Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Along the Way I've Learned

By Divine Ms. Moon

Clouds are not the cheeks of angels, you know
They’re only clouds.
Friendly sometimes, but you can never be sure.
If I had longer arms I’d push the clouds away
or I’d make them hang above the water
somewhere else,
But I’m just a man who needs and wants,
mostly things he’ll never have.
Looking for that thing thats hardest to find:

I’ve been going a long time now
along the way I’ve learned some things.
You have to make the good times yourself,
take the little times and make them big times,
and save the times that are all right
for the ones that aren’t so good.
I’ve never been able to push
the clouds away by myself.
Help me.

                              ~ Rod McKuen

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Life Imitating Art

"To create one's own world takes courage."
~ Georgia O'Keeffe

By Divine Ms. Moon
A couple of posts down, I posted a trumpet flower painted by Georgia O'Keeffe. This is my photographic interpretation of her flower. Slowly, but surely, I am creating my own photography style. The risk of sharing that style with the world is what takes courage. 

As O'Keeffe observed, "
I'm frightened all the time. But I never let it stop me. Never!"

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Photographing Light

Give light and the darkness
will disappear of itself.
~ Desiderius Erasmus

Whenever I visit the Twin Cities, I always try to stay at the same hotel. It’s not the best hotel in the world, or even in the Twin Cities, but it has easy access on and off the Interstate, and I can park my car for however long I am there. My daughter is more than happy to chauffeur us, and I am more than happy to let her. Notwithstanding that I cut my driving chops in the large urban area where I grew up, the freeway maze that is the Twin Cities completely baffles me. But the principal reason I love to stay at this particular hotel is not parking, nor is it the restaurant, which is awful. And it’s not the rooms, which are adequate, but nothing special. On hockey-game nights, private security guards patrol the hallways. In short, it’s not the Ritz. I’ve stayed at a Ritz Carlton, and believe me, I can tell the difference. No, what I really love about this hotel is the view.

But, you ask, how can this be, if it’s right on the Interstate?

Well, this is how –

By Divine Ms. Moon
From the front of the hotel, the view is full on to the South – and right smack in the middle of the view, across about 10 lanes of freeway, is the exquisite Cathedral of St. Paul, the signature landmark of the City of St. Paul. There is an urban myth -- not true -- that F. Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda Sayre were married in this church many years ago. In other words, there’s history here. 

Although I am not at all religious, church architecture fascinates me. The Cathedral of St. Paul, being of somewhat indeterminate style, has everything  -- domes, and cupolas, bell towers, “rose” windows, and all the dental molding that anyone could wish for. I love to photograph the Cathedral in varying light conditions. In this way, I am trying to imitate what Claude Monet did with his “series” paintings in the 1890s. The photo above is perhaps my favorite. It was taken at sunrise from my seventh floor hotel room window. I managed to capture the warmth of the morning light without getting any glare or reflection from the glass. In short, I got lucky.

By Divine Ms. Moon
The above photo was taken from pretty much the same spot in my hotel room, but at night. It’s not the perfect photo, as it suffers from a bit of low-light wobble, but I really liked the illusion that the Cathedral is floating in a luminous pool.  

On other evenings, my daughter and I have explored the Cathedral from different angles. The photo below was taken this spring, at dusk, from a street that runs behind the Cathedral. The sapphire evening glow was pretty much as seen here. But to me, the most interesting thing about this photo is the cross at the top of the cupola, which appears to be in front of the branch of the tree. But that was not so -- rather, I was standing hundreds of feet away from the Cathedral, and that tree was planted into the sidewalk, just a few feet to my right. 

By Divine Ms. Moon
I have no ready explanation for this phenomenon, except that it reminds me a little of how clouds sometimes appear to disappear behind the Moon.

Musical Interlude
Norah Jones, "The Nearness of You"

The next photo was taken the same evening as the one above, but a little later, and much closer, looking up. I’m not very religious, but I was awestruck by how the camera interpreted that tower light as gleaming out like a beacon. That’s not exactly how it appeared to the eye. I remember wondering whether the Cathedral’s architect ever saw the light in this particular way.  

