Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Surrealistic barnacles, continued

with 28 comments

In a comment on the previous post, Shannon Westveer referenced the photograph showing barnacle shells on a larger shell against a background of cumulus clouds, and she mentioned the Belgian painter Magritte, whom I’d referred to in my post. That dose of Surrealism apparently primed me to misread* her next sentence, “I’m greatly looking forward to your artistic view of the barnacle covered log,” as “I’m greatly looking forward to your artistic view of the barnacle covered dog.” A barnacle-covered dog would indeed be surreal, as dogs don’t live in the ocean. Neither do large trees, yet the hefty stump shown above had spent enough time underwater in the Gulf of Mexico to acquire a crusting of barnacles before ending up on dry land again.

The second picture provides a closer look from a lower vantage, and the third one gets even more detailed. All are from our time at the Kelly Hamby Nature Trail on October 6th.

* In Nadja, published in 1928, André Breton (the leader of the Surrealist movement) gives value to the misreading of words. In particular, he tells how the poet Louis Aragon pointed out to him that from a certain angle the word ROUGE (red) on a hotel sign can be read as POLICE. I did my reading of Nadja in college in 1966–67 and still have my yellowing Livre de Poche paperback copy from way back then. It let me retrieve the details of what got misread as what, which I didn’t remember on my own after all these years.

© 2019 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 22, 2019 at 4:15 PM

28 Responses

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  1. The second photograph looks like a barnacle-covered raptor. Now that is surrealism!

    Michael Scandling

    October 22, 2019 at 5:18 PM

  2. I was thinking, not a dog, but the 2nd shot does look like a sea turtle’s head. But I can see the raptor, too. Or possibly an old sailor named Bill.

    Robert Parker

    October 22, 2019 at 5:52 PM

    • So now we’ve got a raptor, a sea turtle, and a whale. As for people, you can throw in an old photographer named Steve.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 22, 2019 at 8:37 PM

  3. Fabulous photos, Steve! They remind me of the driftwood sculptures at our lake.

    Peter Klopp

    October 22, 2019 at 9:09 PM

    • Having looked at some of the driftwood you’ve shown, I can see why this stump would remind you of those pieces. Now, if any of your fresh-water driftwood had barnacles on it, that would be surreal.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 23, 2019 at 12:52 AM

  4. I love crazy tree stumps and this one has extras. 😀


    October 23, 2019 at 4:44 AM

    • Let’s hear it for crazy tree stumps. I did a search for the exact phrase “crazy tree stumps” and got only nine hits. If search engines index this page, there’ll be at least 10 hits for that phrase.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 23, 2019 at 7:35 AM

      • HAHA


        October 23, 2019 at 8:13 AM

  5. Now I’m remembering Jefferson Airplane’s first album, Surrealistic Pillow. That’s the one that included “White Rabbit,” the song that made Gracie Slick famous at Woodstock.

    The first photo’s especially appealing. The grasses and other plants frame the driftwood well, and their muted colors keep the wood and the barnacles from being overwhelmed.

    The two close-ups aren’t so appealing to me, but that’s only because my years-long relationship with barnacles is somewhat fraught. When I see barnacles like this, I think of scraping boat bottoms and propellers, falling into the water and seeing barnacle-covered pilings a foot from my nose, and running for the Clorox after getting scratched by live ones. Their patterns are beautiful and their life cycle interesting, but I actually worry more about barnacles than I worry about snakes or alligators.


    October 23, 2019 at 7:07 AM

    • Ah, how our experiences influence our perceptions. Given your barnacle mishaps, we understand why close views of the creatures are anything but pleasing for you. Because I’ve led a mostly barnacle-free existence, I see the closeups as pictorially interesting and included the first picture primarily as a scene-setter so people would have a context in which to interpret the detailed views.

      “Surrealistic Pillow” came out in early 1967, the same period when I was delving into and being influenced by Nadja. Surrealism started in the 1920s and saw a resurgence in the era when bands had names like Jefferson Airplane and Strawberry Alarm Clock.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 23, 2019 at 7:48 AM

      • I can identify “Incense and Peppermints” by the first chord. It’s quite something, the way a snippet like that can evoke an entire era.


        October 23, 2019 at 8:02 AM

        • I can hear that opening, too. The further wrinkle for me is that I got to know the hit songs of 1968 and 1969 while living in Honduras. Radio announcers there played the originals and translated their titles into Spanish. Once in a while they’d play a Spanish version of an American song.

          Steve Schwartzman

          October 23, 2019 at 8:20 AM

  6. Wonderful texture in these shots, Steve–my fingers can feel the roughness, because, if I saw this in real life, I wouldn’t have resisted the urge to touch, with care, of course.


    October 23, 2019 at 7:49 AM

    • Sometimes I do touch the things I photograph, but in this case I was so busy taking pictures that I don’t believe I even thought about touching the barnacles. If you’re willing to drive the 4 hours to Kelly Hamby Nature Trail, the barnacle-encrusted stump will surely still be sitting at the high-tide line just waiting for you to check it out.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 23, 2019 at 7:54 AM

    • P.S. I don’t know if your read Linda’s comment right before yours, but it may give you pause about messing with barnacles.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 23, 2019 at 7:55 AM

      • Ah, I wouldn’t mess with them, I know better! But I would have a hard time keeping my fingertips from touching their peaks. A friend recently gave me a beautiful piece of barnacle that she picked up in Florida. It’s all pink and cream–and very sharp!


        October 23, 2019 at 8:52 AM

        • I’m happy to take your word for it without finding out for myself. “Look but do not touch” seems to be the right advice.

          Steve Schwartzman

          October 23, 2019 at 9:00 AM

  7. I’m not used to seeing landlocked barnacles so the first shot is a new sight. The closeups more typical, I think. The second looks like a breaching sea creature.

    Steve Gingold

    October 24, 2019 at 3:27 AM

    • Landlocked barnacles were new for me, too, hence their surreal appeal.
      Like you, I imagined the second picture as a breaching whale.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 24, 2019 at 7:46 AM

  8. And here I see a barnacle-covered seal … with a bit of hair growing out of his nose. Who knew you had so many art critics following your blog, Steve? And how fun it is to take a modern art approach with nature!

    I laughed at Linda’s story about being eye-to-eye in 4 feet of water with barnacles, laughed again right up until the word ‘Clorox.’ I guess those guys are nothing to play with if they break the skin.


    October 24, 2019 at 2:34 PM

    • You say seal, I said whale; both are marine mammals. I noticed those fibers you mentioned but didn’t think to make them the creature’s nose hairs.

      There’s a big overlap between nature and art, which I’m happy to reinforce. As a photographer, I’ve done my share of studying the other visual arts. That began way back in elementary school, long before I knew I’d devote myself to photography.

      From the article at
      I gather it’s the bacteria in the water that you have to be wary of if your skin gets cut. I guess barnacles are sharp enough that contact with them is likely to break the skin.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 24, 2019 at 2:57 PM

  9. This is so cool looking. And since we are all being so serious, I’m reminded of a Sponge Bob episode in which Pearl, the teen-aged whale, breaks out in barnacles right before a big date.


    November 12, 2019 at 4:05 PM

    • I’m not familiar with that series (which I’ve heard of, however). The episode you cited fits this to a B (for barnacles and big date).

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 12, 2019 at 4:10 PM

      • It was a surprisingly well done cartoon that we enjoyed with our kids until, sadly, they outgrew it. One of these days I’m going to start watching them again, in secret.


        November 12, 2019 at 4:20 PM

      • And I could add baleine, which is the French word for whale.

        Steve Schwartzman

        November 12, 2019 at 4:23 PM

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