a few decades since that abhorrent practice was abolished by the Supreme Court.  Even today the foul stench of racism has not been fully cleansed from the air. 

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

I made this photograph in 2004.  I was driving to the Kingsley Plantation, and was startled to see a road like this that just isn't the kind of scene one finds in the northeast.  I had my 4x5 kit with me that day, and the negative is rich in detail and tonal gradations (as only a large format film negative can be, and digital files simply can't.).  It's strikingly similar to the photograph I posted a week ago of the arbored path at Washington Oaks State Park.  The road to Kingsley, however, never looked like this when the plantation was under active cultivation.  All these acres were cleared and planted.  The lush, abundant flora has taken over in the interval since.

Monday, April 21, 2014

I returned to Kingsley Plantation on Saturday to continue my essay on the slave cabins.  It was a relatively pleasant day, but there was strong sun.  I got quite sweaty during the hour or two I photographed and couldn't help remembering that slaves spent all day working in those conditions, and later in the season, far, far worse.  When I needed to, I stood in shade.  When they needed to, they couldn't.

Here's a passage by Solomon Northup who wrote Twelve Years a Slave in 1853.  He had been born a free man living in upstate New York until captured by slavers and sent south to be sold into bondage.  He had been a farmer and musician:  "Alas, had it not been for my beloved violin, I scarcely know how I could have endured the long years of was my companion – the friend of my bosom – trumpeting loudly when I was joyful, and uttering its soft melodious consolations when I was sad. Often, at midnight when sleep had fled affrighted from the cabin and my soul was disturbed and troubled with the contemplation of my fate, it would sing me a song of peace."  It was difficult to copy the text so filled were my eyes with tears.