By Divine Ms. Moon

Below is one last look at the Cathedral, captured in the pale, cold light of a late fall morning, Other than light, what distinguishes this photograph from the two photographs at the beginning of this post? Simply stated, the streetlight that appears in this photo, which was taken from ground level, vanishes like magic when the Cathedral is photographed from the seventh floor. 

By Divine Ms. Moon
And, finally, just as every Cracker Jack box has a surprise inside, this post also has a surprise inside. The photo below shows the view from the other side of my hotel, taken from the parking lot one evening after my daughter and I returned from dinner. What is that big building that dominates this photo? It’s the Minnesota Capitol building, which has been undergoing renovations for the past several years, explaining the scaffolding.

By Divine Ms. Moon
Pretty impressive, huh? And this is only the second-best view. I hope you can see why I really love to stay at this hotel, and always will, although it’s absolutely not the Ritz. 

Thursday, July 5, 2012

My World for a Moment

Georgia O'Keeffe
White Trumpet Flower (1932)

"When you take a flower in your hand and really look at it,
it's your world for the moment. I want to give that world to someone else. 
Most people in the city rush around so, they have no time to look at a flower. 
I want them to see it whether they want to or not."

~ Georgia O'Keeffe

Urban Adventures ~ A Mother/Daughter Moment

“Wait,” I said to my daughter, as we were driving along the Cedar Avenue Bridge over I-94 on a chilly Sunday morning in late October. 

“There has to be some way to get that skyline shot.”

A view of downtown Minneapolis, looking west
By Divine Ms. Moon
“Mom, I can’t stop in the middle of the bridge,” my daughter replied testily. Somehow, I sensed she might be losing patience with me.

“No, you’re right.” I tried to sound conciliatory. For two seconds. “But maybe there’s a place over there where we can pull over and I can get it.” I waved my hand vaguely to my right --

-- and immediately I heard a sigh to my left. 

“You know there won’t be any place to park, and I can’t just pull over or I’ll get a ticket.” That wasn’t the first time I heard my daughter say the same thing during the course of the weekend. She evidently has a little experience with the Minneapolis parking police.

“Oh, please,” I said in my best wheedling voice. “How about over there – it looks like there’s a parking lot right past that huge apartment building.”

Skeptical, but familiar with her mother’s wheedling, my daughter dutifully turned right at the light and then delivered the mail, “We can’t park in that lot. We don’t have a permit.”

“Well,” I replied, in a quietly triumphant tone. “What about those parking meters?” And sure enough, to our right was a row of unoccupied parking meters stretching half a block or so, almost to the end of the street, where it turned abruptly to the left. The street turned left because the Interstate, in all its glorious hubbub, was just beyond. As I gloated, my daughter pulled over and parked next to the last meter, which was only about 25 feet from the chain link barrier that separated us from the big road. 

Sure enough, it was my lucky day.

And I was duly ecstatic. My daughter, however, was still skeptical, especially given that the top of the chain link barrier was at about chin level for me, and was also draped with vines, meaning I would have to hold the camera up beyond my comfort zone to get any kind of shot. She hates to see me suffer, and it was admittedly cold outside, so she stayed in the car. I got out and plugged the meter optimistically.

After watching me struggle for a few minutes, my daughter joined me at the fence, but despite the fact that she is nearly ten inches taller than I am, she didn’t offer to take pictures for me. Which is just as well because that was not the point of this exercise. Whether she was trying to hurry me along or merely amused by the sight is difficult to say. Or maybe she was just there to commune with the squirrel that was hissing at me loudly from the scraggly tree immediately to my right. As a vegetarian, my daughter no doubt saw that squirrel as another child of the universe. I saw the tree it was sitting in as yet another barrier between me and my shot.

Anyway, despite all these impediments, I managed to get a few reasonably decent photos. I remained frustrated, however, because they still weren’t exactly what I wanted. Finally, I lowered my camera and told my daughter I’d had enough.

She agreed.

But … as we turned and began walking back to the car, I happened to look back. I often do this because sometimes I’ll see a shot I missed. Sure enough. 

“Aha,” I said. “What a fool I’ve been.” My daughter took no issue with that. “I can use those vines, rather than fighting against them.”

"Aha," I said again.

My daughter said, “Mom, it’s cold out here.”

And sure enough, it was.

