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Monday, May 28, 2007

John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, Oregon - Painted Hills Unit


I walked into a valley of time.
pages of time written by volcanoes
a table of contents set down so long ago

I would have thought it was forever



ice, rain, sun and air – like a plague of mice
nibble at the pages
precious stories preserved in earth
washed away forever



heirs to life
we who still exist
winding through an intricate unbroken plot
always at the right place at the right time with the right skills


a churning molten core
birth pains
a hundred miles westward
earth breathes, breathes - ash into the sky
time and again
Technicolor vomit
or the afterbirth of a mother’s creation




Earth opens herself
we glimpse long hidden words
there is revelation here



the ancient sun
peers over a hill
illuminates the past
“I remember you”, it says
“when you were younger”
“you look different now”




As for man, his days are like grass:
He flourishes like a flower of the field;
For the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
And its place knows it no more.*

*Psalms 103: 15-16




standing on a cusp of time
forwards and backwards bending out of sight
making as much sense as
a calendar to a mayfly




a graphic message in a bottle




cast adrift on the green waves of a continent



pretty good painting
for a painter with no eyes




waves lined up to the horizon
arrive at the shore endlessly
an essential pattern




Apply, lather, rinse, repeat




quick look close




too late...it's gone



For detailed information about the Painted Hills, visit the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument web site: http://www.nps.gov/joda

ADDENDUM:

I followed the URL (that Cynthia posted) to June Underwood’s gallery of Recent Work and had a wonderful experience seeing the Painted Hills through completely different eyes - acknowledging sights I missed or overlooked and adopting metaphors I never would have made. Mrs. Underwood’s hills are crazy-colored animated landscapes rendered with a refreshing childlike exuberance and originality that makes the mechanical act of photography look as creative as a copy machine. Perhaps it would be better to hear the artist’s own words, “. …the Painted Hills seem to me to be great primeval creatures, stretching and reaching out and rolling under and along the earth's surface. They are spectacular in part because we don't usually come into contact with the actual contours of the earth's flesh -- usually the "flesh" is covered with soil and grass and trees and roads and culverts and fences. To return to that primeval vision, earth in all its rawness, without clothes, without cover, is astonishing.”

See June's work in progress at: http://www.juneunderwood.com/workinprogress.php

See June's recent work at: http://www.juneunderwood.com/gallery-recent.php

Or, to feel the pulse of June's S.E. Portland neighborhood, visit http://southeastmain.typepad.com/southeastmain/ and be sure to check out the pictures of the John Day fossil Beds National monument scattered in the September archive.

Motion Blur and the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ7

“We think our camera is broken and are wondering if we should take it back.” said a colleague at work, describing her family’s new camera.
“What’s making you think it’s broken? I asked.
“Almost all the pictures are blurry,” she said.
I immediately suspect camera motion and ask a few diagnostic questions. “Are you using the camera indoors or outdoors? Are you zooming in for tight close-ups? Are you taking action photos or staged portraits”
Basically, she answers, “Yes.”
“It’s probably camera-shake.” I offer.
“But it has image stabilization! Do you think you could take a look at it?”

I’m no expert, but in this situation, given that we both flounder at the low end of the clueless scale, I figured two heads would be better than one. I agreed to take a look at the camera, the camera manual, and some examples of the problem photos.

Figure 1 F3.2 Shutter Speed 1/4 ISO 200

A presumably stationary Christmas ornament. This is an example of motion blur caused by camera movement.

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ7 seems to fall into the really-complicated-point-and-shoot-digital-camera category. The specifications for the camera seem pretty impressive. It’s a 6 megapixel camera but the thing that seemed the most amazing to me was the camera’s lens specification (Optical 12X zoom, f = 6 mm to 72 mm). To be honest, that last part didn’t seem so impressive to me because I didn’t know exactly what was being measured until I went on to read that f = 6 mm to 72 mm is equivalent to 36 mm to 432 mm in the world of 35mm film cameras.

I compared the lens specification for the Lumix to a lens I was familiar with. Sigma has a telephoto lens for 35mm cameras that’s supposed to be 18-200 mm. If I were to use it with my Canon digital Rebel, I’d have to take into account the camera’s sensor size and its placement in relation to the lens. I’ve learned that to get 35 mm camera equivalencies for the Rebel, I need to multiply the specified focal length of the lens by 1.6. The 35 mm camera equivalent for the Sigma lens paired with the Rebel works out to 28.8 – 320 mm.

So far, we’ve taken into account how ‘long’ the Lumix lens is, which I guess is another way to describe its powers of magnification. Sticking to the 35 mm camera equivalencies, we can say that the Lumix, at 432 mm is 112 mm longer than the Sigma lens. In other words, if I want to take surveillance photos of the anarchist in the parade, the Sigma lens will allow me to zoom in on the anarchist’s nose while the Lumix camera will allow me to count the nose hairs.

