January 2008

I seem to have zero free time lately. I’m not sure how that happened. I wrote out today how long certain things would take so I could make sure to get it done, no fooling around. I even wrote down “get gas” to make sure I had it all in my schedule.

I hate schedules.

But I got almost everything done.

  • get gas (check)
  • write Luis (check – though I had to do it at work to have time for it)
  • clean condo (check)
  • make mojito pie (check; it is cooling, and must cool for 2 hours, so it won’t be tasted until tomorrow! boo hoo!)
  • do yoga (check)
  • blurb — this one I’m debating. Give up on sleep? I need to get back in the habit of good sleep habits, so I should skip this. But I’ve been skipping it all week and I’m way behind on that particular personal project, and it is frustrating me.

When I was at the gas station, I was really focused. Washing the windows of my truck, having a little fueling-the-vehicle zen moment, and this guy on the cell phone on the island thing between two gas pumps said something. Maybe he said excuse me as I went past him, or maybe he said hello. I wasn’t paying much attention, in my refueling-window-washing zen moment, so my response was automatic and didn’t really register. Which is maybe a sign that it was a not-zen state of mind, since I was mostly unaware of my surroundings! Anyway, the refueling completed, I put the cap back on my gas tank, and the young cell-phone wielding man said “excuse me” in that getting-someone’s-attention kind of way. I turned towards him and waited politely, despite that peculiar dread that I feel when I think a stranger is going to ask me a favor.

“Are you single?”

Okay, and that gets the award for question I least expected to have asked of me! Especially by a cute, fit, and oh-so-young man!

“No, sorry,” I said with a half-smile, feeling like I was escaping from the twilight zone.

log and bridge

We’ve been talking a lot about composition in photography class, and the “rules”. In any artistic endeavor, there are rules that are essentially derived from studying “the masters,” which is pretty close to saying the rules arise from studying what works. Yet you’re not required to follow the rules, and in fact some great images can come from breaking the rules.

This is something I’ve been thinking about the past week, as well as the difference between what we might like to have hanging on our walls, versus what we like on initial view. For me, to want something on my wall, I want something that keeps me going back over and over. This often means there is tension, or a story, or many stories, in the image. An absolutely perfectly composed picture might be beautiful, yet fail to capture the imagination.

So all that to explain why I chose this first image to bring to class tonight:

view through a missing pane

I was on the ladder to the hayloft in the main chicken barn when I glanced up and saw some of the other volunteers heading up the hill. I didn’t think about composition, I just snapped the shot. The first comment from everyone was “why didn’t you crop out all extra on the bottom and the right? And that had been my initial inclination as well. We ended up talking a lot about this picture. There is a lot going on, and the more I looked at this picture, the more that narrow band on the right intrigued me. Click on the picture for a bigger version – there’s a person in that narrow band as well.

So, it is an odd picture, breaking many rules, technically imperfect, composed oddly, yet I find it compelling, and one I end up liking, though I continue to wonder why!

This next one is Amanda, just a sort of nice and pleasant portrait:

amanda in the sun

Nothing much to really say about this one, other than that light area in the upper left really needs to go! It draws the eye away from what I want the eye to focus on, but the instructor seemed to think it would be easy to clone it out. I’ll try it.

And then some pictures from a very short hike I did at Roosevelt Island. It was cold, I didn’t last long, but I did get some interesting pictures.

lower-case d, in nature

I took this one and at this particular angle as part of the ongoing project to capture the alphabet in the world around us. I had a lower-case “d” in mind, but it could also be a lower-case “b”. After I got it home and took a look on my computer, I realized that I really liked the repeated loop shapes, as well as the interesting sort of upside-down “y” shadow on the tree trunk. The instructor pointed out a couple other places the angle was repeated. He liked the picture, even the quirky angle (check out the horizon to see how out of wack I had the camera tilted), and the graphic artist who was sitting behind me liked the image as well. I always find it interesting who likes what and why!

