Cumulus Trails

SSA Photography (30 of 400)

The beautiful irony of this photograph is that I have little memory of where it was taken in Alaska.  The tall mountain, offset by thirds from the center, may or may not have a name, and then, it may only be known to the natives.  It is tall enough to be the highest peak in a number of the contiguous states, tall enough to catch the cumulus clouds that passed by, hooking them on its summit, and tall enough that it should be memorable–but that is the awful truth of Alaska’s wilderness, the majesty is overwhelming.  For nature lovers like I am, it was a total sensory overload.  I snapped thousands of pictures, not photographs, but pictures to simply document what I could not trust my visual cortex to process.  That I managed to take this photograph and others as beautiful was simple dumb luck.  Even a blind squirrel finds an acorn every once in a while.

I long to go back to Alaska with better gear and a better understanding of what to expect.  Using kit lenses on my Nikon D40 in automatic mode was like cutting one’s first filet mignon with a teaspoon, ultimately effective, but crude and personally unsatisfying in hindsight.  Still, I cannot regret the photographic experience totally.  I stumbled on some amazing photographs through the law of averages.  When your subject is so magnificent, it is hard not to capture some inkling of the awe, as here with this unnamed mountain, likely passed by in a matter of minutes during our cruise up the inside passage as the clouds passed with equal celerity over the peak, trailing it like a wispy pennant casually waving in the boreal air.

Click here for a larger version, and see the rest of my Alaska portfolio here.

Setting above the Sycamores

SSA Photography (397 of 400)

This was the last photograph I took on our trip to England in late August of this year.  I was tired, having climbed over moors, through the dales and back again at least four times over the course of the three hours or so.  The flatness of this picture belies the vertical bent of everything in England.  The sunset was magnificent because the clouds in the sky possessed such an impressionist character.  The patch of sycamores on the horizon grew closer and closer as we approached the setting sun, with Top Withens (the inspiration for Wuthering Heights) behind us.  There were no paths towards the top of the hike, which should have been an early harbinger of the difficulty of the climb.  For all I knew (and willingly shared with the rest of the hiking group), we were likely the only masochists to have made the hike for generations.  As we wended our way through the dense heather and tall wild grasses and bracken ferns, and I gasped for breath at manageable intervals, I thought back on that field twelve years prior where I proposed in a similar field across the valley from Anna’s grandparent’s house, amongst a small herd black and white Friesians.

The beauty of Yorkshire has ceased to surprise me.  By this, I do not mean that it has become any less wondrous or awe inspiring, only that I have come to expect to look out on a field and see the beauty that inspired the Brontës and Wordsworth and John Constable and all of the other artists that have spent their lives’ work attempting to capture the magnificence of this landscape.  Indeed, the sky was something out of Constable’s painting of Salisbury Cathedral (sans the rainbow).  The beauty is almost laughably ubiquitous.  I have been to England three times now, and each time I am left with the distinct sensation that I was born on the wrong continent.  My archaic turns of phrases, my passion for history and ancient things, all find root in the mother country.  Anna’s grandmother, a strong Yorkshire woman, who still travels the world at 94, has adopted me as her “cloth” grandson, an appellation that I take very seriously, and I have been warmly embraced by the network of aunties and cousins — just the toe-holds I needed to claim a bit of Yorkshire as my own.

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Silhouette

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The word silhouette is derived from the name of Étienne de Silhouette, a French finance minister who, in the mid eighteenth century, was forced by France’s credit crisis during the Seven Years’ War to impose severe economic demands upon the French people, particularly the wealthy.  Because of de Silhouette’s austere economies, his name became synonymous with anything done or made cheaply.  Prior to the advent of photography, silhouette profiles cut from black card were the cheapest way of recording a person’s appearance.  I think that this silhouette of the female photographer on the rock is one of my best black and white compositions.  The mist and morning layer in the background contrasts sharply with the wet stone in the foreground, with the tiniest break in the line of the outcropping (in perfect thirds, I might add) made by the photographer.  I cannot say that my eye was drawn to her initially, but once it caught her, my eye became curious and could not look away – and if I did, I was always drawn back.

