Posts Tagged ‘summer light’

Sky or Water or Storm

Which will I dwell on?

Sky, that universal element of all experience
independent of place and time,
extending back to the beginning of sky, and stretching
to the end of time. The same sky,
one sky,
above me despite how far I roam from my bed.

Water, also a universal element of experience.
Humans evolved from water-borne life.
Our bodies comprise some 75% water when alive
and might survive forever if dried.

And storm, growing in intensity, growing
in frequency, mighty sky swirls of water and air
plummeting fragile life on earth.

Katrina, New Orleans, brings all three together—sky, water, storm.

Full set of photos

From my journal of July 27, 2008, Sunday, Cambridge Massachusetts

In a dream I’m teaching photography to adults, they are raptly attentive to my lecture, which is about the principle that our visual system does not equal that of the camera. Once we’ve learned the differences between how our system sees, with all its compensations, like straightening parallel lines and adjusting white balance, and how the lens, film, and sensor sees, we will be on our way to excellent photography.

Yesterday’s final of 4 summer light field trips to photograph Cape Ann west began with a near debacle. We’d shifted the meet time to 5 am, sunrise at 530, twilight at 5. Ipswich wildlife sanctuary. Wilson was to pick up me and Whitney and Brianna at 56 Brattle at 4:15. I set 2 alarms for 3. Neither woke me.

Instead I awoke in panic at 4, no time to wash, shit, eat, plan the session. Just get my ass over to the meeting spot, in the dark. Luckily the night before I’d prepared all the equipment, not the map. I arrived at about 4:17, Wilson and Whitney sitting patiently in the car. Brianna biked up. We were off.

No caffeine, no food, no shit, no written plans—a first for me leading field trips. Later I discovered that neither alarm worked, nor did my 3rd choice. I’m without an alarm unless I can press my usually unused mobile phone into service, or buy a new alarm.

Despite this rough beginning the session seemed to go well. The sky was dimly lit by 5, the ground just light enough to be able to find our way without flashlights. The earth was wet, a combination of recent rains and the morning condensation. Without any instruction from me we walked silently, led by Tom who knows the area well, down the path thru the meadow to the rockery, our first major stop. We paused at a boardwalk that allowed good access to the marsh, photographed there for our opening session. The light was still muted, soft, no shadows or highlights. By the time we reached the rockery at about 5:30-5:45 the first sunrays were hitting high branches in the forest behind the rocks.

To some extent based on our conversation the evening before during review, the assignments included: high dynamic range, finding it and working with it; considering our habits and designing methods for breaking them; wild mind photography which I demonstrated by photographing Tom by the rockery; ascertaining our strengths and weaknesses and either developing strengths or developing weaknesses; realizing what themes we might be pursuing and either drop them or expand them (this at the river site, asking for much self reflection); and notably nothing about metaphotography, people, or human impacts. Very curious that I left these out.

An implicit, usually unspoken activity was working with the special light. This morning light. The evening before during the review session I posed the question: does morning light differ from evening light? If not, why not scrap the morning plan and go during the evening? Some offered that morning light is clearer since day’s dust has settled during the night (however, on this morning a light haze or mist hung over some regions), and that the color is actually different. I suggested that psychologically there might be a difference—the day unfolding, as if a radiant vista (for morning people) or the night unfolding, as if a radiant vista (for evening people).

Highlights for me were the first several locations with the soft earliest light, photographing thru shrubbery into the light, reflections (a myriad of them, a growing habit of mine), and the watery quality of the entire region. Surrounded by water, walking over water (on boardwalks), encountering blocked trails because of high water, finding the beaver areas including what Joan called a “beaver high rise” lodge (beavers are “nature’s engineers”), ponds, and the magnificent Ipswich river (which I’ve heard at times and in spots runs dry).

Altho we’d noticed many cars in the lot, we saw no people until we returned to the lot at 9, then found about one dozen elderly folks with binoculars preparing, we heard, to search for herons.

I found I did not miss the caffeine, nor the food, nor the chance to relieve my bowels. One advantage of no caffeine was a reasonable frequency of pissing. Just once during, once after. No pressing matter. I was not hungry; in fact, the absence of food may have enhanced my photography. Reviewing what I’d made I was-am, so far, pleased. Many photos that seem unlike the ones I usually make. We’ll see, this is a snap judgment.