This next one got immediate positive comments on the richness of the sky.

sycamore tree, looking up

I happen to know that this is a sycamore tree, because other people mentioned that! After the initial reaction, he liked that it was a different take on a sycamore (I hadn’t realized I was doing a different take because I didn’t know it was a sycamore tree so that part was unintentional!), and he thought that the vines were what really made the image. Gratifying, because that is what made me take the image! He wasn’t sure he liked the tree on the left, and I admit it hadn’t occurred to me to crop it out until he said something. He also said he’d try cropping that tree on the left out, and then flipping the image, so that the leading line of the trunk of the sycamore came from the left to the right. This is a western thing, because we read left to right, we tend to see lines that bring us left to right as more dynamic. Interesting, no? So I’ll try his suggestions and post it soon.

Finally a dog portrait without the dog:

dog footprints

The instructor said he might crop off the stuff on the left, which I’d thought about doing but had mixed feelings about. Part of me likes the bits of floatsam there, but I can see his point as well. Another student said he would crop out the depression on the bottom, that he found it distracting. I thought that was interesting, because the entire reason I left it in there was that I liked the color in that part of the frame. It was late afternoon, so the color temperature is “warmer” (though technically it is cooler if you’re talking about Kelvin degrees!) and I think part of what I liked was the changing color temps through the image. He did have a good point, I will have to try their cropping suggestions to see if I like them or not. Cropping can completely change an image, as I think I’ve shown before!


I was at a different yoga class tonight, “rocking yoga”, which was actually more thoughtful and less vigorous than I expected. Which isn’t to say that it wasn’t challenging, because it was. Something that the teacher/instructor/leader (I never know what to call the yoga instructor, really!) said right at the beginning of class that has stuck with me was “put aside the backpack of thoughts that you carry around with you, and just be.”

That visual, the backpack of thoughts…it really resonates with me. There are a million other ways to describe it, of course, and I think a different visual will resonate with different people. This was the first time I heard it described as a ‘backpack of thoughts’, and I found it really helped. I could imagine my backpack, dark blue with black straps, fairly large, with a padded back and a strap that can go around the waist to help take the weight off the shoulders. That backpack has gone with me half around the world, it has been my constant companion as I have gone back to school, and now it languishes in my closet.

Nevertheless, that’s the backpack I imagined, and I could see myself just lifting off those swirling thoughts, putting them carefully into the backpack and zipping it up. And then putting it aside. This is the backpack that is a part of me, that contains so much of my life while I travel. I’m never unaware of it. Yet putting it aside is such a relief on my shoulders, and now on my mind.

So, yeah, that was a visual that really worked for me.

wood and water

I’ve been so unorganized the past month or so I haven’t been doing the weekend snapshot meme consistently, and I’ve missed it! So I was determined to do it this weekend for sure.

Saturday morning was, as usual, spent at the sanctuary. It was a cold morning, and since it has not gotten above freezing consistently for the past week or so, there was still snow on the ground from the last snowfall, about ten days ago. Quite a few of the goats were wearing coats, and even one of the turkeys and one of the chickens!

chicken wearing a sweater

She’s a fairly new arrival, you can tell because her feathers are sort of scarce, which is typical for the chickens that are rescued from situations where they were living in cages. Of course that also means she was shivering from the cold, so Terry took the sleeve from an old turtleneck and turned it into a sweater for a chicken! I have to say, the color looks quite nice against the reddish feathers!

The pigs, on the other hand, love this cold dry weather.

smiling pig

On Sunday I made it a point to go on a mini-photo excursion. There is a park along the George Washington Parkway that I used to go running at quite often (before my IT Band made running something I’ve had to put aside for a while), and I’d park in the lot for the Roosevelt Island. I had always meant to go hike around this island, but never quite got around to it. This weekend I was determined!

It was still quite cold, and sort of ugly in the way that things often are in the winter. I did take quite a few odd pictures of tree branches and footprints in the sand, but they’re probably interesting only to me! I did take a couple other pictures that were nicer. The path I was walking on had some pleasing turns as it meandered along the river.

path on roosevelt island

And on the way back to the parking lot, as I walked on the footbridge, I realized that the late afternoon light gave quite a nice view of the Key Bridge and Georgetown, which is what all those fancy buildings are in the background.

key bridge and georgetown from the roosevelt island footbridge

I hope everyone else had a fun weekend as well!

A local gallery was having a special exhibit for a collection of Ansel Adams photos. Today was the final day, so I made it a point to go. 125 Ansel Adams photos seemed like something that shouldn’t be missed!

