Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

3-D in 2-D

with 29 comments

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a man in possession of a single eye must unfortunately be in want of an accurate view of the world.* If we take want in its original sense of ‘be lacking,’ that statement is indeed correct: in a three-dimensional world, it takes two eyes to truly perceive depth. And yet we go on year after year taking pictures using almost exclusively our one-eyed cameras that compress a solid world into the plane of a conventional photograph.

I bring all this up because a flat image can’t to justice to the geometry of the mustang grape vine, Vitis mustangensis, that runs diagonally from the lower left to the upper right of today’s photograph. To say that a vine of this species becomes ever more woody as it gets older is an understatement; some aged mustang grape vines grow so thick that they are easily mistaken for trunks of trees, even large trees. The one you see here is on its way to that venerable state. If you try to follow the vine with your eyes, you’ll see that it emerges from the ground near the lower left edge of the picture; it goes to the right, twisting as it goes, until it’s over the large rock; next, it turns back to the left; then it seems to rise vertically for a little bit; finally it rises diagonally until it branches near the upper right corner of the photograph, with both branches further twisting until they ultimately go out of the frame at the top.

But now let me explain why the first paragraph is relevant. What you can’t tell from this two-dimensional view is that where the mustang grape seems to change direction over the large stone and double back to the left, it actually makes a slowly rising loop that turns a full 360° before the vine begins its steeper ascent. If you could see that twisting portion from above looking downward, it would appear to be approximately a circle. I know because I was there and saw it like that, and now you know too.

This photograph comes from the same January 13 outing in Balcones District Park that brought you the detailed view of a Texas red oak leaf.

For more information, and to see a state-clickable map of the places where the mustang grape vine grows, you can visit the USDA website.


* Some perceptive readers will have noticed a vague similarity of that opening line to the first line in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 20, 2012 at 5:01 AM

29 Responses

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  1. I love this photo…there is so much going on.


    January 20, 2012 at 5:27 AM

  2. Your two dimensional image may give a monocular view, but the shadow below the vine clearly defines its helix. Fun! ~ Lynda


    January 20, 2012 at 6:07 AM

    • Good observation, Lynda: things like shadows and apparent sizes do give clues about what’s where, but it’s possible to design experiments without such clues in which a person using only one eye couldn’t distinguish a small object that’s close from a similar but larger one that’s farther away.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 20, 2012 at 7:20 AM

      • I just looked this up and found out that it grows here too. I thought it looked familiar, because it was! I photographed a similar strangely growing root in the Huntsville Botanical Gardens in October. ~ L


        January 20, 2012 at 10:32 AM

      • Then it’s another species we can share. I didn’t say so above, but people have made (and continue to make) wine and jelly from the grapes of this species.

        Steve Schwartzman

        January 20, 2012 at 10:36 AM

  3. Love the commentary. It has as much depth as the photo.

    Bonnie Michelle

    January 20, 2012 at 7:34 AM

    • A good turn of phrase, Bonnie! If I’d taken the picture in a less canyony area you could have said it has depth of field as well.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 20, 2012 at 7:43 AM

  4. I like it that you discuss the flatness or 2D effect of photography. When I draw and paint I have used references from life and references from photos. That is when it is most apparent to me. We are allowed the luxury of describing cross contours, in art, that helps portray roundness and flow and we play with values a LOT to represent 3D. I guess what I really want to say is that I get a strong feeling of depth from the above photo. Also, cool twisty grapevine.


    January 20, 2012 at 12:18 PM

    • I’m slightly aware of the techniques that artists like you use to simulate the effect of depth, Leslie; there must be a lot to learn. I’m pleased that although as a photographer I don’t have most of those techniques available to me, you still inferred depth from this photograph. And I like your description of “a cool twisty grapevine.”

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 20, 2012 at 12:52 PM

  5. The bane of the photographer’s existence is the 2-dimentional reproduction of a 3-dimensional object. But you’ve done an admirable job here; maybe it’s just being used to looking at so many photographs, but I recognized the circular path fairly quickly. Nice shot Steve!


    January 20, 2012 at 3:03 PM

    • You’re probably right that looking at so many photographs has helped you discern the rising circular path of part of the mustang grape. I used to do a lot of 3-D images with an old Stereo Realist camera. I’m still waiting for a good digital 3-D camera to come along; I’ve read mixed reviews about the ones so far.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 20, 2012 at 3:15 PM

  6. “And yet we go on year after year taking pictures using almost exclusively our one-eyed cameras that compress a solid world into the plane of a conventional photograph.” A constant frustration, isn’t it, when taking photographs? Yet you’ve managed another beauty, withall.

