Blog Archive: July, 2010

California Beaches: What’s Your Image?

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Agate Beach, Humboldt County, California, USA

Agate Beach, Humboldt County, California, USA

When you think of California beaches what images do you see?

Crowds, bikinis, surfers, smog, traffic jams, heat, noise, fun, in-line skaters, muscle builders, palm trees, sand, or what?

The far northern California beaches have the surfers, the fun, the sand, but the rest? Not so much.

On beaches like Agate Beach shown in this photograph you can spend hours walking, beach-combing, looking for rocks, enjoying the scenery, or just sitting listening to the waves wash across the coarse sand, without dealing with crowds.

This isn’t a beach where you can drive up and walk onto the sand. You have to work to get there down a trail and stairs.

In the summer the coastal areas of northern California are often foggy and cloudy, at least in the morning. So sunny times are to be celebrated. Several days may pass between sightings of the sun.

These beaches don’t have some of the ‘attractions’ of southern California beaches, or the vendors of Mexican beaches, or the seemingly endless volleyball and soccer matches of Copacabana, or the charms of the Côte d’Azur of France, or the ancient wind-swept stone villages of Brittany, or even the shells  and high-rises of Florida.

But when northern Californians have time they can enjoy dramatic and quiet beaches and find that there are very few other people out on the beach. Like other rural coastal areas it is hard to make a living in these small towns. And like tough Breton farmers, fishermen, and shop-keepers they find a way. They find a way to enjoy these beaches when they can. They don’t miss the ‘amenities’.

Forest Fireworks and Neighbors

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Ponderosa Pine in Bloom, Bend, Oregon, USA

Ponderosa Pine in Bloom, Bend, Oregon, USA

Ahhh, summertime, and the livin’  is  careless.

We want to get away from our daily routine and see some new country. We need some air. We need some space.

After we make all the arrangements at home and pack up all those necessities for our trip we make the journey.

We won’t have very long to explore. We want to focus on fun and diversion.

Will we be as responsible and thoughtful at the vacation place as we are at home? Or is that contradictory to ‘having fun’? Will the people who live there grow tired of obnoxious vacationers or will they know us as temporary neighbors? Neighbors who take part in the community events and help clean up and keep things safe, as if it was our neighborhood.

It is fire season. As the inland heat builds thunderheads and spawns lightning the wildlands are under threat. These are the places where we sometimes go for diversion, for beauty, for air, for space. Will we add to the threat through careless fun-seeking? Will we enjoy the show the forest puts on, will we notice? Will we keep it safe so that it can carry on for the rest of the year when we are not there? Will our momentary diversion destroy what we came to see because of an unattended campfire or fireworks? Every year somebody does something stupid and causes destruction in these places. Will it be me this year?

Pardon me if this sounds preachy or sanctimonious. I think it is worth reminding myself and ourselves to make careful choices and to be responsible neighbors.

This photo of a blooming Ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa C. Lawson) looks like a fireworks burst in the sky, to me. Maybe that takes some imagination. I had never seen these red flowers on a Ponderosa before. (The reference I consulted says they have yellow flowers. Perhaps I have mis-identified it. Yes trees have flowers!) And I spent many years working in forests with Ponderosa in them. Maybe I just wasn’t paying attention in the spring. My Father-in-Law, Jim Bennett, spotted this tree  in Bend, Oregon. We were having a family reunion and only had a few days to visit that area. It was a great family time. I also spent quite a bit of time photographing at the edge of the Deschutes River. But I didn’t really get to know the area very well. It was just a brief glimpse at one time of year.

One of my frustrations with vacations and travel is that I never really get to know the place I am visiting. There just isn’t enough time. And since our travel is now focused on photographic work I want to spend more time at these places and learn the rhythm and culture. But the expenses add up and there are things to take care of and other work to do at home.

When we travel we try to rent a house for a week or so when possible. Maybe a month would be better. That would still just be a snapshot and it is so difficult to do. But renting a house and meeting the owners has been a good way for us to be introduced to a community. Even a stay of several days at a hotel as a base camp for a larger area lets you get to know some local people a little better than changing hotels more often.

