Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Posts Tagged ‘chiaroscuro

Two rather different takes on one rain lily in front of another

with 25 comments

Here are two portraits showing
one rain lily (Zephyranthes chlorosolen)
in front of another on August 23rd.

  

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The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.

That great sentence, which serves as the opening line in Leslie Poles Hartley’s 1953 novel The Go-Between, also serves as a good entrée into our times. (Wikipedia notes that the line “had first been used by Hartley’s friend Lord David Cecil in his inaugural lecture as Goldsmiths’ Professor in 1949.”)

Jump forward seven decades from The Go-Between to Dominic Green’s August 26th Quillette article “The Unmaking of American History by the Woke Mob.” Here’s how it begins:

Academic historians are losing their sense of the past. In his August column for the American Historical Association’s journal, Perspectives on History, James H. Sweet warned that academic history has become so “presentist” that it is losing touch with its subject, the world before yesterday. Mr. Sweet, who is the association’s president and teaches at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, observed that the “allure of political relevance” is drawing students away from pre-1800 history and toward “contemporary social justice issues” such as “race, gender, sexuality, nationalism, capitalism.” When historians become activists, he wrote, the past becomes “an evidentiary grab bag to articulate their political positions.”

The article goes on to quote Professor Sweet again:

If history is only those stories from the past that confirm current political positions, all manner of political hacks can claim historical expertise.

Needless to say in our censorious times—and so sad to have to say—a transgressive online mob quickly rose up to excoriate the history professor for his reasonable observations about history. As Dominic Green goes on to note:

When the purpose of history changes from knowledge of the past to political power in the present and future, historians become mere propagandists. Academics who succumb to the sugar rush of activism lose their sense of balance. 

And here’s his conclusion:

Yes, history is always written backward, from present to past. And history’s present uses might include politics. But the task of a historian is to understand the strange past and show how it shapes the familiar present. If we succumb to what the English historian E.P. Thompson called “the enormous condescension of posterity,” then we lose the ability to imagine how people lived in any era before our own. We lose difference and complexity. We lose the perspective that history is supposed to impart and with it any sense of progress. Dictators are presentists, too.

You’re welcome to read Dominic Green’s full essay.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 4, 2022 at 4:29 AM

On this date

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This date in 1939 marked the beginning of World War 2. To accord with that, here’s a picture from this past Saturday morning at the McNay Art Museum in San Antonio. You’re looking at Charles Umlauf‘s cast stone sculpture “War Mother,” which he created in 1939 and which now sits on a pedestal in an outdoor alcove along an edge of the museum’s central garden courtyard. At the right time in the morning, light from the unclouded sun reaches the beams of an overhead lattice and casts striking parallel shadows onto the Umlauf sculpture and adjacent walls.

In commemoration of today’s date 83 years ago I invite you to read W.H. Auden‘s poem “September 1, 1939,” with its memorable ending:

 

Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.

 

(I hope you don’t mind today’s change of pace from nature photography. Long before I specialized in portraying native plants I made photographs more like today’s than the ones you normally see here. That said, the earlier styles came to inform later and current ones. Ah, continuity: we still are what we were.)

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 1, 2022 at 4:31 AM

Dodder again

with 6 comments

Dodder (Cuscuta sp.) is a parasitic vine whose often dense tangles of slender yellow strands remind some people of angel hair pasta, as you see above in a view of dodder attacking annual sumpweed (Iva annua). In contrast, the picture below is different from previous ones I’ve taken of dodder, with the interplay of light and shadow making it moodier, artsier. Both views are from Meadow Lake Park in Round Rock on August 24.

 

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In case you haven’t noticed, much of the world is facing an energy crisis. Since the current American administration took over on January 25, 2021, the average selling price of gasoline in the United States has risen from $2.39 to $3.84 per gallon as of yesterday, for a 60% increase. The average price for diesel rose even more: on January 25, 2021 it was $2.71, and as of August 29 it was $5.11. That’s an 88% increase. In a more extreme jump from January 2021 to now, the natural gas index (NG:NMX) on the NASDAQ exchange rose from $2.49 to $9.35. My house has natural gas heating, so I compared my bill from January 2021 to the bill dated August 12, 2022: the cost for a hundred cubic feet (CCF) has tripled, going from $0.34 to $1.013.

