Archive for the ‘photography’ Category

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This Land Is Your Land

August 25, 2016
Great Arch, Arches National Park, Utah

Great Arch, Arches National Park, Utah

One hundred years ago this day, an act signed by President Woodrow Wilson created the National Park Service. The monumental task of protecting the existing 35 national parks and monuments as well as any future additions fell to this new federal bureau. The current system of National Parks and Monuments covers more than 84 million acres in all 50 states and several territories.

These national parks have been called by some our country’s greatest treasure, and I would find that statement hard to argue with. The fact that these irreplaceable areas of natural beauty have been set aside and preserved from the rampant and often irresponsible overdevelopment by private interests that has plagued so much of our landscape is a credit to the foresight of those who led the preservation movement. And that is as it should be, for as Woody Guthrie sang, “This land was made for you and me.”

Cape Cod National Seashore, Massachusetts

Cape Cod National Seashore, Massachusetts

Some ask why we should care about setting aside these natural areas. The answer seems clear to me. That we can still find pristine beaches along which to walk, lakes and rivers yet unsullied by pollution, mountain ranges that haven’t been ravaged by mining companies, and forests still abundant with the flora and fauna native to this great land should be of comfort to all who take pride in this country. These places manifest the very soul of our nation. Even if everyone can’t see these parks in person, just knowing they exist can provide a kind of spiritual satisfaction.

Yosemite

Yosemite, California

In the excellent documentary series entitled Our Nation’s Best Idea, Ken Burns retells the story of the parks and the people who were so vital in their establishment and protection, some well-known and some unheralded: John Muir, Theodore Roosevelt, Stephen Mather, Charles Young, Harold Ickes, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Along with many ordinary unsung heroes, they often had to battle against those who sought to gain individual control or personal wealth. It took time and persistence, but the result of their staunch efforts and great vision is available for all to appreciate, for these park lands belong to us. They are part of our American heritage to be entrusted to each successive generation as living proof of the glory of this land.

Mt. Denali, Alaska

Mt. Denali, Denali National Park, Alaska

The desire on the part of some to violate the compact made to uphold these grounds as untouchable doggedly persists, though. Proposals of logging, mining, and drilling are a constant threat. I am among the many who hope that those who seek to intrude upon the sanctity of these areas in the name of exploitation of “needed” resources can be kept at bay. These shortsighted actions purportedly for our benefit need to be blocked because once the incursion is made, the damage done will be irreparable. We as a people deserve better than that.

Grand Teton

Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

Another concern is accommodating the increasing numbers of visitors. That requires a delicate balance that must be struck between the desired mass access to these areas and restrictions imposed to help retain the character of the parks. Those who have experienced the overcrowding during Old Faithful’s scheduled eruptions or bumper to bumper traffic on the Cades Cove Loop through Great Smoky Mountain understand this quandary. However, no prospective visitor should let the possible crowds dissuade him or her from visiting, for simply pulling over to park at one of the many trailheads will provide a portal just a short walk away from the throngs into the wonders of the land.

Zion, Utah

Zion National Park, Utah

I have been fortunate enough over the years to be able to spend time in many of our National Parks and Monuments. Their size and diversity are nothing short of staggering: the vast chasm of Grand Canyon, the incredible stone structures of Arches in Utah, the raw coastal grandeur of Acadia in Maine, the primal power of Volcano in Hawaii, the majestic peaks rising in the wilderness of Denali in Alaska, the serene other-worldly expanse of White Sands. Each has a character and beauty of its own. Every time I go, my spirit is restored as I reflect upon and appreciate the wonders of this land and all its natural splendor, and I am grateful to be a part of this grand American enterprise.

White Sands, New Mexico

White Sands National Monument, New Mexico

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Respect Your Mother Earth

April 22, 2015

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

“O beautiful for spacious skies,

For amber waves of grain,

For purple mountain majesties

Above the fruited plain!”

We first heard this as children in school, these lyrics of “America the Beautiful.” As a child, it was merely a song, but through the years as I traveled about this great country of ours, the words have taken on new meaning as I saw for myself the incredible splendors sprawled out from sea to shining sea. Each had a character and beauty of its own, and each left an indelible imprint in my memory. I do not exaggerate when I say that the natural wonders I beheld stirred my soul.

