Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography


with 20 comments

The wildfires that began on Labor Day in 2011 burned down
a large part of the forest in and near Bastrop State Park.

On August 14th of this year I made abstract portraits of some of the charred trees. Those included the standing remains shown in the first picture, along with two tree trunks on the ground that I could aim straight down at; the first of those two shows a loblolly pine (Pinus taeda), and the second perhaps an oak.

There are plenty of relevant quotations I could cite. Here are a few.

“From small fires comes oft no small mishap.” — George Herbert.

“Poca favilla gran fiamma seconda.” “A little spark gives rise to a mighty flame.” — Dante, The Divine Comedy: Paradiso.

“A spark neglected makes a mighty fire.” — Robert Herrick.

“The most tangible of all visible mysteries—fire.” — Leigh Hunt.

“A little fire is quickly trodden out;
Which, being suffer’d, rivers cannot quench.” — Shakespeare, Henry VI, Part 3.

“Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth!” — New Testament, James 3:5.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 5, 2020 at 4:47 AM

20 Responses

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  1. “If you’re going to try, go all the way. Otherwise, don’t even start. This could mean losing girlfriends, wives, relatives and maybe even your mind. It could mean not eating for three or four days. It could mean freezing on a park bench. It could mean jail. It could mean derision. It could mean mockery–isolation. Isolation is the gift. All the others are a test of your endurance, of how much you really want to do it. And, you’ll do it, despite rejection and the worst odds. And it will be better than anything else you can imagine. If you’re going to try, go all the way. There is no other feeling like that. You will be alone with the gods, and the nights will flame with fire. You will ride life straight to perfect laughter. It’s the only good fight there is.”
    ― Charles Bukowski, Factotum


    October 5, 2020 at 6:58 AM

  2. Such beautiful images. The silvery sheen reminds me of what I saw when I spent some time documenting the prescribed burn at the Brazoria refuge. The fires were quite different, but the results were similar in many respects. The slender strip of what appear to be pine needles adds an interesting note to the second photo. In that image, the strip of wood just above the needles calls to mind some of the geological formations you’ve photographed in places like the Badlands.

    As for fire, one of my favorite quotations comes from Heraclitus: “It ever was, and is, and shall be, ever-living Fire, in measures being kindled and in measures going out.”


    October 5, 2020 at 7:22 AM

    • Your comment about Badlands reminds me that the patterns in small things and the patterns in large things are sometimes the same. Your comment about the silvery sheen, which is what drew me to take the second picture, reminds me that black and blank (which originally meant ‘white’) are etymologically related. And yes, those slivers of brown are a welcome addition to what otherwise could pass for a black and white image.

      Bastrop State Park, even after the great conflagration of a decade ago, still offers a lot to a nature photographer.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 5, 2020 at 7:42 AM

  3. Then there are the positive aspects of a forest fire, which means new life and regeneration of nature. The ashes contain nutrients for vigorous plant life. Some cones will not be released their seeds unless they are exposed to the heat. When I look at your beautiful photos of charred wood these thoughts come to my mind, Steve.

    Peter Klopp

    October 5, 2020 at 8:58 AM

  4. I like these shots so much! The colors are muted, but still rich. I haven’t visited the Bastrop area since the fires, but I understand that at least some recovery is underway.


    October 5, 2020 at 1:44 PM

    • Black and white held sway in photography for a long time. Even though I took all three of these pictures in color, they could almost be in black and white, given how little color information is in them.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 5, 2020 at 3:44 PM

  5. I find your second shot particularly interesting and fascinating as an abstract. Fine textures.


    October 5, 2020 at 5:36 PM

    • The second’s the one that I like the most, too. You mentioned abstraction, and that’s what I was after in the last two pictures—that and the textures that you also pointed out.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 5, 2020 at 5:39 PM

  6. I’ve been seeing a surprising (at least, to me) number of buildings recently in architecture magazines and sites, sheathed in carbonized wood. Many of the houses are very attractive. I guess it’s a traditional technique in Japan, preserving the wood and making it more water-resistant, and designers in Europe have apparently embraced it, too. You’d think there would be an unpleasant smoky odor to the houses, but I guess that wears off in time.

    Robert Parker

    October 6, 2020 at 12:23 PM

  7. I have seen burnt wood like the second image and find your abstract of it attractive.

    Steve Gingold

    October 8, 2020 at 4:59 PM

    • Thanks. If you’d been there I think you’d have gone after it, too.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 8, 2020 at 5:05 PM

      • I would just like some of the rotted and spalted patterns I’ve shot. That said, I haven’t. I’ll be on the lookout. We don’t have many wildfires here, thankfully.

        Steve Gingold

        October 8, 2020 at 5:07 PM

        • You’re fortunate indeed. The one that hit Bastrop in 2011 was a doozy. New pines and oaks started growing soon afterward but I’ll never again see the forest there the way I remember it.

          Steve Schwartzman

          October 8, 2020 at 5:11 PM

  8. The abstracts are really beautiful, Steve. The textures and shapes are perfectly rendered – it can be hard to photograph burnt wood, I’ve tried!
    I picked up a piece of “charcoal” from a sight that was burned several years ago and brought it home to play around with, wondering how lines made with it might differ from lines made with store-bought charcoal (the natural stuff didn’t draw as dark a line). The first photo reminded me of that.


    October 13, 2020 at 12:05 PM

    • Merci. You know how fond of abstractions I am, and I just couldn’t pass up the chance to portray those charred trunks, especially the two on the ground. I like the experiment you carried out: science in action.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 13, 2020 at 3:31 PM

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