The high cost of gasoline strains the budget of tens of millions of commuters and shoppers. The high cost of diesel means that goods transported by ships and trucks and trains—which are almost all the goods you buy—now cost more. If you have natural gas heating, keeping your residence warm this winter will cost a lot more than it did two years ago.

And we in the United States still have it pretty good. Many European countries depend on Russia for oil and natural gas, so since that country invaded Ukraine prices in Europe have risen as supplies have fallen. “French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne urged businesses to cut energy use or face possible rationing this winter if Russia halts gas deliveries.” In the U.K. “pubs and restaurants could close this winter without support to tackle soaring energy bills. There are growing fears that some hospitality venues won’t survive as they struggle to cope with rising running costs.” “In Poland‘s late summer heat, dozens of cars and trucks line[d] up at the Lubelski Wegiel Bogdanka coal mine, as householders fearful of winter shortages wait[ed] for days and nights to stock up on heating fuel in queues reminiscent of communist times.”

Spain “published new rules [in early August] stipulating that no business will be allowed to cool its interior below 27 degrees Celsius (81 degrees Fahrenheit) or to heat it above 19 degrees Celsius (66 degrees Fahrenheit) in winter. In place until November 2023, the decree also calls a halt to the illumination of monuments, bans stores from lighting up their windows after 10 p.m., and requires shops to have an electric display showing the temperature inside to passersby.” People in Germany “are feeling more frugal than at any point in the last decade, according to a survey by GfK. It found that consumers are putting aside any spare cash in anticipation of much higher energy bills.” Also “in Germany, where households face a 480 euro rise in their gas bills, people are resorting to stockpiling firewood.” (That’s in addition to clear-cutting ancient forests to make room for industrial wind turbines.)

The current Russia-Ukraine war has revealed the fragile state of the energy systems in Europe and elsewhere. The politicized push toward “green energy” has made the situation a lot worse than it needed to be. Although atomic reactors produce no carbon emissions, “green” activists have an irrational horror of nuclear energy. Germany was set to close the last of its nuclear reactors this year but is now reconsidering, given the current crisis. In the United States, not since 2016 has a nuclear reactor entered service, and the most recent one before that was 20 years earlier.

Elon Musk, erstwhile hero of the political left for producing hundreds of thousands of electric vehicles, “told European energy leaders that the world needs more oil and natural gas and should continue operating nuclear power plants while investing heavily in renewable energy sources. ‘I think we actually need more oil and gas, not less, but simultaneously moving as fast as we can to a sustainable energy economy,’ Mr. Musk, Tesla’s chief executive and largest shareholder, told a conference in Stavanger, Norway. Mr. Musk said work on developing battery-storage technology is key to making the most of investments in wind, solar and geothermal energy. ‘I’m also pronuclear,’ Mr. Musk said. ‘We should really keep going with the nuclear plants. I know this may be an unpopular view in some quarters. But I think if you have a well-designed nuclear power plant, you should not shut it down, especially right now,’ he said.”

Hooray for a voice of reason. As the Greeks told us more than two millennia ago: All things in moderation, nothing to excess.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 31, 2022 at 4:25 AM

Posted on a post in a post

with 20 comments

 

As you see in today’s photograph from August 1st on the Blackland Prairie in far northeast Austin, little land snails are common in the Austin area. Multiple posts over the years (for example this February and May 2020) have shown how those snails like to climb both plants and inanimate objects. The snail shell on/in today’s post was such a bright white that in comparison to it the sky and clouds look unnaturally dark, but I like the effect and also welcome the contrasty chiaroscuro drama of the shell and its shadow. The rusted metal adds interesting textures and earthy colors.

 

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From time to time in the past year I’ve given examples of ideologues insisting that a word no longer means what it has long meant. Examples have included man, woman, mother, and recession [of a financial sort].

