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Posts Tagged ‘environment’

The possession of arbitrary power has always, the world over, tended irresistibly to destroy humane sensibility, magnanimity, and truth.

—Frederick Law Olmsted

JAMAICA POND PHOTOS

 

FRANKLIN PARK PHOTOS

A distinctly productive and energetic early morning field trip, to Jamaica Pond and Franklin Park for a spectacular sunrise over the pond at 6:36 am. We were there by 5:45, a full 45 minutes of darkness merging into golden light. I’d set my alarm for 3:30 so I could meet Sonia and Katy in front of Starbucks at 5:15, but, as usual for my early morning rising, I awoke nearly 1 hour earlier, nervous about sleeping late. So I thrashed about for 20 minutes and then rose.

On a cold, relatively clear, breezy morning, we chose positions, set up tripods (I simply brought my super fast, 1.4 Nikon 50 mm lens), and observed and photographed as the sky gradually lightened. The cloud condition was ideal: mostly clear but some clouds along the eastern horizon. Then more clouds slowly spread a blanket over the pond after occasional vapor trails punctuated the sky, turning bright orange as the sun rose. We were there for the Blue Hour; will it show in our photos?

For some of us an even more stunning moment was post sunrise, slightly past the sun’s actual arising, when it bathed everything behind us, the trees most vividly, in a rich golden light. Debbie expressed amazement, I quickly retracted my suggestion that we move on to Franklin Park, and we remained at the Pond, perhaps awed, by the steadily increasing and cooling and bluing of light. The theme for the morning photographically was what I call meta-photography, how photography mean. We had before us a primary metaphor; metaphor itself is a key tool for expressing meaning—the sunrise. Now, as I tried to explain, how to use that sunrise? The rising sun is not automatically a metaphor. What then makes it one?

One major mishap and one nearly: Katy’s camera and tripod fell onto the frozen pond. The front element of her lens popped off. She put the lens back together but the camera no longer functioned. Luckily Debbie carried her spare camera, a Lumix, and lent it to Katy who inserted her own memory card. The other: we were missing George, our young, somewhat erratic fellow. Then as we were heading to our cars to drive to Franklin Park, giving up on George even tho he’d phoned me earlier to announce he was enroute, we spotted a lone figure in the middle of the pond. Most thought instantly: there’s George! Somehow he managed to walk across the entire pond, despite the shore showing thin or no ice.

I used my long lens not only for George, but for much of the sunrise, switching later to my normal zoom, but never in the entire 3 hr period using my wide. Whereas at the Arboretum I’d used primarily my wide angle lens.

Franklin Park was not quite as extraordinary, much more difficult to photograph, but for me equally and uniquely satisfying. A wide expanse of snow-covered land, various ice formations, foot and paw prints, some trees, making a panorama of the golf course, and finally—my highlight (my low light was the cold)—a small section off the main road we’d been walking along, near the zoo, where I discovered a few trails, a few bikers and walkers, but mostly solitude. Finally I was out of the biting wind, alone, where I could drop my pack, eat some GORP, drink some water, make a few images of passersby, and slowly walk back to meet our group.

This experience motivates me to return to Franklin Park alone, by bike, maybe this spring, and thoroughly absorb the expanse. My last trip to the park may have been in 2003. Searching my various hard drives I located a folder of photos from that year. Was that actually my last sojourn to this precious piece of Boston earth?

My photographs from 2003:

LINKS

Boston’s Biggest Public Park Has Something for Everyone by Lillie

Map of the Emerald Necklace

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The Tetons & the Snake River, Grand Tetons National Park, 1942 c, Ansel Adams

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Mobile Homes. Jefferson County, Colorado, 1973, Robert Adams

The desire to go home that is a desire to be whole, to know where you are, to be the point of intersection of all the lines drawn through all the stars, to be the constellation-maker and the center of the world, that center called love. To awaken from sleep, to rest from awakening, to tame the animal, to let the soul go wild, to shelter in darkness and blaze with light, to cease to speak and be perfectly understood.

