Water

“Water”. It was an assignment given to the local art group as the subject of a project set a year into the future. I imagined painters mostly using oils, acrylic or watercolor for their media. I was invited to join the group and attend the next meeting, at which everyone would be sharing the results of their efforts.

What would they paint? What kinds of water? Waterscapes of crashing ocean waves? Quiet lakeside ripples along some inland shore? Rain-smeared window’s mosaics?

Ice Angel

Karen said, “Make it bigger” at the Cabin Fever Art Exhibit, as she admired my greeting card photograph of a frozen ice sculpture shaped like an angel. “We cancelled our meeting last week because of the winter weather and the make-up session is in two weeks. You could bring that. It’s water. You could bring a larger print.”

Okay, I thought. I can do that. I would like an opportunity to create a larger print. I envisioned using my professional Epson printer and using metallic luster paper to better suggest the texture of ice. I thought I had plenty of time to get around to the printing task. I already owned the paper. Two weeks later, the day had arrived and I needed a print for that night. I still had several hours before the meeting.

I felt jealous of a perceived lost opportunity to study water: to study how to best capture water’s magical ability to bend or reflect light. Painting water is hard. Painting ice is even harder. The textures that make the brain understand whether it is water or ice is in the way water refracts light. The colors aren’t the solid blues of children’s story books. To paint water one must see the subtle gradations of color (be it in blues or grays) that make ripples visible. To photograph water, one must know that light is often interpreted as white and the variations of white are often lost if the picture isn’t underexposed for the brightest highlights that so often delight the human brain. The  best days to photograph water, especially moving water, is on an overcast day.

I decided to assess my catalog of photographs taken in 2019 to see what I would learn about my own skills and choices of water as subject. I might not be able to actively study water with my camera, and with a set of preconceived assignments, but I could backwards engineer a study of sorts.

I looked up famous water art on the internet to prepare myself. I found Claude Monet’s impressionist images of lily pads on water. I remembered an image I had taken “on assignment” for the Penobscot River Restoration Project back in 2011. It was an autumn waterscape of lily pads in the foreground set amidst reflections of surrounding shoreline trees. I have gained many new editing skills since then and I wanted to see what I could do with the previous digital information. The image wasn’t as pleasing as I had remembered it. I used my new knowledge of Photoshop’s content-aware tool to delete the bushes in the foreground to gain a different perspective and wished I had the lenses then that I now own to capture the desired crop. I fiddled with it several times before it was good enough and made my new print on metallic paper.

Monet-Like lily pads with reflections

 

I doubted the painters would be bringing work from other years and therefore wanted something from 2019. The ice angel was taken in 2016 and had been edited many times in different ways to satisfy my different artistic interpretations of her. I knew I would print her today but I needed no further editing to create my print. I still had time to review my images taken during 2019 to discover what kinds of “water as subject” I had found.

I love winter and many of my images of water are of ice: lawn ice, lake ice, and most notably ice that forms on a leaky wooden penstock aqueduct used to generate hydroelectric power (but not in 2019). Last winter, in 2019, I went outside to take photographs only twice, in January and March, and both times in the Kennebec Highlands in Rome, Maine.

January started out warm. It felt like an early spring day. The snow was smooshy soft. The trees were bare and the moist day darkened the trunks and branches into stark patterns against the white snow; white, not gray from city car exhaust! Tree litter made up of seeds often texturized the snow. Who knew the trees let go their seeds in winter?

I found a dead beech leaf sunk into the pristine snow outlined by an orange ice aura, suggestive of life after death. Was it a picture of water? No. The subject was life after death.

Another image from that day was of a tiny green hemlock sapling emerging from the top of a downed tree trunk covered in snow with a wall of sea green ice behind it.  Is the subject water?  No, it’s the tenacious hemlock.

Below it though, were icy toes. Icicles formed from melting snow and waterfall splash on the tree trunk had been transformed from pointy tips into toe-like shapes from the rushing water below. Subject: water as ice, liquid and water behavior. I had chosen a slow shutter speed to blur the movement of the water below the icicles and consciously decrease the harsh contrast between black water and ice without burning out the white highlights that gave away the frozen nature of that water.

