Author Archives: David

The light in the forest

Figure 1 – The Light in the Forest, Sudbury, MA. (c) DE Wolf 2017.

I am naming the photograph of Figure 1, “The Light in the Forest.,” and I am very intentionally evoke Conrad Richter’s book by that name as well as the Disney Movie of that name, starring the hero of my generation’s childhood Fess Parker. But really the point of such a photograph is The “Intimate Landscape.” Unless you are very lucky the “Sweeping Landscape” eludes us. But intimate landscapes are everywhere. You turn a corner, or maybe you just turn around, and there is a tree glowing through a hole in the canopy filled with a warm autumnal light. It is part of the great beauty of living and a gift to those willing to see.

I feel it every day as my daily commute takes me through the edges of the northern forest; over a river shrouded in fog; past the edge of the marsh; or alongside a field where cows or horses are grazing. It is like our discussion about how the next stop is Willoughby.  Drive on an it is a lost photographic opportunity. Take a moment to stop and you are rewarded. That illuminated spot in the forest calls to be photographed and like The Secret Garden it calls to be photographed.

Canon T2i with EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM lens at 100 mm, ISO 800, Aperture Priority AE Mode 1/250th sect at f/7.1 with -2 exposure compensation.

Posted in Personal Photographic Wanderings

The humble woodchuck

Figure 1 – Woodchuck, Sudbury, MA. (c) DE Wolf 2017.

My son and I went hiking yesterday at the Assabet River National Wildlife Refuge, and just as I was getting out of the car, I was greeted by the fine fellow of Figure 1. He is a woodchuck, Marmota monax, and he was pretty nonplussed by my presence, just enjoying his late afternoon nutty snack. It was time to build up some body fat before a long winter’s nap.

Well, the photograph gives me the opportunity to put to bed some of the weightier questions of life.

  1. Is a woodchuck a groundhog? Answer yes, they are different names for the same animal; as are: chuck, wood-shock, groundpig, whistler, thickwood badger, Canada marmot, monax, moonack, weenusk, and red monk. Significantly, Monax was a Native American name of the woodchuck, which meant “the digger.” Which woodchucks do – rather than chucking wood.
  2. Is the badger related to a woodchuck? Not even close!
  3. Is a woodchuck a gopher? No the woodchuck and the gopher are different animals. “Somebody call for an excavation expert?”

Now the woodchuck has a noble lineage. It was first described by Linnaeus in 1758. But, I believe more to the point is that a family of woodchucks has been living by the stonewall of my backyard as long as I have been here. I saw him last summer carrying off huge tomatoes from my neighbor’s vegetable garden – one in his mouth and one in his hands. He laughs at the wire fence she has put up to keep him out. In the 19th century there was a wheelwright’s home on the site where I live. I suspect that this family of groundhogs were living there then and probably go much further back, beyond even the time of King Phillip’s War. From their perspective we are the one’s that come and go.

Canon T2i with EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM lens at 340 mm, ISO 800, Aperture Priority AE Mode, 1/320th sec at f/7.1 with -1 exposure compensation.

Posted in Personal Photographic Wanderings

Reassuring moments in physics #4 – Iridescence

Figure 1 – Iridescent metal, Natick, MA. (c) DE Wolf 2017.

It’s been quite a while since I’ve done a “reassuring moments in physics post.” So I’m offering up today Figure 1. I came upon these beautiful iridescent metal cups and flasks the other morning and fell in love with them photographically. There is something so, so appealing about iridescence – beautiful metallic colors shifts with your eye. The photograph required very minimal work-up. Look for me in the photograph. I am there in olive pants and pink shirt. But I am not the looming specter in the foreground. Whoever he is, he seems fittingly placed as we near Halloween.

Iridescence, a kind of metallic glow can be caused by several phenomena. Here it is the most common, thin film interference, much like the flash of color from an oil slick on a puddle. It is caused by a thin film of metal oxide on the metal surface. It is applied usually with a torch the heats-up and allows the metal to oxidize. A ray of light partially reflects off the film’s surface. The part that penetrates the oxide film reflects off the metal surface and rejoins the original ray, but it is delayed which causes its oscillations to be out of synch. It is said to be phase shifted, which causes it to interfere, like two waves at the beach. Some colors interfere constructively (intensifying them) others destructively (diminishing them) because the index of refraction of the film is wavelength dependent, causing the delay to be wavelength dependent. Remember that the speed of light through a material is the speed of light through a vacuum divided by the index of refraction. And the final part of magic is that as you shift your head and look at different angles the rays coming at you have longer or shorter paths through the film causing the colors to shift. This last part is really what we call the iridescence effect.

There you have it physics at the mall. Physics is everywhere – so reassuring!

Posted in Personal Photographic Wanderings

The quest for Willoughby

Figure 1 – John Daley as Gart Williams in “Stop at Willoughby.” FRom the Wikipedia and believed to be in the public domain in the US.

