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.

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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.

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Hollow

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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.

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Boneyard Beach

SSA Photography (84 of 400)

I do not know who settled on the name Boneyard Beach for this stretch of coastline on Big Talbot Island, just north of Jacksonville, Florida.  It is fitting, though, that the skeletons of the old live oaks (Quercus Virginiana) stretch towards the ocean like Tantalus stretched towards the water beneath his feet and fruit above his head.  This photograph was taken three years ago, before the northeast coast of Florida was battered by hurricanes Irma and Matthew.  Kemper and I went to Boneyard Beach earlier this year, in the height of summer, to take photographs.  I figured to get some photographs of him among the stripped, bleached bones.  To my great surprise, many of the trees that I had become accustomed to (which are featured in my gallery Driftwood), had vanished into the sea since I had been there last.  Kemper was disappointed for a moment, but then he caught sight of a ghost crab skittering around the base of a monolithic oak, unaffected by the reshaping of the coastline.  It would have taken a much stronger act of God, or His hand itself, to move that oak from its spot.  Innumerable hurricanes have battered the island over the centuries, and as the new oaks, themselves, fall to the beach, the skeletons will once again reappear–until, of course, another set of storms carries them off to the sea.

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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.

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Wabi-Sabi

SSA Photography (106 of 400)

“Nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect.”

This quote sums up the Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi, which has no direct translation in English. “Wabi” is said to be defined as “rustic simplicity” or “understated elegance.” “Sabi” is translated to “taking pleasure in the imperfect.”  This photograph of an abandoned toy truck captures the principle beautifully.  The imperfection of the truck (and even the photograph thereof) is evident.  Although the truck lost its wheels long before I took this photograph, its purpose has not yet been fulfilled – not completely.  It is now immortalized in this photograph, which has subsequently become the subject of this post.  Nothing is finished, really.  This post will be replaced tomorrow by a less melancholy subject, and slowly it will fade from memory.  Nothing lasts.  The Romantic poets were students of the ephemeral, finding beauty in the brief life of all things.  Even the Augustan poet Horace, famous for his introduction of the phrase “carpe diem,” was fascinated with fleeting time.  There is a beauty to this photograph, though; however, I could not put my finger on it before I connected it with wabi-sabi.  Now it has become clear why its perfectly imperfect composition and subject evoked such strong feelings of melancholy on the one hand, and pleasant nostalgia on the other.  The Japanese phrase captures in two words, what it has taken me a lifetime to understand.

Nothing lasts.  Nothing is finished.  Nothing is perfect.

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Morning Dew

SSA Photography (83 of 400)

This photograph was taken just after dawn on Little Talbot Island, north of Jacksonville, Florida.  It was one of the first macro photographs I took, and it remains one of my favorites.  I love how it captures the pendant dewdrop and the weight of the driftwood branch and the water.  The little bubbles add an interesting depth of field.

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Tempest

SSA Photography (387 of 400)

“We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep.”
-Shakespeare, The Tempest
This photograph was taken on the moors outside of Haworth, England earlier this year.  It was cloudless until dusk, when shadows crept over the heather, and tempestuous clouds filled the sky.  The rock in the foreground is a landmark that can be seen for miles, and indeed it can be seen from the house which Anna’s grandfather built stone by stone from an old ostler house.  It is but a pinpoint on the horizon from the house, and we trekked miles up and down (and up again) through the heather and sheep until we reached it.  The views, as can be seen here, and in the gallery “The Moors” were breathtaking, and though I cursed Anna’s mother and uncle for taking us on such a hard-fought scramble up the moors, it was indeed worth it in the end.  And in the end, as the Bard said, “what’s past is prologue.”
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Skagway Mist

SSA Photography (18 of 400)

This small panorama was taken from the bow of a ship in the Inside Passage in Alaska, near Skagway.  To call the nature in Alaska untamed would be an understatement.  The glaciers are so plentiful that some have no names, and the fjords stretch for days.  All of the stones have stories, variegated and striated like this one from eons of ebbing and flowing tides.  The morning mist was a beautiful phenomenon, which I attempted to capture in this photograph.  It blanketed everything in a soft, dense fog, which sometimes did not burn off until well into the afternoon, when the blue skies brought out the deep cerulean of the glaciers.  Although beautiful in full color, I felt that the black and white of this photograph worked ever so well with the natural contrasts of the subject.

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Remnant

SSA Photography (376 of 400)

I studied art history in high school and college, learning from incredible teachers and professors.  I went to museums and saw visiting collections, but I never stood in the middle of St. Peter’s square or under the arches of a gothic cathedral until 2006 when I stood in La Seu, visited Pompeii, and walked into the middle of the Piazza San Pietro, marveling at the history that surrounded me.  Yet something about Bolton Abbey, the skeleton of which I captured in this photograph, struck me more than even walking through the ancient streets of Pompeii.  Perhaps because I was older, I had a new appreciation for the feats of architecture.  Perhaps, too, it was because I was alone with my camera and my thoughts, not being bustled about by tour guides or other eager tourists.  Whatever the difference, Bolton Abbey was more majestic to me than even St. Peter’s.  It is a memory, a remnant of time gone by, of the monarchy, of the Reformation, and of the shifting sands of faith.  While other abbeys were deconstructed during the Dissolution of the Monasteries, and all that remains of them is rubble, Bolton Abbey remains – like a fossil, its bones bared and resolute.  When I stood in the nave, I placed my hand on a monolithic column, lingering for a moment and hoping to physically connect to the priory.  With the weathered stone pressed against my hand, I wondered how many generations had set their hands upon the stonework, and at that moment I felt truly connected to a continuum of time – those who had come before and those who would come after to admire the remnant as I had.

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