In May we had an opportunity to visit family in Independence, Missouri (a lovely place, and the hometown of President Harry S. Truman). There were plenty of sights to see and things to do around town (“the Square”—#lovethesquare), but on one of our days we drove west for two hours to Strong City, Kansas.
There, we took a tour of the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve. Our guide told us that we might see some American bison (a.k.a., buffalo) roaming around. As our schoolbus-style tour bus crested a hill, we were treated to this surprise. A twenty-five-mile view and a herd of more than two dozen bison lolling around in the Kansas sun.
The prairie is awe-inspiring—thank goodness for the National Park Service for protecting this swath of it. If you have an inclination or an opportunity to check it out, I recommend it.
We took a nice day trip up to Brattleboro, Vermont for lunch and some sightseeing.
We walked down to the bridge that crosses over the Connecticut River into New Hampshire. In fact, technically we were in New Hampshire when I took this photo. I had set up to take a nice landscape shot with my iCamera. I heard a boat motoring upstream under the bridge, and my initial instinct was to take a photo before the boat came into my field of view and disrupted the natural scene.
But when I heard the boat sound its old-timey steam whistle, I thought that it might be a quaint addition to the composition. And it was—how fortuitious! I waited until the boat reached a perfect position in the scene (near an intersection of thirds, naturally), and took the photo.
I lightly edited this shot in Luminar (which I’ve been loving lately), to unify and balance the light, bring out some of the color and subtlety, and to impart a bit of a magical, film-like look.
This was an interesting year in terms of weather. Winter wasn’t particularly harsh, and there wasn’t as much snow as there had been in previous years.
But April was brutal and damp. People seemed to be ready for spring, but Mother Nature had a different plan. Just as we were beginning to dust off our bicycles, hiking shoes, and gardening tools, multiple snow squalls and chilly temperatures sent us scrambling back to our cozy indoors.
On the bright side, we were treated to beautiful views—dramatic, darkened skies punctuated by glimpses of much-craved sunshine.
But that was April. Now it’s May, and springtime is here.
A mini-manifesto, and a photo essay you might like.
I’m trying an experiment. During the month of March I am avoiding Instagram, which has become unbearably laden with ads. Depending on how it goes, I may extend my “insta-cleanse” by a few months. (For some reason, the ads on Facebook don’t annoy me quite as much.)
I’m enjoying the peace and quiet, and the sense that I’m not addicted to my iPhone. I miss my friends’ lovely photos and movies, but I’m hoping to find better ways to keep up with people’s lives than seeing them play out against a backdrop of talking llamas selling car insurance, and other inanities greedily vying for a slice of our attention and money.
Frank Chimero wrote a superb essay that articulates how I’ve been feeling about the web. In the beginning, the web had such an amazing potential to develop into a public space that prioritized art, education, civic responsibility, and enlightenment. But lowbrow capitalism seems to have outpaced the loftier aspirations of the human spirit. Much of the web is now inundated with ads and other desperate attempts by people to take money from each other. It’s intrusive. It’s gross. And in a way, it’s irrelevant. I’m here for connection with humanity. Won’t you join me?
There has got to be a better way.
I enjoy the slow, deliberate process of crafting a blog post. I often tell myself that I should do it more often. It’s more like a handwritten letter than an email. More like a slow-cooked meal than a fast-food binge. More like a library than a dollar store. I’ll spend hours writing, editing, reading aloud, preparing visual accompaniment, double-checking everything, taking a deep breath, and then hitting the “publish” button. How often do I put this much care into an Instagram post?
I don’t know that publishing here on my independent blog is the answer, nor if it’s going to make any difference in the grand scheme of things. I certainly won’t enjoy the same degree of immediate feedback (likes!) from my audience of friends. But this feels like a small step worth taking—a miniature protest of sorts. A tug in the right direction. Will 2018 be the year that the zombie blog returns from the dead? We will see.
Felling a dead tree
Speaking of tugs in the right direction…
Up until recently, there was a dead tree on the edge of my property, leaning toward my neighbor’s land. I needed to figure out a way to bring it down safely and affordably onto my own property. Hiring a professional tree worker would have been too expensive. And I like doing chores like this myself, whenever possible.
In order to give myself leverage, I tied a string to a baseball and threw it as high as I could through a place where the tree trunk branched into a “Y” shape. This enabled me to guide a heavier-gauge rope around the tree, midway up. Then I used multiple ropes and pulleys to pull the tree as far as I could toward my yard. Once I had stabilized the leaning tree, I used my chainsaw to make the standard front notch and back cuts near its base. But the final act was a brute tug-of-war, which I documented in the video at the bottom of this post.
