Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Texas persimmon trunk

with 33 comments

Call it chiaroscuro or yin-yang, this is the most abstract and minimalist portrait I’ve ever made highlighting (literally) the trunk of a Texas persimmon tree, Diospyros texana. As an article on the website of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center notes: “This well-shaped, small tree is valued primarily for its striking trunk and branches, which are a smooth, pale greyish white or whitish grey, peeling off to reveal subtle greys, whites, and pinks beneath.” Today’s photograph is from the Zilker Nature Preserve on November 17th.

The picture reminds me now of the stylized serpent that people imagine they’re seeing at Chichén-Itzá’s Pyramid of Kukulkan during the spring and fall solstice.

And here’s a relevant quotation for today: “Wo viel Licht ist, ist starker Schatten.” “Where there’s bright light there’s a dark shadow,” or more loosely “The brightest light casts the darkest shadows.” — Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in the play Götz von Berlichingen, 1773.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 15, 2020 at 4:26 AM

33 Responses

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  1. A good bold abstraction, interesting! The gleam of light along the left looks like a corona during an eclipse. I looked up this Texas tree, which sounds very attractive. I see that the American Persimmon range includes Long Island, but I don’t remember ever seeing one. I’ve been wanting to try persimmons, as part of sampling any native fruit – my folks have grown a few mulberry and pawpaw trees, and I enjoy both of those.
    I only know a few words of German, and when I see “starker” in your quotation, it reminds me of hearing “shtarker” used occasionally by my grandfather, basically the same word, but used to mean “tough guy.”

    Robert Parker

    December 15, 2020 at 7:25 AM

    • Perhaps a good bold abstraction comes from a good bold photographer. Now that you mention it, the secondary strip of light on the left does look like the corona of an eclipse; good observation. That slender strip of light, which made the picture special for me, is important in delineating the left edge of the tree’s trunk.

      I like your plan to sample native fruits. On Wikipedia I see that “The word persimmon itself is derived from putchamin, pasiminan, or pessamin, from Powhatan, an Algonquian language of the eastern United States, meaning ‘a dry fruit.'” I also see that the commercially available persimmons are an East Asian kind. We had a mulberry bush alongside our house when I was growing up; that was the first native fruit I ever sampled.

      German stark and English stark, with the German pronounced shtark, are indeed the same word, as you indicated. There was a famous musician named Janos Starker; if he was a tough guy, it was only with his cello.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 15, 2020 at 8:16 AM

      • I should add that starch and stern are also native English descendants of the original Indo-European root, which meant ‘stiff.’ And Isaac Stern played a different string instrument, the violin.

        Steve Schwartzman

        December 15, 2020 at 8:19 AM

      • I recognize the name, from listening to public radio. I just looked him up, and liked his obit in the NY Times: “…restrained onstage elegance was amply matched by the cyclone of Scotch, cigarettes and opinion that animated his offstage life.”
        Generally you don’t think of cellists as tough guys, but maybe the double bass players, carrying around that instrument in its case, 45-50 lbs, has got to build some muscle.

        Robert Parker

        December 15, 2020 at 10:34 AM

        • I knew nothing about Starker’s life before what you just quoted. I do know that a cellist who flies to a musical engagement reserves two adjacent seats, the second one being for the cello. I don’t know what double-bass players do.

          Steve Schwartzman

          December 15, 2020 at 1:12 PM

  2. Your picture is a perfect example of minimalistic photography. The quote from the play Götz von Berlichingen is very relevant in our photographic work, Steve.

    Peter Klopp

    December 15, 2020 at 8:53 AM

    • Not everyone appreciates this degree of minimalism in photography. I’m glad you do. And of course you appreciate Goethe’s original words.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 15, 2020 at 12:50 PM

  3. I seldom see such stark value contrasts in nature, so this is interesting. And of course, Goethe had it exactly right.


    December 15, 2020 at 9:23 AM

    • I won’t claim that my eyes and brain saw the scene in as contrasty and minimalist a way as it appears here; I saw other things in the background, too. I took my pictures anyhow. Once I looked at the raw image on my computer, I realized it had the potential for software to take it the rest of the way to something good.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 15, 2020 at 1:02 PM

      • Ah, ok. I was also imagining that the Texas sun is more intense than here.


        December 16, 2020 at 9:21 AM

        • I think it was Ansel Adams who made an analogy between photography and classical music. As a musical score is to the performance that a conductor or player gets from it, so a photographic negative (and now a raw computer file) gets shaped by the photographer into a print (and now a digital image).

          It’s true, too, that the sun is more intense 900 miles south of you.

          Steve Schwartzman

          December 16, 2020 at 9:42 AM

          • That is such a beautiful way to describe what you do. And yes, I know about that sun. I was in Florida with a friend of mine helping her shop for a house. The sun felt so CLOSE. I couldn’t bear it and was relieved to get back North, even if it did mean returning to the polar vortex. My family lived for a time in Venezuela, and that too was difficult for me.


            December 17, 2020 at 8:56 AM

            • There’s a lot of variation in people’s tolerance for heat and cold. I assume temperature sensitivities fall along a bell curve.

              Before Ansel Adams dedicated himself to photography he’d studied to be a concert pianist, so the analogy between music and photography would’ve come naturally to him.

