Winter’s Simplicity

You might recall from my post of March 12, 2017 that I returned to film using my old Yashica TL-electro 35 mm camera. It has been a slow process looking for good photo labs, being disappointed in their results and costs, then learning to develop my own film (originally with Mark Watts). The latter included loading the film developing reels in the dark and using film chemistry. At first, I was producing poorer quality negatives than the labs, many full of spots and chemistry blemishes (my negatives still are not perfect, but I am almost there.) I also had to relearn to use a manual camera effectively—no auto-advance, no autofocus, no zoom, no semi-auto exposure, no adjustable ISO or exposure meter. Yikes!

Therefore, with this camera in hand I recently shot some snowscapes this past February (some on a 15° F day). I take the social constructionist view that the photograph does not convey one objective impression; rather, each individual can see it differently (though there are some photos where the majority of people have the same impression, as with Alfred Eisenstaedt’s Winston Churchill. Of course, the then leaders of the Axis powers would not have had the same impression.

Having said this, I will give you my reason for shooting this particular subject along with my interpretation of these photographs. Photographically, winter displays form and texture–essences; it is a time

Silo

when nature converts to monochrome. Foliage is gone, most animals are gone or hibernating, and many plants are dormant. The natural environment, simplified, becomes a metaphor for reflection. For me, the reflection is on life. Although much of life dies with winter, it feeds the next cycle of spring growth. And it all begins with massive stars. All life forms are born of the physical elements originating in stars at least 8 to 15

T

times the solar mass of our sun. At the end of their relatively short lives (the larger the star the shorter its life) they cast the heavy elements they produced in their cores into the universe with supernova explosions. Stardust containing these elements eventually begin to coalesce around new or existing stars, creating planets, some of which are in the “Goldilocks zone” (i.e., not too hot, not too cold, thus providing for the possibility of liquid water) opening the potential for the evolution of life.

Among animals, adults teach their young, except in the case of humans, the young also build on the social, cultural, economic, and scientific ideas of past generations. Winter reminds me that, in these respects, we are no fundamentally different from any other animals (though we like to think so). Clearly, this view is partly shaped by my training as a social scientist and my readings in the natural sciences.

So how does all this play out for me in the following photographs? With Silo I see the “dormancy” of a winter farm. The farm animals mostly inside,

Loose Bark

the fields bereft of crops. However, it is not at all dormant. The farmer is planning the next season with equipment maintenance or replacement, placing orders for seeds and fertilizer, and applying for loans or federal agricultural grants. Unfortunately, recent seasons have seen heavier than average rainfall resulting in many lower lying fields flooded or made marshy during critical growing periods. I see this in ‘T‘ with the cattails in the middle of a several acre field. They do align in a somewhat pleasing T formation, however. Agricultural fields across the globe are under threat, due to climate change that results in precipitation, temperature, and insect variations; soil erosion and contamination from mining and fracking pose additional threats.

Loose Bark shows me a dead tree in Washington Grove within Rochester’s Cobbs Hill Park. During its life, it sheltered birds, mammals, insects,

Snowbound

mosses, and other life forms. It absorbed atmospheric carbon, gave off oxygen, and kept the ground beneath it cool in the summer. Eventually, high winds will knock it down where upon various fungi, worms, ants and termites will feed, decay it, leaving its remaining elements to be absorbed into the soil to one-day support new life. I see the culmination of this process in Snowbound where a baby tree grows in a picnic area at Hamlin Beach. It absorbs the nutrients from the soil of its plant, animal, and massive star predecessors, where perhaps one day a picnic table will be placed beneath it.

I would greatly appreciate receiving your interpretations, different as they might be.

All That Stuff

Steel drum
Chassis

George Carlin, the late comedian, once satirized Americans for having too many possessions–stuff. Well it’s true. And some of that stuff we dump. I remember as a kid growing up in farm country we had our own dump. That’s right. Less than a quarter of a mile away there was a large pit where we took our trash and garbage via a wooden wagon to sling it in–this well ahead of the days of mandated disposal and town operated transfer stations. You still see evidence today throughout rural areas that house the resting areas of old farm equipment, cars, trucks, and other stuff.

I found some examples from a hike through a Monroe County park last summer where I found a steel drum (I dread to think what it might have contained) and a vehicle chassis. Today, disposal is strictly regulated with some stuff being shipped to poor countries to be recycled,

Perfectly fine radiators, if stripped

the rest sent to our ever-growing landfills. Some radiators I found near a cottage renovation project this past fall on Peaks Island will hopefully be reused or recycled into other products in the U.S. under safe working conditions (unless Trump rescinded these too by executive order). A bit of thought suggests that is not ethical to expose people in poor countries to the dangerous process of recovering recyclable materials , and the room required for more landfills limited.

 

Lead in Our Water Supplies

I was just listening to Living on Earth on NPR. Steve Curwood was hosting Michael Pell of Reuters. Pell and Joshua Schneyer just published a report showing that many communities around the U.S. have lead levels in their water supplies as high or higher than Flint Michigan.  According to several scientific studies, lead is harmful to developing brains by hindering learning ability and causing behavioral problems, the latter related to less ability to control impulses. Until recently, lead exposure was seen as most related to living in old, run-down housing that poses the greatest risks to the poor. Though this is still true, lead contaminated water is now understood to pose a second risk that threatens all socio-demographic communities.

This is another example of how over the past 150 years we have managed to not only warm our planet, but we have also contaminated our water supplies upon which all life depends. If this isn’t bad enough, our leaders are slow to react to these fundamental threats, indeed, many will not even acknowledge that they exist.

The report lists communities around the country that identified as having  lead contamination.

Southern Maine’s Coast

Well, at long last I have completed this photo set where you can find them at my online gallery.  Whereas I see Massachusetts’ coast as gentile, Maine’s coast can only be characterized as rugged. In addition to my usual landscape work, I am experimenting more with fine art and abstract work, with some of these meager attempts included here.

I might also add that this film set represents my first time doing my own film development, after which I scan the negatives and import them into Lightroom for post-processing. I took a course on developing black & white film two years ago, but it wasn’t until I returned from this trip that a friend of mine (a former Kodak chemist) gave me a refresher and loaned me his equipment. Unfortunately, I lost about 25  images due to improperly winding the unexposed film on the developing reel (that, of course, needs to be done in the darkroom).

You can see more of Maine’s coast in my photobook, Exploring Maine’s Coast, available online and at Sherman’s Books of Maine .

Dystopia By the Back Cove

Abandoned track

I was back in Portland, Maine recently visiting with friends. One of the items on the agenda was for my friend and I to go out for a day with our film cameras. Portland has a gentrifying waterfront area along Commercial Street. It’s a really a nice area, but with gentrification comes higher prices on just about everything. So, what else is new?

Swing bridge
Bent rails

Our late afternoon destination was the East Promenade part of the city overlooking the entrance to the Back Cove. Of particular interest was an abandoned rail line and swing bridge linking each side of the Cove. Although interesting to photograph, it is a blight on the area. As with so many industrial areas around the country, there were never any requirements on businesses to make the land whole when the facilities would become obsolete and, often, abandoned. That cost is typically borne by local, state or federal government. Nowadays, the Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad Company & Museum uses a short portion of that track bed running from the Cove to Commercial Street as a tourist attraction.

The rollback of government regulation of business and commerce by the current Administration will only promote this phenomenon.