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.

Earth analysis from data collected by the deep space probe, Xertox

As fires continue to rage in the west, aggravated by people’s environmental impact, they release ever more carbon into the atmosphere and oceans. I thought this a good time to revisit the alien Xertox probe.

Stephen Fielding Images

The Xertox deep space probe from the planet Outlandia entered a polar Earth orbit and collected data from every surface area for a period of twelve months. These data included photos of the planet’s surface, along with atmospheric, oceanic, and continental compositions and temperatures (collected by deployed robotic labs).

Analysis (based on data received by Outlandia, 200 years later) reveals that the planet’s atmosphere contains high levels of greenhouse gases contributing to an average surface temperature of 65.4° F. The oceans appeared to have risen significantly over the past 150 years before major evaporation.  The planet has no glaciers, with very little ice during the winter at the southern pole. The northern pole has almost no ice during winter.

There is no life on the planet beyond the bacterial, algae, and fungi groups. Given soil analyses and the planet-wide remains of buildings and large structures, it appears the planet had…

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“Climate change” added to my blog’s subtitle

We are truly entering Orwell’s age of doublespeak ( i.e., language used to deceive, usually through concealment or misrepresentation of truth). One such example is the Trump Administration’s  deletion of the term climate change from government websites (and funding agencies are suggesting that applicants do the same in their federal grant proposals), so it is up to the rest of us to keep this term in the public’s eye. Yes, the vast majority of us believe that climate change is occurring as we witness extreme weather events and fires in the west.

 

The Allegheny River

The weather during my trip to the Allegheny was excellent, providing highs of only 80 degrees, fog and mist in the morning, and wonderful cumulus clouds during the afternoon.

Most of the river in the Allegheny National Forest area in Pennsylvania is part of the reservoir created by the Kinzua Dam. Both the river below the dam and the reservoir provide grand recreational areas. For instance, just below the dam there is a small boat launch where I happened upon a woman putting a kayak on the water and paddling downstream, seen in the above photograph.

Further downstream I caught the river early one morning as the fog rolled through. Using a long exposure, I captured a silky effect created as the river flowed.

Fog
Allegheny River

The dam created a large lake, straddling New York and Pennsylvania. Here’s where you’ll find most of the powerboats. However, come winter when the reservoir freezes over, no snowmobiles or ice boats are allowed.

Allegheny reservoir
Allegheny Reservoir

I also captured the lower reservoir early one morning before the fog burned off.

From Dunkle Corners boat launch

I spent substantial time scoping out the best shots. While returning from Jake’s Rocks I found a long view of the Kinzua Bridge. Setting up my tripod, I took the following shot.

From the road to Jake’s Rocks

The water and the forest provide people with escape and relaxation. We would not likely have these areas today if it were not for the federal and state governments early in the twentieth century putting lands off-limits to development and making them available to the public.

You can see the full collection of photographs from this trip at my online gallery, including film shots. If you have spent time in the Allegheny National Forest I would like to hear about your experience!

Floral Foray on the North Country Trail

I spent a few hours hiking the North Country Trail as it passed through the Allegheny National Forest to show some of the area’s plants. During that foray, I noticed many relatively thinly forested areas where ferns

North Country National Trail, Allegheny National Forest

were growing, not thinking too much about them. Later, while reading one of the Forest Service brochures, there was a discussion about ferns. The ferns are the result of an over population of deer. Deer eat just about any kind of plant, including seedling trees. However, they do not like ferns. Old trees die over time and with few seedling trees to replace those, ferns begin to proliferate. Ferns then

Tigger: North Country National Trail, Allegheny National Forest

shade the ground, thus blocking the growth of other plants, including seedling trees. To offset this negative process, the Forest Service has installed fencing in critical areas to keep deer out, as well as managing the deer population with hunting. You can see one of these thinly forested areas in my impressionist photo of the forest, above.

Although my purpose on this day was to photograph plants, I made a rare

North Country National Trail, Allegheny National Forest

fauna sighting–Tigger  (that’s T-I-double grr; I didn’t put him there,

honest). I utilized slices of sunlight coming through the canopy, along with fill-in flash to darken backgrounds and light only the plants so they would better stand out.

North Country National Trail, Allegheny National Forest

 

 

 

 

 

You might wonder why I included a dead stump. I had discussed in an earlier post how dead trees and other plants

North Country National Trail, Allegheny National Forest

return carbon from the atmosphere to the earth and so are an important part of the ecological cycle. Sometimes deadwood also produces some interesting photos. Here, I liked the way the light bounced off this one.

Even though every map and brochure produced by the National Park and Forest

Services mention specific steps to protect the

Human Trace: North Country National Trail, Allegheny National Forest

environment, including “pack in and pack out”, I still found traces of humanity, as shown in the photo on the left.

 

My final post of the Allegheny will show a number of waterscapes.

 

Allegheny Petroleum

Long before producing hydro-electric power, the Allegheny was one of our original producers of petroleum.  The Bradford oil field was founded in 1875. By  1881 it was the world leader in oil supply, producing over 90% of U. S. oil (26 million barrels per year); oil production

The first well

continues to this day (750,000 barrels per year, compared with 24 billion barrels worldwide). As I hiked along the North Country National Trail, I came upon an oil well. At first, I thought it was an abandoned relic until I noticed a modern electrical panel and motor. You could smell crude oil around the area. As I continued hiking I came across yet another, also with the smell of crude.

The second well

Today, a large refinery sits on Route 6 in Warren with large tankers coming and going. Given that the river wraps around two sides of the refinery, and busy Route 6 on the third side, the only vantage point for a photograph was at the west end. Unfortunately, with employees coming and going, and the security related to refineries, I felt pretty uncomfortable taking photos (I’ve previously been approached by security people photographing other facilities). The Kinzua Dam was an exception since it accommodated visitors and photos outside its gates.

Even if we had known early on how burning fossil fuels would change the planet, given that evolution has wired us to pursue short-term benefits for survival, and our transition to an industrialized economy enabling a higher standard of living for some, I suspect that we would have continued down this road, just as we have done over the past 40 years.

Our intelligence and our technology have given us the power to affect the climate. How will we use this power? Are we willing to tolerate ignorance and complacency in matters that affect the entire human family? Do we value short-term advantages above the welfare of the Earth? Or will we think on longer time scales, with concern for our children and our grandchildren, to understand and protect the complex life-support systems of our planet? The Earth is a tiny and fragile world. It needs to be cherished. (Carl Sagan, Cosmos, New York: Random House, 1980, p. 103)

I will show some photos of the flora I encountered along the North Country trail in my next post.