August skies

Figure 1 – An August Sky, Westborough, MA August 20, 2017. IPhone photograph. (c) DE Wolf 2017.

I so want to be in Idaho today. Ah well. But I am going to share the image of an August Sky as Figure 1. In the Northeast the Dogs Days are resplendent with dramatic fair weather skies.

I remember August in summer camp. Did I ever mention how much I hated summer camp? But August brought with it warm breezes and dramatic clouds. As a youth, I remember and staring up contemplatively at the August sky. Everything was calm, but there was the promise of the coming of September, which meant another school year. And each new school year was like a rebirth. A sense that lasted perhaps until Halloween, when it all became routine again.

It is strange that even in adulthood we subliminally measure time according to an academic calendar. So soon I will be talking to you about the magnificence of September light. But as we ascend to that, please take a moment to look up and, of course, to take a few images that capture your thoughts. It is not a waste of time.

“Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time.”

John Lubbock (1834-1913)

Posted in Personal Photographic Wanderings

Forever caught

Figure 1 -First attempt at photo-pictorialism. Heard Farma, Wayland, Massachusetts, December 17, 2015. (c) DE Wolf 2015.

Remarkably today is the fifth anniversary of Hati and Skoll. So I would again like to thank all of my readers. I love your comments and appreciate your continued interest. I cherish the interconnection.

I have been preparing for a photography show – more on that later; but part of that process is chosing your favorite images. So in celebration I wanted to indulge myself and share again, as Figure 1, one of the my photographs that I “rediscovered.” It is my Photopictorialism Study Number 1.

I suspect that many of you are into genealogical research. Thinking about family trees, I was struck the other day by a Tweet by political commentator Heidi Przybyla:

“I have been thinking on how Twitter and social media are putting so many on the record for history — and for their descendants.”

We have spoken often in this blog about the across time experience of nineteenth century photography. There are so many nameless people. All we have of them is a moment frozen in silver gelatin. Usually, even if we know their names, there is so little information to be found. Theirs is the silence of anonymity. As people looking for their roots look back at us a century or more hence, they will be searching huge databases. They will find us tagged in digital images and will go from there to search our tweets and posts.

They will know us and know what we thought. They will know how we acted at this moment of national crisis. I am loathe to judge people of a different time. Everything must be taken in context. Yet in the extreme there are absolutes. Lord Kelvin remarked that:

“The true measure of a man is what he would do if he knew he would never be caught.”

The essence of the modern age is that our photographs are tagged and dated, our location imprinted on our images, and our thoughts, both the 140 character kind and the longer ones, are stored forever. Even apathy and indifference are captured. We are all eternally caught.

Posted in Personal Photographic Wanderings

A fruitcake for the ages

We’ve spoken often about the magic of photography, and one of the magical aspects of it lies in its ability to bring us the unexpected, allowing us to see what we never expected to see like: Mozart’s wife and a two-hundred and fifty year old pretzel. Seeing such things is an unexpected bonus of the magical ability of the camera to record and preserve.

So speaking of the unexpected and the, well, preserved, I’m offering up today an image of a one hundred and six year old fruitcake. This particular fruitcake belonged to the Cape Adare-based Northern Party of Scott’s Terra Nova expedition (1910-13), and was found by the Antarctic Heritage Trust in Antarctica’s oldest building. It was constructed by a Norwegian explorer’s team in 1899 and subsequently used by Scott’s team in 1911 And therein lay the frozen fruitcake..

There is the immediate question whether it is still edible and the related question whether it ever was. I am reminded of a story that a friend of mine told me about his father. Around 1998 they were cleaning out the family barn and found some chopped beef labeled “1948.” My friend’s wife grimaced and said, “Can you imagine what that tastes like?” to which my friend’s father replied, “It was pretty good actually!”