White Sands, New Mexico

White Sands, New Mexico

How could this not be so? Gaze upon the pure white other-worldly dunes of White Sands. Stand at the edge of the Grand Canyon and watch the sun rise over the vast crevice. Listen as the mighty waves of the Atlantic crash with a thunderous roar on the rocky coast of Maine. Walk in the sand as the seals bob their heads up in the surf along the pristine shoreline of Cape Cod National Seashore. How can the creations of mankind possibly match the staggering majesty of the Great Arch in Utah or the mighty Mt. Denali in Alaska? If you don’t believe me, next vacation, rather than visiting the artificial monuments of glass and steel and neon like Las Vegas, Hollywood, or Disney World, venture forth to explore the grandeur of the Tetons or Yosemite or Acadia or Big Sur. They all speak far more eloquently for themselves than I ever could. In the words of the great naturalist John Muir, “Keep close to Nature’s heart…and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.”

Mt. Denali, Alaska

Mt. Denali, Alaska

So today, April 22, the day which has been designated as Earth Day, the often distracted or oblivious inhabitants of this nation are reminded to reflect on and appreciate the wonders of this land and all its natural glory. As far as I’m concerned, this should be done every day. While we are at it, we might perhaps reconsider the shortsighted intrusions we make on it for our own “benefit.”

The native peoples of the past did not need Earth Day, for they had an instinctive reverence for the natural world and a realization of its delicate balance. It seems that “civilization” has made us arrogant, for the view that the land and all that is upon or under it is merely there for our exploitation is now prevalent. This is a shame that can become a tragedy, for humans have ignored this stark reality: if we do not take care of this planet, we will destroy it, and us along with it. This is not crazy talk. It is not the doomsday rambling of some overzealous tree hugger. It is science. It is common sense. And, in the long run, it is a matter of survival.

Great Arch, Arches National Park, Utah

Great Arch, Arches National Park, Utah

Natural resources are a finite entity. They are not a commodity to be manipulated for the benefit of national power, corporate stockholders, or personal convenience. Modern man has exploited the gifts of this Earth without regard for their potential depletion or the destruction that is the byproduct of their acquisition. We have disregarded the interconnected nature of all things that make up the ecology of this world, and in doing so, have created an imbalance that is spiraling out of control.

History shows that we constantly overestimate our ability to safely extract the materials that we want and dispose of their waste. The result has been the pollution and destruction of our only environment. How many oil spills, nuclear meltdowns, deforestations, slag heaps, chemical contaminations, oceanic plastic “swamps,” animal extinctions, fouled wells, garbage-laden landfills, toxic dumps, and poisoned water sources do we need to understand this?

upstate New York: another site for "fracking"?

upstate New York: another site for “fracking”?

The cry of some at the moment is more oil, more oil, more oil. Why? Because we need it? No, we do not need it. We just want it. We have become energy gluttons who value convenience over conservation. How about downsizing the gas-guzzling vehicles we seem to covet? How about using more mass transit or even walking or biking? How about foregoing the wasteful McMansions and living in reasonably sized houses with moderately controlled temperatures? How about greater support for developing and making use of the technologies that would allow us to produce energy without destroying our planet in the process?

Teton Range, Wyoming: let the drilling begin?

Teton Range, Wyoming: let the drilling begin?

Americans are the biggest culprits. We have perverted the concept of freedom and liberty into I-should-get-whatever-I-want-and-the-hell-with-everyone-else. That is not freedom; it is license. Just because we have the means and the power to do something does not mean we have the right to do it. Our avarice is reprehensible considering the consequences for the future of life on Earth.

I understand that there will be those who read this and shake their heads. They think this view is far-fetched and implausible. I’m afraid it will take nothing short of catastrophe to convince them. Perhaps they should speak to those folks from Bhopal, Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, Seveso, and the Love Canal who also once felt that way. Until it happened to them, that is.