Rebecca Solnit, Storming the Gates of Paradise: Landscapes for Politics

PHOTOS

Social landscape photography portrays the effects of human beings on the earth; it is photography of the human-built or human-altered landscape. It may incorporate the natural landscape, the usual domain of landscape or nature photography—but it is most distinctly not about the natural world. In the more traditional approach human beings, any sign of human beings like roads and cabins, and any human effects on earth are notably absent. I believe this general attitude is a deliberate absence.

Consider the work of the exceptionally talented—and exceptionally limited—photographer, an American icon producing iconic photographs of the American landscape, Ansel Adams. Despite my love of his photos, Adams rarely shows people (and when he does, as in his Manzanar Japanese-American internment camps series, they look like rocks).

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Dust Bowl, Dallas, South Dakota, 1936, uncredited

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Yakima Washington, 1939, Dorothea Lange

Sharply contrasting with Adam’s photos are those from the Farm Security Administration during the Great Depression. These vividly and intentionally portray the effects of human beings on the earth—sand storms, fleeing farmers, destroyed farms. This is the crux of social landscape photography—how we human beings interact with the earth. This expanding awareness reflects our larger concerns with global climate change.

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Point de vue du Gras, France, 1826 or 1827, Joseph-Nicephore Niepce

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Boulevard du Temple, Paris, 1838. Louis-Jacques-Mande Daguerre

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Nelson’s Column under construction, Trafalgar Square, England, 1844, William Henry Fox Talbot

Social landscape photography has been around since the first photographs—or heliographs as they were first called. Consider the first photographs by Niépce, Daguerre, and Talbot. All involved buildings and people, implicitly the interaction between human beings and the earth.

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Quai d’Anjou du Matin, Paris, 1924, Eugène Atget

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New York City, 1888 c, Jacob Riis, from How the Other Half Lives

Consider Eugene Atget at the turn of the last century. Recognizing the massive changes on Paris and environs created by the industrial era—and for other reasons, financial in particular—he assiduously photographed “The City of Light.” Likewise, his contemporary, Jacob Riis, newly emigrated from Denmark to the United States, photographed tenements in New York City which resulted in major changes in housing laws and the end of the most dangerous housing.

For contemporary examples, look at the aerial photos of numerous photographers like Alex McLean; Marilyn Bridges with her book, Markings: Aerial Views of Sacred Landscapes, and the highly popular series called The Earth From Above by Yann Arthus-Bertrand.

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Fleet of B-52 Bombers at the “Bone Yard,” Tucson, Arizona, 1991, Alex MacLean

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Mesoamerica, 1986 c, from Markings: Aerial Views of Sacred Landscapes by Marilyn Bridges

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Icebergs & Adelie penguin, Adelie Land, Antarctica, date unknown, Yann Arthus-Bertrand

In 1975, confirming the need for an expanded sense of landscape photography, the prestigious photographic venue, The George Eastman House, in Rochester NY, presented the startling exhibit, New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape. Oddly enough, given last names, one of the featured photographers was Robert Adams, no relation to Ansel—a dramatic contrast. Attesting to the importance of this genre, since 1981 various adaptations of the original exhibit have been circulating worldwide. In 2013 Greg Foster-Rice and John Rohrbach edited and published Reframing the New Topographics, which brings the genre up to date.

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In my own work and teaching, motivated primarily by the global climate crisis, I detect a clue to my new direction, long nascent, but now more clearly evident: Social Landscape Photography.

Downtown development

Downtown development in Detroit, 2016, photo by Skip Schiel

LINKS

The New Topographics, on artsy.net

New Topographics: “Landscape and the West – Irony and Critique in New Topographic Photography” by Kelly Dennis

Deadpan Geometries: Mapping, Aerial Photography, and the American Landscape” by Kim Sichel

Photos of Boston’s new Seaport district

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Excerpts from my journal as I examine and portray the troubles in the Levant

PHOTOS

May 24, 2012, Thursday, Kibbutz Lotan, Israel

I neared Lotan—I carry multiple maps, happy I do, since no single map contains all the sites or roads I’m looking for or curious about—and so I remembered Rabbi Jan’s suggestion of the environmentally oriented kibbutz here in the heart of the Negev Desert. I phoned, learned they had a vacancy, overnight would cost me 300 NIS (about $75). Seek it, young man, seek it! A childhood dream realized: to experience a kibbutz. Thru the gate, into an oasis in the desert. Green green green is the proper descriptor for this place.

