Crescent

SSA Photography (99 of 400)

The whirls of the driftwood on Big Talbot Island, just north of Jacksonville, Florida, are peculiarly wonderful to me.  My father is a woodworker in his spare time, and throughout the years, we have made scores of pieces of furniture, boxes, and we have even turned a number of bowls on the lathe.  As such, I am a constant admirer of wood and its natural beauty.  I have turned beautifully featured bowls from a pecan log wrought with worm holes, and ambrosia maple, and spalted sweetgum, but the oak bowls I have turned are lovely, but plain, almost like Shaker furniture.  They have a very ordinary grain, and little about them is exceptional.  The fallen oaks on Big Talbot Island, however, have fantastic patterns, some like the ornamentation of a medieval Celtic manuscript.

I do not know how these patterns came to be, though I speculate that it has something to do with the effect of the sea air on the tree’s formation, both nurturing and stunting the growth at the same time.  Some of the trees must have been tall and vast when they stood decades, or perhaps centuries, ago, but it is the smaller ones that have the more intricate patterns like this one.  To capture the perspective of this photograph, I set the aperture (depth of field) quite low, so that only a piece of the limb was in total tack focus.  The foreground and background are blurred, and the focused piece catches your attention, not only because of its placement in the composition (according to the rule of thirds), but also because of its contrasting sharpness.  I would have loved to turn a bowl from this tree, if only to see whether the patterns on the surface came through onto the finished product.  But now I have turned my artistic attention away from woodworking to photography, and so I must satisfy myself with capturing the beauty of the wood rather than pulling it from an unfinished block.  It is a different approach, but no less satisfying when the photographs turn out like this.

Click here for a larger version.

Dreamcatchers

SSA Photography (126 of 400)

This photograph of the achenes or diaspores of a “horrible” thistle (Cirsium Horridulum) was captured two summers ago with my macro lens.  The diaspores have evolved over millions of years to to be light and airy, with tendrils that catch the air for dispersal far afield of their mother plant.  Though not the best composition, I was struck by the symmetry of the achenes and their simple utility.  The swampy path I was walking when I came upon them during the summer was littered with thistles for miles.  The evolution, though perhaps not complete, had certainly served its purpose well.  The most recognizable achenes are those of the dandelion clock, which children gather up with some eagerness only to blow the diaspores unwittingly throughout their parents’ front yard.

I wish Kemper had been old enough to accompany me when I took this photograph.  He finds great sport in blowing the silky white seeds from their presently denuded and spent host.  He was three then, and not quite up to a long jaunt in the summer heat.  The mosquitoes were particularly bad this day, and to be honest, I am surprised that I did not capture one in this photograph–they were so thick.  But this is Florida, and the beauty of nature invariably carries with it some danger, whether an alligator lurking silently beneath the surface of a calm fishing pond, or a rattlesnake blending in with the underbrush.  Having grown up here, these are calculated risks, and readily mitigated.  For the uninitiated, however, Florida is as wild as the outback of Australia.  This results, I think, in a fair bit of pride for us native Floridians who would as soon approach a four foot long gator, knowing full well it will quickly shy away, as a New Yorker would cross a busy intersection at the height of the noon-day traffic.  I do not begrudge the out-of-towners the novelty of seeing an alligator in the wild for the first time, but to us they are quotidian and predictable.  Yet, as this photograph shows, even the most commonplace native objects, when viewed with a different perspective, yield beauty.

Click here for a larger version.

Post & Lintel

SSA Photography (95 of 400)

Though I do not take many abstract shots, this one came rather organically.  Taken at Big Talbot Island, just north of Jacksonville, Florida, I had fixed my macro lens on my camera halfway through the long walk down the driftwood-strewn beach.  I had already taken many photos of the fossil-like trees, languishing and bleaching in the hot sun, and so I set out to capture the little elements that required me to look closer and actually observe the microcosms of barnacles and tulip snails and patterns in the grains of the wood.  The day was cut short by the heat, which beaded down my forehead into my eyes, making the very act of photography an unpleasant task.

As I walked back the mile or so to my car, I left the lens cap off of my camera in case anything small, otherwise insignificant, caught my eyes, which burned with the sweat.  Near my car, there was a rickety old circular wooden handrail.  I cannot say why, but the way the rough-hewn logs stretched horizontally around, propped up by a glorified dock piling, reminded me of Stonehenge.  I’ve never been, though I did see a large stone circle in the Lake District years ago.  I scrunched up to where the post met the lintels, and manually focused my lens on the dark interstice between them.  I thought nothing of the photograph until I got home and began editing the photographs which I had taken that day.  There was something appealing about the abstract composition of the capture that pleased me, and, what’s more, intrigued me.