Icy Toes_9596

 

In June I spent a week out on Monhegan Island with a cottage full of painters. Daily walks around the village and onto the island’s many trails produced almost 2000 photographs,, but not much of it about water!

A bypassed jewel from a day considered “lost” caught my attention in this perusal of my images. I remember thick fog enshrouded the island that day. Air made visible in folds of drifts in varying intensities of white blotted out all but the nearest trees, wonderful salt air smells, air made personal as its presence was both visual and physically felt on the skin. The humid air made the colors pop even as it hid features of the landscape. The seaweed was a golden hue against rocks of blue while the ocean waves crashed gently against the shore. I had been disappointed that I had no dramatic sunset or spectacular surf to photograph, just the rocky shore and muted hues of ocean water.

Monhegan Shore and Surf_1617

Water as subject is often beaded. Morning dew is frequently captured in art. I had two from my week on Monhegan. For the photographer it is necessary to use a macro lens to capture the details of the light being refracted by the drops of water.  I had used the “live view” feature of my camera to enlarge my focal points so that I could adjust my focus to ensure that the coveted beads were tack sharp.

The heavy morning island dew had settled on an orange mushroom protruding from a tree, creating a necklace-like effect. Four women crowded around the tree and exclaimed that there should be a photographer to capture what they were seeing. I walked over to them in that instant and they motioned me over to share their discovery. The beads were backlit, and on my computer screen, I could see inside them were reflections of the ferns growing below them.

Beads on Mushroom

Later that morning as I exited the infamous Cathedral Woods path I found a dandelion seed head covered with tiny beads of morning dew. The round beads contrasted nicely against the white spikes of the dandelion seeds. Better yet it was in open shade which softened the light and there were no distracting stems to obscure my view. Is the subject water? Not by itself, but it is the water that makes the images unique.

 

My walks along the Kennebec Messalonskee Trails in Winslow on the East Kennebec River Trail yielded a July image of greens. A dark foreground in deep kelly green, grass on the ground with an overhanging tree branch encircle an open view of a Kennebec River edge with reflections of the shoreline forest on the water, broken by a gray tree trunk extending from the shore into the river. It’s a peaceful scene. The subject is the water on the shore of the Kennebec River.

Green Peace_3687

 

A kayak trip into the Belgrade Marsh in August produced iconic waterscape pictures of a pair of loons, a white lily flower and a white feather holding a large drop of water. Photography that day was frustratingly hard as the kayak moved with the wind and my inexperienced paddling. In addition, I was using a camera body I was unfamiliar with in order to extend the telephoto reach of my 70 – 200mm lens. I worried that without a stable tripod my images would be out of focus.

My kayak seat put me too low to obtain angles to crop out distracting details, particularly in my attempts to capture the gorgeous white lily flowers amongst so many ugly lily pads. Water as backdrop made later editing choices problematic because the light had to be consistent with the patterns that lent perspective to the central images. 

Summer Waterlily

Water is an integral part of the three favorite images from my kayak trip that day. The subjects are inseparable from the water in which they are found. I spotted a white feather draped against a pickerel flower stem close to an island shore. It drew me like a magnet as I paddled closer to uncover the nature of the round object pinning the feather’s wide tipped end to the top of the water. I discovered it was a huge drop of water. I paddled around it twice to obtain different vantage points, careful and concerned that I might dislodge the feather’s delicate balance against the stem. Water above, water below, but the subject is a white feather.

My final exercise was to capture a pair of loons, parent and chick, as they hurriedly swam away from me and my friend. I knew the loons were too far away to get the coveted images I admired in wildlife photography (with my limited focal length of 300mm). Nevertheless, I clicked away hoping that at least one image would be acceptable.

 

An August walk onto the Waterville/Winslow bridge crossing the Kennebec River to photograph the train trestle in Waterville yielded an image of foam patterns in the water as it passed close to the automobile bridge because I thought to look down. Subject: water as revealed by the patterns in the foam.

