Category Archives: Reviews and Critiques

David’s one man show starts next week at Beyond Benign in Wilmington, MA

On exhibit

Everyone is invited to the opening next Thursday evening November 2, 2017

The Laser Pen of Nature, Photographs

by David E. Wolf
November 2, 2017 – January 31, 2018

Opening Reception: Thursday, November 2, 2017 4:30 – 7:00pm

The reception is open to the public and free to attend! Join us for viewing art and discussing science. Food and refreshments will be provided!

Exhibit viewing by appointment only

David’s photographs feature birds and animals in the wild, along with intimate landscapes. A scientist by training, he provides a unique perspective on the science and art of the photograph – how these two worlds come together to create beautiful imagery.

David E. Wolf Bio and Artist Statement

Also posted in Personal Photographic Wanderings

The NHM Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2017 Finalists

The world-renowned Wildlife Photographer of the Year at the Natural History Museum have been selected from some 50,000 entries and the overall winners will be announced on Oct. 17, 2017. For someone who has been known to photograph nature, the results are humbling. It is hard enough to get close enough to capture wildlife, leave alone achieve a well-composed sharp image. And then there’s the other thing, emotion and empathy. We want to relate to the animal being photographed to feel as it feels.

A selection of these finalist images can be seen on the NBC News website. I’m still trying to figure out which are my favorites. But to start there is Qing Lin’s image of clownfish peeking out like so many little Nemo’s from the tentacles of an anemone. Then there’s Justin Hofman’s poignant image of a seahorse holding on to a cotton swap in the poluted seas around Sumbawa Island in Indonesia. And if you’re going to pin me down to a favorite, it’s got to be the rain-drenched Bald Eagle in Dutch Harbor, Amaknak Island, Klaus Nigge. The look on this rather damp eagle is all telling and for the ages. Somedays nothing goes right.l

Down with the topmast! yare! lower, lower! Bring her to try with main-course.

Figure 1 – NASA’s Aqua satellite captured infrared temperature data on Hurricane Irma on Sept. 8 at 2:29 a.m. EDT (0629 UTC). The image showed very cold cloud top temperatures colder than minus 63 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 53 degrees Celsius) in the storm, stretching over Hispaniola, eastern Cuba and the Bahamas.
Credits: NASA JPL/Ed Olsen

“I have great comfort from this fellow: methinks he
hath no drowning mark upon him; his complexion is
perfect gallows. Stand fast, good Fate, to his
hanging: make the rope of his destiny our cable,
for our own doth little advantage. If he be not
born to be hanged, our case is miserable.”

William Shakespeare “The Tempest (1623)

We are all now glued to the news, television and internet, watching cliched, yet iconic images from Southern Florida. It is like the storm in Shakespeare’s “Tempest,” which was meant to take place in Bermuda. But hurricane Irma is not conjured up by any wizard Prospero, as much as it seems along with the California wildfires and hurricane Harvey to be the wrath of nature. Global warming has turned up the heat and more so the oceanic storms boil violently.

I thought it appropriate to share an image of Irma today and knew just where to look – on the NASA website. It is a frightening gallery, yet in an eerie way so beautiful – the violence of the storm shown in so many different ways. But what struck me as the image that was so frighteningly beautiful and at the same time heuristic was an image taken on September 8 at 2:29 am EDT. Figure 1 was taken with the Atmospheric Infrared Sounder or AIRS instrument aboard NASA’s Aqua satellite. This is a thermal camera and what you see are the temperatures of the cloud tops in the upper atmosphere. See the scale on the top of the image. Churning, churning, churning. It captures the very energy, gigantic convective waves, of the storm driven by the ocean temperatures. The eye is so well-formed and the darkest clouds above the strongest thundershowers are colder than  minus 63 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 53 degrees Celsius).

These are truly the engines of destruction. And we have turned up the power. Back in May, Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Mich.) said: “I believe that there is a creator in God who is much bigger than us. And I’m confident that, if there’s a real problem, he can take care of it.”  OK, but we may remember the famous quote from English political theorist Algernon Sidney:God helps those who help themselves.” Famously, Benjamin Franklin later used it in his Poor Richard’s Almanack (1736).

The tempest is so like the looming clouds above NYC’s West Side in the 1984 movie Ghostbusters. Who you gonna call, people? I suspect that there will be no defeated Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, Gozer will not be vanquished, and we will awake in the morning to the same old terrifying memetic images of destruction.

Also 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. 


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.

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.


Picture of the day – Mr. President and the First Lady

Well, I have to say that the best photographs of Tuesday’s big snowstorm in the Northeast have to be the images taken by the robot eyes of the American Eagle Foundations webcam at the National Arboretum. Here the mating pair of American Bald Eagles, “Mr. President” and “First Lady” go to extremes to protect their eggs from the late spring assault on their nest by Old Man Winter and Mother Nature. The morale, of course, is one of parental love and dedication, or, if you wish, of the intense instinctual need to extend and propagate your DNA.Whatever we may think of the maternal instincts of the raptor, as in welcome to Jurassic Park, here we have, in the extreme, the instinctual engine that drives biological evolution.

