Weathered

SSA Photography (102 of 400)

I love the textures of this photograph.  It was taken with a telephoto lens, not a macro, as I did not own one at this point.  Still, the detail came out perfectly, even the little snail tucked under one of the crevices in the broken trunk of the live oak.  There is a subtle, yet almost violent movement in the lines, which lead to the center, but the many fissures and cracks scatter one’s attention.

“Boneyard Beach” on Big Talbot Island just north of Jacksonville, Florida is aptly named because of the many skeletons of driftwood trees left behind by hurricanes and time.  This one must’ve fallen a number of years ago, because even the jagged edges had been smoothed, and I could run my hands over the wood without fear of splinters.  The diameter of the trunk was about 6 inches at its widest, which made it a rather small live oak.

The gradients and ribboned-patterns in the wood are beautiful, and they were what drew me to woodworking and turning bowls on the lathe (another one of my hobbies) in the first place.  Although these would have been enough to make and interesting composition, it is that little tulip snail that is almost hidden in plain sight that makes the photograph.  When I first took the photograph, I didn’t notice the little snail.  Now, however, I cannot draw my eyes away from it.  It is a subtle sign of life clinging to the underside of the long dead tree.

I can’t put my finger precisely on what feeling it evokes in me, but I sense a certain kinship with the snail.  It is a survivor amongst a powerful and rough-hewn backdrop, yet a part of it is anchored to something that was destroyed by a power greater than it can ever possibly conceive.  Perhaps, also, it is because the snail is alone, whether by choice or fate.  Whether it is a hermit or in exile, I can only venture to guess, but I cannot help anthropomorphizing the little tulip snail whatever its true reason for being there.

Verdigris

SSA Photography (76 of 400)

Sometimes the loveliest composition is the most simple.  This photograph of the mossy trunk of a fallen water oak (Quercus Nigra) was taken in the Nocatee Preserve south of Jacksonville, Florida.  The day was extremely overcast, and the photographs that I came to take were not turning out as I had hoped.

I saw this tree lying astride the path, and I took a dozen or so photographs of it from various angles.  As I was leaving, I decided to put my macro lens on to see what I could capture with the lens and ring light setup that I use.  I took a few test shots of the tree, with the aperture as far open as it could go, and I did not think anything of them until I returned home to see what had turned out.

Life is often like this, recognizing the beauty only in hindsight.  This is by no means my most treasured photograph, but it is special insofar as it was a happy accident that reminds me never to dismiss even the most mundane subject.  With the right angle and eye, most anything can turn into art, even a dime-a-dozen fallen water oak in the middle of a North Florida swamp.

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Turkey Tails

AngelColor-14

This photograph of the “turkey tail” mushroom (Trametes Versicolor) was taken in the Nocatee Preserve on Christmas morning with Kemper as my photographer’s assistant.  I gave him my old Nikon D40, which was the first DSLR that I ever had.  It has seen Alaska and many other beautiful places, and it served me well until I upgraded to my current D7100.  Kemper took to photography like a duckling to water.  As I am drawn to paths and mushrooms and other natural wonders, he is drawn to sticks and mosses and the sky.

A number of his photographs turned out, though we need to work on focusing a bit more.  His hands are a bit small yet for back-button focusing, and so I reset the camera to focus on depressing the shutter button by half.  I think he gets so excited when he is ready to take a shot (as evidenced by The Pose).

I love taking photographs of mushroom, because they have some of the most beautiful variety of any natural phenomenon.  Some are medicinal, while others are deathly poisonous.  Some are edible, while some are deathly poisonous.  Some are beautiful, and some are beautiful and deathly poisonous.  The turkey tail has gorgeous growth rings that show up especially well in black and white.  Like many woodear mushrooms, they are harbingers of doom for the tree that they grow on, but even as such, they are beautiful to look at and to photograph.

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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.

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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.

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Kintsugi

SSA Photography (78 of 400)

In an series of three poignant essays, F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote that he was fractured like a dinner plate that you would hide from the neighbors if they came over.  One of the greatest writers of the early 20th Century had indeed “cracked” under the pressure of his own success.  I identified with Fitzgerald’s essays—and Fitzgerald himself—on many levels, except that once cracked up, Fitzgerald never ventured to put himself back together again.

The Japanese have a beautiful word, kintsugi, which is the art of repairing broken pottery with lacquer, generally mixed with powdered precious metals like gold.  Kintsugi, however, stretches far beyond the art form.  It has become a philosophy, which accentuates the breakage and repair of the object as evidence of its history—rather than something to disguise or sweep into the dustbin.  The fractures are part of the object’s story, part of its beautiful memory.

We are all broken, some of us more than others, but these faults, these breaks shape who we are when we come out the other side—but only if we venture to put ourselves back together again like a shattered vase in the hands of an artist.

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