Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

A torch-like take on a familiar subject

with 44 comments

If 2020 has been a good year for new takes on Mexican hats, it has also turned into a good year for novelty with Clematis drummondii. This portrait from July 29th on the Blackland Prairie in far northeast Austin is unlike any I’d done in my two decades exploring the most prolific of our three native Clematis species. You can see that I played an opening bundle of silky fibers off against already loosened strands a little further away. Because the vertical bundle strikes this former New Yorker as rather torch-like, for today’s quotation let’s have the poem “The New Colossus,” which Emma Lazarus wrote in 1883 to raise money for the construction of a pedestal for the giant statue* that France had given to the United States to commemorate the country’s declared independence in 1776:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities** frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

UPDATE: You can listen to the famous part of the sonnet set to music by an immigrant to the United States, Israel Beilis, better known as Irving Berlin.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

* The French title of the statue that sculptor Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi designed was Liberté éclairant le monde, Liberty Enlightening the World, but Americans know it as the Statue of Liberty.

** The twin cities were New York and Brooklyn, which weren’t consolidated until 1899.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 21, 2020 at 4:37 AM

44 Responses

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  1. I was surprised by the autumnal feel of this one: so unexpected. It’s as though drought, or frost, or who-knows-what somehow arrested its development. It’s unique, for sure, and quite beautiful, particularly with a background that recapitulates the lines of the bud.

    As for New York icons, the bud reminded me of something else — the top of the Chrysler Building. Seen from that perspective, the background easily transforms into fireworks behind the building’s spire.


    August 21, 2020 at 6:37 AM

    • I, too, had been reminded of the top of the Chrysler Building and I thought about mentioning it in my text. In the end I decided it would be a distraction from the connection to the Statue of Liberty and Emma Lazarus’s poem, so I left it out.

      As for the Clematis in the foreground, I don’t know whether it shows arrested development or was still going to develop further. I do know the picture is unlike any other I’ve taken of the species, and I got very enthusiastic when I saw how the portrait turned out.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 21, 2020 at 6:53 AM

      • Your enthusiasm is warranted. Looking for a new way to portray a plant, you created a unique image. I suppose there’s always a soupçon of luck stirred in, but it takes a practiced eye to spot the possibilities.


        August 21, 2020 at 7:00 AM

        • “Soup’s on,” I might have said metaphorically about cooking up such a successful image. We’ve heard it said that fortune favors the prepared, and one way I’ve been preparing to get favored is by plunking myself down next to a small group of plants for a while and looking, looking, looking at the details to see if something jumps out at me as a potential portrait. There’s a relevant Ansel Adams quotation I’ve included in an upcoming post but I won’t steal my own thunder by quoting it here.

          Steve Schwartzman

          August 21, 2020 at 7:13 AM

  2. This is snazzy! It looked very Art Deco to me so it makes sense that it reminds you of the Chrysler building.


    August 21, 2020 at 7:48 AM

    • “Snazzy” has come up only a few times in comments; I like it in regard to this picture. When I checked the dictionary just now I saw that the word’s origin is unknown. A view like this one had been unknown to me until July 29th, which I can now say was a snazzy photographic day for me.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 21, 2020 at 8:35 AM

  3. A wonderful way to use the clematis with its curly strands as its own blurry background! The clematis in the foreground looks very beautiful with its stark crispiness.

    Peter Klopp

    August 21, 2020 at 8:06 AM

    • I like your turn of phrase: “stark crispness.” In terms of the plant’s development, the in-focus foreground foreshadows the out-of-focus background.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 21, 2020 at 8:37 AM

  4. I can see the torch and I love the colours.


    August 21, 2020 at 8:43 AM

  5. Bartholdi’s giant statue was originally going to stand at the mouth of the Suez Canal, and this flower bud would’ve been a great design for the torch, reminding us a bit of the stylized papyrus flowers in the Egyptian temples. (I love the Chrysler Bldg reference, too, one of my all-time favorites). It’s a great photo, Steve, with the not-so-huddled-masses-of-fibers in the background, congrats.

    Robert Parker

    August 21, 2020 at 8:44 AM

    • Thanks for your congrats. I’m certainly happy with this unusual portrait. How deftly you’ve linked Suez and papyrus flowers with this “torch” and Bartholdi’s statue. And what’s not to like about your description of the plant’s “not-so-huddled-masses-of-fibers in the background.”

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 21, 2020 at 10:36 AM

  6. You truly showcase the essence of late summer in this image. “Plunking myself down next to a small group of plants for a while and looking, looking, looking at the details” certainly paid off here. Beautifully done, Steve!


    August 21, 2020 at 8:58 AM

    • Thanks, Lori. I sat for quite a while with those Clematis plants, occasionally moving from one part of the group to another. I got other pictures that I also like, but as they’re in the same general style as this one I didn’t feel I should show any of those at the same time

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 21, 2020 at 11:18 AM

  7. Brilliant contrast between the sharp flower and the blurry background. Excellent shot, my friend!

    marina kanavaki

    August 21, 2020 at 9:17 AM

    • Thanks. I was certainly happy with this unique view, and with the fact that good things keep coming my way.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 21, 2020 at 11:22 AM

  8. I love this shot–beautiful–and the poem, it’s perfect!


    August 21, 2020 at 2:25 PM

  9. I see your torch, of course, but my first impression was one of fireworks–of course, the two are very closely related. I learned the “Give me your tired…” inscription in grade school, in song form, but this is the first I’ve seen the whole poem. Thanks for that!