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Cox Reservation, Essex Massachusetts

From my journal of July 20, 2008, Sunday, Cambridge


On a warm, muggy, still morning, full moon set, no birds singing, eerie: storm coming?

Dreaming but barely: I was preparing for a long trip, to fly over one of the stans, like Uzbekistan, but not able to land for some reason; JVB had agreed to do something for me, I was doubtful he’d be reliable. Not a rich dream crop last night.

The 3rd session of Summer Light brought us to Cranes Beach and a small reservation in the Essex Greenbelt chain called Cox. It adjoined a river, perhaps the Little, perhaps the Essex (I’ll check later-map?), contained large dry recently mowed fields, shrubs, trees, an old farm house, and skirted much private land on which dwellings such as cottages stood. Fighting off the greenhead flies (several bit me within minutes, drawing blood, impervious to my Deet lotion) I offered the following 2 exercises: one spot, many shots (i.e., one location, many photos) and dark on light, light on dark, the latter to aim folks toward HDR, high dynamic range.

The evening before during review Tom had suggested that the term HDR is more than a fancy way of saying high contrast because it subsumes high contrast which could be merely 2 zones, white and black, without intermediate stages, whereas HDR might include intermediate stages.

Tom Bishop

Along the way we met a group of about 15 men, somewhat stern looking, Middle Eastern appearing, some speaking Arabic. I queried our group: who might they be? And then, when the group returned after a short stroll, I asked the visitors who they were, trying to not appear intrusive.

Military officers from Egypt, some generals, here to meet with police. They didn’t say which police, or why the meeting, but I suspected the worst. As did some of the rest of us when I announced the answer. The generals’ day off, perhaps the saunter down the lane to the water softened them and helped them witness the humanity of all people.

Our 1st activity together was awareness—1st the blind faith walk (in a line, me leading with eyes open, each of the others with a hand on the shoulder of the person in front, eyes closed, listen, smell, feel), down the path to the water, a short distance, then walking backwards, feeling-seeing with our feet. People noticed sounds more, and the difference between sun and shade.

I tried my light on dark exercise on the upturned by wind bright leaves against their darker friends, suggested by Tom. Also the cloud formations, myriad dark-light combinations. And for my one location I chose the boat landing, privately owned, not for the landing itself but for the sky. By then sky was changing rapidly, offering much contrast and odd shapes. Later, at Cranes, I was to repeat this theme with a waning sun.

3 students were absent: M who was lost, D and C who decided not to join us, perhaps the arduousness of being outside in such hot weather, perhaps family matters, perhaps the flies, I may never know.

All day, all our day which ran from 4 pm to 8, the sky changed, never completely clear, usually hazy and with low cloud definition. We could see the haze, virtually light fog, on the ground. Until later, just as we arrived at Cranes, when rain clouds suddenly appeared, the air gusted cold, and eventually, minutes after we’d packed into vehicles, heavy rain fell.

Cranes Beach, Essex Massachusetts

Cranes was not as jammed as had been Wingaersheek the week before, as expected. Partly the hour, 6:30 pm (low tide), partly the place, very wide and with much colder water. Not the frenetic activity of Wingaersheek, nor the hundreds of boats and their crews drinking, cooking meat, and lounging. At Cranes I suggested we turn to meta photography, introducing symbol and metaphor, and reviewing synecdoche, the part standing for the whole.

I discoursed on this topic, as we stood in the fresh chill air on Cranes, lightning about to strike off the ocean: synecdoche is the starting point, a visible for a visible, part for the whole, as cop stands for police officer and sail for sail boat; symbol, like the American flag, is by common consent a sign for something else, an idea, as is the green flag at the life guard station representing safety (later they put up the red flag when the lightning began, signaling ambiguously for all to leave the water: is a long object resembling a prick a symbol, the phallic symbol?); while metaphor is a visible standing for an invisible. Examples are tree of life, water of purity, lush green of new birth, etc.

Later, when I’d finished my snack of apple and peanut butter while sitting on a slight sand hill in the back dunes, after struggling valiantly to walk thru the soft sands, scraping off the greenheads greedy for my blood, I noticed the sky glowing deep red around the sun. Thunderheads were emerging, the cloud cover over the sun was just thin-thick enough to allow its roundness to show, but not so intense to ruin the photo. With my telephoto lens I aimed directly into the sun, enraptured by the swiftly changing patterns. Muses led me to this spot. I’d not chosen it for the sun view. I’d chosen it for the ocean view, which rendered no photos. Sitting quietly, parking my heavy load of equipment (including the tripod which I never used), I only meant to rest and linger, not prepare myself for what may have been the most effecting photo of my entire series.