Imogen Cunningham, in Focus at the Boston MFA

Figure 1 - Dream, 1910 by Imogen Cunningham. From the Wikipedia and in the public domain because of its age.

Figure 1 – Dream, 1910 by Imogen Cunningham. From the Wikipedia and in the public domain because of its age.

I went today to see the new exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts of 35 photographs in their Lane Collection by Imogen Cunningham (1883–1976). Cunningham was a significant figure in the definitive years of 20th Century American photography. She was a co-founder of Group f/64, along with Edward Weston, Ansel Adams, and other San Francisco Bay Area photographers. For photographers of my generation, Imogen stands with Adams and Weston as defining of what photography should be. And being present at the end of her career we were enthralled with her landmark work, “After Ninety (1979).” My copy has been studied many times. The view of the f/64 Group represented an aesthetic of sharply-focused images and natural subjects. Cunningham, for the most part, preferred close-up botanicals and portraits to stunning and collosal landscapes, like those of Ansel Adams.

So a few points, first I found myself squinting in a dim light at some gorgeously intimate images. I still get the sense that photography is a poor second cousin at the MFA. That said, I have been to several wonderful shows there, and the word intimate almost always come to mind. But, I am not ready to “Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” OK, so we can take dim intimacy as a plus. The second point, is that I was reminded of what a wonderful medium silver gelatin was, and is. We can expect that in years hence there will be retro-minded artist, who will toil to produce it. Modern Giclée has its own appeal. It is just different. The third point that surprised me was that, while Cunningham’s group practiced a purity of image and eschewed excessive manipulation, Cunningham was a master of double exposure, solarization, and combined negatives.

Happily the last image that you encountered as you exit the gallery is Judy Dater’s famous Imogen and Twinka (1974). This has become ever so iconic an defining.

Oh, and the exhibit lasts until June 18. So go see it for yourself!

Favorite Photograph 2016 #10, “Mahmoud Rslan/AFP, “Rescued Syrian Child, 2016”

Last year, when we reached this culminating point in my favorite photographs list, I found that I could not escape the immediate and haunting images of Syrian refugees and in particular of  Nilufer Demir Aylan’s Story showing a police officer cradling the lifeless body of the drowned child.  When I first saw that picture everyone said that it would prove to be a “game changer.” I doubted it at the time and have not been proven wrong.

So now twelve months later we find ourselves on “that sad height.” We are haunted once again, this time by a photograph taken by Mahmoud Rslan of the AFP of a dazed and bloodied Syrian boy named Omran Daqneesh, who had just been  rescued from a destroyed building in Aleppo after an air strike. Again the call for outrage and inaction. This must be my “Favorite Photograph # 10 for 2016.” Rslan has captured all the tragedy and despair of the moment, ever so masterfully.Funny to call it “favorite,” since it will haunt me for a very long time. Little Omran reminds me ever so much of the two children revealed beneath the Robes of the Ghost of Christmas Present in Charles Dicken’s “A Christmas Carol.” Their names we are told are “Ignorance and Want.”

I do not know the answer to the problems which cause such tragedies or the solution to global impotence. I only know that there will be more such photographs. The New Year will usher in its own iconic photographs of misery. I only know that the world could benefit from more empathy and acts of human kindness.





Also posted in History of Photography

Favorite Photographs 2016 #8, Ansel Adams, “Mount Williamson, The Sierra Nevada, from Manzanar, California, 1945”

I think that it is important to every once in a while, perhaps more often than not, to spend some time studying the photographs of Ansel Adams. So for Favorite Photograph 2016 #8 I have chosen Adams’ “Mount Williamson, The Sierra Nevada, from Manzanar, California, 1945.” This image is exemplary in what it teaches us about the superfluity of color, about the possibilities of  tonal range and depth of field. It is truly a masterpiece, and I cannot tell you how often I have stood before it in awe at a gallery or exhibition. It makes you want to rush back out with your camera to try again to equal the master.

And there is one other point about it that has always struck me and that is the perspective. You have this sensation that you want to bend down and see things from a bit lower. Adams created this sensation with his camera position and along with the depth of field it lends a sense of dynamism and three-dimensionality to the image. A contributing factor to this sense of motion is the way in which the human eye perceives. We construct the whole in our minds but our eye perceives in a series of points of concentration, which in this case involves details of the foreground, midground, and background. That is why the depth of field is so important in making this image work. If you were to fuzz out one element it would have the effect of stabilizing the image in your eye. But as is, the whole effect is like being there.

Also posted in History of Photography