Framed

SSA Photography (86 of 400)

Life is a kaleidoscope of perspectives.

I have had many perspectives in my relatively short life.  I have seen the world from the top and from about as low a bottom as anyone could imagine.  I have begged for forgiveness, often undeserved, and I have forgiven.  I have now even seen the world through my own children’s eyes.

Photography allows me to manipulate perspectives, to frame them in ways that you may have never thought to look at a particular scene.  This photograph was taken at Big Talbot Island State Park, just north of Jacksonville, Florida.  It was a hot summer day, and in my infinite foresight, I arrived around noon, just as the sun was reaching its apex in the sky.  The shadows played on the driftwood as it began its slow descent to the West.  I came upon a particularly large live oak (Quercus Virginiana), which had two large branches reaching towards the sky.  One was perfectly vertical, and the other was at about thirty degrees.  I took a number of photographs of the geometry of the branches, but none were particularly aesthetically pleasing.  Although mathematics often make photographs interesting, when it is particularly complex like a fractal in a snail’s shell, when the shapes are so simple, they sometimes do not lend themselves to a pleasing composition.

Determined to use them for a shot, I evaluated what struck me about them.  I zoomed into one of the closer shots I took, which approximately resembled this final photograph, and I loved the contrast between the dark, shadowed wood, and the brightly lit ocean and clear blue sky.  I reframed the photograph, itself a frame, and captured this scene.  The fact that the wave rolled in at the exact right time with a sandy color to complete the triangle was a bonus that I only realized when I was touching the photo up later that day.

Click here for a larger version.

Path to Pebble Beach

SSA Photography (219 of 400)

The Pebble Beach ProAm golf tournament was played last weekend, and as I watched the scenes of the course from the sky, and the ubiquitous shots of Stillwater Cove, I thought about how absolutely lucky I am to personally know and to personally be connected with this magnificent place.

My in-laws have a house in Carmel-by-the-Sea, three blocks from the ocean, and about as many from the beach access to this rocky path which leads onto the Pebble Beach Golf Links.  Specifically, this path leads to the fairway of the sixth hole, and you can just make out the trees on the horizon to the left of the path that mark the seventeenth green.  The scenery is rugged and stunning.  This path is about five miles from the Lone Cypress, and about a mile from the center of Carmel-by-the-Sea.

I came to California when I was ten, but the California I knew was the Kemper Campbell Ranch in the highlands of the Mojave Desert (Victorville, to be specific).  My great-aunt and her family had a ranch in the middle of the desert, through which the Mojave River flowed and gave startling contrast between the lush fields where the cows roamed and the hot, sun-baked sand and ancient petroglyph-covered rock outcroppings that I characteristically climbed with great zeal (and moderate aplomb).  My mom’s cousin, Scott, for whom I was named lived out there, as did her cousin, the famous historical romance writer Celeste De Blasis.

Even at ten, I knew I wanted to write, and so meeting Celeste was incredible for a young, naive boy, who had only written a couple of short stories at the time, but who knew he wanted to write more once he had a command of the language.  (Yes, I did think in these terms at that time.  I have never claimed to be a normal kid.)  Celeste passed away in 2001, just before I graduated high school, and just as I was beginning my first novel.  I wish that I had gotten to know her better and to have been able to trade war stories about writer’s block or overcoming the crippling fear of the blank page.  (To me, as a writer, there is nothing more intimidating than a crisp, empty journal.)

So the Californias I know are as unique as can be.  One is dominated by water, and one is defined by the lack thereof.  I have not been back to the Kemper Campbell Ranch in twenty years, but I have my own Kemper now, and perhaps someday when we travel out to Carmel, we’ll make a sojourn into the desert so that he can climb the rocks that grow ever taller in my memory to this day.

Click here for a larger version.

Lion’s Teeth

SSA Photography (125 of 400)

I am a philologist, a lover of words.  As an English and Latin double major in college, I pursued my love of language (even through the trials of reading Beowulf in its original Old English).  As you have seen in many of my previous posts on nature, I like to include the taxonomic name of the plants, not because I want to show off my knowledge of nature – it’s a notch above rudimentary, at best – but because I love the Latin names.  A white oak is so much more august as a Quercus Alba, or the sweet-gum tree as Liquidambar Styraciflua, which literally means a tree flowing with amber liquid (referring to the gum that exudes from the tree when it is cut).