              Steve Schwartzman

              December 17, 2020 at 11:24 AM

  4. An interesting wood, and a beautiful composition, Steve!

    Lavinia Ross

    December 15, 2020 at 10:05 AM

    • Thanks for appreciating the composition. I was happy with what I could bring out (or suppress, actually) in the image.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 15, 2020 at 2:00 PM

  5. Hey, another species that I only read about. I never met this one. I never looked for it though, since the fruit is not as edible as that of the American persimmon, which I did happen to bring back from Oklahoma.


    December 15, 2020 at 12:23 PM

    • You’re right that the fruit of the Texas species, while edible, isn’t practical. The persimmons sold in food stores are an Asian species.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 15, 2020 at 8:36 PM

      • Edible? I was not aware of that. I thought they were like small black and unpalatably bitter berries. The Asian species are all that commonly grow here. American persimmon only appears as understock of an Asian persimmon that died or got cut down. (Most Asian persimmon are grafted onto other Asian persimmon understock though.) I grew my American persimmon from seed that I brought back from Oklahoma, and I intend to grow more, even though I really like the Asian persimmon too. You might find this to be amusing. https://tonytomeo.com/2017/09/22/the-physics-of-fruit/


        December 15, 2020 at 9:38 PM

        • There’s information about the edibility of Texas persimmon fruit in the second paragraph at:


          Steve Schwartzman

          December 15, 2020 at 9:54 PM

          • I still do not think I would bother with it. However, I would not pass on the seed if I ever happened to find it in the wild. It does not seem to venture into Oklahoma naturally. The fruit in the picture in the article seem to be bigger than what I thought they were like. I thought that they were smaller than an inch wide, more like black pyracantha berries.


            December 15, 2020 at 11:55 PM

  6. Your development and choice of framing work really well here in this minimalist image. You must have considered a monochrome version, but I like that you’ve kept the hint of ochre.


    December 16, 2020 at 2:30 AM

    • Truth to tell, I rarely think of converting a color image to black and white, although I know many other photographers do. That said, I happen to have a post scheduled next week in which a color photograph once again intrinsically looks almost black and white, and a post in which I did convert a color picture to black and white and compared it to a version in which I reduced the color, and, via a link, to the original color image.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 16, 2020 at 5:19 AM

      • And I was just reminded that Thursday’s post will include a color photo that looks monochrome, with green being the tint. And separately from that, a post with two spider pictures.

        Steve Schwartzman

        December 16, 2020 at 5:48 AM

  7. I couldn’t quite decide what made this photo so intriguing. Finally, I decided it’s the sense of layers. It doesn’t feel at all ‘flat,’ which I might have expected in such a simple image. I really like it — and now I wish I’d spent more time with some sycamore bark I found last week. A little more boldness might have been rewarded.


    December 16, 2020 at 9:03 AM

    • Your last sentence reminds me of “De l’audace, encore de l’audace, et toujours de l’audace,” “Boldness, more boldness, and boldness forever.” That slogan came from Georges Jacques Danton, one of the prime movers of the French Revolution. His words emboldened later leaders in the Revolution to guillotine Danton for “venality and leniency toward the enemies of the Revolution,” as Wikipedia puts it. And so you see a prime precedent for today’s struggle among some ideologues to out-woke one another. There may be a poverty of guillotines these days, but fanatics ye have always with you.

      Mais retournons à nos moutons, as the French say, “But let’s get back to our sheep,” meaning ‘Let’s return to the subject at hand.” This is a nature photography blog, after all. My recollection is that I’d never made a picture like this one, and, as you said, despite its minimalism, there’s still a sense of depth. I attribute it primarily to the vertical strip of corona-like flares, as Robert Parker described them.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 16, 2020 at 9:29 AM

  8. Goethe and chiaroscuro in one post – that’s awesome Steve, as is the photo.


    December 21, 2020 at 8:22 AM

    • Thanks for appreciating this minimalist view, Lynn. I didn’t already know the quotation from Goethe but it turned up when I went searching for something appropriate to the photograph.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 21, 2020 at 8:34 AM

  9. You’re leaning into the minimalist mode, and I’m liking it!


    December 21, 2020 at 2:21 PM

    • Actually I’ve been leaning that way for quite a while, but 2020 in particular has produced pictures high in abstraction and minimalism or both.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 21, 2020 at 5:32 PM

  10. Didn’t catch this post back in December. I have a Texas Persimmon in one corner of my backyard – it was there in the first place, and across the berm there are another female and a male tree. So definitely “wild.” I made a Texas Persimmon dessert loaf from fruits I gathered this summer. The recipe was in a book co-authored by the late B.L. Turner. They are edible, but it does take a while to separate the seeds from the pulp. The Texas Persimmon bark is quite similar to that of what I call “Crappy Myrtles,” and it would not be bad thing, in my opinion, if every crepe myrtle in the state was replaced with a Texas Persimmon. (I know, this has nothing to do with the photo, except for the plant species).


    January 11, 2021 at 8:11 PM

    • You’re fortunate to have a Texas persimmon in your yard, and to have eaten a dessert loaf made from the fruits. I knew they’re edible but till now hadn’t heard from anyone who’s eaten any. It seems the difficulty of separating the fruit from the seeds would be a deterrent to the wider propagation of these trees, though people might still plant them for their bark, especially as substitutes for the popular imported tree.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 11, 2021 at 9:21 PM

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