Will it be synecdoche, symbol, or metaphor? Or all, or none?

Sky played a major role for me at Cranes, perhaps in part because of my history here (which I outlined to Tom as we headed down coast)—my mother Pearl and the moon, discovered on a wintry beach walk in 1980 while I was editing the film about her. Was sun-father calling to me? I’d discovered sun-father while in the sweat ceremony a few years after my moon-mom epiphany. Were my ancestors present at Cranes, tapping me on the shoulder-eyes to notice them and heed them? What were their messages?

Tom had a slight problem: lost in the sand dunes, late, exhausted, rain approaching. We’d closed, missing Tom and Mary; some had left; Mary, Brianna, I, all riding with Wilson, were about to depart when Wilson suggested we might wish to check on Tom. I suggested phoning since Tom was the main contact person. We reached him, he puffed, labored, said he thought he’d found the way out, would soon emerge, thanked us for waiting. His shirt was soaked with sweat. He looked distraught. I alerted rangers to not lock the gates until we’d all left. The ranger, an earnest helpful young tanned red faced man, offered to look for him when we saw Tom slowly enter the parking lot from the dunes trail.

I went to him, took his pack, weighing as much as mine at least, maybe 30 pounds, as he told me his story. He’d run for the first part of the trip, thru the sand, hoping to reach the point overlooking the river for photos. He’d succeeded but maybe depleted himself dangerously. Losing the way several times, unable to decipher the number signs—I saw none, I also was lost—he survived. He admitted to being a diabetic, thought low sugar might be an exacerbating factor.

Did you lose a portable reflector?

I might have.

I think I have it.

I’d picked up a collapsible reflecting circle used to fill in shadows, couldn’t find it in my packs when Tom said it might be his, offered to return it at our next review session. Lost a treasure, returned it to its owner. Tom made it out safely.

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Summer Light (at Wingaersheek Beach, Gloucester Massachusetts)

For the Summer Light workshop, 7.18.08

Harsh bright heated light
bearing down on us with thin skins
superheating exhausting sweaty bodies


We duck out of the light
into the shade, and,
since we are at the beach with
thousands of others (Wingaersheek), and
the huge gobbling greenhead flies
are coating our bodies (some of us),

We can run, into the light, into the cooling darkening wetting
waters of the Atlantic Ocean:

Solace from the heat,
relief from the summer light.

From my journal, July 13, 2008:

Dreamt that I’d met a young film animator whose film I’d just seen and loved. I nabbed him later, raved about the movie, asked if it was available to buy. He was cordial, a beginner in this field—sorry, I’ve not yet found a way to market it.

The summer light sojourn to Cape Ann and west plopped down first at Wingaersheek Beach, swarming with people. The water is considerably warmer there than at other regional beaches, one possible reason for the draw. It was a warm sunny day, with a slight wind which may have impeded the vicious green head flies. The tide was out at 2 pm, our start time, so children gathered crabs from the tide pools as the water drifted in. The sky was mottled, a grayish blob for the most part, sometimes filtering the sunlight, sometimes letting it stream down. Starting out from Cambridge I noticed the sky looked almost threatening—would it be raining, should I have brought an umbrella?

Not only was the main beach carpeted with people—all types but mostly white, all types but mostly young families, all types but mostly American, English speaking—but the Essex River side was the public docking space for myriad small boats. Here folks lounged about sipping beer and wine, cooking meat on curious little burners stuck into the sand, fueled by canned gas, maybe butane, romping in the water, sitting in lawn chairs, throwing Frisbees, playing volley ball, courting, sleeping, cavorting. I grew tired of this rapidly, made for the upper grass line.

Here I put on my telephoto lens (I’d been using the wide exclusively) and photographed beach objects close up for variety. Shells, cartridges, remnants of fireworks, grass, plastic debris. Strolling back to our starting point I used the telephoto for relatively close up photos of people. Someone yelled out, “Hey you, take my picture.” And I obliged for a grinning fivesome of chubby young people. Walking away I thought, why didn’t I exploit this invitation and ask to photograph them more?

