Sunday, September 03, 2023

Frost-Pale Stillness

 "The primal sun with beams for its white hands
strikes cliffs and woods, an empty country's harp,
and conjures colored music from the bonds
of frost-pale stillness, plays a merry dance
on the glowing yellow, green, and red that light the
flowers and heather, on the mist-blue mountain cap,
on the scattered flocks of sheep in summer white,
fissures sprayed with black, the lava's grey expanse.

I drink your music's glory with thirsty eyes,
my cherished, longer-for land, and turn to you,
my nerves aflame with the same welcoming joy
as when you first rose to me from the seas.

I snuggle up in that motherly embrace
where I laughed as a child,
where I find joy and grace."

Snorri Hjartarson (1906 - 1986)

The image above is the center-piece of my just-completed "Icelandic Abstracts" portfolio that consists of images captured during an exhilarating two-hour plane tour of the area surrounding the Skaftafell National Park area, which is home to some of Iceland‘s largest glaciers, most prolific volcanoes and richest river deltas. 

While I booked a "photographer's plane tour" covering the southern part of Iceland months in advance, I was also well aware of Iceland's notoriously finicky weather. Because of the popularity of such tours, I was told that - in the event of "bad weather" - my ticket would be refunded but a backup flight was unlikely to be offered. As luck would have it (at least at first), the weather during the morning hours of the day of the scheduled flight was awful. Visibility did not extend much farther than the hood of our car, and was certainly not good enough to allow a plane to take off; or, if the pilot was crazy enough to go ahead with the tour, to allow its passengers to see anything near the ground! However, a morning full of remorseful angst miraculously gave way to early afternoon bliss, as the clouds cleared (slightly but sufficiently) to provide two hours of photographic nirvana. Vacations and the vagaries of chance, indeed.

The images in this portfolio were created in a way diametrically opposite to how 95% of my portfolios emerge (meaning, the conditions were way out of my comfort zone): (1) rapid-fire "spraying" of shots (to get as many compositions in as possible in a very short time frame) vs. my usual "slow tempo" meditative approach; (2) slow-action oriented anticipation of "just the right framing with appropriate telephoto zoom" punctuated by quickly opening up to a wide angle view to help anticipate the next "frame" vs. my typically much more deliberate compositions centered on a narrow range of focal lengths; and (3) using (what for me are) very high ISOs (3200+) to achieve fast enough shutter times to minimize blurring vs. my normal "stick to base ISO" mantra. 

Add to all this the fact that while the captain of my small Cessna was kind enough to give me the run of the cabin - he allowed me to unbuckle my seatbelt and move at will from the right window to left to right again, over and over again - this otherwise laudable "artistic freedom," when coupled with the 60 deg swings of the aircraft from horizontal the captain deliberately - and routinely - engaged in so that I could get the "best views," took its inevitable toll: each image represents a delicate compromise between maximizing aesthetics and minimizing nausea

But, my-oh-my, what breathtaking images of its abstract frost-pale stillness Iceland had to offer this lucky photographer...thank you, Iceland!

Thursday, August 31, 2023

Wonders and Mysteries of Iceland

"We say, 'Everything comes out of emptiness.'
One whole river or one whole mind is emptiness.
When we reach this understanding we
find the true meaning of our life.
When we reach this understanding we can
see the beauty of human life.
Before we realize this fact,
everything that we see is just delusion.
Sometimes we overestimate the beauty;
sometimes we underestimate or ignore
the beauty because our small mind
is not in accord with reality."

It has been a bit over two months since my last post. My muse certainly knows it, having been unceremoniously ushered into a backroom devoid of anything remotely aesthetic. My far-far-from-photography "day job" responsibilities have drowned me in seemingly infinite oceans of equations, computer code, memos, reports, and technical briefings; as I longingly gaze at my camera and whisper promises to my muse. But life, and time, is ever cyclical, and all one really ever needs is patience. Well that, and the "light at the end of the tunnel," otherwise known as the third - and finally, successful! - attempt to go on a family trip to Iceland ­čśŐ Our first try was in 2020 was quickly ixnayed by the pandemic. And our second try - last year - fell through because of a scheduling conflict (our youngest was starting his first year away at college). So, the third time proved to be the charm, albeit with an "added cost" of giving all of us (my wife, our kids, and myself) COVID during the last part of our two week trip. Indeed, as I write this, a week and half since coming home, my wife and I are both grudgingly accepting the onset of (a mild case?) of "long COVID." We can work for short stretches of an hour or two, but quickly succumb to a debilitating tiredness. Naps help, but the sad cycle just repeats itself. On the other hand, although we lost taste and smell at the tail end of the first week, recovery on that front was swift; taste and smell were both back within only a few days. I plan to blog about some of our adventures in Iceland in the coming days/weeks (as strength permits). 

The first image, shown above, is a view of the Sk├│gafoss waterfall located in the southeastern part of Iceland. It is transcendently beautiful, and almost "too easy" to get to; one literally drives into a parking lot that is half-a-mile from the main road and walks about a 1000 feet or so (perhaps pausing briefly to ingest another delicious cup of Icelandic coffee along the way!). Unfortunately, there is a steep price to be paid for this ease-of-entry, at least for photographers who prefer "pristine" (i.e., people-less) compositions. Expect to wait a long - long - time for any chance to get such shots. People are omnipresent, day to night; and the tent park sandwiched between the parking lot and waterfall ensures that people are always milling about. But this is a minor inconsequential complaint. The rewards - and sincere privilege - of spending quality Zen time with this magnificent falls far outstrip whatever modicum of angst the presence of likeminded people may induce in a photographer's mind! 