This week I became aware of two more. New York State is now banning the short word inmate, which it will replace with the cumbersome, five-syllables-longer phrase incarcerated person. What’s supposed to be gained isn’t clear, especially since inmate was already gender neutral. Possibly it’s to force more and more things to fit the mold X person, where X is a present or past participle. For example, enslaved person replaces slave and birthing person replaces mother.

The second recent attempt at definition denial stems from an incident on the morning of August 8th, when several dozen armed FBI [Federal Bureau of Investigation] agents, including a safecracker, showed up at the Florida home of former president Trump with a search warrant. The FBI team then spent a reported nine hours searching the premises and taking away some 15 boxes of materials.

I take no position on whether the FBI raid was justified. There’s no way for me to know. What I do take a position on is the unjustified denial by many in the media that the raid was a raid. It was funny to watch a montage of eight clips showing television commenters insisting that the raid wasn’t a raid.

Fortunately we have the Internet at our disposal, so I looked up raid in a bunch of online dictionaries. Because each dictionary gives several definitions of the word, I’ll quote just the relevant one:

 

Wordsmyth: ‘A surprise entry by police into private property, usu[ally] to make arrests or seize something.’

Merriam-Webster: ‘A sudden invasion by officers of the law.’

Lexico (Oxford): ‘A surprise visit by police to arrest suspected people or seize illicit goods.’

Cambridge Advanced Learner’s: ‘An occasion when the police enter a place suddenly in order to find someone or something.’

Longman: ‘A surprise visit made to a place by the police to search for something illegal.’

American Heritage: ‘A sudden forcible entry into a place by police.’

Vocabulary.com: ‘Search’ or ‘enter unexpectedly.’

Macmillan: ‘To use force to enter a place suddenly in order to arrest people or search for something such as illegal drugs.’

Infoplease: ‘a sudden assault or attack, as upon something to be seized or suppressed.’

Free Dictionary: ‘Search without warning.’

Webster’s (1913): ‘An attack or invasion for the purpose of making arrests, seizing property, or plundering.’

 

So yes, the raid that took place on August 8th was indeed a raid.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 12, 2022 at 4:28 AM

Mustang grape gall

with 34 comments

When it comes to native grapevines, central Texas claims the mustang grape (Vitis mustangensis) as its most common. To the best of my recollection, not till July 12th of this year, while walking along Bull Creek, did I ever find a gall on a mustang grape. Below is a view from the side.

UPDATE: Thanks to a link from Steve Gingold, I can add that the gall midge Ampelomyia vitispomum seems to have instigated this growth on the mustang grape vine.

  

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While still teaching in the Austin public schools back in the late 1970s I became aware of Marva Collins, a black schoolteacher in Chicago who likewise became disenchanted with public education. She founded her own school and succeeded in educating poor black kids by holding them to high expectations and standards, not putting up with excuses, and loving her students.

I hadn’t thought about Marva Collins for a long time but for some reason she came to mind the other day and I looked to see if she’s still alive. She’s not, having died in 2015.

An article by Carrie-Ann Biondi in the Spring 2019 issue of The Objective Standard includes the following:

After graduating in 1957 from Clark College in Atlanta, Georgia with a degree in secretarial science, Collins sought a job as a secretary. She explained, though, that “none of the private companies wanted to hire a black secretary.” So she took one of the few jobs open to an educated black woman in the 1950s American South: She became a teacher. Collins found that she enjoyed teaching secretarial skills at Monroe County Training School. There, she learned how to teach through trial and error, recalling what best helped her to learn, avoiding the mistakes some of her own teachers made, and taking seriously the feedback she got from the school’s principal. Even so, after two years at that job, she moved to Chicago, holding that it would help her develop independence from her father.

In Chicago, Collins first worked as a medical secretary. She soon fell in love, got married, and, in time, had three children. Finding that she “missed the classroom . . . the excitement of helping students discover the solution to a problem,” Collins applied for a teaching position in the Chicago public school system. Although she had no teaching certificate, because of a teacher shortage she was hired to teach second grade.