I settled, showered, napped, inquired about tours and meals, enjoyed the rotund young woman at the reception office and her muzzled dog (he eats garbage and gets sick), learned I might meet Rabbi Daniel Burstyn (which I did later in the evening, a cursory meeting, not a very congenial guy, or so he seemed to me), and wandered the site several times, before and after a kosher meal in the dining hall.

The food was bland, pizza and salad, no dessert, no main course, unless pizza serves. The table conversation nil, sitting with a group of college age youth who I assumed were interns or students. They talked among themselves, I overheard, no one asked me whom I was, and I asked no one about their role here. The main feature of this event was an environmental mural which I photographed later. Then the evening walk to enjoy the relative coolness. I discovered a few caravans, probably the same type used by settlers to establish “Facts on the ground.” These were unused. They also reminded me of abandoned trailers on the Rosebud Lakota Sioux reservation in South Dakota. Much of the land I’ve explored in the Negev desert reminds me of the land and people of the Great Plains. Then a sort of community house which was a mess, the door open, air conditioner running. I shut the door. But in other parts of the kibbutz I found and photographed stylish homes, much sculpture (Daniel pointed out a collection made by one of the residents over years), gardens (Daniel is not only a rabbi but a landscape gardener, perhaps this is how he earns his living?), hammocks, pathways, walls made of old tires, the “green room” deep down inside the earth, perhaps designed as a bomb or rocket shelter, now used for education judging from the books, sheets of paper, and notes I found lying about.

I wrote M, checked my email, downloaded the day’s photos, examined them, relatively pleased with my work, looking forward to all the post processing I will do when (and if I ever reach, seems so far away, impossible to reach) home, and generally relaxed after a long drive south.

May 25, 2012, Friday, Israeli network youth hostel in Mitzpe Ramon, Israel

Waste water treatment

Compost feces and urine

Parabolic reflector cooker

Morning at Lotan was a big part of yesterday. Guy or Gee gave me a private tour that lasted well over 60 minutes. We viewed and he explained their toilet system (simply collect, drain, let rest, and wallah, compost which they use for shrubs and trees, not edibles because of some people’s perception that this would be toxic—instead he claimed such composting can destroy even heavy metals), waste water treatment (thru rocks, sand, and plants, after settling), organic gardening (not during the summer because of the heat and aridity, too much water needed), solar panels (that generate most of the electricity needed by one residential section, on the grid, they add to it during sun, and take from it otherwise), play space, experiment space, many buildings (straw bale construction over metal, plastered with mud), sheep and goats (used only for milk, as are the cows which we didn’t see, later sold for meat but not slaughtered here), solar ovens and a parabolic reflector stove for fast cooking, etc. The kibbutz of some 60 people (50 is the minimum until Israel reclaims the land, cutting the subsidy) uses 6 vehicles, and many many bikes. They cannot afford any alternatively powered vehicles such as grease cars.

I thought of Agape, thought of Ruah, and thought of M when I spotted an article reprint that details life on this kibbutz. I picked up a copy for each. The place is truly revolutionary, living out a portion of Jewish values. Especially caring for the earth and each other. Exemplary. I’d love to return, stay awhile.

I first met Guy after I’d finished an exquisite breakfast (which I photographed) of omelet, home-baked bread, pesto, various cheeses made from goat milk, Jewish coffee (as opposed to Arab coffee, Jewish simply made by adding hot water to finely ground coffee powder, adding some cold water, stirring and let settle, also called mud coffee), salad with oil and vinegar dressing, topped off with 2 sweet dessert balls. Served by 2 young women in the solar teahouse. I shared the space with a small Israeli family who appear to be visiting. Guy stood out as he rode up to the teahouse on his bike—he wore a wide-brimmed hat he’d made from a large piece of cardboard. He explained, my complexion burns easily. This helps. He volunteers for one year between high school and the army. We did not talk politics. I gathered that he’d like to see the conflict end.