Postscript - on the vagaries of chance and aesthetic disposition. It took me two days - two hours the first day, and an hour after sunrise on the second - to "wait out" the presence of other people near the falls. Of course, I could "clone" them away - as I sometimes do when patience is not an answer - but I much prefer the purity of a special moment. Contrast this with the experience of our eldest son, who is a self-avowed "non photographer," and who rarely takes a shot of anything with his iPhone (and, even then, mostly confines his interest to "animals" and small critters). He causally walks up to the Sk├│gafoss waterfall, glances over his shoulder at his dad - who is undergoing his typical paroxysm of activity to set up his tripod in just the right place (and is no where close to attempting a bona fide composition) - fires off a quick but beautiful shot of the waterfall that is completely devoid of people, and nonchalantly walks back to the car to take a nap! True story. 

Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Contemplating this World


"The sea-shore is a
sort of neutral ground,
a most advantageous point from
which to contemplate this world."

Henry David Thoreau (1817 - 1862)

Friday, June 23, 2023

Omnitensional Integrity

"The word tensegrity is an invention: it is a contraction of tensional integrity. Tensegrity describes a structural-relationship principle in which structural shape is guaranteed by the finitely closed, comprehensively continuous, tensional behaviors of the system and not by the discontinuous and exclusively local compressional member behaviors.
The integrity of the whole structure is invested in the finitely closed, tensional-embracement network, and the compressions are local islands. Elongated compression tends to deflect and fail. Compressions are disintegrable because they are not atomically solid and can permit energy penetration between their invisibly amassed separate energy entities.
Tension structures arranged by man depend upon his purest initial volition of interpretation of pure principle. Tension is omnidirectionally coherent. Tensegrity is an inherently nonredundant confluence of optimum structural-effort effectiveness factors.
All structures, properly understood,
from the solar system to the atom,
are tensegrity structures.
Universe is omnitensional integrity."

- Buckminster Fuller (1895 - 1983)
Synergetics: Explorations in the Geometry of Thinking

Thursday, June 22, 2023

Twilight of the Soul

"It was in dreams that first I stole
With gentle mastery o'er her mind—
In that rich twilight of the soul,
When reason's beam, half hid behind
The clouds of sleep, obscurely gilds
Each shadowy shape that Fancy builds—
'Twas then by that soft light I brought
Vague, glimmering visions to her view,—
Catches of radiance lost when caught,
Bright labyrinths that led to naught,
And vistas with no pathway thro';—
Dwellings of bliss that opening shone,
Then closed, dissolved, and left no trace—
All that, in short, could tempt Hope on,
But give her wing no resting-place;
Myself the while with brow as yet
Pure as the young moon's coronet,
Thro' every dream still in her sight.
The enchanter of each mocking scene,
Who gave the hope, then brought the blight,
Who said, "Behold yon world of light,"
Then sudden dropt a veil between!"

- Thomas Moore (1478 - 1535)
The Loves of The Angels

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

de Chirico's Dreams

"To become truly immortal,
a work of art must escape all human limits:
logic and common sense will only interfere.
But once these barriers are broken,
it will enter the realms of
childhood visions and dreams.
There are more puzzles in the
shadow of a man walking under
the sun than in all past,
present, and future religions."

Giorgio de Chirico (1888 - 1978)

Note. This was a "quick grab" I took with my iPhone a few months ago when my wife and I were wandering around underground at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.; specifically, the S. Dillon Ripley Center, the entrance to which is easy to miss (at least for folks that don't live near D.C.), since it's topside view is remarkably unobtrusive and does not present itself as "anything special." After you enter the domed structure and go down a few levels, you may be amazed to find a massive space that contains conference centers, art studios, offices, and galleries. (The only reason I know of its existence is that I was invited to give a presentation in one of underground spaces about 20 years ago.) The football-field-sized room on the bottom level also provides an underground pathway to both the African Art Museum and the Sackler Gallery of the National Museum of Asian Art. The iPhone picture shows a part of the south side of the central staircase/elevator column that we took to descend (and looking up from where the escalator ends on the lower level). The geometry and lighting reminded me of de Chirico's works. The picture can also serve as a reminder to photographers (young/old, beginner/seasoned,...) that interesting images can be discovered literally everywhere.

Saturday, June 17, 2023

Time is a Sea

"Time is all-embracing. Everything is in time. When is four o'clock? In time. When did Socrates live? In time. When will you keep still? In time. How can time hold so much? Time is very big. The fishes are in the water. The ships are in the sea. The stars are in the sky. The birds are in the air. And all things, fishes and water, and birds and air, and stars and sky are in time. Time is immense. Without water fish cannot swim. Without air birds cannot fly. Without sky the stars cannot shine. The water carries the fish, the air carries the birds. The sky carries the stars. Water, air, and sky are buoyant. And water and air and sky are themselves buoyant, buoyed, in buoyantest time. Time is all-embracing, all-embuoyant. And if, now, everything is in time, is time also in all things? Are not all things time-embracing? Mutual love! It is so. Time permeates all things. Lift the tiny scales of little fishes, time is there. Examine the entrails of birds, time is there. Tiresias knew. And in the hottest regions of the stars, time is there. In the drop of water, in the breath of air, in a patch of sky, time is there. Time permeates all things. And now we can also understand the words: 'on which we and all the universe swim.' For as fish swim in the water and birds swim in the air and the stars swim in the sky, so all swimming in the water and all swimming in the air and all swimming in the sky are swimmings in time, the sea, air, sky, of time. Time is a sea, an air, a sky. "

-  O. K. Bouwsma (1898 - 1978)
The Mystery of Time