Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Posts Tagged ‘minimalist

Portraits from our yard: episode 11

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On July 15th artsy me couldn’t resist making this portrait of a Turk’s cap flower
(Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii) viewed from the tip of its long central column.


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Probably not a day goes by when I don’t learn about yet another outlandish thing going on in my country. Look at the headline for an August 5th article in Blaze Media: “Female inmate now pregnant after California pro-trans policy forces women’s prisons to house biological men despite prisoners’ pleas, warnings….” Yup, California passed a law allowing any male prisoner who “identifies” as female to request a transfer to a women’s prison.

“Female prisoners and women’s advocacy groups pled with the state of California not to implement a new pro-transgender law that would force state prisons to accept biological males. The inmates and their advocates warned Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) and his administration that nothing good could come of it, citing fears of abuse, sexual disease, and pregnancy.

“In response to these concerns, the state … handed out condoms and pregnancy resources.”

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 13, 2021 at 6:37 AM

Portraits from our yard: episode 10

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Do you remember the white avens (Geum canadense) buds and flowers you saw here recently?
From our back yard on July 22nd comes this view of a white avens seed head.
Its hooks are obviously intended to get caught on the fur of passing animals.


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One morning last week we took a stroll through a nearby part of our neighborhood. When a woman walking her dog came near us, I asked her with no prelude, as I recently started doing to find out how people feel: “What do you think about the current state of our country?” She indicated that she wasn’t happy with it: “Somebody needs to start doing something.” Then she mentioned her young grandson and said she was optimistic that he would turn things around. I followed up: “But do you think we have enough time to wait for him to grow up and do that?” After a few seconds’ thought she said: “No.”

The woman told us her name is Lenore. “Like the Lenore that Poe wrote about?” I asked. She said that was it, that her father was fond of Poe’s works. “So he actually named you Lenore because of Poe’s poem?” “Yes,” she replied, and then she quoted from “The Raven”: “a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore.” You never know what interesting things you’ll find out when you talk to strangers.

Just a few houses before the place where we encountered Lenore I’d noticed a yard sign for an organization called Braver Angels. Having never heard of it, I looked it up:

Our mission is to bring Americans together to bridge the partisan divide and strengthen our democratic republic.

We do so by observing the Braver Angels Way:

We state ours views freely and fully, without fear.

We welcome opportunities to engage with those with whom we disagree.

We treat people who disagree with us with honesty and respect.

We seek to disagree accurately, avoiding exaggeration and stereotypes.

We look for common ground where it exists, and if possible, find ways to work together.

We believe that all of us have blind spots and none of us are not worth talking to.

We believe that, in disagreements, both sides share and learn. In Braver Angels, neither side is teaching the other or giving feedback on how to think or say things differently.

Our work ethic is citizen-leadership; we’re many volunteers assisted by a professional staff.

We’re guided by the Braver Angels Rule: At every level of organizational guidance, red and blue leaders are equally represented. Regarding race, ethnicity, and social and economic class, our constant striving is to be an organization that reflects the country we seek to serve.

Sounds like Lenore is getting her wish without having to wait for her grandson to grow up. Somebody is doing something.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 12, 2021 at 4:33 AM

Posted in nature photography

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The long floral stalks of gulf vervain

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What distinguishes gulf vervain, Verbena xutha, from other kinds of verbena here is its long and slender flower stalks, which can be straight, curved, or sinuous. The first picture shows you some at the Riata Trace pond on July 30th. When I found a group out in the open I got down on the ground and aimed upward for an artsy minimalist portrait.


