Thursday, April 23, 2015

Ordinary Objects and the Poetry of Salvage

Last weekend I climbed through many, many trailers of salvaged architectural bits and bobs, old stoves, rusted pieces of ceiling tin, faded signs, and corroded hinges to find a treasure in the rain.  My sweatshirt was soaked through and my boots were caked with mud as I climbed the rickety steps to the next-to-last trailer in the salvage yard.  I squinted into the gloom, took a few half-hearted steps across the sloping metal floor.  Nothing.  I didn't see a single object that sang to me in the way really special things do when you're on a treasure hunt.  I was just about to turn to head back out into the downpour when my magpie eye caught sight of a soft glint in the shadows on a shelf over my head.  I couldn't tell what it was, but I threw caution--and my fear of tetanus--to the wind and just reached up to grab whatever it was.

Well, it turned out to be the frame that you see in the photo above.  A Victorian beauty, completely intact, with wonderfully worn gilding on its inner edge.  That had been the glint I'd seen.  I had to make it mine.  I cradled it in my arms and went in search of the salvage yard owner.  It turns out he had just placed the frame on that shelf earlier in the afternoon.  When I say "placed," I don't mean displayed.  It was just sort of lying there on the top shelf, nearly out of sight in one trailer out of several that were packed to the gills with jars of springs, boxes of brackets, and bins of rake handles.  

When the owner offered to sell me the frame for the little bit of cash I had in my pocket, I knew two things immediately: 1) I will buy more treasures from him, and 2) this frame was going to be important for me, for my photos, for the vision I have of where I want my work to go.

I believe in the stories that beautifully made things can tell us--in the texture of history, the poetry of ordinary objects.  That is one of the aspects of still life photography that appeals to me most. This photo is the first in what I hope will be a series of photos featuring my newly found treasure.  I believe this old frame will help me dream up countless stories in the weeks and months to come.  

Monday, April 20, 2015

April Rains--A Garden Update

The April rains have come, and with them the green and red buds on the trees.  Out in the garden we've had crocuses--then snow--then then more rain and even more crocuses, sprinkled with some snowdrops.  We have raked and tidied the beds, made way for the grape hyacinths, the buds of which are tinged with purple at their edges.  The tulips are midway up, as are the daffodils and fritillaria.  The lady's mantle are everywhere, pushing up their tiny pleated fans through the soil, and the pulmonaria are showing off their polka-dotted leaves.  I've even caught sight of the first secret frills of red where the bleeding hearts grow at the edge of the woodland border.  Out along the edges, the shrub border is filling with color--the red twig dogwoods and the Hakuroo-Nishiki willow are scarlet red, covered with buds.  I'm thrilled to see that all the hard cutting and pruning I've done on the lilacs these last two years is paying off.  They are looking stronger than ever--and they are loaded with buds.  

Chores for the coming couple of weeks include dividing some of the day lilies and spreading the three yards of compost that we're having delivered this weekend.  No bed will be left out.  Everyone will get a top dressing to start the growing season with a bang.  I'll also be starting many, many flower seedlings for the new cutting garden I'm planning to grow in one of the raised beds this year.  And then there are the dahlias.  They will be emerging from their winter sleep down in the cellar.  I'll chit them out until the soil is warm enough to put them in.  For the past couple of seasons I've mixed them in with other plantings, letting them grow with all the other flowers.  This year I think they may get their own bed.  We shall see.

Spring came late here in the Maine this year, but now that it's here, every plant seems to be rushing to put on a show.  I am relishing these cool days, especially the ones when the sun puts in an appearance.  It's too cool yet for the mosquitos, so we can just be out there in the mud, spreading grass seeds, trimming limbs, and dreaming up new garden plans.  I hope your spring is shaping into a beautiful one. If you garden, I'd love to hear what is blooming right now and what you're up to in your garden.  More soon--plus pictures of the early spring garden!