Having time to walk around the area day after day and see the routines and the variety of weather gives a better picture of what the place is like. It also gives you a better chance of being there for market day! And it provides a better background for photographing an area. You find the out-of-the-way interesting spots. You meet people and see how they live and find out what is important to them. All of these experiences help you photograph the character of a place. You get a sense of the place. A sense of place is what I strive for in my photographs.

By spending at least a few days in a place you meet some local people several times. It is human nature for them to assess your character, if they aren’t too busy. They can tell very quickly if you are a careless tourist or a responsible neighbor.

Desert Primordial

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Rock Formation, Joshua Tree National Park, California, USA

Rock Formation, Joshua Tree National Park, California, USA

Strange rock formation suggestive … of art or science? Where does all this sand come from?

Millions of acres of sand, farther than the eye can see. To the horizon and beyond. Moved by water and wind.

Then moved again or buried by later deposits. Time passes.

Vegetation struggling to find water and nutrients, growing roots further into the slowly weathering soils. Chemical weathering of the mineral grains is slow in these dry conditions. It’s just a pile of quartz, feldspar, mica, hornblende, and other minerals. Very few nutrients in suspension for the roots to capture.

The exposed rock disintegrates. The granitoid rocks decompose into their original individual mineral grains. Chemical weathering is aided by physical weathering-wetting and drying, freezing and thawing, warming and cooling-driving expansion and contraction forcing the rock apart. Rock beneath the surface continues to weather slowly increasing the depth of the sandy material.

So in that sense the rock formations are suggestive of science and formative processes. They suggest the birth of the desert. But they are also interesting and suggestive in an artistic sense.

Both male and female forms are present. Together, resting comfortably in the sand that they created.

Some people are a little uncomfortable with this image when they first look at it. But it is more complicated than it first appears to be. And people tend to be drawn to it as if to make sure what they are seeing. Then they see more.

Maybe there are only a few people who see the desert soil formation aspect of this image. When I talk to people about my photographs it is always interesting what they see and what portion of the image they key in on.

I have a photograph of an old chateau in France with a small shady courtyard in the foreground. On that morning when I took that photo I did not know there was someone else taking photographs there also. That person appears in my photo in the shade by a tree and is very difficult to see. But when I was displaying that photograph another photographer walked up and looked at the photo and said that that person by the tree was what they saw first and what they thought was the most interesting part of the photograph.

We recently visited the exhibit of impressionist painters at the de Young Museum in San Francisco. You enter with a group at an assigned time and are gently pushed through by your group. Three times I went back before being pushed out the exit, against the flow, to look at several paintings. On that day Renoir’s painting ‘The Swing’ held my attention. It is a famous painting of a woman on a swing in a long white dress with a line of blue bows down the front. She is in dappled shade and is surrounded by several people. Apparently it was an act of painting heresy at the time because it was impressionistic. The more I looked, the more I saw, and the more I imagined about the setting. (The exhibit ‘Birth of Impressionism: Masterpieces of the Musée d’Orsay’ continues through September 6, 2010. Another exhibit featuring Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cézanne, and others begins September 25.)

Probably all art is more complicated than it appears to be at first glance. I have learned that it is very rewarding when someone takes the time to look carefully at one of my photographs or even think about all of the aspects of the image.

When people look at this photograph, only a few will imagine what it was like to be there, how quiet it was, how hot it was,  what scent of desert shrubs was carried in the warm evening air, how soft the sand was to walk on, or how the scattered sand sounded as it ground beneath your shoes when you walked on the rock. This small enclosed rocky basin was a short ways from a scenic stop inside Joshua Tree National Park in the Mojave Desert of southern California, USA. But it was a separate world.

There are more Mojave Desert photos in my California gallery. Please follow the Photography link above.

Mothers’ Vigil

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Memorial Vigil, Tréguier, France

Memorial Vigil, Tréguier, France

A cold wind snapping the French flag in the predawn darkness.

A harsh spotlight keeping the attention on the vigil. Do not forget.

Quiet, deserted cobblestone streets. The sound of the flag, its cord hitting the flagpole, and the rustling of the bushes are the only distractions.

War is failure. War is loss.

Like our own American memorials this solitary statue calls attention to sacrifice and loss, to duty, to service, to honor, to failure.

