I have been slowing or pausing the frequency of my posts and will likely continue that trend for the near future. It doesn’t feel necessary for me to go any more into it at this point, but perhaps another time.
In basic terms, submerging myself in the details of work and choosing to be more highly present with my family is simply taking more time and focus. I have been finding some joy in this mix and not a small piece of me is pleasantly surprised at the fullness of my life at this moment.
So, in reflection of my inward life let me share some photographs I have taken recently, an outward metaphor for the intense density and richness of color that I have been experiencing.
And yes, all of these were taken within the last month. One bizarre day in which the temperature plummeted and left us with five inches of snow overnight, mostly melted and back up the the mid sixties by the following day.
Yesterday I was able to enjoy an afternoon moment of simple joy. After a couple of difficult days, struggling with home school and work schedule overlaps and uncertainty about both my job and the new normal, I was able to catch a bit of a break.
The weather was amazing, absolutely perfect. Warmer than had been predicted but not hot, clear blue skies, light breeze, perfect.
Two of my three kids were playing in the backyard while I watched. My son slipped on some dry grass that is always the last part of the lawn to turn green, and then grows like crazy all year long. The dry patch had been shedding tiny brown stalks all spring and this gave us all an idea.
Nothing like a bit of natural confetti and moments of down time to experiment with a camera.
It had been a few days since I had really taken any pictures, and longer since I had taken anything that I felt really excited about. Despite the simplicity (or because of it) I found myself enjoying the process, my kids, and the moment all at once. Something I really needed.
Nothing more to be said except that I hope all of you can find a slice of bliss amidst the stress of our shared uncertainty. Shout-out also to Yuri for inspiring in part the idea for throwing things into the air and taking pictures of them with his No Gravity project, though my interpretation wasn’t nearly so daring.
We have recently had a lot of fox activity around the neighborhood. This isn’t something we have seen in the previous six years of living here and it has been fairy entertaining. There are at least two foxes that come visiting, the bigger of the two usually makes his morning commute through our front yard as we are eating breakfast, and then returns on the other side of the street. Apparently the squirrels in our neighborhood are pretty good pickings.
A couple of days ago we had a gray misty morning that lasted nearly until noon. We saw the neighborhood fox four times that morning, coming by our window and feeling pretty confident with himself, apparently because he felt that he had a bit more cover in that sort of weather.
I had been feeling a bit restless that morning as well and thought that the gray morning might make for some good photography lighting. I had been keeping my eye on a few trees that line the nearby bike path which were always early to bloom in the neighborhood. One of them has wonderful yellow buds that really set it off from the surroundings. I had been looking for an opportunity to get over there and grab a few pictures while the color was good, but things had not been turning out in my favor.
So, this restless morning, I decided to drag my whole family out for a morning walk just so I could photograph one tree.
As often happens when one decides to embark upon an adventure, interesting things are discovered.
As we were fully on the bike path, a third of a mile into our loop and near my photography goal, we saw the second neighborhood fox hanging out off the path, enjoying a freshly caught meal. It didn’t see us at first, and when it did notice me sneaking up with my very-non-zoom-35mm it didn’t immediately run off because it didn’t want to bother having to relocate for brunch.
Despite the fact that I did not have remotely the right equipment for the job I managed to snag a couple of good shots as the animal decided what its next move was going to be. I don’t think I’m going to be investing in a telephoto any time soon, but I did enjoy the thrill of the hunt while I was there. I can certainly see the appeal.
Inspired by my last session stuck downstairs in the playroom with my camera, I approached the next one with a much more open perspective.
The actual objects in our playroom don’t interest me very much as subject matter for photos. Much the same with my photography outdoors I am more interested in the overlapping of textures and patterns, and the small details that get overlooked. When surrounded by man-made objects, which do not generally have their own inherent natural qualities or details, I was struggling to figure out where to point my camera.
The answer to this question, as the answer to so many questions of my childhood, was legos. I liked the idea of restricting my viewpoint, and using objects to disrupt the objects in the room so that they wouldn’t be recognizable in the photos. This way, it wouldn’t matter so much what I was shooting, rather how I was shooting.
I created a simple viewfinder/tunnel out of lego (duplo to get technical) windows so that I could focus the light and attention of the camera.
That, combined with the multi-colored strings of lights that we have set up down there were enough to create some really interesting abstractions using a close focus and bokeh from the lights.