Reblogged, with editing changes, from another place and time, this is an account of an actual conversation with my daughter that occurred in the Fall of 2010. My daughter has never openly taken issue with the accuracy of my narrative. But then again, my daughter is familiar with my wheedling. In fact, this account is generally consistent with all of our conversations. 

What I never have understood is exactly what the expression "sure enough" means.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

A Fine Night for Looking Up

Georgia O'Keeffe
"The Lawrence Tree" (1929)

"I often lay on that bench looking up into the tree, 
past the trunk and up into the branches. 
It was particularly fine at night with the stars above the tree."
~ Georgia O'Keeffe

Finding Serenity

By Divine Ms. Moon

"A garden must combine the poetic and the mysterious
with a feeling of serenity and joy."
~ Luis Barragan

Travelogue ~ Chasing Geological History (Part 1)

Ever since college, the geographical and geological history of my home state has been of some interest to me. Most of Wisconsin was, at one time, covered with glaciers. Nowadays, I happen to live in the southwestern corner of the state, where the physical geography was such that the glaciers never came here. The topography of this “driftless” area is different from the rest of the state in several ways. In general, this area is hillier than those areas that were ground down by the power of giant moving slabs of ice. On the other hand, while there are hills and ridges and valleys, there are no familiar glacial features such as drumlins, kames, and glacial pothole lakes. Glaciers are partly why Wisconsin has more than 12,000 lakes, about half of which are named either “Round” or “Trout” or “Long.” Almost none of these otherwise ubiquitous pothole lakes are located in my corner of the state. 

Store this information away because its importance will eventually become apparent -- with any luck that will occur sometime before the glaciers come again.

Musical Interlude
"Terror at Trout Lake"

My daughter Moonbeam (not her real name) is 28, and ever since we got over the rocky teenage years, she has been in many ways the best friend that a mother could have. She is a wonderful companion, and she is, fortunately, interested in many of the same things I am. One of these is history. Beam attended college in the Twin Cities, and earned a fine arts degree. She is an aspiring artist with a pretty responsible day job and a nice apartment in a beautiful, upscale area of St. Paul. Since I have been living alone, I have visited Moonbeam in the Cities several times. We have had a few urban adventures, most of which have involved Beam’s indulgence of my fledgling photography hobby. 

During one such visit last fall, we decided to venture outside the urban environment and explore some place that neither of us had seen before. We chose a day trip to Stillwater, a small, touristy town located just north of the Interstate, about 15 miles east of the Cities, along the St. Croix River.  Stillwater is a very old town, with many quaint shops and restaurants lining its main thoroughfare.

By Divine Ms. Moon
After some obligatory shopping for vintage items and a much-needed coffee break, we stopped briefly at the edge of the river so I could take a few photos before heading north to find out what else there might be to see.  This photo was taken from the river walkway and shows a rather unusual “vertical lift” bridge that connects Stillwater on the Minnesota side with Wisconsin on the other side.

By Divine Ms. Moon
Turning in the other direction, we observed several riverboats, some modern, and some more traditional, that had been parked at the end of the walkway, presumably bedded down for the season.

By Divine Ms. Moon
The St. Croix is a substantial river that divides the northern part of Wisconsin from Minnesota and ultimately joins the Mississippi just south of Hudson, Wisconsin. We anticipated having a chance to get some good views of it, but the ride north from Stillwater proved somewhat disappointing as lookouts over the water are surprisingly few and far between. Fortunately, it was early autumn, which meant that the early colors were beginning to appear.

By Divine Ms. Moon
Looking back from the same spot that I was standing to take the above photo revealed a delightful panorama view of Stillwater, now to the south, with sunlight dancing across the water. The city was actually much farther away than it appears here, owing to the power of the zoom camera. In some ways, Stillwater reminded me of the little tourist towns in Door County, Wisconsin, and in particular the harbor at Ephraim, which is similarly picturesque.

By Divine Ms. Moon
And that was about it for our day last fall. We drove north for a while longer without finding another vista of the river. When we reached Highway 8, we decided it was time to turn back and head for home. Along the way, we came across a quirky little sculpture garden that contained such fine objets d’art as this.  You might not be surprised to learn that we didn’t stay here long. Moonbeam astutely characterized it as "creepy."