We do not have unlimited time to solve the problem even if the skeptics change their view. The very things that make life possible are being endangered, and damage that is being done now to our atmosphere and oceans cannot be reversed. Unlike the dinosaurs, we will have no one to blame for our extinction but ourselves. If you listen carefully at this very moment, you might be able to hear the sorrowful cries of your Mother Earth as she witnesses the betrayal of the humans who inhabit her. Or perhaps that is just the sound of the ice caps melting.

“When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.” -- John Muir

“When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.” — John Muir

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A Spy in Their Midst

January 20, 2015
reader

the reader

I have tens of thousands of photographs. They come in all forms and sizes — prints and slides and digital images — stored in shoeboxes and plastic containers and computer files. They are the consequence of five decades of taking pictures of everything imaginable: natural and man-made wonders, creatures great and small, flowers and plants, mundane objects of various shapes or colors or textures, and all manner of oddities that just happened to catch my eye. However, I have taken relatively few photos of people.

The reason is simple. I have always felt uncomfortable invading the privacy of others. A photograph of someone (other than one who is willingly posing) is — at least in my mind — stealing a moment of his or her life and preserving it without consent.

street artist, Rome

street artist

On rare occasions I have taken a chance with those who are not aware of my camera pointed in their direction. The safety of stealthily stolen shots does not much ease my conscience, though, for it still violates the principle.

Sometimes when I walk around in a city, I feel almost invisible and find the boldness to capture a few images of those around me. Much like a spy in their midst, I secretively aim my camera, take the shot, and then make a hasty getaway into the crowd. Every so often, I am caught in the act, and the look on the face of my subject still startles me each time I see it.

boys at play

caught in the act

Even though I have trouble taking them, I very much admire such photos. Somehow the frozen moments of these other lives caught in the act of even the most ordinary activities can be fascinating. But it takes a particular set of skills and personal traits to be able to do so effectively. Few photographers have mastered this art. I envy those who have the ability to capture these sometimes haunting images of others as they inhabit the world around us.

Whenever I go to a museum, I seek out their photos in the exhibition spaces: Weegee, Walker Evans, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Frank, Gary Winogrand. A wealth of common human experience is seen through their lenses and enshrined in perpetuity for the rest of us to observe in wonder.

funhouse

funhouse

Vivian Maier was one such photographer. Everywhere she went her camera would be strapped around her neck. She too took thousands of photos — strange photos, wonderful photos, most of them photos of people, children playing and ladies standing on their block and down-and-out men on the street and anyone else that caught her eye and her interest. Hers are brilliant.

This amazing talent remained undiscovered until after her death in 2009. A Chicago man named John Maloof bought boxes of her negatives at an auction. When he began viewing them, they revealed the work of an immensely talented — and totally unknown — photographer. This led him on a journey of discovery to find out who this mysterious person could be.

As it turned out, Vivian Maier lived a strange life, one shrouded in privacy. Serving as a nanny for many different families, she was a recluse, a hoarder, and an eccentric individualist. Watching the documentary Finding Vivian Maier about Maloof’s exploration of her life and art affected me deeply. The same qualities that allowed her to be a great street photographer caused such isolation and loneliness in her personal life. I greatly admire her work, but I am saddened by the troubled soul that was the source of its creation.

In spite of that last fact, she has inspired me to go back into the street to try my hand again at this type of photography. Once when asked what she did, she replied that she was “a kind of spy,” and it is that mindset which I think may be necessary to allow one the permission to engage in this endeavor. So a spy I shall be, and if in doing so I can accomplish a mere fraction of the artistic level she attained, I will be a happy man.

great view

great view

 

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Shutterbug

February 14, 2013
Dusk at Cape Cod

the constant search

shut·ter·bug [shuht-er-buhg] noun (Informal) an amateur photographer, especially one who is greatly devoted to the hobby

I recently embarked on an endeavor called Project 365. Though it sounds like some kind of secret UFO operation, it actually involves taking a photograph every day for a year (hence the 365). These photos are then posted on a website where others of a like mind have done the same. The aforementioned others are from across the nation and around the world. They, like me, are shutterbugs.