Failure of leadership, failure of greed for power and wealth, failure of values, failure on so many levels. A defensive response is required when attacked, as France was in this case, but it is still wider  human failure. So much waste, so much loss. Perhaps strength can prevent the trap of greed from producing these failures. It hasn’t so far. Humanity still chooses these follies. As if, this time, there will be a different outcome.

This singular mother represents all mothers who waited in vain for their children to return to their villages from duty during World War I. This memorial is in the Breton village of Tréguier.

I recently read ‘Fighting France: From Dunkerque to Belfort’ (1915) by Edith Wharton. It was written in the first year of WWI and reflected an optimistic view of heroic young men behaving honorably in defense of their homeland against invasion. Edith was a famous writer by then and lived in Paris at the time. She was given unique access to the front lines for reporting and observation. She traveled with an ambulance crew and was given tours of front line trenches and fortifications. There was an eerie detached touristic tone to the descriptions. She described Paris in 1914 which had returned to near-normalcy after mobilization had sent most men to defend against the aggression. In that first year she was able to view the war and its battles from nearby overviews. She acknowledged and described the loss and destruction. But still it was prior to the worst protracted horrors of mud and poison gas and butchery.

And in the villages mothers waited. Men had left their mountain valleys or farms for the first time in their lives to serve their country. The outside world was new to them. Many never returned. I hope your sons and daughters are safe today.

As I stood by my tripod photographing this scene I thought about the mystery and futility and terror that people waiting in little villages like this must have felt.

It was still dark when the first car came up the hill from the river into the village. I could hear the little diesel engine as it approached and then the headlights came through the nearby opening in the ancient fortification wall and flashed onto the scene. The medieval stone wall told of previous conflicts. The car passed and continued into the old town section of shops. Another day was starting. Decisions were to be made here, and in all other towns. They have consequences.

Winter in Rio

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Pão de Açucar and Praia Vermelha, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Pão de Açucar and Praia Vermelha, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

It is now the heart of summer in the northern hemisphere and the heart of winter in the southern. But winter can feel like summer.

If you have harsh winters you may long for winters that look like the beach in this photo.

The beaches of Rio de Janeiro are normally sunny and warm throughout the year. Although as I write this they are having a cold snap.

This photograph was taken in the month of July so this is as ‘wintry’ as you would expect Rio to be. Typical winter daily high temperatures are around 75 degrees F (24 C).

This is a view over Praia Vermelha to Pão de Açucar, commonly known as Sugarloaf, although that may not be an accurate translation of the original name. Praia Vermelha or Red Beach was a quiet, uncrowded place when we were there. Sugarloaf is one of several massive granitic peaks that surround Rio.

There is a cable car that goes to the summit of Sugarloaf. It is barely visible in this photo as it arrives at the terminal. It is a two part cable car. The first part ends at Urca Mountain where there are some information displays, tourist facilities, and vendors. The second part spans over forest and exposed rock to reach Sugarloaf.

The cable car began operation in 1912. I find it an interesting coincidence that 1912 was also when a train began operating through a four mile tunnel through the Eiger and Mönch (in the Swiss Alps) to Jungfraujoch, the highest train station in Europe. There must have a flurry of engineering dreams at the beginning of the 20th century. Tourism and sight-seeing drove some amazaing projects. Shortly after the construction began on the train to Jungfraujoch in 1898, a cable car was planned for the Aiguille du Midi (near Mont Blanc) in 1905. But the construction of that lift was not completed until 1927.

It was a warm evening when we rode the cable car on Sugarloaf. We stopped at Urca Mountain and enjoyed the view over Rio. It was our first day in Rio and we were exhausted from travel and hungry. We had flown overnight with a surreal early morning stop in São Paulo. As we walked around Urca Mountain we came across an empanada vendor. To be honest we weren’t sure if we could trust these small pastries that may have been sitting out all day under the heat lamps. But it turned out that the flaky crust filled with cheese and chicken was so good we ordered another. Maybe it was our condition, but they sure hit the spot.

This photo was taken nearby in the middle of the day. There were several fisherman working in the bay out of small boats. On some days the air is not this clear and visibility is reduced. Praia Vermelha is a little out of the main tourist crush. And the restaurant overlooking the beach is a great place for lunch. Food is purchased buffet style and sold by weight.

