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.

Cattails

Last week a friend of mine and I were out searching for Snowy Owls, since there were several reported sightings in the Braddock Bay area. After a couple of hours of searching, we found no owls. We walked along a boardwalk overlooking Braddock Bay where we saw all the usual cattails. It was early morning and they were backlit so we took a few shots.

Braddock Bay
Cattails at Braddock Bay

They do look nice, glistening in the morning sun. They provide protection for birds and animals; beaver and muskrats rely on them for building shelter and as a food source, respectively.

I’ve never given much thought to cattails until I heard a subsequent  report about continued funding of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. It includes monies to remove a large part of the cattail stands along Braddock Bay.

It turns out they are an invasive species that displace many other plants vital to the eco-system. As is so often the case, we have fostered cattails with fertilizer run-off and maintaining low lake levels. The plan now is to raise the lake level 2 1/2  inches, which doesn’t sound like much, but will have a great impact on coastal residents during storm surges.

This is yet another example of how so much of our collective activity has unintended consequences.

Post-industrialization to Neo-industrialization

Looking at my shoot of Boston’s tall ships in 1980 (I took these with a Yashica TL-Electro SLR, which I still have, using Kodak reversal film) got me to thinking about ways of cutting back on petroleum. As I have

Boston, Tall Ships The Juan Sebastian Elcano, 1980
Boston, Tall Ships
The Juan Sebastian Elcano, 1980

discussed in earlier posts, climate change is not the only reason for cutting back on petroleum. Although we have plenty of oil now, scientists have noted that petroleum and other natural reserves will be in shorter supply and increasingly expensive over the coming decade, forward.

One solution for ocean ships would be new designs using both solar and wind power (with solar panels embedded in their sails). Although these ships would need larger crews, and could not be as large as current ocean-going ships, they could be larger than their 19th century clipper counterparts. Though this is not economically viable now, it will be as oil depletes, leading us to what I call neo-industrialization (a period of scaled back production using mostly/only-renewable resources).

I will talk more about this in a later post. In the meantime, perhaps you would share your own ideas on this topic.

Did you pay the electric bill?

Ontario 9-mile Point Reactor from Selkirk Shores State Park
Ontario 9-mile Point Reactor from Selkirk Shores State Park

I recently visited the east end of Lake Ontario to photograph. As it turned out, the shoreline presented the best photo opportunities, including a nuclear plant sitting prominently across the water near Lycoming, New York.

Richard Heinberg has written extensively about the end of the post-industrial era, due to dwindling energy and other critical resources. Some see nuclear power as an alternate source of energy that is safe and doesn’t add to greenhouse gases. Although nuclear plants do have a mostly safe track record, there have been notable accidents: Three-mile Island, Chernobyl, and the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, to name the notables.

Even though nuclear plants don’t pollute in the traditional sense, they create thermal pollution when heated water used to cool the Uranium rods is returned back to the adjacent lake or river. This results in fish kills and increased algae populations. Furthermore, once the Uranium rods are spent, they will remain radioactive for about 250,000 years. This raises the issue of how to safely store them, and adds a “hidden” cost to this energy source.

Developing clean, renewable energy is critical. Nevertheless, it will not fully replace the energy produced from fossil fuels. The 21st century will be one of radical change. Either we can plan that change, or the natural environment will do it for us. The explosive growth of world gross national product and human population are not sustainable in light of increased concentrations of greenhouse gases, diminishing arable land, and other natural resources. We face critical challenges.

Sea Level Rise

Peaks Island
Peaks Island, Maine

According to National Geographic, the annual rate of sea level rise over the past 20 years has been 0.13 inches a year, roughly twice the average speed of the preceding 80 years. This is due to human activity that results in the thermal expansion of sea water, the melting of glaciers and polar icecaps, and the melting of the Greenland ice sheet.

The result is the flooding of wetlands, contamination of aquifers and agricultural soils, and lost of habitat for fish, birds, and plants. Higher sea level, combined with more intense storms (e.g., super storm Sandy) create much greater storm surges.

The result will be far more than property losses. As more of the coast is gradually lost to the sea, there will be a great migration inland, putting evermore demands on limited resources.

How bad could it be? A recent study says we can expect the oceans to rise between 2.5 and 6.5 feet by 2100, enough to swamp many of the cities along the U.S. East Coast. Should a complete meltdown of the Greenland ice sheet occur, sea level could rise to 23 feet, submerging London.

Deadwood

Recently, I’ve been thinking about emphasizing form and texture in my photographs, as opposed to much of the landscape work I’ve done. This led me to consider photographing deadwood. No, I’m not referring to those non-performers in the working world. Deadwood is certainly readily

Ellison Park, Monroe County
Ellison Park, Monroe County

available. Just take a walk through the woods and you’ll see a vast array of the stuff. Most of the time we don’t pay much attention to the rotting logs and branches along our way, unless we’re looking for mushrooms, moss, fungi, or insects. But deadwood is a critical part of the ecological cycle. Although we think of deadwood as merely dead trees, deadwood provides nutrients for a range of plants and animals, as well as a new generation of trees. The last stage of organic decomposition produces new soil. The whole process is identical to what takes place in a compost pile or bin. The dead thus produce new life. As you view these photograph’s you might consider this upbeat deadwood perspective.

 Millions of tons of wood are produced every year in the forests of the world. Observation, however, tells us that the sum-total of wood upon he surface of the earth remains fairly constant from year to year and from century to century. We must, therefore, conclude that there are destructive agencies at work by which millions of tons of wood are destroyed annually.

A. H. R. Buller, preeminent mycologist, Economic Biology, 1906, 1, p. 101
Ellison Park, Monroe County
Ellison Park, Monroe County

Since light levels tends to be lower in the woods, due to foliage and shadows, supplemental flash is necessary for producing high quality photographs. I’m using a Canon Speedlight 430 EX II with a short off-camera cable so I have  control over the flash’s direction.

You can see more of my deadwood series at my online gallery. I’d appreciate receiving your comments or criticism.

For more information on wood decomposition, see Trees for Life.

Now available from the Bird House in Rochester, NY, and StephenFieldingImages.org
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