I’m not sure how this idea sounds to anyone not enthralled by photography, but since I am, I dove right in when my sister introduced me to this project. Taking a photo a day may sound simple, but that’s not necessarily the case. I, for one, would not be content with just any photo. It has to have some merit, either aesthetically or because of some meaningful connection to my life that particular day. This can be challenging. I had not been in the habit of taking my camera everywhere I go. This actually has turned out to be a beneficial practice, though, for so often over the years I have thought to myself, “Wow, that would be a great picture.” Except I had no camera. Now I do.

And what are the subjects of these photographs? Anything and everything. Whatever might catch my eye at any odd moment. The everyday world (as opposed to the Vacation World where most photography seems to take place) is full of seemingly mundane sights that are interesting and beautiful in their own right with a virtually infinite combination of shapes, colors, and textures. Light and shadow can transform something simple into the sublime. Through the lens of a camera, one often really sees rather than merely looks.

vineyard, Oregon

light and shadow

Photographs have been part of my life as far back as I can remember. I recall with great fondness the “snapshots” of the 1950’s. Even as a child I was fascinated by those black and white images on the small square prints with the serrated edges. I still have albums filled with these, a chronicle of my sister and I growing up: birthday parties, Christmases and Halloweens, visiting relatives, and family travel.

My first experience taking pictures took place during a Boy Scout trip to Stewart Air Force Base. I had apparently proven my trustworthiness to use the old Brownie to take some snapshots of my own. I was thrilled. Having only one bit of parental advice (“keep the sun at your back”), I charged into this world of photography with great gusto but less than ideal results. No matter; this budding hobby soon turned into a lifelong passion.

one of my first photos, Boy Scout buddies at Stewart AFB

one of my first photos, Boy Scout buddies at Stewart AFB

Over the ensuing years, my equipment changed, but only very gradually, partly at the mercy of a very restricted budget and partly because of a reluctance on my part to forge into the technological unknown (an aspect those who know me well are familiar with). I used a simple Kodak “box” camera at first, then graduated to an Instamatic. This Instamatic served me well all the way into my early twenties. It was the camera I brought with me to record my incredible Peace Corps experience in the Philippines. Here, though, I gained my first exposure to the 35mm cameras used by some of my older colleagues, and I knew this must be in my future so startlingly better were their results. When I returned to the states, I acquired my Minolta SLR, my companion for the next three decades. I joined the digital era only when an accident claimed the Minolta, and I now am firmly ensconced.

an Instamatic shot from the Philippines

an Instamatic shot from the Philippines

The many albums and even greater number of plastic boxes containing thousands of photographs and slides from these years attest to my enthusiasm. These have been joined by over twenty-two thousand digital images burdening my computer’s hard drive. They are a remembrance of our wonderful travels. They have captured memories of weddings and friends old and new and those who are no longer with us. These are moments of our lives frozen in time, and they have become essential possessions, one of the first things most people would try to save in the event of a fire or other disaster.

How to explain this seemingly irrational obsession? It is somewhat like what my wife and I do at the beach. Each time we go — and that is quite often — we walk miles along the sand searching for shells. Our collection is large and consists of shells of all sizes, shapes, colors, and condition (yes, stored in the basement near the photographs and slides). They are from shorelines from Cape Cod to Captiva. But the next time we’re at the beach, wherever it may be, we will look again. Why? The never-ending search for the Perfect Shell.

So it is with photography. As good as a photo may be, there is always that possibility for an even better one. And is there such a thing as a Perfect Photo (or Shell)? Probably not, but this desire to find one lies so deep within our nature that it can never be satisfied. So for as long as hope exists, we shutterbugs will be out there with our cameras, focused on the world around us, trying to capture that elusive image that will shake our souls and still our hearts.

a simple beauty of nature

the simple beauty of nature

http://365project.org/dakotaburns/365

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Respect Your Mother Earth

April 22, 2012

“O beautiful for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain, for purple mountain majesties above the fruited plain!”

We first heard this as children in school, these lyrics of “America the Beautiful.” As a child, it was merely a song, but through the years as I have traveled about this great country of ours, the words have taken on new meaning as I saw for myself the incredible splendors sprawled out from sea to shining sea. Each had a character and beauty of its own, and each left an indelible imprint in my memory. I do not exaggerate when I say that the natural wonders I beheld stirred my soul.