Part of the appeal of old photographs of bucolic scenes and ill-remembered times is what I like to call the “Quest for Willoughby.” This refers to a first season classic episode of “The Twilight Zone,” called “A Stop at Willoughby.” The story features a man named Gart Williams, who is an advertising executive, now pretty dissatisfied with his job, his demanding wife, and his overbearing boss. He falls asleep on his commuter train as it travels through a November snow. It is always November. He wakes up to find that his train transformed to a 19th century railway car is empty and has stopped. Outside it is a bright summer July day in 1888. He jerks back to “true” wakefulness. The conductor has never heard of Willoughby.

That night, he has a fight with his shrewish wife Jane. The events on the train repeat themselves the following week. Then he has a breakdown at work. On the phone his wife announces that she is leaving him. So that day he abandons his briefcase on the train and gets off at Willoughby, where people welcome him to their idyllic village.The scene shifts, as it often did in The Twilight Zone. The swinging pendulum of the train station clock fades out and into the swinging conductor’s lantern The conductor is standing over Williams’ body and explains that the man shouted something about Willoughby and jumped off the moving train. In the last scene Mr. Williams’ body is carried into a hearse that bears the lettering Willoughby & Son.

Hmm! So very freaky. Again, The Twilight Zone always was. And Willoughby became emblematic of the quest for the idyllic. And smiling at the idyllic is part of the appeal of old photographs. They have, of course, to be very old. Because if they are from our lifetimes, we may fondly remember momma, but all the negatives of the times come rushing back at us, and we can become rather maudlin about the lack of true progress in human affairs. There is always war, always disease, always hate. There were lynchings in the woods behind Willoughby and if you wanted a job at the local bank, well “Jews and Irish need not apply.” The world is always a combination of the good and the bad – no better then really than now. And I guess, that the most important point is that rather than dream of Camelot, we are far better off dreaming of how to make things better now.

“Miniver Cheevy, child of scorn,
   Grew lean while he assailed the seasons;
He wept that he was ever born,
   And he had reasons…
Miniver Cheevy, born too late,
   Scratched his head and kept on thinking;
Miniver coughed, and called it fate,
   And kept on drinking.”
Miniver Cheevy, Edwin Arlington Robinson
Posted in Essays on Photography

The snap in the air

Figure 1 – Autumn comes to Dean Park, Shrewsbury, MA a few years back, (c) DE Wolf.

It is October, and you can smell it – apple cider, sugared doughnuts, and pumpkins. I saw a swan gourd yesterday that was quite obscene. There is a certain damp chill to the air, but the sun is making a last glorious display ahead of winter. My favorite holiday is coming fast upon us. Halloween. So it is time to dust off an put up The Hati and Skoll Halloween slide show.

In Massachusetts, we are never far from witches and we have not always treated them so well. So if you run into one on a Halloween’s night, it is best to be deferential and kind. Though still cross about this Salem thing, they mean us no harm. They are not MacBeth’s crones. They delight in the spirit of the world. They speak a very ancient tongue. And seek only to make the world a better place. Give them candy if they utter the incantation, “trick or treat.” And remember what Tibullus (55-19 BCE) said,

“I myself have seen this woman draw the stars from the sky; she diverts the course of a fast-flowing river with her incantations; her voice makes the earth gape, it lures the spirits from the tombs, sends the bones tumbling from the dying pyre. At her behest, the sad clouds scatter; at her behest, snow falls from a summer’s sky.”

Posted in Personal Photographic Wanderings

Lewis Wikes Hine

Figure 1 – Lewis Wickes Hine, “Climbing to the Promised Land, Ellis Island, New York City. c 1908”  From the Wikipedia, from the Brooklyn Museum and in the public domain because of its age.

Well shame on me for not probing a little deeper, for not exploring the next hyperlink. Yesterday I posted a photograph of young oyster shuckers from the US Library of Congress. What I didn’t realize was that this was a photograph by Lewis Wickes Hine (1874 – 1940). Hine was an American sociologist, who used his camera to effect social reform. Yes, you guessed it, his photographs were instrumental in changing child labor laws in the United States. Born in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, Hine studied sociology at the University of Chicago, Columbia University and New York University. He subsequently became a teacher at New York City’s at the Ethical Culture School, where he encouraged his students to use photography as an educational medium. Significantly, Hine would lead his sociology classes to Ellis Island photographing immigrants as they arrived in the New World.

I have chosen one of these examples as Figure 1 as illustrative of Hine’s work on a different but important subject. It is currently in the Brooklyn Museum and is entitled “Climbing into the Promised Land Ellis Island.” The climbing part is very evident in the image and I think connotes two points. First, this last step towards becoming Americans was a difficult one for many immigrants. It was by no means an assured moment. Many were turned away for medical and political reasons. But those who made it were reborn, resurrected. The Brooklyn Museum is famous for its Egyptology collection and I think it not so far fetched to recall as related the ancient Egyptian journey of the dead to the afterlife, a journey of testing and ultimately if you were worthy of resurrection.  The second point about climbing is one that Joseph Campbell made in his comparative mythology studies.  Sacred place exists on a higher plane. You walk up into a church to achieve the sacred and then descend back down to Earth to return to the profane.