The office worker, Daphna, had offered to throw my dirty clothes in with the laundry so I picked mine up, delivered my key, expressed how pleased I was with the kibbutz and my 24 hours there, promised to publicize it and encourage friends to visit. And joked: it is so far away. Maybe when we can shape-shift or time travel I’ll be able to encourage more friends to come here.

LINKS

Kibbutz Lotan

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Big Trucks

bigtruck5937.jpgRecently, with massive construction projects ensuing at Harvard University just down the street from my home, I’ve noticed a plethora–a veritable swarming–of large trucks, pickup trucks, mostly massive, heavy duty and full size, once called 1-ton and up. I counted some 25 in a two-block span, parked for the day, as their often-burly drivers build new buildings.

Since I am prone to early morning walks, I notice drivers sitting in their parked giants, often doing nothing, not reading papers, not drinking coffee, not on cell phones, simply blank–waiting for what? Have they arrived early to find a parking spot? Do they pay parking fines if not Cambridge residents parked in Residence Only places? Why do they buy such gargantuan trucks? What material goes into making such a truck, gassing the truck, disposing of it when it’s lived its useful life?

Gas mileage ranges between 11 and 17 mpg, with an average of 16 mpg. Prices are between about $18,000 and 50,000. Capacities vary from 1000 pounds to five times that. I’ve not found statistics for the amounts of metal, glass, plastic and energy required to build a truck. There is growing resistance to large pickups, signaled by a sharp decline in sales. Some studies show that only about 35% of heavy pickup trips are for business purposes (decreasing to 9% for light trucks), altho this is a frequent justification for buying such an elephantine vehicle. A full 26% of the heavy pickup trips never actually haul anything in the bed. (Many of these statistics come from Pickup Truck Usage Study for the Environmental Defense Fund, 2005.)

At one point while I was photographing, I noticed a huge tractor-trailer truck rumbling down the narrow Oxford St toward the building site. Thinking yet another male drove it, I was surprised to see a woman driver. A big, heavily muscled woman, but a female nonetheless. This dispelled one stereotype I have about trucks: male drivers. The penchant for trucks, in the age of feminine liberation, might be bruiting.

I’m frustrated by titanic trucks, I freely admit this. Altho I once loved trucks–the first vehicle I bought, at age 20, was a pickup truck, a 1/4 tonner, miniscule by today’s norms–and appreciate their utility, lines, and potential, I find them obnoxious and perhaps immoral. Why? They gobble up more of the earth’s treasures then they deserve. They are ravenous of scarce materials, hogs for space on the road and for parking, pollute more per capita than many other forms of transport or cartage, and leave a toxic trail on and into the earth, poisoning our descendents for generations.

Thus, not persuaded that I should use a violent approach to rid the world of these mammoths, I chose to use my craft, photography, to make a dent in the problem. I try to alert others to the reality I and we all face: desecration of the earth. Based on greed and ignorance

Another response I make to large vehicles–this time SUVs–is to ticket them, a sort of “citizen ticketing,” like a citizen arrest. I use specially designed tickets available on line (www.earthonempty.com) that highlight the many problems SUVs create, similar to problems created by large trucks. Early morning I am out on the streets shoving tickets under windshield wiper blades. I imagine the following conversation, should a driver stop me: “What is this? he angrily shouts, ripping the ticket from his windshield. A “citizen ticket,” I answer, “a message of concern, raising a question–why buy a SUV? Have you considered its effect on the planet, on those who live near your route, breathing in the exhaust fumes, scampering out of the way as you lumber by? And the effect on all of the planet and its population, experiencing the depletion of oil?” I’d like a similar ticket for large pickups.

Another big truck on my site

In 2004, U.S. cars and light trucks emitted 314 million metric tons of carbon-equivalent (MMTc). That equals the amount of carbon in a coal train 50,000 miles long–enough to stretch 17 times between New York and San Francisco. (Sierra club)

American pickup truck drivers would have saved over $16.6 billion at the gas pump, conserved 9.3 billion gallons of gasoline, and eliminated more than 130 million tons of CO2 pollution [in 2004] if U.S. automakers had used existing automotive technology to improve the fuel economy of pickups, according to a report released by the Sierra Club. The full report, which includes average driver and state savings data, is available online at http://www.sierraclub.org/globalwarming.

More photos

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