    August 21, 2020 at 6:43 PM

    • What you said reinforces the fact that the sonnet’s six-line conclusion is a whole lot better known than its eight-line opening. As for the song, it’s part of the show “Miss Liberty,”


      written by the immigrant Israel Beilin, better known as Irving Berlin. I think I saw the show in the summer of 1986 at Austin’s Zilker Park Hillside Theater.

      And as you also said, fireworks are associated with the Statue of Liberty.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 21, 2020 at 7:01 PM

  10. […] July 29th photo session near a pond on the Blackland Prairie in far northeast Austin that produced the torchlike Clematis drummondii picture you saw here last time. On another of those vines I noticed that some of its silky strands had been […]

  11. One of nature’s mini sculptures. 🙂

    Ann Mackay

    August 22, 2020 at 5:49 AM

  12. These abstracts are a productive avenue for you, Steve.


    August 22, 2020 at 7:23 AM

    • They sure are. This year I’ve really pushed myself into abstraction, more than at any other time I can remember.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 22, 2020 at 11:37 AM

  13. Beautiful and dramatic.
    Interestingly, we had just read about Emma Lazarus at the beginning of the month. We were so shocked to find that she was only 38 at her death.


    August 22, 2020 at 8:36 AM

  14. From one former New Yorker to another – clever!!


    August 22, 2020 at 11:36 AM

  15. I can think of at least one person who would benefit from a reminder of the “world-wide welcome” sentiment this country once held in high esteem.


    August 22, 2020 at 6:20 PM

    • I get the impression that most Americans support current levels of legal immigration. There is, however, concern about uncontrolled illegal immigration.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 22, 2020 at 7:15 PM

      • I think if the concept of “most Americans” ever existed, it has ceased to now. And any political question will only serve to deepen the divide, especially when it comes to immigration. But I prefer not to talk politics, and am quite sorry I left the comment to begin with. It engenders the most vexing and destructive discussion, other than religion, and civil discourse no longer seems to exist. 😦


        August 23, 2020 at 2:54 PM

        • Like you, I’m troubled by the lack of civil discourse. Many conversations that I see on the Internet quickly devolve into hostility, alas.

          Steve Schwartzman

          August 23, 2020 at 3:07 PM

          • Alas indeed, Steve. I think we are devolving…😪


            August 23, 2020 at 3:37 PM

            • Here’s a book I recommend.

              Steve Schwartzman

              August 24, 2020 at 7:07 AM

              • Thank you for the recommendation, Steve, I ordered it from our library. It sounds potentially very elucidating (because I honestly do not understand the other side, but I know the other side feels the same way about my views).


                August 24, 2020 at 8:29 PM

                • I’ll be interested to hear your reaction once you’ve read it. With respect to your comment, I’d say that views don’t fall only along a line, and there’s more than one other “side.”

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  August 24, 2020 at 10:22 PM

                • Good point, Steve. We need to learn to stop deepening the divide, and it has to start with our language. Guilty as charged.


                  August 28, 2020 at 2:15 PM

  16. Yes … what an interesting shape … it does look like a torch!


    August 30, 2020 at 11:45 AM

    • It’s not unusual for flowers in this species to develop that shape, and yet I don’t recall seeing other nature photographers’ pictures of those “torches.” Come to think of it, I’m not sure I’d done so, either, or at least not with other strands in the background, as shown here.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 30, 2020 at 11:59 AM

  17. Dropping in for a smoke signal (via off-line mode at home) — I’ve enjoyed the slight change to your posts, with the trivia or poem or quote at the end.

    This image has strength and softness — the front one is like a well-executed drawing and the background is spacial and relaxed. The balance gives visual comfort – a sense of being grounded – not only physically but emotionally —it’s calming. Very nice!

    When online I load the email notifications and scroll through them rapidly. That way the images usually load, and I enjoy the text and images when off line. Sometimes only the text loads, which is at times nice — it’s fun to see how well I imagined the images.

    With this post I clicked the link to the video and of course forgot about it until it started playing – days later when online… So there I was in the Chinese restaurant, and suddenly the music/concert began to play! It was funny, as they had a movie playing on their big-screen wall-mounted tvl!

    The link below has also been on the screen to pass along to you. You might enjoy these lettering instructions penned by a true master who states in the preface, “…Now the sole reason why painters of this sort are not aware of their own error is that they have not learnt Geometry, without which no one can either be or become an absolute artist; but the blame for this should be laid upon their masters, who themselves are ignorant of this art. ”

    Enjoy the art of drawing the Latin alphabet!


    Most likely this will head your way on Monday!

    Playamart - Zeebra Designs

    September 1, 2020 at 6:48 PM

    • ¡Hola! That’s a funny way you put it: “a smoke signal.” And funny also to think of you listening to Irving Berlin playing in a Chinese restaurant with a movie on at the same time.

      Yeah, I’ve been trying something different with those quotations or other little things appended to my nature photography posts. And I like the quotation you’ve provided. I see it’s from Albrecht Dürer’s The Art of Measurement in 1525.

      I appreciate your analysis of this photograph. Leave it to you to see the subject as being rendered like a drawing, something that never would have occurred to me. All I knew was that I was really happy with the portrait, which was like no other I’d done of this species.

      That’s an intriguing game you play: imagining a picture based on its verbal description.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 2, 2020 at 5:45 AM

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