The light wasn’t good, behind their backs. And I was so low energy by now—and sick of people—that I chose to not pursue this thought.

At the Rockport train station on our initial meeting I’d asked each to specify one thing they’d like to work on today, color, light, frame, detail, texture, patience, border between dry and wet land, etc. Which might have helped seed the initial exercises: first the 4 point awareness exercise, facing the 4 cardinal directions and gazing from low, the nadir, to high, the zenith, observing, then choosing one thing to photograph, thinking it thru using the steps I’d suggested, aware, light, position, etc, and make a series. The 2nd 2 exercises were one thing, 10 different ways, and one frame, 10 different times. I sent them off with these instructions, asking us to reassemble at the concession stand at 4:30, giving us about 1.5 hours for the photography.

My first stop was the water itself, out about 10 m because the slope is so gradual I was up only to my knees. Here I first photographed a boy lying in a small pool of water, until he seemed to notice me. Then others sitting or walking, especially families. And on to the rocks where I was stunned by the configurations of folks climbing the rocks.

Several memories from Wingaersheek beach distracted me: most recently with L3 here last summer, biking and then what, a little stroll, relaxing on the sand, I forget. And before that, with the Boston Lighters, the group comprising some of my former students, one of our last and best outings, at nightfall, brilliant photos mainly because of the light.

Have a look here.

Arriving at the beach I noticed a sign announcing that the parking lot was closed, residents only. And so I fretted. Now what? Can’t park along the road. Might try short-term parking for quickies of the environment, hardly satisfying. Or go to an alternate location, maybe return here later in the day. Luckily, when our car driven by David, ridden in by Cheryl, Whitney, Brianna and me from Cambridge, reached the gate, we were allowed to enter. I’d anticipated the high parking fee, $25 per car, so we’d met at the West Gloucester train station and carpooled.

Next and last stop on this hot tiring day: Conomo Point a little further west and on the inlet that hosts the Essex river. Here an entirely different terrain, milieu, ambiance, and spirit. Quiet, serene, peaceful, few people, rocky shore, small houses, fishing boats, a few people in the water or on it. We met a couple picnicking on the shore, sitting on a bench, devouring fresh melon. They told us about the greenhead fly traps, consisting of boxes with screens trapping the insects who are not able to scoot out once inside. They told us about possible boat trips, a tour on the Essex River on a float boat. And about small roads that lead to green spaces, perhaps giving us access to the water. One was called the Essex Greenbelt(was this whereL3 and I had tried to access, failed?)

Later we learned from another resident, a slightly overweigh t friendly woman, that the land dispute continued. Dating from 1999 when the town of Essex, perhaps pressured by residents wishing better water access, decided to not renew leases for land at this point. Thus the uncertainty. She felt the resolution will allow residents who own their homes, mostly not year arounders, to remain, by developing some land to improve water access.

However, our job was not gathering history and lore, but making photos. For this task I suggested 2 more exercises: one shot only, as in the illustrious photographer One Shot Harris, and synecdoche, the part standing for the whole. Launching out I quickly came upon a large SUV parked on the grass between 2 small homes, looking out to the water. This somehow emblemized the situation: people and land, at times people misusing the land. I struggled with a somewhat related concept at the point, framing a large anchor against a streaked sky. Trying my polarizing filter, which I’ve had little success with, I hope to bring out the clouds dramatically.

Here also I had a memory of L3. I believe we biked here or near here, cruising by Steve Gersh’s conference and retreat center, out a narrow winding bumpy road to this general area. Some parts looked familiar, some not. Surely we did not stop to photograph.

By now the sky had cleared considerably. The air was relatively cool, the bugs absent (except for those attacking David).

—Journal of July 13, 2008

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Three weeks later,
can I recall the sky?
On that longest day of the year, summer solstice, 2008?

First, clear, cumulous forming slowly on the horizon,
and then the sky was overcast, or nearly so,
with sharp definition.

For the photographer, a challenge: rapidly changing light, color
temperature climbing from 5,000 degrees Kelvin
to over 7,000. Blue ascending.

Day fading,
into the diminishment of light, or nearly so, night.
I sleep.

