Winter on the central coast

Carmelite Monastery & Moss Cove - Pt. Lobos State Refuge

Carmelite Monastery & Moss Cove – Pt. Lobos State Refuge

There’s a picture by Ansel Adams that looks like this one hanging, I think, in the Carmel Mission.  It’s a big B&W hanging on a wall there.  It shows the building in the distance and a wave crashing on the rocks.  I stood in front of it and tried to figure out where he made his composition from and then checked a map of Pt. Lobos to see how to get to that point.  As you can see above, I managed to find a similar location and make a sunset photo with a nice warm vs. cool color contrast.

Problem is I can’t find Adams’ picture in any of his galleries online.  There is one image that comes up but the monastery is small and distant in the background, unlike the print I saw.  I guess it’s possible the image I saw was never digitized and thus inaccessible online but that would be surprising giving Adams’ popularity.  Anyone ever seen an image like I’m describing?  It exists in reality – I stood in front of it – but apparently not in the virtual world.

Sunrise,  Pacific Grove, CA

Sunrise, Pacific Grove, CA

Great thing about winter is the sunrise seems to last for a long time.  The shallow angle of the sun this time of year means it takes its time coming over the horizon instead of blasting up and glaring away like in summer.  I knew I wanted some sunrise images while in California and the clouds cooperated and left in the middle of the week.  A clear blue sky meant great color in the water in addition to the waves generated by the storm off-shore, and the nicely warm colored rocks gives contrast.  The low sun wraps around the curved rocks to give them dimension and show strength against the pounding waves.  The seagulls were all around, checking the tidal pools before they were flooded.

I keep returning to these locations, fascinated by the waves, colors, and wildlife.  It’s no surprise the number of people who want to live here or who find ways to return but only people who share an appreciation for this type of environment.  The settings draw you out to be a part of the scene; it’s practically impossible to sit inside around this place.  Simply sitting on a rock listening to the sounds and smelling the aromas enables you to immerse in the sense of place, a place that is unique and different.  Adding the visual element just rounds out the whole experience, especially with the ability to bring it home to see again and again.

This and that

Holidays are here so time for exploring.  We’re finally taking time to get out, see some of the sights, and start connecting with our neighborhood.

Christmas Cookies

Christmas Cookies

Merton, WI Village Christmas Tree

Merton, WI Village Christmas Tree

Merton, WI - Children's Choir

Merton, WI – Children’s Choir

The Angel Museum, Beloit, WI

The Angel Museum, Beloit, WI

The Angel Museum, Beloit, WI

The Angel Museum, Beloit, WI

The Angel Museum, Beloit, WI

The Angel Museum, Beloit, WI

Lake Michigan, Wind Point Lighthouse, Racine, WI

Lake Michigan, Wind Point Lighthouse, Racine, WI

Tiffany 5 Arch Bridge, Tiffany, WI

Tiffany 5 Arch Bridge, Tiffany, WI

The last image is of a stone arch bridge over Turtle Creek just east of Beloit, WI.  It was built just after the Civil War by a rail company to connect the Lake Michigan towns with the Mississippi and Missouri River cities, with a terminus in Council Bluffs, IA.  The rail line eventually became one of the first legs of the transcontinental railroad, along with the Union Pacific and Central Pacific routes.  According to all the history I could find, this is the only bridge of its type remaining in the US.  The design is patterned after Roman viaducts built in France.  The concrete reinforcement visible under the arch stones was installed as the weight of trains increased beyond the capacity of the stones alone.  Otherwise this is the original bridge, still in service today.

That new landscape

ISO 100, 16mm, 1/500 sec. f/9

ISO 100, 16mm, 1/500 sec. f/9

Out and about today exploring the area and came across this scene.  I hear there’s one of these in Nebraska but not next to the body of water I’m standing in front of to make this image.  Wind Point lighthouse is on the shore of Lake Michigan just north of Racine, Wisconsin, placed there to guide shipping down the coast to the port of Racine.  I was fortunate to get some very cooperative clouds and sunlight for this.  A little perspective adjustment in Photoshop and I’ve got a Great Lakes postcard.

And no, I didn’t copy the photo on the Wikipedia site – it’s just a very popular perspective to make this image….

The world in abstract

Peruse art museums enough and you’ll find yourself wandering through the galleries displaying modern abstracts.  These interpretations of the world through the eyes of artists interested in seeing form but not the content can be interesting, puzzling, compelling, disgusting, confusing and sometimes infantile.  Nonetheless they are usually genuine attempts to portray a world seen by the few in order to enlighten the masses.