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Spring is like a perhaps hand

Spring is like a perhaps hand

E. E. Cummings, 1894 - 1962


Spring is like a perhaps hand 
(which comes carefully 
out of Nowhere)arranging 
a window,into which people look(while 
people stare
arranging and changing placing 
carefully there a strange 
thing and a known thing here)and

changing everything carefully

spring is like a perhaps 
Hand in a window 
(carefully to 
and fro moving New and 
Old things,while 
people stare carefully 
moving a perhaps 
fraction of flower here placing 
an inch of air there)and

without breaking anything.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Just Do it Yourself, Magpie Girl!

I have wanted a beaded wrap bracelet for ages, but I just can't bring myself to pay the prices I see in stores and online. A Chan Luu one at Garnet Hill costs $168!  That's a bit much for a bracelet that probably won't last forever, I think. 

So, I finally just made one over the weekend, and guess what?!  It was incredibly easy. I was standing in the artsy craftsy store, oohing and ahhing over the pretty beads--the way we magpies tend to--and on a whim I looked up a couple of wrap bracelet tutorials on my phone. Turns out there are about a million of these tutorials online, so I won't give any instructions here.  I looked up "Chan Luu bracelet" on Pinterest, or you could Google the instructions, if you feel like making one (or 100--I think it would be easy to get addicted to making these).  

I spent about 20 bucks on beads and cording (I still have plenty left to make a second bracelet), and then settled in at home to craft for a couple of hours. Easy peasy. This one wraps around my wrist three times, and I attached a mother-of-pearl button I had in my button jar to keep it closed. 

Just thought I'd share this wee bit of magpie inspiration today. It couldn't have been easier once I got started, and I always like saving pennies while fulfilling my desire for sparkly things. 

Hope you all have a beautiful week, my friends!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Chasing More Light

I wrote in my last post about chasing the light.  It's true, I spend much of my time when I'm shooting pictures watching for certain kinds of light, hoping for clouds to pass--or to appear--depending on my needs and whims.  There's a corner in my study/studio/hideaway with a small window that  I love for its northern light.  It's never a warm, glowing kind of light.  Daylight coming through a north facing window has a coolness to it that makes for moody, slightly melancholy photos.  That's just what I wanted when I took the above shot.  And it's something I really accentuated as I processed it in Lightroom.  I desaturated the photo quite a bit and added some graininess.  The three kinds of tulips in this photo were all incredibly vivid; I wanted the richness of their colors, but not necessarily the intensity.  I also wanted the light coming from the side, so that the curves of the petals would be traced by it and there would be a sense of shadow just off to the left of the photo--not darkness, but a gentle fade into shadow.  

I actually shot this at the very end of the day using only natural light (I use natural light almost exclusively).  I kept the ISO at 200 because I wanted to be in control of the grain during processing. I also let the photo be a little on the dark side, knowing that I would lighten the exposure later.  This let me take a lot of shots in the fading light, and as the room grew dark around me, the photos got better.  This is one of about 30 shots I took during that hour.  There are more that I will share sometime soon.  I'd been sick all day, fighting off a flu, but I told myself, "You've got one good hour of light left.  DO something with it."  I'm so glad I ignored my headache and chills, and did a wee bit of light chasing.

This shot was something else entirely.  I took it the week before the tulip photos in response to a lesson from the fabulous Kim Klassen in her Be Still--52 class, in which she asked us to do a backlit shot.  For that assignment, I set up a small table in front of a south facing window in my bedroom, and I took a series of photos in the mid afternoon when the sun was quite intense. Southern light is usually much brighter and cheerier--more golden than northern light.  It can also be very intense, especially in a backlit shot.  To soften the possible harshness of the afternoon sunshine and to block any trace of the view outside the window, I stretched a piece of cheesecloth across the window.  I  wanted the cheesecloth to have a bit more texture and some shadows, so I poked several white feathers into it.  Because the focus of the shot is on the silk flower, the feathers don't read as feathers; they read as texture.  I added the organza ribbon to give the image one more layer that the light could play with.  I was especially happy that I could get some shimmer off it in the right side of the frame while on the left the ribbon intensifies the feeling of shadow.  