We enjoyed Rio, especially walking along Copacabana and Ipanema beaches on Sunday morning when the road is closed to cars. We also had a great dinner at a samba club downtown and were impressed with the energy of the dancers. Our friend in Rio took good care of us and the people were friendly, although you do have to be careful especially at night, like most big cities.

If you enjoy soft warm sand and gentle waves, Rio is a great bet.

Their Entire World

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Tidepool, Le Diben, Brittany, France

Tidepool, Le Diben, Brittany, France

At low tide this small tidepool is a world apart.

The attached  organisms have the small, sandy basin to themselves again. The sprinkling of shells  on the rock are exposed to air between tides.

This jointed granite is on the famous Pink Granite Coast of northern Brittany. Sometimes the joints in the rock form regular rectangular shapes like this tidepool, but most of the time they are more abstract.

The coarse sand at the bottom of the tidepool settled out of the wave wash. The fine white sand lining the sides may have blown in at low tide to coat the sides as the water receded, like bathtub rings.

This tidepool is shaped like a window and gives us a view into a small world where these organisms spend their entire lives.

The gently sloping Breton shore exposes vast stretches of this granite at low tide. There is a nearly endless variety of sizes, shapes, and depths of tide pools.

Then as the tide flow returns each of these separate worlds rejoins the Atlantic Ocean and become just an irregularity on the bottom.

Virtual Mt. Bachelor

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Perspective View of Mt. Bachelor, Bend, Oregon, USA

Perspective View of Mt. Bachelor, Bend, Oregon, USA

Artistic data. An oxymoron?

Do you have to be a mathematician or a statistician to think that data can have artistic value? Or a geographer?

What artistic expression is possible if you blend a beautiful aerial photograph with elevation data? Is it art or is it cartography? When does cartography become art?

I think it depends largely on the intention. A map can portray information without having artistic appeal. Conversely art can contain information. Would you display it for navigation or because it is visually compelling? Is it less appealing if you sneak in some data or use data to form the image?

The image above was created using a high resolution aerial photograph combined with elevation data. The aerial photograph was taken from an airplane from about 20,000 feet (6100 meters) and has more detail than most images taken from imaging satellites which orbit hundreds of miles above the Earth.

The elevation data store values for altitude above sea level. In this case the data are a grid of cells stored in computer files. Each square cell represents an area of 10 meters (32.8 feet) on a side. The grid cells are like pixels in a digital photograph, that is, each one stores information, but in this case it is elevation information instead of color.

The photo and the elevation data are combined using a computer geographic information system (GIS). The elevation data are used to calculate a terrain surface. Then the photo is ‘draped’ over that surface so it appears to be 3-dimensional, like a relief map. Using the GIS software the surface can be tilted and rotated for viewing.

This perspective view of Mt. Bachelor and the Cascade Lakes vicinity near Bend, Oregon, USA, is from the north looking south. The overall surface is tilted up so that it is downhill from south to north.

The elevation data were also used to calculate elevation contour lines, like on a topographic map. In this case the custom contours have an interval of 200 feet (61 meters). They add information about the terrain.

Some of the Cascade Lakes are distinctly green, probably from algae bloom. The aerial photograph is a combination (mosaic) of several individual photos. They were taken on June 26, 2009.

The intention of this image is to show the beauty of the area surrounding the Mt. Bachelor volcano and the lakes. This is a popular recreation area. The trails through the forest on the mountain are developed ski runs. I think that if you enjoy exploring this stunning area a view like this is augmented with the additional information. The image has the value of a map because the distortions of aerial photographs have been removed and the features are in their correct positions. It has the beauty of a photograph. And the elevation data allow you to interpret the terrain.

In this case I think that the data have contributed to the beauty and created an artistic composition. Not everyone will agree. But, as they say, “the beauty of data is in the eye of the beholder.”

I can create custom relief-enhanced aerial photographs like this for most areas of the USA. Please contact me if you have an interest in a custom view of your area. You can find out more by following the Maps link above. I hope you enjoyed this virtual view of Mt. Bachelor.

Watch for Rocks

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Granitoid Rock Formation, Joshua Tree National Park, California, USA

Granitoid Rock Formation, Joshua Tree National Park, California, USA

“Plan to equip yourself with good brouges as the land is craggy.”

