Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Two abstract cattail leaf portraits

with 36 comments

Many long-time artists try new things. In the first of two recent experiments, I played off a yellowing cattail leaf (Typha domingensis) against differently colored cattail leaves behind it that were parallel to one another but not to it. I held the foreground leaf in focus to convey its texture, while making the background leaves as free of details as possible. In the image below of a shallow cattail leaf arc, I channeled my inner Michael Scandling: barely anything is in focus, and the overall effect is of pastel colors.

Here’s a vaguely related quotation for today:

“L’homme n’est qu’un roseau, le plus faible de la nature; mais c’est un roseau pensant. Il ne faut pas que l’univers entier s’arme pour l’écraser : une vapeur, une goutte d’eau suffit pour le tuer. Mais quand l’univers l’écraserait, l’homme serait encore plus noble que ce qui le tue, parce qu’il sait qu’il meurt, et l’avantage que l’univers a sur lui, l’univers n’en sait rien.” — Blaise Pascal, Pensées (Thoughts).

“Man is but a reed, the weakest in nature; but he’s a thinking reed. It doesn’t take the whole universe up in arms to crush him; a vapor, a drop of water is enough to kill him. But even if the universe did crush him, man would still be nobler than the thing that kills him, because he’d know that he’s dying, whereas the advantage that the universe has over him, the universe would know nothing about.” — Blaise Pascal, Pensées (Thoughts).

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 24, 2020 at 4:34 AM

36 Responses

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  1. A ha ha… your inner Michael Scandling worked beautifully!! Both are brilliant and I like how neither is exactly centered.

    marina kanavaki

    August 24, 2020 at 8:32 AM

  2. What a coincidence! On Gerhard’s post, which I viewed just prior to yours, there was also an abstract rendering of a curve leaf. Here is its link: https://kopfundgestalt.com/2020/08/24/curve/

    Peter Klopp

    August 24, 2020 at 9:14 AM

    • Thanks for the link: I see what you mean. If you’d like to point him to this picture, the viewing will be reciprocal. Abstractions like these appeal to some of us.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 24, 2020 at 9:45 AM

  3. These are great, Steve! I especially like the top one. The sharpness of the structure of the stem makes the softness of the bokeh even more of a textural contrast. More please!

    Michael Scandling

    August 24, 2020 at 10:08 AM

  4. Charmingly attention seeking, really enjoyed their simplicity.


    August 24, 2020 at 11:36 AM

    • That’s a novel way to describe these images: charmingly attention-seeking. Simplicity certainly is the key here.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 24, 2020 at 12:41 PM

  5. I love the simplicity of each photo. The first, angular, the second, awash in color. So nicely done!!


    August 24, 2020 at 2:47 PM

    • Thank you. It was exciting for me to see things this way. This has been a year for new ways of seeing.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 24, 2020 at 5:21 PM

  6. Fantastic. Especially the second.
    I’m a huge fan of contrasts of all kinds.

    Johnny Crabcakes

    August 24, 2020 at 9:01 PM

    • Normally I like to have more in focus than I do in the second picture, and yet the almost complete softness of form and color pleased me. In contrast, the first picture is about the contrast between focused and non-focused (which I’ve more often done).

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 24, 2020 at 10:15 PM

  7. And thank you for the introduction to another brilliant photographer!

    Johnny Crabcakes

    August 24, 2020 at 9:03 PM

  8. I especially like the contrast in the first photo between the diagonal leaves in the background and the sharp vertical leaf — and the way the color emphasizes the verticality.

    As for the second, those are shades of pink and green I’m particularly fond of. When I looked at the arc, I thought, “That’s a bridge just far enough.” It could be the beginning of a Monet painting — still waiting for the water lilies.


    August 26, 2020 at 9:19 AM

    • For me the second picture was indeed mostly about color, and I understand why you thought of Money. As for water lilies, they’re harder to come by here than near the coast where you are, and when I do see some here I always have to worry whether they’re an exotic species that someone planted. I ran into that situation at a pond last week.

      What you say attracted you in the first picture is just what I had in mind.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 26, 2020 at 4:00 PM

  9. I wanted the cat tail to be the official town flower of our town a few years back. We have not selected a town flower yet. Our town is Los Gatos, so it is humorously appropriate.


    August 26, 2020 at 7:30 PM

    • The cattail for the Cats seems appropriate, at least based on the English name of the plant. However, when I checked just now to see how to say cattail in Spanish, none of the three words that are used in various Spanish-speaking countries have anything to do with cats. One of the three is based on the Spanish word for sword.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 26, 2020 at 10:39 PM

      • The American version is good enough for me. It happens to be native to the marshes that used to be just north of town, where Los Gatos Creek flows from the Santa Cruz Mountains and into the Santa Clara Valley. Cornus stolonifera is also native, although it does not grow as a tree, so would not be appropriate as the official town tree.


        August 27, 2020 at 6:19 PM

  10. I like the background as a diagonal contrast to the stiff vertical cattail stem and also the contrast in focus.

    Steve Gingold

    August 31, 2020 at 3:14 AM

  11. Channeling your inner Michael Scandling – I love it. 🙂 I like both, particularly the first.


    September 4, 2020 at 7:58 PM

    • I did think “channeling my inner Michael Scandling” was a good way to put it. The guy is maximally into minimalism.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 4, 2020 at 11:26 PM

  12. Very nice, both of them. I’ve never really agreed with Pascal on that one. Rather, I sense a sentience in the Universe.


    October 7, 2020 at 9:37 AM

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