Posted in History of Photography

The cat days of August

I will make the sacrilegious statement that baseball can get a bit long in the tooth during the dog days of August. Dog days nothing! Rather it took a tabby kitten to rally things up. This past Wednesday Saint Louis was trailing five to four in the bottom of the sixth with bases loaded, when a feral kitten ran onto the field and forced a game delay as a grounds keeper fielded the cat. It did not work out so well for the grounds keeper as the kitten unlike a baseball scratched and bit the poor fellow who was just doing his job.

After the kitten delay the game resumed and on the next pitch Yadier Molina hit a grand-slam home-run to win the game. The kitten was dubbed or anointed as “Rally Cat” for his game winning role. But alas, he “disappeared” in “the tunnel.” However, the story does have a happy ending as the next day “Rally Cat” was found on the streets of downtown Saint Louis. Adoption is in his adorable future. And as for the rest of us, we are left with this wonderful photograph by  Bill Greenblatt of the UPI. It is so like a cheetah flying at top speed over the African savanna. 

Posted in Reviews and Critiques

Wow, now that’s a great photograph

It’s been a while since I’ve commented about a press photograph. But let me first set the scene. In a unanimous vote last week the United Nations Security Council imposed new sanctions on the North Koreans because of their nuclear weapons program. It was a historic moment, beautifully captured by Mary Altaffer for the Associated Press. The image shows  Nikki R. Haley, the United States ambassador to the United Nations, speaking to the Chinese ambassador, Liu Jieyi, just before the vote. The picture is unusual because it is very reminiscint of a candid photograph rather than a formal press shot. There is the pink dress, Amabassador Haley’s position, the expression on the two ambassadors faces, and the almost hands-touching posture. The photograph is brilliant in its spontaneity and the sense of detente that it conveys. It is something very unusual and well-crafted to my eye. So I am going to say, “Wow, now that’s a great photograph!”

When I was young I used to wonder why anyone would want Ambassador Haley’s position. The UN seems largely talk, talk, talk. I suspect the reality is deeper, and, of course, there is the matter of adding foreign policy experience to one’s resume.

Posted in Reviews and Critiques

The Photo Ark project

The other evening I was watching a fascinating documentary about National Geographic photographer Jim Sartore’s project to preserve photographically as many of the worlds animal species as he can. He entitles this The Photo Ark, and the analogy is poignant.  It is a very noble effort and his work is stunning; so I thought that I would share his website with everyone. I recommend it to nature lovers and photographers alike. Sartore is following  a simple but striking approach: to photograph against either pure white or pure black. You may remember my recommendation to photograph flowers at night with flash.

Pictorially this is a magnificent approach. It isolates the species, which is intriguing because in reality species are always part of an ecosystem and have no true existence outside of this system. Here they get to stand for a moment in the sun or in the moonlight by themselves. And this sets them off in isolation. They are beautiful, but for many this may be the end of a long evolutionary line.


Posted in Reviews and Critiques

A churning storm

Figure 1 – The churning storm, Westborough, MA. (c) DE Wolf 2017.

Storm watching is great as long as your life, home, and loved ones are not in danger. And there is something wonderful in a primordial sense in the staves of lightening and crack of thunder that accompanying a sudden, dark, and churning summer storm.

So we were watching the clouds, rain, hail and wind of a later afternoon July thunderstorm on Wednesday afternoon, when I was struck by churning clouds. These reminded me of images of the unbreathable, storm clouds of Jupiter. That added to the other-worldliness of the moment. I grabbed my IPhone. It was the only camera that I had. The result is the photograph of Figure 1. A few moments later low lying clouds moved in and obliterated the drama into a dull uniform grayness.

Posted in Personal Photographic Wanderings

Sno Cone maker

Figure 1 – Sno Cone Maker, IPhone Photograph, Lincoln, MA, (c) DE Wolf 2017.

Photographically I am an aficionado of shiny metal. Like a little kid I want to touch it and photograph it, To this I will add that there is a certain amount of skill in striking the right balance in shiny metal as a subject in a photographic. And most of the time I feel like I’ve got a lot to learn.

