Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Posts Tagged ‘light

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

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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

Sheen

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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

Sunlight at the base of a waterfall

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Look at how sunlight illuminated the splashing water at the base of a small
waterfall along the Twin Creeks Historic Park Trail in Cedar Park on March 12.

 

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On television a couple of days ago I heard someone quote Voltaire: “Anyone who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.” I wondered whether Voltaire really said or wrote that, so I went searching. On the Cato Institute website I found a 2020 article by Walter Olson called “The Origins of a Warning from Voltaire,” which linked to this passage from Voltaire’s Questions About Miracles (1765):

Il y a eu des gens qui ont dit autrefois : Vous croyez des choses incompréhensibles, contradictoires, impossibles, parce que nous vous l’avons ordonné ; faites donc des choses injustes parce que nous vous l’ordonnons. Ces gens-là raisonnaient à merveille. Certainement qui est en droit de vous rendre absurde est en droit de vous rendre injuste. Si vous n’opposez point aux ordres de croire l’impossible l’intelligence que Dieu a mise dans votre esprit, vous ne devez point opposer aux ordres de malfaire la justice que Dieu a mise dans votre cœur. Une faculté de votre âme étant une fois tyrannisée, toutes les autres facultés doivent l’être également. Et c’est là ce qui a produit tous les crimes religieux dont la terre a été inondée.

Formerly there were people who said: “You believe things that are incomprehensible, contradictory, impossible, because we have commanded you to believe them; now go and do unjust things because we command you to.” Those people show admirable reasoning. Surely whoever can make you be absurd can make you be unjust. If the God‐​given understanding of your mind does not resist a demand to believe what is impossible, then you will not resist a demand to do wrong to the God‐​given sense of justice in your heart. As soon as one faculty of your soul has been tyrannized, all the other faculties will be tyrannized as well. And that’s what has produced all the crimes of religion which have overrun the world.

So the version I heard on television is a pithier, stronger version of the original. Voltaire was criticizing religion, presumably Christianity. Two and a half centuries later, we can apply his analysis to the secular “woke” religion of our time, in which people are demanding that we believe things as absurd as that men can give birth. More about that next time.


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 25, 2022 at 4:35 AM

An archaeology of light

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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

Shedding some light on the colorful limestone overhang

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Last week you heard about and saw two pictures of a limestone overhang in a hard-to-reach section of Great Hills Park. I mentioned that direct sunlight never reaches the overhang’s wall and ceiling. That said, the floor of the overhang is a creek bed; with enough water in it, and with the sun low enough in the sky, some rays of light bounce off the water and onto the ceiling of the overhang. Because the water’s surface isn’t perfectly still, the reflected light shimmers overhead, as you see in today’s picture from June 10th.


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And here’s a clever quotation for today: “If somebody thinks I’m cherry-picking, show me the other part of the tree.” — Steven E. Koonin in a televised interview about his book Unsettled on May 25, 2021. Also unsettled is the question of why English speakers have picked cherry-pick rather than the alliterative peach-pick or plum-pick, or else apple-pick, lemon-pick, or some-other-fruit-pick. Maybe cherries got picked because they’re small, and therefore cherry-picking is like nit-picking. One thing’s for sure: cherries make for a much tastier pie than nits. And did you know that cherries was originally the singular of the word? We got it from Anglo-Norman cherise. But that sounded to the folks in merry old England like it was a plural, along the lines of berries and ferries, so they created a new singular, cherry. Linguists call that process back-formation, for which today’s picture of the geological formations at the back of the overhang is therefore appropriate. What fun to lead you from limestone to linguistic information and back again.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 26, 2021 at 4:32 AM

Ripples over bedrock in Bull Creek

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On my way to Stone Bridge Falls on July 10th I wore rubber boots so I could walk up the creek. In several shallow areas the patterns of the flowing water as it rippled over the bedrock caught my fancy and I gladly took a bunch of pictures. When you’re aiming straight down at such an abstract subject there’s no “proper” orientation; I turned this way and that as I looked to fill the frame in attractive ways. Here are two of them.

Our unrelated quotation for today comes from American humorist Will Rogers (1879–1935):
“I don’t make jokes. I just watch the government and report the facts.”

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 6, 2020 at 4:30 AM

New Zealand: Shadows and light at Riccarton Bush

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Three years ago today in Christchurch we visited Riccarton Bush,
where dense foliage created interplays of shadows and light.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 1, 2020 at 4:28 AM

Shimmering light

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One stretch of a Bull Creek tributary in my neighborhood flows beneath a limestone overhang. There are times when morning light filters through the trees, reflects off the surface of the water, and shimmers on the limestone wall of the overhang. July 8th at 9:04 was one of those times.

For the photographically curious: I took these pictures with a simple old 50mm lens wide open at f/1.4. Understandably, given the optics and the flowstoned face of the rocky overhang, not everything came out sharp, but somehow that hasn’t bothered me.

© 2019 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 16, 2019 at 4:46 AM

Fallingwater, falling light

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After decades of reading articles and seeing documentaries about it, on June 14th we finally made our way to Mill Run, Pennsylvania, for Fallingwater, the house that the architect Frank Lloyd Wright designed to straddle a waterfall rather than sit alongside it. The places where I most wanted to stand for pictures, the base of the main waterfall and the banks of the creek flowing away from it, unfortunately remain off limits to visitors. I can’t show you the pictures I might have made, so here instead are a few idiosyncratic takes on light and shadow at Fallingwater.

While I couldn’t look up from the base of the falls, I could and did aim straight down from the top.

© 2018 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 22, 2018 at 4:54 AM

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