Kennebec River Lace_3774

 

October is a favorite month for photographers (for me and many others). I traveled three times for field trips; to Baxter State Park, toAcadia and to the Kennebec Highlands. What I wanted to find was pitch black water with bright fall leaves beneath the water’s surface. I didn’t find any. My attempts to create artistic water seemed thwarted on these three excursions. Photography is an adventure for me, an exploration into the unknown to seek the gifts of nature “as is.” It’s difficult to value the gifts of a day trip, and to see what is before you, instead of anticipated images running through one’s heart and head.

Baxter State Park was troublesome. It was an overcast day with brief rain squalls in early October, low set clouds and the leaves were already past peak colors. Nevertheless, from Baxter I captured lovely shades of burnt sienna rocks beneath the waters of Roaring Brook on the Sandy Stream Pond Trail. I focused on the water drop on the maple leaf on the rock and let the water be in soft focus.

Mid-October Acadia National Park had surprisingly intense shades of orange and red trees, but not in the fast running streams. I liked the way this small fall of water sprayed out in downy tendrils more characteristic of fabric than liquid.

Acadia Autumn Stream_000592

Near the end of October in the Kennebec Highlands the color was all but gone. A lone oak leaf trapped in a fall of water caught my attention. I used settings to blur the water while keeping the oak leaf in tack sharp focus.

 

I printed off my collection of images from 2019 on Epson Luster paper, printed my Ice Angel and Monet-like Lilies on Red River Metallic Luster paper and headed off for the art society meeting. I was surprised to see thirty people present. I recognized Karen from the art exhibit and sat next to her.

What did I see exhibited that night from the painters who had a year to study and paint water? I found that some had waited until the last minute to complete their assignments! Some paintings were unfinished. Most were completed works of art; the artists explained that it had usually taken them months to finish. The skills ranged from expert to beginner. Water as part of a landscape predominated: lakes, rivers or ocean. There were a few abstracts. Some painted from real life, but most painted from photographs taken by themselves or found on the internet.

I was glad to be near the end of the presentations;  I was the only one to show photographs. I chose to share the Ice Angel and its antecedent to show the stark difference between what I initially saw and what the finished choice looked like. The Wooden Penstock with its frozen leaky ice towers above the ice sculptures near its base. The Ice Angel is clearly visible facing the Penstock with her back turned to the viewer. The finished artistic version shows a closer view of the Ice Angel with the penstock as an indistinct background.

 

I told them my story of finding Claude Monet’s lily paintings on the internet and passed around my own Monet-like lily landscape. I forgot to mention my choice of metallic paper or that I print my own work. 

I’m happy with my backward engineered assignment. It gave me a focus to review my 2019 choices and incentives to improve future ones. The group of artists were a pleasure to meet. An unanticipated perk was that I met my neighbor: a fellow artist, and hopefully a friend for future outings to find artistic worthy photographs to bring home.

Valentine’s Day Crows

A murder of crows

settle among my trees.

Perched in clumps of five and ten

along branches,

directly outside my window.

They yell,

bobbing up and down,

looking below,

looking skyward,

calling out imagined insults or directions.

The cacophony drives me to take out my camera

to capture their show.

A white polka dotted curtain masks their many faces.

Snow is falling.

Black bodies create graphic bird shaped splotches

along the vertical lines of tree branches

rising upwards into gray skies.

Two sit closely together.

The one on the right leans towards the other.

He strokes her head gently with his beak.

She sits still.

Accepting his sweet caresses.

He is tender and patient.

I cannot see if she lifts her face to him.

The falling white snow obscures their intimacy.

Two lovers among the crowd of gawking onlookers.

CrowsForValentines-1471

Eagles fishing for alewives

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Yesterday I went looking for osprey fishing for alewives. In May osprey are easier to spot because of their presence in places where large quantities of alewives are swimming upstream in Maine’s many tidal rivers to reach freshwater lakes and ponds.

The alewives return from the ocean as adults to the lakes and ponds where they were spawned to repeat their cycle of birth and renewal. Their annual runs up Maine rivers and streams all along the coast coincides with the blooming shadbush (otherwise known as the serviceberry). Alewive numbers have declined principally from loss of habitat due to dams and other man made obstacles restricting access to their spawning grounds, as well as other factors (such as harvesting and pollution of ocean waters). Their numbers are coming back with the removal of many dams and new passages through the use of additional fish ladders.