Yesterday’s image from the Maggione Cannery still haunts me and probably always will. Hine was a pioneer in social photographic activism. The most effective photographs of this genre never cease to evoke empathy and sympathy. They are sacred in that they reveal the subjects’ souls, pains, hopes, and aspirations in their eyes. Look into those eyes. Are they your ancestors, mine,…?

Posted in History of Photography

Oyster shuckers

Figure 1 – Oyster Shuckers Josie 6, Bertha 6, and Sophia 10. From the US Library of Congress and in the public domain.

Thought 1 – I like oysters as much as the next guy, but I have to say that the thought of trying to shuck one open with a sharp oyster shucking knife has always terrified me.

Thought 2 – Ever since my post about  Mulberry Street, I have become enamored of the United States Library of Congress Photography Collection.  Literally, I have spent hours searching it and there are some amazing images.

Combined thoughts – Figure 1 is an image from the National Photo Company Collection at the US LOC. The National Photo Company was a kind of news agency of its day, which was 1850 – 1945. It shows young oyster shuckers – no correction, it shows Josie 6, Bertha 6, and Sophia 10, who shucked oysters for the Maggioni Canning Company, in Port Royal, SC, some time between 1909 and 1932. So terribly Dickensian!

This photograph raises many questions. Questions like: How long did these children work in the cannery before suffering serious injury? Is the bowing of Sophia’s legs an indication of Rickets? Would you be willing to pay more for your oysters so that these children could be in school? All I can say, is thank God for the LIberals and Progressives who brought us Labor Unions and child labor laws.


Posted in History of Photography

Shattered glass

Figure 1 – Heart pendant shattering glass, Natick, MA. (c)DE Wolf 2017.

I continue to be impressed by retail window designers. One of the always delights places is Tiffany’s at our local mall. I took the image of Figure 1 with my IPhone 6 – a heart pendant shattering a plane of glass. I am not quite sure what exactly the symbolism is, broken hearts perhaps, but I found the concept very appealing. I knew immediately that I would need to go high contrast because of all the reflections in the window.However, in the end, I decided that I liked the additional ambiguity of meaning that the high contrast contributes.

Posted in Personal Photographic Wanderings

And to think that I saw it on Mulberry Street

Figure 1 – Photomechanical print of New York City’s Mulberry Street c1900. From the US Library of Congress and in the public domain in the US because of its age.

I sigh a deep sigh. I have been looking at so many disturbing images today. It has been two weeks of disturbing images, and each day brings the promise of more. Finally, in desperation, I decided to look for something old and beautiful – an autochrome perhaps. In the end I stumbled with delight upon the image of Figure 1, from the US Library of Congress. In shows New York City’s Mulberry Street around 1900. I am not quite sure if it started out as an autochrome or not. It was published by the Detroit Publishing Co., no. 53641 and is a photomechanical image in its final form. It is truly stunning not only for its brilliance of color, but also because it transports us back to the turn of the century when Mulberry Street teamed with immigrants at its unique position where New York’s Chinatown meets New York’s Little Italy. 

The image is amazing simply spectacular. You do more than see the scene you smell it – olfactory-visual integration. It is so wonderful. It really spans the temporal gap in an instant. It really defines the point that I have so often made that part of the magic of the photograph is to connect people across time. In the foreground the crowd is looking at the photographer.

I am reminded of Dr. Seuss’ poem “And to think that I saw it on Mulberry Street.”

“I swung ’round the corner and dashed through the gate,

I ran up the steps and I felt simply GREAT!

For I had a story that NO ONE could beat!
And to think that I saw it on Mulberry Street!”
Posted in History of Photography

Burberry dolphin

Figure 1 – Burberry dolphin, Natick, MA (c) DE Wolf 2017

Figure 1 today is that of a fanciful dolphin on a Burberry handbag. It is another mall/IPhone shot that I took. Dolphins always bring a smile to our faces. I remember vividly going to the Everglades National Park and when the boat took us through the mangrove swamps and into the Gulf of Mexico, they gunned the motor and the dolphins joyful road our boat’s wake. They are magical in two ways. First, we believe them to be of superior intelligence rivaling, perhaps surpassing our own. Dolphins do not kill one another, nor do they threaten us with nuclear war. We long to communicate with them and wonder what they might tell us of their world. Second, they are deeply rooted in human mythology. They adorn the frescoes of the Minoan Palace of Knossos from the second millennium BCE. To the Greeks they were sacred to both Aphrodite and Apollo, although they were most closely associated with the god Poseidon, who is often depicted surrounded by them. To Greek mariners they were considered a good omen. Perhaps most significantly, the ancient Romans placed dolphins in charge of carrying the souls of the dead to the Blessed Isles. At a deeper level this role associates them with the fundamental mystical processes of life, death, and resurrection.


Posted in Personal Photographic Wanderings