All of which is to say that I was delighted to come across this “sno cone maker” at a local coffee shop. Now to definition, the Sno Cone or Snow Cone is a peculiar variation of shaved ice which is typically doused with flavored sugar and served in a paper cone. It is a relic of our antique childhoods, typically served in memory from man-powered street carts.

According to the all-knowing Wikipedia the snow cone has its origins in the ice industry of the American Industrial Revolution of the 1850 when wagons would carry ice from the Northeast to Florida and children in Baltimore would beg shavings from the drivers. The parents of these children would then flavor the ice, most commonly with a sweet vanilla egg custard.

By the time of the Great Depression snowballs had spread widely outside of Baltimore. They were one of the few treats that strapped people could afford and hence they were referred to by names such as the  Hard Times Sundae and Penny Sunday.  Your see them still sold on street corners and at street fairs today.

I am not sure if the machine of Figure 1 is actually used or is merely a decorative antique. Still child-like, I love its shininess and delightful curved shape. And in the end I do remember.


Posted in Personal Photographic Wanderings

Arthur Eddington and the great solar eclipse of 1919

One of Arthur Eddington’s photographs of the great solar eclipse of May 29, 1919, which “proved” Einsteins General Theory of Relativity. From the Wikipedia and in the public domain in the United States because of its age.

There’s a lot of discussion in scientific circles about the upcoming solar eclipse. And the world is dividing between those going and those not going. If you have a chance, I highly recommend it. The three-dimensionality of the corona, the shadow bands, and the wildlife driven to insanity are awe inspiring. We understand for the first time how primitive people must have felt from such a sight, and in our own way are just as filled with wonder.

My thoughts drift to what is perhaps the most important solar eclipse of modern times. The great eclipse of  May 29,1919. Figure 1 is one of the photographs take of that eclipse by British Astronomer Arthur Eddington (1882-1944). Figure 1 is one of the photographs that Eddington took of that eclipse. What is significant are the little star trails. Look closely you can see them. Just four years earlier, Albert Einstein published his General Theory of Relativity . which predicted that a massive object like the sum would bend like as it passed the star. This would be seen as a deflection in position. Eddington’s photographs and measurements offered the first proof of the General Theory.

Black holes, worm holes, warp drives. It all fuels the inguisitive imagination. It all began with these photographs.

Posted in History of Photography

Seeing and believing

Figure 1 – 1937 “Spy” photograph purporting to show Amelia Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan, in the Marshall Islands after their crash landing. From the US National Archives and in the public domain.

Now almost 180 years after the birth of photography, it remains the case that seeing is believing. Indeed, this simple adage can define the use and abuse of photography, especially in a digital age. This coming Sunday the History Channel will air a new special, “Amelia Earhart: The Lost Evidence.”  Legendary aviator Amelia Earhart disappeared 80 years ago. But, we are told, a newly discovered photograph taken by a “spy” in the Marshall Islands suggests that she survived the ill-fated round-the-world flight only to die at the hands of the Japanese, although the Japanese government has no record of this. The picture is shown here as Figure 1. The photograph shows a woman seated on the dock with her back towards us, sporting Earhart’s signature pants and short-cropped haircut and who resembles Earhart, and a man facing the camera appears to be her navigator, Fred Noonan. If all this is true, then we’ve solved one mystery only to create 100 more.

I am looking forward to the show; so I won’t opine on the subject, except to comment on its symbolism in terms of the meaning of a photograph. Photographic evidence is eclipsed only, perhaps, by modern day DNA forensics. Seeing remains dominant to believing. And the limits of belief lie buried in the optics and grains, which define photographic resolution. Resolution is an ultimate limit to the eye. We can see it, or we cannot. It is a lot like the Heisenberg uncertainty theorem in quantum mechanics and its close-relative impressionist pointillism. Ultimately grains, pixels, and lens resolution set limits on human certainty.

Posted in Essays on Photography, History of Photography