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Glenn Loury has written an inaugural essay for The Journal of Free Black Thought. In the essay he quotes a sentence from Ephesians and says that “Bad ideas are the ‘principalities and powers’ that reside in the heads—the ‘high places’—of flesh-and-blood people. These bad ideas need to be combated and overcome by good ideas.” In so saying, he pushes back against the censorship that has rapidly become common in our media. Loury notes that the new journal “is dedicated to the principle that in a liberal democracy, viewpoint diversity and the airing of ideas—all ideas, even ideas that we’re told aren’t properly ‘black’—are essential components in the struggle of good ideas against bad.” That sounds like a good idea to me.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 11, 2021 at 4:43 AM

Portraits from our yard: episode 8

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In a comment on an earlier post showing a Turk’s cap flower (Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii) in our yard on July 15th, Gallivanta asked whether the characteristic long central column is always upright. The fact is that while most of those columns do grow straight, some curve and some eventually fall off or get broken off. Today’s post shows you those two situations.


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There’s no “official” name for the beliefs that constitute a large part of current leftist ideology. Some people use the term “wokeism,” others “illiberalism,” and still others “critical race theory” (CRT). By whatever name you care to call that ideology, the American educational establishment is increasingly pushing it into our public schools. When opponents of that indoctrination call out the educational establishment for their illiberal beliefs and practices, some of the people in charge have resorted to the sophistic defense that what they’re promoting is not CRT. That’s what the head of the second-largest teachers union, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), did on July 6th: “Let’s be clear: Critical race theory is not taught in elementary schools or high schools. It’s a method of examination taught in law school and college that helps analyze whether systemic racism exists.” But as Shakespeare reminded us in Hamlet: “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” The lady in question is named Weingarten.

Shakespeare also wrote, this time in Romeo and Juliet: “That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet”—only in this case, that which teachers unions refuse to call critical race theory, by any other name would be as foul. When we consider recent utterances by people in the teachers unions, as well as recent documents they’ve produced, it’s clear that they are pushing transgressive beliefs. (You’re welcome to read a student’s confirmation.) The largest American teachers union is the National Education Association (NEA). Look at this New Business Item from the period June 30–July 3, 2021:

The NEA will, with guidance on implementation from the NEA president and chairs of the Ethnic Minority Affairs Caucuses:

A. Share and publicize, through existing channels, information already available on critical race theory (CRT) — what it is and what it is not; have a team of staffers for members who want to learn more and fight back against anti-CRT rhetoric; and share information with other NEA members as well as their community members.

B. Provide an already-created, in-depth, study that critiques empire, white supremacy, anti-Blackness, anti-Indigeneity, racism, patriarchy, cisheteropatriarchy, capitalism, ableism, anthropocentrism, and other forms of power and oppression at the intersections of our society, and that we oppose attempts to ban critical race theory and/or The 1619 Project.

Aside from the jargony crock pot of crackpot shibboleths enumerated in the last paragraph, notice the irony in the largest teachers union wanting to “fight back against anti-CRT” and to “oppose attempts to ban critical race theory”—the very thing they claim they’re not teaching!

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 9, 2021 at 4:43 AM

White on white

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Speaking of Liberty Hill on May 6th—as I did in yesterday’s post—here’s a stark double portrait I made of white milkwort, Polygala alba, in front of a blackfoot (but white-flowered) daisy, Melampodium leucanthum.

And speaking of Liberty Hill today, I’ll add that a country isn’t worth a hill of beans if its citizens don’t have the liberty to say what they think without having it suppressed. And it doesn’t matter who’s doing the suppressing: the government, heads of corporations, people in sports, the news media, students on campuses, gangs in street mobs, ideological fanatics in online mobs—suppression is still suppression.

On a lighter note about liberty, I’ll add that the Latin word for ‘children’ was līberī, literally ‘the free ones.’

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 2, 2021 at 4:37 AM

What is this?

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I’m guessing you’ll have no idea what this is. If you’re up for a challenge, pause for a bit to contemplate the photograph and try to figure out what you’re seeing, then continue reading below for an explanation. Of course you’re welcome to tell us what you imagined this abstract picture shows.