Photography has a way of elevating the mundane to art.  Whether that was achieved here, I leave up to you, but in this particular perspective, the photograph seems to create something far more significant than a fence and its post.  It is, itself, a simile without words.  By giving it a title, I was able to ascribe significance to it–it was no longer simply pressure treated lumber bolted together.  It was like Stonehenge.  This photograph taught me a lesson, which I carry with me to this day.  What may seem insignificant may be given artistic meaning, sometimes simply by capturing it with the camera, and other times simply by giving it a name, an identity.  In this way, photography is kin to poetry, revealing the beauty and grace within the quotidian.

Click here for a larger version.

Whirls

SSA Photography (101 of 400)

As I have mentioned before, the patterns of nature fascinate me.  The swirls and whirls on this driftwood tree, most likely a live oak (Quercus Virginiana), caught my eye immediately when I took to the beach with my macro lens.  I had passed the tree numerous times before, camera in hand, but I overlooked the fascinating, almost embryonic patterns along the large branch that reached towards the ocean.  I cannot believe that I missed it, but in hindsight, I was not looking for the little intricacies of nature when I first came to Boneyard Beach; instead, I was looking for patterns in the trees strewn about the sand, which I found in the hulking driftwood trees.

A certain bit of melancholy washed over me as I returned a few months ago, two years hence, and two hurricanes since.  The beach was not as I remembered it.  The huge live oaks were still there; not even a category three storm could have moved them.  Yet the smaller ones, like this one with the whirls, had been washed away.  Perhaps they will be rolled back to shore by the heavy waves of a nor’easter, or, perhaps, by another hurricane.  But for now, they were gone.  I brought my son to the beach when I returned, hoping that he would find the same beauty in his five year old eyes.  He, too, was enamored by the tulip snails, and he let go of his fears long enough to sidle up the trunk of one of the supine live oaks.  I let go of the melancholy, as well, and I ventured to find new patterns in the niches where limb meets branch or branch meets trunk.  Someday, Kemper will be old enough to mind the patterns, but for now, I will let him find the joy in the bigger picture.

Click here for a larger version.

Hollow

_DSC6019.jpg

I have long since wondered what befell this little pignut hickory tree (Carya Glabra) that I found on a walk in the Pisgah National Forest, just outside Asheville, North Carolina.  Its brothers and sisters in the grove around it were healthy, but perhaps this one was hollow from an early age.  In my journey through the morass of my own personal demons, I met many individuals who were all but hollowed-out inside.  For some, their facade mirrored their inner emptiness, like this little hickory stump.  For many, however, they looked strong and confident and healthy on the surface, all the while roiling with anguish inside.  Even those of us who manage to come out the other side still have hollow pockets, places where the memories of the shadows still live, which catch us by surprise every so often.  Eventually, for the fortunate few, these shadows subside, but they remain–never to fade completely into the light, like scars that sometimes catch the sunlight at just the right angle to remind you that you were once injured, too.  And every once in a while, you may come upon a hollow stump, a not so subtle memento of the emptier days.  Maybe you walk by it, trying not to remember those times, but maybe, just maybe, you snap a photograph, a token to hold close to you, reminding you how insidious the hollowness can be.

Click here for a larger version and a color version.

Needles

SSA Photography (143 of 400)

This macro photograph of a Pinus Echinata (short-leaf pine) was taken in North Carolina on the property of a dear family friend, a brother-from-another-mother, if you will.  I was experimenting with my macro lens, which I had purchased just weeks before, and I came upon this sapling with beautiful green needles.  It was not until I had framed the picture in my camera that I noticed the perfect symmetry of the needles radiating from the center.  Nature is beautiful on a macroscopic level, but upon closer inspection–the kind we did as kids, when we were closer to the ground, and the snails were within our range of vision–nature is simply breathtaking.  Whether it be the fractals found on pinecones or even broccoli, there is a divine order to these elements.  For me, there is no other explanation.

Click here for a larger version.

Through the Briar Patch

SSA Photography (115 of 400)

Nostalgia is a beautiful word.  It is a is learned formation of a Greek compound, consisting of the Homeric word νόστος (nóstos), meaning “homecoming” and ἄλγος (álgos), meaning “pain” or “ache”, and was coined by a 17th-century medical student to describe the anxieties displayed by Swiss mercenaries fighting away from home.  Nostalgia is a sentimentality for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations.  For me, nothing evokes nostalgia like the mountains of North Carolina.  The earliest associations are of visiting the Smoky Mountains with my family when I was much younger, and later the mountains close to Winston-Salem, which were only a short drive away from Wake Forest.  For reasons I cannot explain, the feelings are strongest in the winter, when the wind has stripped away the leaves from the branches, and you can see through the skeletons of the trees through the valleys and to the peaks.  This photograph, taken outside of Brevard, North Carolina, evokes so many strong memories – all positive – which was not always the case in North Carolina.  Hindsight and nostalgia are curious like that, though.  No matter the number of disheartening days and nights, I still long to be back in the mountains.  We’re going up for a week after Christmas, and I know the feelings will rush back, satisfying the homesickness for a while.  Until then, in my mind, I’m going to Carolina…

Click here for a larger version.