Turns out many times you don’t have to visit art galleries or museums.  You can simply seek out what Nature provides as views to an alternative world.  One great place to experience this is Yellowstone, particularly around the geyser basins.  Minerals come up from deep in the earth and provide concentrated colors as they precipitate on the surface.  Microorganisms that thrive on unusual elements pigment their surroundings as if in a display of virility.  Moving water creates paths for expression and form in order to display the changing nature of the planet.

If the abstract artist creates based on a vision unique to their personal perception of the world around them, what are we to make of Nature’s abstracts in the actual world?

ISO 100, 27mm, 1/80 sec., f/9

ISO 100, 27mm, 1/80 sec., f/9

ISO 100, 14mm, 1/50 sec., f/9

ISO 100, 14mm, 1/50 sec., f/9

ISO 100, 50mm, 1/320 sec., f/8

ISO 100, 50mm, 1/320 sec., f/8

ISO 100, 50mm, 1/250 sec., f/8

ISO 100, 50mm, 1/250 sec., f/8

ISO 100, 35mm, 1/125 sec., f/9

ISO 100, 35mm, 1/125 sec., f/9

A theme runs through it

Not all of my travel involves photography so I do try and schedule some time on each trip to see the area and learn about it’s photographic potential.  When in cities I enjoy looking at the architecture to see how it fits the city’s reputation or if there is a consistent motif representative of the city’s culture.  Even where there is a mix of old and new buildings if you look closely you can sometimes see how the designers and builders carry forward some iconic aspect of the city.

Salt Lake City is a young urban place, at least by comparison with cities east of the Mississippi.  It is a place that was intended to exist, planned for and designed to be a religious center and home to a wandering people.  Isolated as it was (and still is to some extent) from the influences of other American cities, it developed it’s own flavor and character.  Wandering around the city there remain signs of this if you take the time to look.

Looking south from Ensign Peak

Looking south from Ensign Peak

The historical center of the city is Temple Square where the community gathered to practice their religion and from where the commercial aspects of the town grew outward from as the population expanded.  Today it is an oasis in the middle of an urban scene, full of cool grass, colorful flowers and many visitors, all surrounding the iconic buildings on its grounds.

The people who built this city from a settlement were industrious and hard working.  They adopted as their symbol the beehive in acknowledgement of how bees work together to build a community.  The beehive motif is found in many places around the city, including the crown of an office building on the Square.

Other symbols of industrial effort grace various buildings as well, decorations aimed at making a solid statement about the values of the people who grew the city from a desert outpost to a thriving metropolitan community.

But not all decorations were as severe and practical – these are people who appreciate the artistic aspects of their lives as well and proudly display those motifs.

There are even signs of whimsy, scenes contrasting the modern with the playful.

As well as the linear perspective of more modern perspectives.

The most dominant theme, however, is found in the iconic Temple.  Its influence is noticeable throughout the city in both large buildings and intimate details.  It is the theme that runs through the city’s architecture, the one all designers and builders seem to realize has influence on their work.

It’s a fun place to spend some time just walking around and admiring the results of so many people’s efforts.  In America we express our architecture like our personalities – individual, non-conforming, free to explore different aspects – and our cities manifest that expression.  Take some time to look around your home town and see what themes run through it.

Blazing photography trails

Talk to enough young photographers who are beginning to be successful getting their work into commerce or galleries and you’ll hear a common refrain, “no body cares what equipment you use or how hard it was to get the shot, they only care about the image.”

Photography seems to be somewhat unique among the arts in that fixation on the gear is almost equal to consideration of the product.  Can you imagine complimenting a painter on the quality of their brushes or a sculptor on the type of chisels they use?  Or about the adventures encountered while traveling to create their pieces?  Never seems to come up but listen to conversations between patrons and photographers and gear quickly enters the discussion.

Well, since this is apparently the only place I CAN talk about these things, I offer for your consideration the following:

Wild Goose Island, Glacier National Park, ISO 100, 26mm, 1/160 sec., f/5.6

I believe this is the only island in the whole park, making it one of the most photographed elements in the area.  To the left of this perspective is a nice pull-off where you can walk a few feet off the road and get a great sunrise photo of the island and the lake.  To the right of this perspective is a large, paved overlook that provides a view of the lake and the island in the distance.  Both vantage points are usually filled with photographers and one of those scenes will show up in everyone’s bunch of photos from the park.  I have numerous versions of each.