Beneath the flower is a very old, very worn and faded piece of Irish linen that's printed with large cabbage roses.  I love using distressed fabrics in my photos.  The more worn the better.  I especially love using things like linen and burlap in contrast to light gauzes and tulles.  As with the tulip photo, I took out a lot of the saturation when I processed this.  

I think light is the single most important element in photography.  It has everything to do with setting mood and tone in a picture.  Many things can be played with in processing--cropping, composition, saturation, exposure, etc.--but light quality (I'm referring less to the how much of it, and more to the type of it) is essential from the get go.  It's more important than having a fancy camera (mine is not particularly fancy) or a bag full of expensive lenses.  Those things are wonderful and helpful, but you can take gorgeous shots with your phone or your point and shoot . . . as long as you're willing to chase the light.

P.S. I want to thank Kim Klassen for featuring my above tulip photo on her Instagram feed over the weekend, along with photos by three wonderful photographers.  I also want to thank her for featuring the silk peony photo on her blog a couple of weeks ago as one of the selections for the Still Sunday competition.  It was an honor to have my work included alongside such gorgeous photos.  

I am blessed to have found an incredible community of writers and picture makers and takers over the past six years that I've been blogging.  As that community grows and friendships deepen, I discover new opportunities for learning every week.  I can't imagine a greater joy.  

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Reason Why

"It seems to me we can never give up longing and wishing while we are thoroughly alive.  There are certain things we feel to be beautiful and good, and we must hunger after them."  ~George Eliot

I chase the light all morning, longing for the perfect shadow, the glimmer of light on a petal, the glint of sunshine on the curve of a porcelain cup.

I've come to learn that I write and I photograph for the same reason.  It all stems from the same impulse, the same need.  

There is beauty over there, just there.  There is goodness.  There is light that I can nearly touch.  I must try.  I must.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

What's Inspiring You?

See that light shining through the cheesecloth in the back of this shot?  That's honest-to-goodness sunlight!  Yes!  Daylight savings did not disappoint.  I was able to set up and take many, many still life shots all Sunday afternoon while the sun poured in through this upstairs southwest window. This particular photo is for a backlit assignment in Kim Klassen's Be Still--52 class.

I want thank the many folks who tried my lemon cookie recipe over the weekend!  I received loads of notes on Facebook and Instagram, comments here on the blog, and emails and texts about the cookies.  I'm so glad that you all love them as much as I do!  They are about as easy to make as cookies get, and the taste payoff is extraordinary.  I even saw photos of some other people's cookies, and they were gorgeous!  Nothing like bonding over baked goods.  It truly takes a village to bake a biscuit.

I'll have more recipes very soon.  In the meantime, I wanted to share a few inspiring links:

~Click--A print and digital magazine by photographers for photographers.  These women make a seriously gorgeous product.  Plus, they're running a fun photography contest from now until April 15.  Get clicking!

~Sarah Raven--This is a link to her YouTube channel.  I learn so much from her gardening videos.  Champion of heirloom varieties, she is a gardening goddess . . . and a brilliant teacher.  Plus, just getting to peek at the grounds of her farm makes me want to try new ideas in my own little piece of earth.  

~Thomas McGuane--This link will lead you to an NPR interview with Montana writer Tom McGuane.  Mr. Magpie heard the interview yesterday, told me about it over a quick lunch at Becky's Diner today, and I've just been listening to it and reading the transcript tonight.  It's definitely a worthwhile listen, especially for fellow readers and writers.  "I think there's only one interesting story," says McGuane, ". . . and that's struggle."  I have to say, after years of writing and teaching writing, I agree.

If you have a moment, let me know what's inspiring you this week.  I'd love to hear what you're up to.  

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