In this vein, I give you a (false) dent de lion, a lion’s-tooth flower, better known as a dandelion.  Although the appellation refers to the coarsely toothed leaves, this photograph – one of my early macro lens experiments – focuses on the petals and the pseudanthium, or false flower head in the middle, which is actually a small cluster of tiny flowers grouped together.  The pictured flower is actually a false dandelion, or a Carolina desert chicory flower (Pyrrhopappus Carolinianus).

The simplicity of the composition is appealing to me on the one hand, and on the other, I have always been troubled by the dead center focus on the flower.  Unfortunately, when I was first taking my macro shots, I was more concerned with aperture and focus than I was with composition.  I have sincerely amended my ways.  Nevertheless, the clarity and the stark contrast of the petals and the void behind them have always been pleasing to me.

Click here for a larger version.

 

Tulips at Noon

SSA Photography (97 of 400)

The main draw to Big Talbot Island State Park, just north of Jacksonville, Florida, is the driftwood beach, commonly referred to as “Boneyard Beach.”  The first time I went to Boneyard Beach with my camera, I was so focused on the gorgeous shells of the trees scattered across the beach, some of them with full root systems intact, as if they just had been uprooted the day before, I failed to notice the smaller elements around me, such as these gorgeous tulip snails, which I featured in one of my first posts to this page – and still one of my favorite photographs, “Three Hermits.”

It was not until I bought a good macro lens and began avidly looking for the beauty of the minutiae that I first discovered the snails, and their unique patterns of verdigris and Tyrian purple.  The ancient Romans valued the murex shell for its dying purposes, and purple robes dyed with the tint were reserved for royalty (and during the Republic, for senators and upper statesmen).  The murex snail was found only in Carthage, the capital of which was Tyre, hence the appellation of the deep purple hue.

The deep saturation of the shells only shows up when the light hits them just right (or in some minor post-processing of the photographs), and I was lucky enough to catch them early on a sunny Florida afternoon.  They congregate on the trunks and branches of the driftwood trees, often in the crooks and interstices that are too small for even barnacles to have taken hold.  They must live in such crevasses for months, perhaps years, because their shells are too large to have found their way into them fully grown.  These two were on the top of a lower branch of a white oak (Quercus Alba), which was drying out from the ever more distant ebb and flow of the tide.

The patterns and gradients of the shells are almost abstractly perfect.  Looking at them that day, and again as I began to write this post, reminds me of the divinity of nature.  Although Darwin explained the evolution of creatures in his Origin of the Species, he did not (to my knowledge) opine on the divine proportions of the carapace of the Galapagos tortoise.  It took me many years to accept that there was a divinity common in all living things, but now that I have seen it, it cannot be unseen.  God, as you understand Him, is present in these snails – you just have to find the trees in the forest and look a little closer.

Click here for a larger version.

Cored

SSA Photography (144 of 400)

This old pignut hickory (Carya Glabra) has seen better seasons, but the beak of a red-cockaded woodpecker (Picoides Borealis) has extensively excavated the trunk, reaching through the growth rings of those seasons for the tunneling larvae of hickory bark beetles (Scolytus Quadrispinosus).  Although I only captured two of the woodpecker’s cavities in this photograph, the length of the trunk of the dead pignut hickory was pocked with them on every side.  I had hoped to capture the guilty woodpeckers in flagrante delicto, but I was only able to capture the evidence of their tenacious, voracious nature.

The black and white captures the deep shadows of the holes, and gives the bark an almost tessellated appearance, which is true to form.  The gray lichen on the bark just to the right of the lower cavity is almost inconspicuous, but I would be remiss to not note the thin layer of crustose lichen, perhaps Pertusaria Epixantha, which gives a more complete vision of this small ecosystem with tree, and bird, and insect, and fungi within millimeters of each other–coexisting in harmony, even after the tree has lost its sap and vigor.  Nothing in the woods of North Carolina goes to waste.  Even the autumnal leaves that fall by the wayside eventually feed the very trees that shed them, not to mention the other fauna and flora that feast upon them.  Thus, even in the hollowed, cored trunk of this long dead tree, I saw embodied a brief arc of the circle of life.

Click here for a larger version.

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.

Posted

SSA Photography (105 of 400)

The provenance of this post is unknown.  I took the photograph right as I began to become serious about my photography.  The post is within the ruins of what used to be a gym for a boys camp in North Carolina, but the property was also a hippie commune, which the likes of Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie graced with their presence.   The photograph is a simple composition, and if I would have taken it now, this one would likely have found itself on the cutting room floor.  Nevertheless, the photograph is nostalgic, and as my posts have shown, this is a flaw of mine.

Click here for a larger version.