The lego frames were semi-reflective, and by adjusting how they lined up I was able to create slices of the round light glow, and to multiply the effect in some interesting ways. One of the most interesting things I learned is that my mirrorless fujifilm x-e1 isn’t always going to create what I see on the viewfinder. Several of the lights that I saw clearly on my screen did not show up after I had clicked the shutter. Something to do with the angle or intensity of the light.
Once again the power of play wins out. I guess I will continue taking this lesson to heart, especially given that we are potentially going to have to spend some serious time social distancing in the near future depending on how things go.
For now, I hope that everyone is able to take a step back, take stock, and find some unique perspectives to help brighten up the day even when things don’t initially looks so positive.
After several absolutely amazing days where we were treated to a preview of summer the dream has been snatched away. Freezing drizzle, along with having the kids off school on spring break, has created the perfect environment for cabin fever. Oh yeah, at at least two of the family are sick right now, so we’re also trying to keep people separated as well as sane.
All of this has been driving me a bit crazy as well since I haven’t been able to get outside and shoot anything besides family pics.
Yesterday, feeling trapped in our basement play room with the pent up energy of a three and six year old, I managed to find a quiet pocket of photographic experimentation to escape into.
We have had a shiny gold set of bed sheets for several years now. I can’t quite remember where they came from, but their current home is in the play room where they are regularly used for building forts and tunnels.
Inspired by the way the cloth was draping and catching the light I decided to do my first staged photo shoot. Using various props to hang the fabric from I tried to create interesting patterns of folds, loosely tugging and piling the fabric so that it would fall somewhat haphazardly, creating a look based on the nature of the material and not something that I had carefully arranged. Thankfully this was a very simple process and lent itself to simple reconfiguration and quick adjustments.
If nothing else it was a great experiment in composition and balance of positive and negative spaces. Limiting the scope to simple color and shape really allows one to see how they interact within the frame.
I can also see how creating abstract photographs of other materials would make for an interesting project. The ways in which other items like paper would create texture through crumples or overlaps could be similarly interesting. Never though I would ever consider shooting indoors, especially not arranged shots in a controlled environment, and I likely won’t spend much time going down this road, but it goes to show that allowing oneself to play with even the strangest ideas could open doors to new perspectives.
Between finishing up some emails for my actual work and picking up the kids from school I had just about one hour to sneak in a few photos. There is a small wooded area with a winding stream cutting deep furrows into the steep dirt walls just over a mile from the house. One short bike ride and I found myself walking familiar paths but seeing very unfamiliar things.
The paved circuit that is meant for walking is basically a loop through the woods out one side and back by the stream on the other. On the way through the woods it crosses one section of paved drainage ditch that helps control flooding or the nearby lumber yard.
I have mentioned before that holding this camera has made me less willing than I used to be when it comes to staying “on the path”. This trip was no different. It as been dry here and the drainage ditch looked more like an invitation than ugly infrastructure.
Walking to the end of the pavement I found myself at the beginning of what I knew as the winding stream, but what in reality is a long pond that only flows when it has been raining. That might explain why the banks are so steep and clearly eroding, but not constantly.
The view from this perspective was quite surreal and I found myself completely transported out of my self and my world. Suddenly I was sunk below the lip of the world, seeing where it has torn off from the rest of reality, hanging in the darkness. Perhaps the flat-earthers were right all-along, though I did not run into any dragons thankfully.
The whole trip lasted only about 20 minutes, but in that time I was outside of time, looking and shooting and simply absorbing, and that is something I have often found through this pursuit of photography.
After picking my kids up from school yesterday (and choosing not to bring a camera along as I have started to do) of course I saw several shots just waiting to happen.
Thankfully one of these shots was just up the street. After dropping off the oldest child who doesn’t mind spending a little time to herself at home, I grabbed by camera and dashed back to see what I could capture of light coming through these leaves in front of our neighbor’s house.
Looking at the normally drab brown leaves as the sunlight streamed in from behind opened up an amazing range of colors. The dense leaves were simultaneously vibrant orange and green, and layered nicely to form interesting patterns.
This one opportunity wasn’t the real find of the day, however. Sparked by the miniature photo-shoot and eager to spend some more time outside while the weather was reasonably tolerable we decided to hang out in the backyard for a while.