What do the photographs reveal?
Those of day, those of

From my Journal, June 23, 2008:

This single dream: I was a young dad again, with a daughter about Ella’s now age, looking like Ella, acting like Ella, but the mother with whom I seemed compatible was not any of the obvious candidates. The mom and I commented on how pleased we were that our daughter was now at this age—mobile, verbal, with a distinct personality.

Now the Cape Ann trip, western side, first of 4 Summer Light series. With about 10 students (a few missing from the over limit of 13 registered, and including TB, one of my favorite students), we began in Rockport (after a possibly too long opening discussion, me lecturing too long, the great pontificator), meeting at the train station and walking down to the waterfront to explore Bearskin Neck. Here the exercise was to choose one of the photographic distinctives or characteristics that we’d discussed while reviewing everyone’s photos at the train station—frame, light, color, balance, shape, depth of focus, time, etc—and design an exercise or experiment to explore it. I think I chose light, my usual theme to grapple with, and first found a stack of brightly colored plastic lobster traps. With the Motif Number 1 in the background I tried a set of frames and angles that constantly changed how the light interacted with the traps. Why I am photographing traps is beyond me, so banal, meaningless, dumb. But there they were, calling to me

I used the wide-angle lens to show a couple sitting at the point gazing out at the water, and then…

I used the long lens for a series from the tip of the walk back to show the throng of tourists. The place had a bazaar or fair-like atmosphere, gentile, twee as Lysa might put it, safe, comfortable, joyous, consumerism at its height. Having a joint mission—teaching and making photography—I was less distracted by the ice cream, strudel, jewelry, artwork.

Yet, at our meeting point, with a few minutes remaining, I sauntered off to a side dock and found across the bay two young women, each wearing short skirts, walking on a quay or spit and photographing each other. I could make out shapely legs, one with the most curvaceous legs of the sets I’d observed, so with my long lens I made a series of photos, trying not to be spotted. Because of the shallow depth of focus the women stand out in their sharpness (and shapeliness). If I don’t reveal myself as the lusting voyeur I may show these at the review session.

Second and final site was Halibut Point, rife with memories for me of family. Lynn and I brought kids there frequently to picnic and swim. One of my treasured family photos is by a friend of ours showing Lynn and me with Joey and Katy, K in a back carrier, J holding Lynn’s hand. Ah, the normal family.

At this site I outlined the steps I suggest for making a good photo—be aware, follow light, choose position, etc—and asked them to choose one phase or step and design an experiment teaching them what that step means. I used the instance of the choose-your-position step, illustrating by talking thru photographing the parking attendant at his kiosk. I am aware, I note the light, not very good, how can I work with it, and then, where will I put the camera, do I allow him to see me (he noticed us all staring his way, I called out, not to worry, just giving a lesson), maybe in front so I can show the action between him and drivers, then time, design, etc.

The low of the day for me occurred when I mistakenly chose the path labeled “Back 40” and became lost in a cul-de-sac of winding paths that offered no vista, no beach access, no quarry view. I’d hoped to photograph across the quarry again (this had been my first stop) with a polarizing filter handheld over the too wide wide-angle lens. I did finally escape, locate the quarry, and make the series, but I doubt there is much effect from the filter.

The contrast between the 2 locations was stark: jammed Bearskin Neck, open space at Halibut Point. I loved both sites, and appreciate that about the only way I’d get out to these places and do this sort of photography is when I’m teaching. I am paid for what I desire to do.

The sky began clear, cumulous slowly formed on the horizon, and then the sky was overcast, or nearly so, with much definition. A perfect day for photography, despite the challenge from rapidly changing light.

I missed L3’s presence. Last summer she added much zip to my summer light photo workshop experience. Thinking then I’d perhaps found a 3rd mate (yes, at times I way very hopeful, how misled I was, how poorly I analyze first impressions, let that be a lesson) the summer took on a different glow than most summers. This season I am solo, now finally, after years of wondering what living single would feel like, I am coming to know.

If only…

If only I had …

If only I had more money…

If only I was more handsome…

If only I had a flat muscled stomach, a stout cock…

If only I were younger…

If only I had more time…

If only I were a more skilled artist…

I might be a successful artist.





Mistaken thinking, full of fallacy, the fallacy of “If only I…

Rather: live the moment, appreciate the gifts, refuse smugness and premature self-satisfaction. Rather: be knowing, aware, wise, grateful, appropriately content. Relax and breathe deeply.

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