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On April 25th I found that some rain-lilies (Zephyranthes drummondii) in my neighborhood had gotten well past the flowering stage and had produced seed capsules, so I set about photographing a few of them. Rain-lily leaves are typically only a third of an inch wide yet can grow to 12 inches long. Given those dimensions, the leaves usually end up lying on the ground, but I noticed that one rain-lily leaf had draped itself over a prickly pear cactus pad, with the result that the leaf’s distal portion was suspended in the air. I conceived the idea of taking pictures tip-on, so to speak, even as a bit of breeze complicated my task by causing the leaf to move somewhat. This minimalist portrait with almost nothing in focus is one result of my experiments. Prickly pear cactus buds on an adjacent pad became the orange orbs you see at the lower right.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 5, 2021 at 4:41 AM

A new take on pearl milkweed flowers

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If it’s a colorful and detailed take on the flowers of the pearl milkweed vine that you’re after, I’ve already shown Matelea reticulata that way. On April 25th in my neighborhood the low-angle glancing sunlight was such that I went for the unconventional view you see here, with its high contrast, minimalism, and abstraction. The little spectrum-like line segments at the lower right came from spider silk refracting the light.

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“Reformers used to look for the next wrong to right. Now activists look for the next right thing to make wrong.” — S.S.

Illiberal ideologues in my country have been increasingly pushing the crazy notion that objectivity is a tool of white supremacy. Those obsessed activists include mathematics in the objectivity they despise, and they claim it’s not really important for students to get right answers in mathematics. That’s the same mathematics that allows us to deliver electricity to homes and businesses to run appliances and machines; that lets researchers determine whether a new medicine is effective; that lets companies build computers and smart phones and bridges and cars and planes; that lets engineers calculate the orbits of the satellites that enable global navigation and communication; and on and on and on. While the American educational establishment is busy making sure students here don’t learn much of anything except secular religious dogma, Chinese leaders continue relentlessly forward in their plan for ever greater hegemony.

The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) measures the international scholastic performance of 15-year-olds in mathematics, science, and reading. You can see the 2018 results for 77 or 78 countries. In all three subjects China was #1. The United States came in 13th in reading, 18th in science, and a dismal 37th in mathematics. I guess our innumerate ideologues don’t know enough arithmetic to understand that when it comes to rankings, larger numbers aren’t better than smaller ones—either that, or those zealots are happy that American kids are showing their anti-racism by refusing to internalize as inherently white supremacist a subject as mathematics.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 3, 2021 at 4:42 AM

Texas persimmon trunk

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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

Time again for ladies’ tresses orchids

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Last fall I found exactly zero Great Plains ladies’ tresses orchids (Spiranthes magnicamporum) at a site in northwest Austin that I’ve been going to for over a decade to photograph them. This year, tipped off by Meg Inglis on October 19th that the ladies’ tresses in her area a little west of Austin had already been coming out for a while, I went to “my” property on October 24th and soon located a dozen or so, even though it was unusually early in the season for me to expect any there. I photographed several of the orchids from the side, which is “normal,” but I also had the urge to do some limited-focus portraits looking down from above for a change. The brown around the spike of spiraling flowers came from drying leaves on the ground.

UPDATE. It occurred to me that you may not know what a ladies’ tresses orchid looks like, so here’s a conventional view taken at the same site six years ago. Within that post is a link to a more esthetic view from the side.

And here’s a relevant quotation for today: “To me, photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place… I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.” — Elliott Erwitt.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 30, 2020 at 4:26 AM

Little bluestem in front of gayfeather flowers

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You’ve already had two posts from September 15th along FM 2769 in far northwest Austin showing Liatris punctata, known as gayfeather and blazing-star. In one you saw normal purple flowers, and in the other white flowers. In today’s photograph the gayfeather plays a supporting role (though colorfully a dominant one) behind a stalk of little bluestem grass, Schizachyrium scoparium, a part of which had turned brown in anticipation of approaching autumn.

And here’s an unrelated quotation for today: “When a theory really has got your brain in its grip, contradictory evidence—even evidence you already know—sometimes becomes invisible.” — Jordan Ellenberg, How Not to Be Wrong.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 7, 2020 at 4:44 AM

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