I kick myself now for waiting until the last day. And mid-day on a Sunday, no less. The line to get tickets was long. After getting tickets, the line into the exhibit area was long. The slow crawl of the snaking crowd through the gallery was excruciating. Every shoulder in my way, every person bumping up against me, it grated on my nerves until I was tempted to just walk out and to hell with looking at the pictures! I caught myself.

I’m glad I stuck it out. I did not examine all of the pictures minutely. I did not even do more than glance at a large number of pictures, after the first 15 or so. It was look at the ones that caught my eye, or go insane! In some ways it was educational to realize what would catch my eye. On the other hand, it would have been educational in a different way if I’d been able to put aside the many minor annoyances and spend the time looking at all of the pictures. Not all pictures are going to catch your eye from a distance, that doesn’t mean they won’t capture your imagination given the chance to take a good look.

This brings up something interesting about the general differences between photography and painting, but that’s something to save for another day.

Ansel Adams’ early stuff was extremely different from his later works, the ones he’s so famous for. He started out at age 12 taking pictures with a Kodak Brownie camera that his dad gave him. Snapshots on a family trip, and that quick, his imagination was captured by photography. He joined the Sierra Club and would go on hikes with them, and it wasn’t long before he’d become their official photographer for various hikes and events. Yet his focus early on was on becoming a concert pianist! It wasn’t until he was about 25 that he was convinced to focus seriously on photography.

His early photography was in what was known as the “pictoralism” style. I’d never heard of that before, but it is characterized by a soft focus and being printed on highly textured paper. It didn’t appeal to me. Later on he was influenced by another photographer, and began taking the pictures he’s so well known for now, the landscapes of Yosemite. Yet it was a different kind of picture that tended to draw me.

The interesting and quirky picture of a fence. The portrait of two men. The portrait of Georgia O’Keefe and their guide.

As time went on (the exhibit was more or less chronological), you could see his photography change. It became more powerful, in many ways. He was fascinated with the changing skies before and after storms (and who can blame him?), and on high contrast images. It seemed to me that he was taking portraits of the light itself, and that’s what I found compelling.

Most of the pictures in the exhibit didn’t move me that much, which surprised me. I’d always liked his photography, what I’ve seen of it, so maybe it was the crowd that diminished much of my enjoyment of his pictures. Regardless, seeing the exhibit emphasized the importance of light in photography. That sounds like such an obvious statement, and of course it is. Yet when you study light, and the way it changes day to day, season to season, hour to hour, you realize that for such an obvious aspect of the world around us, light is a complicated and ever-changing thing. That’s part of what makes it so fascinating, at least to me. The best light often gives you a window of just a few minutes to try to capture it, and even then the most compelling aspect of the light is also the most elusive to really capture and express through the camera.

light portrait of a chicken

I’m finding the themes or lessons that my yoga teacher comes up with to be amazing in how perfectly they seem to align with what others are telling me or with what I know I need to learn or pay attention to. Last week it was non-judgement. This week it was practice.

We had a fairly intense class, physically, but it was also repetitive. It was a sequence that was not a typical one for me, however, so even that was something of a challenge for me. Doing the same sequence over and over was somewhat meditative despite that.

“There is a reason,” she said, “that they call it a yoga practice.”

I can understand that. It is also why we “practice” whatever art or skill. That’s how we learn, grow, develop. We can even practice positive thought patterns, and practice eliminating negative ones.

Which leads me conveniently to photography, something else I practice quite a bit! One of the photos I shared for the photo class last night was of Crackerjack, and I mentioned that the instructor had talked about taking out some of the sky.

crackerjack in the snow

I tend (as most of you are probably well aware!) to take close portraits, so that particular picture of Crackerjack was somewhat unusual for me. It was the sky that I was capturing as much as Crackerjack himself. But I did take a more zoomed in picture of Crackerjack, which is probably the approximate picture that my instructor had in mind.

crackerjack in the snow, closeup

And then I cropped it.

crackerjack in the snow, closeup, cropped

I did this thinking I’d come to a conclusion as to which I liked better. I find that I can’t, that they’re simply three different pictures conveying slightly different things. What do you think? Any favorites? Thoughts? Insights?

Another question is about the colors – the first picture I desaturated a bit. The second two I left pretty much as is. Any preferences?

You can click on any of the pictures to see a larger version, by the way. Practicing some of the things I’ve been teaching myself at work about css/html/xhtml!

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