Terrain like this Mojave Desert photo is what came to mind when I read this advice. But this shoe guidance was included in the reservation confirmation information from a ‘riad’ in Fez, Morocco. (A riad is a traditional Moroccan guest house.) The streets in the old town section of Fez must be rough. But they certainly aren’t as rough as this jumble of boulders in Joshua Tree National Park.

I am making arrangements for my next photo excursion. This fall we will tour Andelucìa in southern Spain. Then I will continue on to Morocco and finish the trip in The Dolomites of northern Italy. There are a lot of details to figure out and planning to do because I am selecting the photographic subjects in general as I choose the locations. It is fun and interesting to organize the trips. I try to read as much as time allows. I research online and with guidebooks, non-fiction, fiction, movies, and friends.

I am reading The Alhambra by Washington Irving. His account of traveling to Granada, Spain and living within The Alhambra was a prime inspiration for (American author) Edith Wharton’s father to take his family there, which formed a life-long love of travel for young Edith. She was a tremendous travel writer herself and is the author whose work I am currently working my way through. The Irving book is background for understanding Wharton. But I will return to Irving later.

I look forward to learning about the intersection of cultures in Cordoba, Granada, Fez, Casablanca etc. Then the Dolomites will provide a dramatic difference with stunning alpine scenery. And I will have to go over the summit and look around in Austria as long as I am so close.

I spent this last weekend in Bend, Oregon at the Bend Summerfest. There were thousands of people out in the central Oregon sunshine enjoying the art and music festival. I had a booth and got to talk with many people about my photographs. The Bend Summerfest jury awarded me the Best of Show award which was quite a shock. It was great to visit the Cascades, especially with such perfect summer weather. The sky was such a vivid blue and contrasted strongly with the expanses of forest covering the volcanic landscapes. I guess it is striking to me in comparison to the gray skies we have here on summer mornings. I am looking forward to visiting that area again next month for the 1st Annual Sunriver Art Festival.

Electric Transportation, Alps Style

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Electric Train Between Wengen and Kleine Scheidegg, Switzerland, Jungfrau in Background

Electric Train Between Wengen and Kleine Scheidegg, Switzerland, Jungfrau in Background

Does your image of electric transportation look like a tiny light weight car that can only drive around town?

Do you imagine it powering over mountain passes and up precipitous cliffs? In the Swiss Alps transportation is provided by a network of electric trains and cablecars. They serve mountain commuters, tourists gaping at the alpine scenery, and carry supplies to small car-free mountain villages.

When you get to Lauterbrunnen and want to go higher into to the Bernese Oberland it is time to find the car park and get on an electric train or a cablecar. The village of Wengen is served by the Wengernalpbahn which continues on through Kleine Scheidegg to Grindelwald. The train climbs the canyon wall via switchbacks to reach Wengen. Safety requires the electrified railcar to be at the bottom of the train. So when it reaches the pass at Kleine Scheidegg you have switch trains to one that is configured with the powered car at the other end (now the downhill end) for the descent into Grindelwald beside the wall of the towering Eiger. They do have the capability to turn the train around at Kleine Scheidegg also.

The Wengernalpbahn is the longest continuous cogwheel railway on Earth. As you can see in the upper photo the trains are equipped with photovoltaic panels on the roof to generate electricity while traveling.

If you want to ascend the other side of the valley you get on the cablecar up to Grütschalp then transfer to an electric train to reach Winteregg, Mürren, and Gimmelwald.

Wengernalpbahn Electric Cogwheel Train, Switzerland

Wengernalpbahn Electric Cogwheel Train, Switzerland

The trains and cablecars are also used to take supplies to the high mountain villages. Freight wagons are added to the trains when needed. The Grütschalp cablecar system has the capability to carry freight which is then transferred to the freight wagon.

For a roaming photographer these trains are a valuable asset. They not only provide transportation to striking scenery, but also they are absolutely punctual. Several times while walking near the railway I stopped and composed photographs knowing the train was about to arrive into the scene. I carried the schedule and estimated arrival times between stations and got into position in time for the train to make its reliable appearance around a bend or through a forest opening.

The entire area surrounding Lauterbrunnen is amazing and unique. There are more photos in Switzerland gallery. Please follow the Photography link above.




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