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Pod

SSA Photography (212 of 400)

I took the photograph of this pod of pelicans off of Point Lobos, in Carmel, California.  This is only the front of a much longer line of pelicans that was flying down the coast, and I thought the panorama captured them nicely against the bay and the creeping marine layer.  I love how they are all in different stages of flight, some coasting and some flapping frenetically.

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Passerine

SSA Photography (281 of 400)

Lugete, o Veneres Cupidinesque,
et quantum est hominum venustiorum:
passer mortuus est meae puellae-
passer, deliciae meae puellae,
quem plus illa oculis suis amabat.”

Mourn, O Venuses and Cupids,
and whatever there is of pleasing me:
the sparrow of my girl is dead –
the sparrow, the delight of my girl,
whom she loved more than her own eyes.

Catullus, Carmen 3

As evidenced by this brief passage from the funeral dirge of the first century (BC) Roman poet Catullus, the sparrow has been a subject of art and admiration (even tongue-in-cheek adoration) for thousands of years.  I found this golden crowned sparrow perched in the chaparral along the path towards Whaler’s Cove in Point Lobos State Nature Reserve, Carmel, California.  I thought it was a lovely photograph of a beautifully marked bird, but upon closer inspection of the photograph as I was processing the photos at the end of the day, I noticed the rather doleful look on the sparrow.  For an animal that flits about, seemingly without care, this look struck me as rather queer.  Perhaps, like Catullus, I am importing more meaning to the life of a sparrow than reason would suggest appropriate.  Still, this remains my favorite photograph of the many sparrows I have photographed over the course of the last fifteen years or so.

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Roil

SSA Photography (262 of 400)

This photograph was taken on a blustery morning in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California.  The winds were coming through the bay at a fierce clip, and the waves were the largest I had ever seen.  We went on a hike to Point Lobos, and I captured this scene after one of the larger waves had crashed across the rocks – completely covering them in a mix of foam and roil.  One of the apocryphal origins to the name Aphrodite is “risen from the foam,” but I cannot imagine that this was the type of scene the ancients envisioned of her birth.  I think Botticelli got it right.  The violence of the waves made me marvel at the strength of the stone, which has invariably been battered for eons.  Love is like that in many ways, often beaten but never broken…so perhaps the ancients were onto something…

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Awash

SSA Photography (183 of 400)

I have lived near the ocean my whole life, and yet it took my first trip to the California coast to truly admire the beauty of the sea.  The rocks and the waves are gorgeous in and of themselves, but together they are magical.  This photograph captures the instant when the two come together to produce an ephemeral wisp of beauty.  But for my camera capturing the fleeting moment, this little crash would have been forgotten, lost beneath the weight of the others that have come after it.  My fascination with the waves and the rocks can be seen in my collection California Waves.  I hope you enjoy this instant as much as I have.  The Romantics–Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Keats, and Shelley–all tried to capture that one infinite moment in words.  I will never have the words to capture it like they did; but then, they didn’t have a lens…

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Aesacus

SSA Photography (253 of 400)

This panorama was taken near Carmel Point, the southernmost point of the coastline in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California.  The title, Aesacus, alludes to the myth memorialized in Chapter 11 of Ovid’s Metamorphoses.  The youth Aesacus fell in love with Hesperia.  As he pursued her, she was bitten by a snake and died.  Aesacus gives a brief soliloquy lamenting her death, which he says was caused by him and the snake equally.  The sentence after his speech contains one of my favorite images in Augustan-era poetry: “Dixit et e scopulo, quem rauca subederat unda, se dedit in pontum.”  (“So he spoke, and from the cliff, which the rough waves had eaten away below, he gave himself to the sea.”)  As Aesacus fell, the ocean goddess Tethys took pity on him and changed him into a diving bird.  Watching the five diving birds in the photograph flying between rocks (eaten away by the sea) made me think at once of the Aesacus myth, which gave the scene such a mournful subtext.

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Pebble Hill Cypress

SSA Photography (221 of 400)

This photograph is a morning panorama of the Pebble Hill golf course just outside of Carmel, California.  In fact, the photograph was taken on the beach of Carmel Bay.  Beyond the point at the far left of the photograph is Spyglass Cove, where I have sat a number of times and just watched the sea otters and harbor seals bob between the long, whip-like strands of bull kelp.

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