A Night in the Woods

Winter is not the most popular time to photograph. Not only is it cold but everything is so drab. However, winter is a great time for us black and white photographers. So, I donned my winter gear and spent some time in the woods in late February looking for some good tree compositions to photograph after dark. My idea was to use my flash to highlight a particularly interesting tree so it would stand out against a relatively dark background, much as you might do in a studio with a black, felt background cloth.

Once finding the compositions, the trick was finding the same shooting spot after dark. Accomplishing that, I set my camera on a tripod; then using Kodak Tri-X 400 film I set my lens to f/2 and the shutter to bulb. While handholding my Speedlite flash off-center from my camera, I opened the shutter just long enough to manually trigger the flash. I took three shots of each composition at 1/1, 1/4, and 1/8 power. Twenty-seven frames later, here are the best (click to enlarge).

“Decoding the Weather Machine” Right now, on Nova

Dunkirk, NY natural gas/coal fired power plant

Located at the eastern end of Lake Erie, the Dunkirk power plant, built in 1950, now burns natural gas, though coal can still be used as a backup fuel. As you can see, the stacks no longer emit that dense smoke plume as in years past.  Coal only produces about 1/2% of New York State’s power.  In 1950, coal power generated nearly 46 percent of electricity in the country, making it the largest power source at the time, according to the Energy Information Administration. However, by 2017 natural gas had overtaken coal , generating about 34 percent of electricity compared to coal’s 30 percent.

Still, natural gas emits some particulates, along with carbon dioxide. While natural gas is a step forward, greenhouse gases will continue to raise global temperatures, most pronounced at the poles and in the seas, at an alarming rate. The computer models all show that the planet’s flora and fauna will be drastically affected by the end of the century. Many coastal cities will be partly under water, agricultural land will be displaced, and summer heat will become dangerously high.

Nova recently aired a two-hour special on climate change, showing each step of how scientists from a range of disciplines have demonstrated how the level of carbon dioxide (and other greenhouse gases such as methane and water vapor) have caused global temperature change over the past 800,000 years.  Scientists have also documented the fossil fuel signature of modern carbon dioxide molecules, showing how they differ from those carbon dioxide molecules produced before the industrial revolution. This is the “smoking gun” proving not only that the global temperature is the hottest in 800,000 years, but that the warming climate is caused by human activity.

The documentary concludes with the political and economic realities, and the policy strategies  needed to address this global threat. Addressing climate change is a formidable challenge not only because of politics and economics, but also because we not only have to stop emitting carbon dioxide, we have to go carbon negative to stop the steady increase of global temperatures.

This not only means producing nearly all of our power from renewable energy, it also means using far less power—leading us into what I call neo-industrialization.  More on this in a future post.

Will we do it?

Even if you disagree with the findings of climate scientists, this Nova special is well worth watching. It is always useful to be familiar with one’s opponents’ arguments and evidence to know what one is refuting.

 

Winter on Lake Ontario

Solitary
Charlotte, Rochester, NY

It really looks like the far North for a short while here on America’s north coast. Since fresh water begins to freeze at 32º F, you can get what looks a lot like Arctic ice, as shown in the first photo of Charlotte pier at the mouth of the Genesee River.

People love to build along the water, so clearly evident with the large estate in the second photo.  Although the lake-level can be somewhat controlled via international agreement (see my earlier post  about Great Lakes flooding) this house is vulnerable to flooding, due to changing climatic conditions. Nevertheless, it looks like a pretty nice place to be in June through September.

Really Big House
Entrance to Braddock Bay Marina

Nunavik and Shrinking Bird Populations now 20% off plus free shipping of all books and photos to U.S. addresses!

If you’re interested in photobooks about the natural environment and climate change, you can preview these at my bookstoreNunavik, Exploring Maine’s Coast, and Shrinking Bird Populations contain wonderful photos examining these topics, each in their respective settings.

If you’ve searched for unique photos to grace your walls, my bookstore will show you the prices of my photos and direct you to my online gallery.

Please contact me if you have any questions!

Nunavik Revisited

I just received a “pingback” from Great Canadian Wildlife Adventures that hosted my expedition to the tundra in 2015. Here is the link to their site, citing some of the quotes from my book, Nunavik, available through my bookstore. The tundra is all I said it was, and more.

I highly recommend any one of Great Canadian Wildlife Adventures‘ trips.

Quabbin Reservoir

According to the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation’s Quabbin pamphlet:

The Quabbin (Swift River) Valley was part of the territory of the Nipmuc Indians. Quabbin means the meeting of many waters. By the 17th century their population had declined, decimated by war and disease, and the valley was rapidly settled by Europeans drawn by the abundance of water and rich farmland.

Four towns were eventually established: Dana, Enfield, Prescott, and Greenwich. However, as was the case with England 125 years earlier, rural New England populations declined as people started moving east to Boston and other coastal towns in search of jobs. As a result, land values in western Mass declined. By the early twentieth century, a rapidly expanding population in the east required ever-greater water supplies, creating a new importance for the Swift River Valley as a primary water source. The idea was to dam the Swift River and Beaver Brook to flood the valley and create a reservoir. The Massachuetts Legislature passed the Swift River Act in 1927; using the right of eminent domain, the Commonwealth bought out the residents, and removed all buildings and vegetation over a period of years. Quabbin Reservoir began to fill in 1939 and reached its capacity by 1946. The reservoir is about 18 miles long with 118 miles of shoreline (not including the islands).

Quabbin Reservoir Winsor Dam

In many instances of dams and reservoirs, they not only alter the landscape, they are tinged with a confrontational if not violent history. However, on a positive note, since Quabbin is a protected area it provides a lush environment for fish, and other wildlife (not to mention it provides water to millions).

Winsor Dam is located next to the Visitor Center in Quabbin Park at the south end of the reservoir in Belchertown, MA. The reservoir is on the left of the dam in the

Sky Fire

photo. The area is nice to walk and provides a great view.

A while later  there were some cirrus clouds painting the sky. I attached my

polarizer filter to darken the sky above as I shot Sky Fire from the spillway, looking west.

Later, walking back to my car, I noticed an area with dead trees that were likely the result of their being flooded for long periods. I left the roadway to get a few shots, of which Dead Zone (not to be confused with Mt. Everest’s death zone that begins at 26,247 feet)

Dead Zone

was the best. This stand of trees provides both a stark and aesthetic view of a micro environment.

Although the Winsor Dam area excluded vehicles, a ranger told me that if I drove to the East gate I could take the car in from there. There, I drove up to the Enfield Look Out. The skies had darkened and rain was expected in a few

Life Substance

hours. Given less light, I set up my tripod so I could use a slow shutter speed with my 135mm lens to enable a smaller ƒ stop for good depth-of-field. The result is a nice, compressed, distant scene to the Northeast, shown in Life Substance. The islands are the tops of the area’s hills surrounding the valley.

I only had about six hours to photograph Quabbin. I know there are a few people who photograph there regularly. I would be happy to hear about your experiences.

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 .