My issue with those two choices is the sun is either fully in front of or behind the island, offering no contrast to give a sense of depth.  It’s only from the side you can get that view.  I wondered why there aren’t any images from that perspective, especially since the road follows the lake with a couple of pull-outs along the way.  And, from the western overlook I could see a couple of large rocks high on the shoreline above the island, devoid of trees.  I decided that is where I wanted to shoot from.

Five minutes into my hike to the rocks I discovered why I don’t see this image.

Between the storms and snow that assault the park every year, hundreds of trees get knocked over.  Since this is a national park, there is no logging allowed in the area so the trees just lay where they fall.  And since this is a generally cool, low humidity climate, any decay that takes places does so at a slow pace.  I figured this out when I discovered the small grass covered ridge I intended to use to reach the rocks was layered multiple times with fallen trees.  Not being able to even see the ground, I had to balance on rotting tree trunks immediately after leaving the road.  It took me 10 minutes to go 10 feet.  Not the route to take, obviously.

After backing out and trying another, more promising path, I realized this was the condition of the whole ridge, all the way out to the rocks I wanted to reach.  So the 100 yards from the road that would put me on the overlook for the image I wanted took around 30-45 minutes to cover, climbing over and under tree trunks and getting slapped in the face by wayward limbs.  Finally I did reach the exact spot I wanted, giving me the perfect perspective.  And clouds covered the sun.

OK, a few clouds are always welcomed in the sky to break up the monochrome of it all.  But I wanted sunlight on the island, sunlight on the little bay behind it, and possibly dappled sunlight on the ridge.  I could see openings in the clouds that ought to give the light I wanted, but it meant waiting for just the right set of conditions.  And the sun was setting by the moment.

And my wife was wondering if I’d fallen off the edge of the cliff.  Cellphones don’t work in the park and I was paying more attention to the changing light than wondering how to let her know I was delayed.  Guess a pair of those personal radios would be useful but it’s one more piece of electrical equipment to carry around (and put where with all my gear?) so we don’t have those.  I learned later she was blowing her emergency whistle to get my attention (which I finally heard on the way back) and wondering how to flag down a passing ranger to organize a search party.

But I did get a set of images I liked, such as the one above.  The workshop instructor told me it has a good sense of motion in the water and sky, contrasted with the solid rock that intermittently lit by the sun.  I like how the island and little bay are lit up while the water remains dark, as if a spotlight is on each.

And I made it back to the car generally unscathed.  I did learn you can press green leaves against a bleeding scratch to stop it, though.  And I didn’t stumble upon a bear in all the deadfall.  Not that either of us could have beat a very hasty retreat in that situation.

So, there’s my picture and there’s the back story, which I believe makes it a more interesting image than simply being a unique perspective of a popular photography subject.

Seasoning history

ISO 100, 14mm, 1/500 sec., f/8

Salt, not sand.  Salt determined to suck every drop of moisture out of your body as quickly as possible.  Combined with heat to help the process along.  A plain of salt stretching into the distance with no relief except the mountains to be climbed, promising the barest shade and water after enduring the endless torture of brilliant glare, mind-numbing heat and constant dehydration.

Why does it seem the descendents of western pioneers are different than the people whose ancestors didn’t make the trip?  Maybe it’s the determination of the survivors, passed down through the generations in lessons based on stories.  Stories of accomplishment, achievement, strength of character, and simply how the ones before made it.  Lessons contained in stories like that stick in a few, who pass them down to be absorbed by yet another few.  And those few don’t see a problem with how they think, what they expect, where their intentions lead them or what other people’s perceptions might be of their actions.

Emerson said “All history is made by unreasonable men” and what can be more unreasonable than to endure something like the above image presents.  Yet humans have been doing this for thousands of years, expanding life in some of the most unlivable places on the planet.  Our history is of people who shrugged at the seeming impossible and moved forward.  Call it unreasonable or insane or motivated or just simply restless but realize somewhere deep in each of us is that nugget of desire that would propel us across hot salt toward a dream, goal, destination or hope.

This once harsh and salty frontier is easily crossed now by a concrete ribbon connecting pockets of humanity, a thin veneer of civilization on which people whiz by mostly unmindful of the benefits they have accrued from their predecessors.  Perhaps we’d all be just a little more human if we took a moment to realize and appreciate  the unreasonable giants on whose shoulders we all stand.