Thankfully, it all worked out. Now I have some cleanup to do.
There’s a lot that can be said about the year 2017. I prefer to focus on the positive, and it’s easier for me to do so through images than words. So here’s a gallery of photos I took in 2017. Many of these images I’ve already posted on Facebook or Instagram, but it’s nice to have them all together here in a commercial-free environment. I hope you enjoy them.
Recently, for personal enrichment, I completed an online photography course taught by the legendary artist Annie Leibovitz. I am enjoying learning more about photographing people, and I’m looking forward to taking my photography to a new level in 2018.
Interested in purchasing prints or a license to republish any of these photos? Get in touch.
This is one from a series of about 50 “Gocco” silkscreen prints I made in the late 1990s (and one of the few that remain in my collection).
The original was a film photo taken by my dear old friend Ben Ostiguy (swimmer4buzzardsbay on Instagram). It’s a picture of yours truly on my bicycle, crossing the bridge over the Connecticut River between Hadley and Northampton, Massachusetts, circa 1991 when much of the Norwottuck Rail Trail had yet to be paved. Ben and I were out gathering photographic imagery for a painting class we were both taking at UMass, and we scouted out the nascent trail off-road style.
I first used the image to illustrate a haiku poem in a chapbook titled “Little Deaths” that I’d written, bound, and self-published in 1995:
When in a painting
you see a beckoning road,
then down it you go!
A few years later I happened to salvage a trove of genuine WWII-era aeronautical maps of Europe that the folks at the W. E. B. Du Bois Library at UMass had been planning to throw out. I used the maps as substrates for a handful of collages and paintings. But none of those projects were as successful as this print run, which supplied me with greeting cards for years.
I suppose I ought to scan the last two or three I have left, and make some giclée prints. There’s nothing quite like an original, though. The way the ink layers interact with each other and with the paper is hard to reproduce via modern printing processes.
Update November 13, 2016: I took down the show. I have updated the tenses in this post to reflect the new reality.
I exhibited some of my photographs at Mt. Tom’s Homemade Ice Cream in Easthampton, Massachusetts, October 8th through November 11th, 2016. There was an opening reception on Saturday, October 8th (as part of Easthampton’s monthly Art Walk). I loved seeing you there!
I like to take photos involving outdoor scenes, trees, water, earth, and sculpted clouds. These days I share a lot of my work online, but it has been a while since I’ve shown the physical artifacts of the process. When my friend and fellow artist Jim Ingram asked me if I’d like to show my work at his ice cream shop, I said yes.
Originally I was going to show paintings. I’ve made a few of those over the past couple of years, but not enough to fill a whole show. Later, I thought that I might show a mix of a few paintings and a few prints. But after reviewing my whole available body of work, I decided to narrow the focus to one medium, and stick to photos. I’m glad I did, because in this case it made for a more cohesive show. The prints for this show were all either 12 by 12-inch squares, or 11 by 14-inch rectangles.
Please enjoy the gallery above, which offers a glimpse of the photos that were in the show. Please get in touch if you’d like to buy one. Soon I will be listing them in my Etsy shop.
I’ve been enjoying taking photos at night and at the blue hour, using my Olympus camera, a tripod, and a long exposure. The time of day (9:10 p.m.) was the crucial element in this shot, because at this time of year, at my latitude, there’s still enough ambient light to take a four-second exposure that reveals some details in the landscape.
Moreover, with the sun already sunk below the horizon, the sky’s light is predominantly blue in hue, which makes a nice cool counterpoint for the warmer LED light that spills out from my barn through windows and cracks between the boards, illuminating swaths of grass and garden.
This was a fun shot to make. The photo makes it appear as if all of the fireflies are lit at the same time. In actuality, I set up a long, tripod-mounted exposure, and individual fireflies may have been represented multiple times.
In order to illuminate the peach trees and the rhubarb patch in the foreground, I walked around the perimeter of the scene with a flashlight while the camera’s shutter was open, reflecting diffuse light off a lawn chair turned on its side. I had to take a few shots to get the exposure just right. This one took about a minute and a half, as I recall.
I love the unexpected results of this kind of shot—it reminds me to appreciate the photography of yore, when long exposures were necessary under even the brightest conditions, and a degree of uncertainty was the norm.
I’m sure that some of the fireflies appear in the photo not because of their own phosphorescence, but because they are being lit from the side by my flashlight. The glowing effect is magical nonetheless, and hopefully it captures the spirit of an early summer evening.