Collins’s lack of a teaching degree worked to her advantage—and to that of her students. She trusted her own experience and disregarded the Board of Education’s teaching guide, which prescribed the “look-say” method to teach reading, simplistic Dick-and-Jane books with lots of pictures, and dull workbooks that drilled “skills” without teaching students how to think for themselves. Ignoring all of this, Collins developed teaching methods that truly worked. She used phonics to teach reading, incorporated literary classics and poetry into the curriculum, facilitated in-depth discussions of the readings, had students memorize poetry and write papers for oral delivery, and used positive (rather than punitive) discipline to address misbehavior.

After 14 years in the Chicago public schools, Marva Collins felt so at-odds with what the district as a whole was doing that she resigned and eventually started her own school.

Observers in Collins’s classroom repeatedly were astonished by the high-level curriculum she developed for students ages three to thirteen. She began each year with essays such as Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Self-Reliance” and fables such as “The Little Red Hen.” Students soon moved on to poetry, including works by Rudyard Kipling and [Henry] Wadsworth Longfellow. In time, they progressed to Plato’s dialogues. By second and third grade, they were reading William Shakespeare’s plays (Macbeth and Hamlet were student favorites) and reciting Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. With these under their belts, it was not uncommon for students to dive headlong into a seemingly unquenchable reading frenzy. And Collins kept hundreds of books on hand, suggesting just the right one for each student to read next. Each student wrote a report every two weeks about his latest book, presented it to the class, and answered questions raised by the other students. This sparked so much interest in reading that book that students vied to be next on the waiting list.

Marva Collins went to the greatest works that English-language literature had to offer. What a contrast from today’s racial essentialist imperative to jettison anything by “dead white guys.”

In 1981 Cicely Tyson played the title character in the made-for-television movie “The Marva Collins Story,” with Morgan Freeman playing her supportive husband. I was surprised to find the full 112-minute film available to watch for free on YouTube. Check it out the next time you have two hours for an inspiring movie.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 7, 2022 at 4:33 AM

Sheen

with 18 comments

 

The seed strands of Clematis drummondii have a conspicuous sheen to them, as you see here in a July 7th portrait from the temporarily-hanging-on fringe of a property being developed on the Blackland Prairie in Pflugerville. Note the “echoing” sheen from the out-of-focus strands in the lower left. The portrait has a Rembrandtesque feel to it, don’t you think?

 

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The calls and text messages are relentless. On the other end are doctors and scientists at the top levels of the NIH [National Institutes of Health], FDA [Food and Drug Administration] and CDC [Centers for Disease Control]. They are variously frustrated, exasperated and alarmed about the direction of the agencies to which they have devoted their careers.

“It’s like a horror movie I’m being forced to watch and I can’t close my eyes,” one senior FDA official lamented. “People are getting bad advice and we can’t say anything.”

So begins an article by Drs. Marty Makary and Tracy Beth Høeg entitled “U.S. Public Health Agencies Aren’t ‘Following the Science,’ Officials Say.” Later comes this paragraph:

It is statistically impossible for everyone who works inside of our health agencies to have 100% agreement about such a new and knotty subject. The fact that there is no public dissent or debate can only be explained by the fact that they are—or at least feel that they are—being muzzled.

Read the article and you’ll see how the admonition to “follow the science” has actually played out in many cases as “ignore the science.”

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 16, 2022 at 4:33 AM

A different take on an anemone

with 16 comments

 

Two weeks ago you saw a ten-petal anemone (Anemone berlandieri) with a tiny spider on it. During that same March 1st photo session I photographed several other anemones, including the one shown here.

I processed this picture differently from the last one, pulling down the tone curve from its default diagonal line to darken the image, especially in the background, and emphasize the backlit glow at the heart of the flower. I then slightly lightened or darkened a few small areas to produce an overall effect that pleased me.

 

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I recommend Asra Q. Nomani’s article “Anti-racism betrays Asian students.”

It helps if you understand that “anti-racism” is wokespeak
for ‘racism that’s anti-white and anti-Asian.’

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 16, 2022 at 4:31 AM

Inaugurating the new year

with 38 comments

On New Year’s morning I went to Great Hills Park to try out a new camera: I’ve taken the plunge with a Canon mirrorless camera, the EOS R5. Although that means a reduction in picture size of about 11% compared to my EOS 5DS R, a review I’d read said the better resolving power of the five-year-newer sensor could make up for that loss, and in addition there would be greater dynamic range and less noise at each ISO, particularly the higher ones.