I went to one of the oldest uninterrupted fish ladders in Damariscotta Mills. It creates a conduit between the Damariscotta River at Great Salt Bay and Damariscotta Lake. The alewives are plentiful because this ladder has existed since colonial times. Everything seemed to be out to eat the alewives except birds of prey.  There were cormorants and herring gulls crowding the shores and stalking the milling schools of alewives as they made their way to the ladder. The herring gulls filled the edges with flapping patterns of wings of white and grey. The sound of the gulls filled the air with constant cries that was louder than the flowing water. I checked the sky for osprey flying overhead, but there were none to be seen.

I went further south to Fort Popham to observe how the alewives were running as they entered the mouth of the Kennebec River and to assess whether this would make a good location to photograph osprey. The water was much deeper and wider. At high tide the alewives run right off the waters near the fort. Herring gulls, cormorants and seals were actively harvesting the alewives at Fort Popham, but still no ospreys!

A couple asked me if I had spotted the immature eagle on the ledge of the fort. They said they knew it was an eagle by its yellow feet. I thanked them for their information and went up to see the eagle for myself. My view was impeded by a cage of metal bars, but I could see the eagle on the ledge. It was not an osprey but an immature bald eagle. Later it would return to the same spot; by then I was below it on the ground.

Waiting and patience (and practice) is what it takes to get good images of birds in flight. A good location is  one that allows unobstructed views with a distance between photographer and bird that matches the zoom capacity of one’s lens.  Mine is a relatively short telephoto for bird photography (only 70-200mm).  I practiced on the herring gulls and cormorants. My patience was rewarded by a shot of the immature bald eagle when it landed again on the edge of the fort.

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On my return home, I crossed the Kennebec River near Ticonic Falls and spotted four ospreys flying in the air. One had a fish in its talons. I thought how ironic that what I wanted was right in my own back yard! If I  just wait patiently, I could shoot osprey much closer to home than a trip to the coast.

Mother’s Day Moose

Happy Mother's Day-0475

Mother’s Day was spent enjoying an afternoon drive north and west to outrun the rain clouds associated with the front running downeast along the Maine coast Sunday. The skies were dark from overcast clouds shedding light drizzle to occasional showers. The forecasts for almost the entire state of Maine held no hope for sun and little hope for dry overcast skies. But on the western edge towards the White Mountains and Rangeley, the forecast called for clearing skies by afternoon. I was in the mood for a Mother’s Day meander and we headed out about noon for Rangeley via Route 4. It was a successful tactic, yielding more than drier skies for sightseeing. Just below Smalls Falls (just outside of Rangeley) we spotted a mother moose and her calf pretending to be trees about 30 feet from the road.
Moose with Calf-0455
We stopped the SUV and backed up to position ourselves to see them from across the right side of the road. I didn’t dare ask to position the car any better for fear of spooking them deeper into the woods. She kept her calf behind her and vigilantly kept her eye on us.
Moose with Calf-0461
The mother reminded me of popular wolf pictures depicting wolves gazing out from behind trees. The eyes stare at me, knowing me for who I am and watching. She almost decided against walking towards us.
Moose leaving -0506
Would she have stayed if I had been in a pickup truck instead of my SUV? Was it the SUV shape that convinced her I was harmless? Would she have approached the road to drink the salty runoff if she didn’t need the salt?
Mother and Calf coming out to road-0463
Six minutes. It felt like fifteen. Time enough for 52 images. Enough images to review their behavior from the luxury of my large computer screen to see what transpired in those short six minutes.
Moose with Calf-0469
Her body color of mixed and patchy grey on the front half camouflaged her form as it split the front grey half from being perceived as part of the darker solid brown of the back half. Her front body looked like tree and her back as forest shadow.
Mother Moose Protecting Calf-0471
Her head with its rectangular shape looks more like a horizontal tree trunk than the head of an animal.
Moose with Calf-0492
This forest habitat clearly shows off their entire bodies and their long legs, so often invisible beneath the deep waters of streams where they are more often photographed in Maine.
Moose with Calf-0508
I expected more motion from them. They were still and peaceful. Not the quivering nervousness of deer. She was regal and queen-like. And when they left, they quietly walked away and disappeared into the trees.