By Divine Ms. Moon

As we traveled south, I amused myself by snapping a few sky photos from the car, as shown below. The light was interesting that afternoon, changeable without being threatening. Despite appearances, there was no rain in those clouds.

By Divine Ms. Moon
When we got back to Stillwater, the clouds had cleared off, and we stopped briefly to take a few pictures looking down the river. This is the same lift bridge shown above, viewed from the opposite side, as it opened to let a small boat pass through.

By Divine Ms. Moon

For the active mind, it is always a full day when you are exploring things you have never seen before. But we didn't learn much about geology that day, or even much about the St. Croix River. It took another trip, this past spring, to accomplish that. 

My Kind of Fireworks

By Divine Ms. Moon

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Sometimes a Flower ....

I aspire to be a photographer. Three years after re-engaging in this once-and-future, late-life hobby, I now have two fancy cameras, two less-fancy cameras, several custom lenses, a tripod and a flash attachment that I’ve never used, several books I’ve never read, myriad batteries and chargers and memory cards, and a couple of camera bags that seemed like good ideas at the time, but no longer have a lot of practical utility.

Mostly I photograph flowers. One reason for this is that, being alone, I don’t travel very much, and landscape and architectural photography – which I also love -- are less available to me. But the main reason is simply that I love flowers. I used to be a gardener, and my mother before me was a really great gardener. But I no longer maintain a garden, and so photography gives me a chance to get out into other gardens and recapture at least in part that same feeling. Today it is nearly 100 degrees outside, and so, in order to indulge my photography addiction, I bought my own flowers.

My ultimate goal is to become a sort of impressionist photographer of flowers. I believe my best photos are like the one of heavenly blue plumbago in the post immediately below, where the flowers take on an ethereal, water color quality. This photo of gerbera daisies purchased at the grocery store has a little bit of that same charm.

By Divine Ms. Moon

Another thing I love to do with flower photography is to play around with backgrounds. The photograph immediately below was taken on a relatively bright late winter afternoon on a small table in front of a window that was not shuttered. The backdrop was a black table mat. I think it took on a sort of Rembrandt light quality, which is appropriate given that the tulip itself looks like something straight out of the Seventeenth Century Dutch "tulip mania" scandal.

By Divine Ms. Moon
Flowers can be metaphorical for many things in life, and sometimes I enjoy using my photos in that way as well. I confess to having a little Georgia O’Keeffe in me. I admired Georgia O’Keeffe and her amazing flower paintings long before I ever realized that she grew up not 30 miles from where I am now sitting as I write this. O’Keeffe’s flower paintings have often been characterized as highly sexual in nature. As I once observed to a friend of mine, who wondered why I chose to take so many photographs of a particularly phallic tropical flowering plant, this is only natural because flowers are in fact the sex organs of plants. It is indeed very hard to look at flowers for long without seeing the sexuality in them. 

By Divine Ms. Moon
Ironically, however, when Georgia O’Keeffe was asked why she painted flowers more than anything else, she responded that they were less expensive than human models, by which I believe she meant nude models. With a smile on my face, I often think that she was either pulling someone’s leg, or that she -- consciously or subconsciously -- made up for the lack of models in her sometimes highly erotic characterizations of the flowers that she painted.

Sometimes, however, flowers are just flowers. And yet, even as such, flowers can tell a story. This photo of the same gerbera daisies shown above, for example, tells the story of my kitchen counter in language only a D-SLR camera can speak. In that way, although it is highly representational, the photograph does take on something of an impressionistic quality. I am particularly pleased to have gotten these effects without using flash given the poor light levels in my apartment most of the time. It shows that, while I still have a long way to go, I'm learning. 

By Divine Ms. Moon
The golden objects at the left are nothing more than a few small glass jars that I haven’t found a use for yet. At the right, near the top, is my Kitchenaid mixer. Although tromp l’oeil effects like this are fun to achieve, they’re just not as satisfying for me as the watercolor, or in particular, the metaphor.

And I make no apologies for that.  Oh, no, I don't.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Only a Heart Will Know

By Divine Ms. Moon

The human heart, at whatever age, 
opens only to the heart that opens in return. 

~ Maria Edgeworth

Tone Aanderaas, Ricky Bendix
"Melancholy of an Odalisque"