Though it hasn’t been unbearably cold, the winter takes a while to finally leave our yard, especially in the back of the house where we get plenty of shade along one side. Spring thaw has meant a soggy mess back there for a few weeks now on and off, and yesterday it was finally nice enough to walk around and see what the end of winter had left us.
Peeking over our back fence I discovered dried out leaves and flowers that have been slowly invading from our neighbor’s yard year after year. There was just enough light coming in over the fence to highlight the last portions of this vine as I explored how it too came alive in the light.
Like miniature paper lanterns the flowers created sparks and flares that I never would have seen if I hadn’t been in the mood to look closer. In this way one moment of inspiration will often spark the next, and as long as we are willing to go along for the ride, beautiful things will come our way.
This weekend my wife and I were able to get away from an overnight together and a trail run. We are both distance runners for a variety of reasons. One of them being that it gives us a reason to travel and check out races in parts of the country that we would not normally have occasion to to go to. This began for us as road marathons, and taking part in the 50 state challenge, but in the last few years we have both been enjoying adding trail runs here are there. Not only are they more interesting, they are nearly always more scenic and smaller.
This time around we drove south for a race just outside of Tulsa, OK. The Post Oak challenge is a series of races over three days held at a resort in the mountains overlooking the city.
Due to the timing we arrived in the evening with just enough time to check-in, grab some food and get ourselves to bed, all while it was dark out. The next morning we would be starting out early, hitting at the trail at 7am, just as the sun had come up. I had done the math, and realized that I wasn’t going to have any time to actually take pictures on this trip, but some part of me said: “just bring the camera anyway, who knows”…
As a good omen for our day, and a reward for my decision to bring the camera, we were greeted at the starting line with a gorgeous sunrise coming up over the ridge. It gave us about 8 minutes of good light, just enough time to grab a few shots and appreciate the view before we had to pack our stuff and hit the trail.
As it turns out, I did have the opportunity to take some pictures later. One of the reasons trail running is fun has to do with the challenge of the unexpected. In my time on the trail and the time I had to reflect on not completing my second circuit, I put together several thoughts about what running means to me and how it connects to the bigger picture which I plan to lay out in another “Tao of Glass” post coming up. Until then, here is our good morning good omen sunrise. Hard to beat a day that starts like that.
I was very disappointed to see temperatures well below freezing in the forecast for my work trip this week. It is when I am on the road and away from home that I have time to spend running outdoors and looking for photographs to capture. While I understand that February in Minnesota is often the coldest month of the year, I still had some hopes built up that this week would give me something a little more hospitable.
Not wanting to spend a long time out in a forest freezing my toes off, I decided to take a few layers and do a quick lap up and down the river.
The two interesting images I came back certainly couldn’t be more different. Above, a detail shot of drifted snow, collected at the side of the path over multiple snow falls and shaped by the winds. Looking at this definitely gives me a strong reminder of the fractal nature of detail in our world. Whether looking through a microscope or looking at the Milky Way, there is so much complexity to be seen at every level. Is this an image of a far away mountain range, or simply a snow bank. Does it really matter?
In comparison to this I noticed a few bushes still clinging to their dried golden leaves. Setting up where I could frame the branches the leaves were able to collect the strong winter light and burst into vibrant orange flames. These struck me with the intensity once I was able to look at them on the screen. Squinting into my viewfinder I was having a hard time not going a bit snow-blind.
The images posted along with this entry don’t have a specific story, but they do share a common set of qualities. All of them are images taken within the confines of a very small garden/park plot that sits about three fourths of the way to my daughter’s school. The park is very small, just a landscaped garden patch about five feet by two feet filled with wildflowers.
We pass this park twice a day when we are going on foot. Most of the time we do not stop at all, though occasionally it is a chance to take a tiny detour.
Each time we pass by, no matter how many days in a row I have looked, I see something new. The light changes slowly, and the weather brings new dimensions. Overcast or sunny, whether it has been wet or super cold, these are all factors that play into what I see. Beneath all of this, the relentless slow growth of the plant itself, even now in winter, buds slowly developing, leaves clinging or falling, continues to offer new perspectives.
I have been taking note, and waiting for the moments that we do stop to climb the single tree with a branch placed ideally for small children, so that I can try to capture just a piece of what I notice in passing.
The universe is in the details, and even the smallest patch contains its own worlds full of detail. Adventure travel is one thing, but passing by the wonders on our daily route may be a bigger missed opportunity.