White Sands, New Mexico

How could this not be so? Gaze upon the pure white other-worldly dunes of White Sands. Stand at the edge of the Grand Canyon and watch the sun rise over the vast crevice. Listen as the mighty waves of the Atlantic crash with a thunderous roar on the rocky coast of Maine.  Walk in the sand as the seals bob their heads up in the surf along the pristine shoreline of Cape Cod National Seashore. How can the creations of mankind possibly match the staggering majesty of the Great Arch in Utah or the mighty Mt. Denali in Alaska? If you don’t believe me, next vacation, rather than visiting the artificial monuments of glass and steel and neon like Las Vegas, Hollywood, or Disney World, venture forth to explore the grandeur of the Tetons or Yosemite or Acadia or Big Sur. They all speak far more eloquently for themselves than I ever could. In the words of the great naturalist John Muir, “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.”

Mt. Denali, Alaska

So today, April 22, the day which has been designated as Earth Day, the often distracted or oblivious inhabitants of this nation are reminded to reflect on and appreciate the wonders of this land and all its natural glory. As far as I’m concerned, this should be done every day. While we are at it, we might perhaps reconsider the shortsighted intrusions we make on it for our own “benefit.”

The native peoples of the past did not need Earth Day, for they had an instinctive reverence for the natural world and a realization of its delicate balance. It seems that “civilization” has made us arrogant, for the view that the land and all that is upon or under it is merely there for our exploitation is now prevalent. This is a shame that can become a tragedy, for humans have ignored this stark reality:  if we do not take care of this planet, we will destroy it, and us along with it. This is not crazy talk. It is not the doomsday rambling of some overzealous tree hugger. It is science. It is common sense. And, in the long run, it is a matter of survival.

Great Arch, Arches National Park, Utah

Natural resources are a finite entity. They are not a commodity to be manipulated for the benefit of national power, corporate stockholders, or personal convenience. Modern man has exploited the gifts of this Earth without regard for their potential depletion or the destruction that is the byproduct of their acquisition. We have disregarded the interconnected nature of all things that make up the ecology of this world, and in doing so, have created an imbalance that is spiraling out of control.

History shows that we constantly overestimate our ability to safely extract the materials that we want and dispose of their waste. The result has been the pollution and destruction of our only environment. How many oil spills, nuclear meltdowns, deforestations, slag heaps, chemical contaminations, oceanic plastic “swamps,” animal extinctions, fouled wells, garbage-laden landfills, toxic dumps, and poisoned water sources do we need to understand this?

upstate New York: another site for “fracking”?

The cry of some at the moment is more oil, more oil, more oil. Why? Because we need it? No, we do not need it. We just want it. We have become energy gluttons who value convenience over conservation. How about downsizing the gas-guzzling vehicles we seem to covet? How about using more mass transit or even walking or biking? How about foregoing the wasteful McMansions and living in reasonably sized houses with moderately controlled temperatures? How about greater support for developing and making use of the technologies that would allow us to produce energy without destroying our planet in the process?

Teton Range, Wyoming: let the drilling begin?

Americans are the biggest culprits. We have perverted the concept of freedom and liberty into I-should-get-whatever-I-want-and-the-hell-with-everyone-else. That is not freedom; it is license. Just because we have the means and the power to do something does not mean we have the right to do it. Our avarice is reprehensible considering the consequences for the future of life on Earth.

I understand that there will be those who read this and shake their heads. They think this view is far-fetched and implausible. I’m afraid it will take nothing short of catastrophe to convince  them. Perhaps they should speak to those folks from Bhopal, Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, Seveso, and the Love Canal who also once felt that way. Until it happened to them, that is.

We do not have unlimited time to solve the problem even if the skeptics change their view. The very things that make life possible are being endangered, and damage that is being done now to our atmosphere and oceans cannot be reversed. Unlike the dinosaurs, we will have no one to blame for our extinction but ourselves. If you listen carefully at this very moment, you might be able to hear the sorrowful cries of your Mother Earth as she witnesses the betrayal of the humans who inhabit her. Or perhaps that is just the sound of the ice caps melting.

“When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.” -- John Muir

“When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.” — John Muir