Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The fractured optics of Olbrich Botanical Gardens' smallest garden

The Fractured Optics of Olbrich Botanical Garden's Smallest Garden
If this looks like a kaleidoscope picture, it's because it is. If it looks like a picture of flowers, it's because it is. It's the garden kaleidoscope at Madison's Olbrich Botanical Gardens. View Large On Black

Of the many wonders there, this is one of my favorites -- partly a rotating miniature garden, partly an interactive sculpture, and partly an optical toy. And pure psychedelic magic. I described how it works a while back, when I visited with my Minolta Dimage X (there's also this Flickr set, buried back in my stream).

We were there recently, and I made a stop at my favorite toy. As usual, I took a few photos with another favorite toy, my Nikon Coolpix P50. It's easy to photograph, especially with a point-and-shoot. Just press the external housing of your lens right against the eyepiece, to keep out reflections, give the garden bowl a spin and press the shutter.

Next time I'll make a movie.

A comparative look at context in photography: Ansel Adams and Dorothea Lange

Context in Photography
Not my photo, of course -- but one of the most iconic images by Ansel Adams, “Mount Williamson, Sierra Nevada, from Manzanar, CA, 1944.” (Via Artnet.) It might as well have been called "God's Country." Except it was anything but.

A very different photo provides the foreground. Dorothea Lange is documenting, not the landscape, but rather the site of a tragic American injustice. It's titled "Manzanar Flag." Yes, Manzana was the name of the camp in the Owens Valley where Americans of Japanese descent, most of them U.S. citizens, were interred during World War II. The beauty of the magnificent Sierra Nevada range provided little comfort to the captives suffering from bitter winter cold, blistering summer heat and blinding duststorms, not to mention the loss of their freedom. Lange's placement of the flag seems to underscore the tragic irony of their situation, captives in the "land of the free."

Both Lange and Adams photographed in the camp. Lange was hired by the government to document conditions there (although most of her photos were suppressed until after the war); Adams was a friend of the superintendent and got permission to photograph the landscape. Two California Bay Area photographers with very different approaches to photography.

As noted in the photo blog 1/125, the Wall Street Journal recently did a story on the photography collection at the newly renovated Oakland Museum of California, whose photo collection has one area devoted to Lange (the museum owns her photos, negatives and papers) and another to f/64, the Bay Area group that included among its members Adams, Edward Weston and Imogen Cunningham. The exhibits provide a great opportunity to compare and contrast the very different approaches of the two photographers, who sometimes worked on the same projects, as the WSJ notes.
Lange was hired by the War Relocation Authority to document the Japanese internment center in Manzanar, Calif.; her pictures emphasize the dislocation of the detainees. In 1945, while he was shooting at the camp, Adams took the magnificent “Mount Williamson, Sierra Nevada, From Manzanar, California,” a vast boulder-strewn plain with the backlit mountain in the distance….

In 1961, Lange said about Adams’s taking landscape pictures at the Manzanar Relocation Center: “It was shameful. That’s Ansel. He doesn’t have much sense about these things.” Adams wrote about himself: “I have trained with the dominating thought of art as something almost religious in quality. In fact, it has been the only faith I have known.”
Taken together, the two photographs are a haunting reminder that great natural beauty and human cruelty and injustice can easily exist side by side. The images pose questions about what we mean by the art of photography. And they remind us that what's outside the frame of a photograph may be as important, or even more important, than what is inside it.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Devil's Lake in the off-season in black and white

Devil's Lake
There's something about Devil's Lake that's hard to catch in a color photograph, which tends to turn every view into a postcard. View Large On Black

Devil's LakeIt may be true to the experience of thousands of happy vacationers that flock to the park every summer, but the mysterious presence of this glacial lake and the bluffs that surround it tend to elude the camera in color. I think black and white better captures the mood of the place, especially during the off-season, which offers a kind of meditative solitude so appropriate to the setting. View Large On Black

I've finally finished processing a number of images I photographed back in April on a day when the park was almost deserted. They're in this set on Flickr.