One thing that caught my attention in the park was some shelf fungi on the stump of a black willow tree, as shown above. I worked hand-held and without flash at the high ISO of 2500, which let me stop down to f/14 to keep most details sharp. Yes, some noise appeared in the image, but it was tolerable, and processing let me reduce it even more. The next day I returned with my earlier camera and my ring flash to make some more-abstract, edge-on views of the fungi, like the one below.

Does it look to you, as it sometimes does to me, like the front edge of the fungus in the second picture is protruding forward from the plane of your monitor?

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Last year I reported on two attempts by the current American administration to illegally give out money to people according to their race. One program involved farmers, and another program involved restaurant owners. Thankfully, judges eventually ruled both programs unconstitutional because they discriminated against people based on their race.

Now New York State is flouting the equal-rights protection that the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees to all citizens. On December 27, 2021, the state’s Department of Health announced that it is going to prioritize giving certain Covid-19 medicines to non-white people: “Non-white race or Hispanic/Latino ethnicity should be considered a risk factor, as longstanding systemic health and social inequities have contributed to an increased risk of severe illness and death from COVID-19.” The organization America First Legal has threatened to sue if New York State doesn’t rescind that illegal policy of prioritizing medicines based on the race of an ill patient.

The obvious solution is to prioritize people based on their actual conditions. The aged are at high risk, as are the obese and people with other co-morbidities. Those are the groups who should get priority. If it so happens that more non-whites than whites fall into those categories, fine, but the rationing of medicine will be on medical grounds, not prima facie—and illegally—according to race.

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 7, 2022 at 4:39 AM

Avian remains two days apart

with 17 comments

At Brushy Creek Lake Park on December 14th I found a small white feather covered with dewdrops. Two days later while walking a trail in my neighborhood I somehow noticed a small dead bird on the ground. Shannon Westveer has identified it as a chipping sparrow (Spizella passerina). It didn’t seem to have been dead for long but already ants had found it. Because you might not care to see that scene, I’ve not included a photograph in today’s post but only a link to it that you can click if you wish. And this sparrow, seen or unseen, may remind you of a New Testament passage: “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”

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As someone who has taught math and statistics, and of course as a citizen, I find it disturbing when a governmental agency cites a flawed study to support an agenda, then refuses to disavow the study even after the many problems with it, including persistent lack of transparency, are pointed out. You can read about that in David Zweig’s article “The CDC’s Flawed Case for Wearing Masks in School” in the December 2021 issue of The Atlantic, which by no stretch of the imagination qualifies as a right-wing publication. In fact David Zweig has written for plenty of left-leaning organizations; among them are The New Yorker, The New York Times, CNN, Salon, Slate, The New Republic, and New York Magazine.

You can also get a much more detailed and animated account in a December 17th Megyn Kelly interview with David Zweig that goes from about 1:00 to about 49:00 in this YouTube video. (The timeline slider lets you skip through a couple of two-minute commercials; one or two very brief commercials dismiss themselves, and in another one or two you can click to dismiss the ads.)

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 23, 2021 at 4:35 AM

An archaeology of light

with 32 comments

An adage says “Out of sight, out of mind,” and yet the saying’s first two words could just as well be replaced by “in.” Familiarity breeds a sort of visual contempt in which ordinary objects might as well be buried.

To let light uncover those everyday objects around the house is to practice an archaeology of light.

On the technical side, I took the first two pictures with my “real” camera
and the third with my iPhone. I prepared this post in 2020 but kept postponing it.

And here’s a thought about photographic esthetics: “Now to consult the rules of composition before making a picture is a little like consulting the law of gravitation before going out for a walk.” — Edward Weston. A bunch of different wordings occur on the Internet. Research leads me to think this one is the most likely to be authentic. I came across a version of the quotation in an article by David duChemin called “Are Your Photographs Poetic?“, which I recommend to you.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 26, 2021 at 4:46 AM

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