    Susan Scheid

    January 20, 2012 at 7:44 PM

    • Thanks so much, Susan. I’ll add that sometimes the compression into a plane of things that are at different distances can result in a more pleasing image than if the components were seen in separate planes. That’s what I found with a few of my old 3-D pairs, with each of which I printed just one half of each pair as a conventional (flat) image.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 20, 2012 at 7:57 PM

  7. What fun! This is a serious adventurer, this plant is!

    Have you seen or played around with any of the 3D digital cameras that they’re putting out now? An engineer geek friend made himself one a couple of year back and now has both that and one of the commercially produced ones and it’s kind of amazing what he can shoot with them.


    January 20, 2012 at 9:04 PM

    • It is an adventurer, this vine is. It’s quite common in Austin: I regularly see it on the prairie side of town and in the wooded, hilly parts where I live.

      I’ve been waiting for a really good 3-D digital camera to come out. The reviews I’ve read of the existing ones haven’t been favorable enough yet for me to take the plunge, but from what you say your friend has managed to do good things already. Does he have a website where he describes what he’s done? If so, I’d like to take a look at it.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 20, 2012 at 9:17 PM

      • Richard van Hessel is the man to whom I referred, and you can find stuff online about his work playing sackbut (particularly with the fabulous early music ensemble he cofounded, The Whole Noyse), but I haven’t been able to find anything outside of his music work in the ether. I’ll try to remember to drop him a line and ask if I’ve just missed something on that topic.


        January 21, 2012 at 11:45 AM

  8. being a vine, does it have distinctive flowers or bear fruit?


    January 21, 2012 at 7:55 AM

  9. oops–didn’t read all the posts til now. it bears grapes!


    January 21, 2012 at 7:57 AM

    • Yes, and this species bore fruit in the grape industry. Here’s the relevant passage from Wikipedia’s article entitled “Rootstock”:

      “[The AxR1 rootstock] achieved a degree of notoriety in California when, after decades of recommendation as a preferred rootstock – despite repeated warnings from France and South Africa about its susceptibility (it had failed in Europe in the early 1900s), it ultimately succumbed to phylloxera in the 1980s, requiring the replanting of most of Napa and Sonoma, with disastrous financial consequences.

      “Most current day grape rootstocks were and are originally imported from Texas. These were taken from the native wild mustang grapes that grow across Texas. This rootstock also saved France’s grape industry in the early 1900s when phylloxera decimated the wine and vineyards of Europe.”

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 21, 2012 at 9:05 AM

  10. […] a couple of twining friends from recent posts: the sinuous, bark-covered form in the foreground is a mustang grape vine, Vitis mustangensis, while the smooth and slender green vines behind it are rattan, Berchemia […]

  11. […] six-part series that began on my other blog on January 20 dealt with a type of grape vine known as the mustang, a word that came into English from Spanish. […]

  12. […] you remember the tree-like mustang grape vine, Vitis mustangensis, that appeared in these pages in January? Even such a mighty thing necessarily began small, and that’s what you see in this […]

  13. […] leaves were coming up not far from an aged mustang grape vine that you saw making a mighty loop in these pages in January of 2012. On my March 13th visit of this year I found that a large tree […]

  14. […] as thick and woody as a tree, you’re welcome to check out two posts from January of 2012; one of the huge vines was curiously looped, and the other had the virtue (as we see such things) of serving as a perch for a yellow-crowned […]

  15. […] Another looping subject I found at McKinney Falls State Park on March 13th was this dry tendril from a mustang grape vine, Vitis mustangensis. This specimen was only a few inches long, but a mustang grape vine can grow to the height of a tree, with a girth to match. […]

  16. […] grape tendrils recently, but a couple of years ago I showed the opposite end of the scale, namely a venerable mustang grape vine that had become as thick as a tree. And then there was another thick one with a yellow-crowned night heron perched on […]

  17. I knew those opening eyes were familiar! Nicely done. I’m very impressed at the tree-ness achieved by this venerable vine. I know what you mean, the frustration of trying to convey graceful 3 dimensions in 1 flat one.


    September 18, 2014 at 2:47 PM

    • Tree-ness is just the right word. I saw one once that was enormous, noticeably more massive than the one shown here.

      Thinking flat must be even more daunting for a painter than for a photographer because you have to fill your plane one part at a time and make sure every addition is consistent with what came before.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 18, 2014 at 3:43 PM

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