But there is kind of a trade-off associated with long lenses and it has to do with how much light can get into the lens to reach the sensor (formerly film). This is measured with another set of specifications that have to do with how wide a diaphragm at the back of the lens can be opened to let light in. Looking at the Lumix lens, I can see the aperture numbers written as 1: 2.8 - 3.3. The manual doesn’t really explain this nomenclature, but I think it means that at the short end of the lens’s focal length, the aperture is F2.8 (Where ‘F’ stands for aperture) and at the longer end it drops to F3.3. Suffice it to say, when considering aperture numbers, smaller is better (faster) and each larger increment on the aperture scale lets half as much light in. The Sigma lens is labeled with aperture data that looks like this: 1: 3.5 - 6.3. It looks to me, based on these numbers that the Lumix lens should be ‘faster’ even though it is ‘longer’.

One of the nice things about today’s digital cameras is their built in ability to keep track of the camera’s settings and embed this information into the picture’s digital file. I reviewed the settings for the pictures that were blurry, and in every case, the blurry photos in question showed aperture values wide open at F2.8, but the shutter speeds were still in the range of 1/5th to 1/20th of a second. Despite the relatively fast aperture (compared to the Sigma lens), the camera still had to choose long exposure times to allow enough light in to make pictures.

To get a practical idea of how shutter speed relates to stopping motion, I used the Lumix camera, a ferocious-windup-walking-Spark-Dino, a halogen work-lamp and a turntable to create the following sequence of pictures.


Figure 2 F6.3 Shutter Speed 1/5 ISO 100

Figure 3 F 6.3 Shutter Speed 1/8 ISO 100

The turntable is set at thirty-three and one third revolutions per minute. In retrospect, I probably should have set it slower. The sparking dino is towards the outside edge of the turntable, but he is not wound-up and consequently is not walking or sparking. In all cases, I attempt to trip the shutter when the sparking dino is closest to the camera lens. What seems clear at these shutter speeds is that I am nowhere close to stopping motion. Also, since the aperture is recorded as F 6.3, my analysis of the meaning of the cryptic markings on camera lenses above is flawed.

Figure 4 F 3.6 Shutter Speed 1/20 ISO 100


Figure 5 F 3.3 Shutter Speed 1/25 ISO 100

To get the shutter speed to be shorter, I made the aperture wider (a smaller number = faster), however, I soon reach the limits of the lens and actually end up underexposing figure four and five to achieve 1/25th of a second.


Figure 6 F 3.3 Shutter Speed 1/60 ISO 100


Figure 7 F 3.3 Shutter Speed 1/250 ISO 100

To achieve even higher shutter speeds, I ended up having to hold the halogen work-lamp increasingly ever closer to the subject.

I topped out at 1/250th of a second, but even then, I was unable to completely stop the motion produced by the sparking dino’s placement on the turntable.


Figure 8 F 3.3 Shutter Speed 1/250 ISO 100


Evidently, thirty-three or so revolutions per minute is conducive to movement that is generally faster than most of the motion one would encounter in a low- light portraiture situation. Generally, I feel pretty comfortable if my camera is showing me shutter speeds at 1/60th of a second or faster/shorter. Even so, I usually make a point of asking my subjects to hold still. Not only will there be motion from the subject, but unless one is using a tripod, there will likely be some movement from the camera operator pressing the shutter button.

Zooming in tight on the subject requires much more light (slower shutter speeds). Since the lens we are looking at is already stressed by low light situations, a tripod is essential. Also, giant clamps to hold the subjects head and limbs firmly in place should be seriously considered.

Finally, I checked the Lumix camera manual to find out about Optical Image Stabilization. This is what it said:

The stabilizer function may not be effective in the following cases.
- When there is a lot of jitter.
- When the zoom magnification is high.
- When taking pictures while following a moving subject.
- When the shutter speed becomes slower to take pictures indoors or in dark places.

Is it just me, or are those all the conditions that occur when you might want something like image stabilization to work? Presumably image stabilization works better when the subject is motionless and outside on a bright, sunny, cloudless day.

Finally, one other thing that I failed to account for when I took the sequence of experimental photos was the ISO setting (a measure of the camera’s sensitivity to light). It turns out that the ISO was evidently set at 100 for the manual mode. The camera itself is capable of being adjusted to ISO 400. Some modes don’t allow the user to choose the ISO, but where possible, it would be a good idea to bump it up to 400.

Summary:
The camera isn’t broken.
Each lens has built in limitations.
To reduce blurred images:
Increase the ISO setting to 400 if possible
Use shutter preferred mode (instead of SIMPLE MODE) and set the shutter speed to 1/125 of a second or even a shorter fraction of a second if possible.
Use a tripod or brace your elbow(s) on a table or something that doesn’t move.
Open window shades, turn on lights, use the flash, or relocate to a brighter space.

Unanswered questions:
What does 1: 2.8 - 3.3 really mean?
What is the relationship between the focal length of a camera’s lens and the size of the camera’s sensor (film)? Based on the difference in the physical size of a lens’s diameter, aperture must be more than the physical measure of the lens’s diaphragm. What is aperture?



Monday, May 21, 2007

The Japanese Garden @ Portland, Oregon

I should probably begin by telling you that about the only plant I’ve ever managed to successfully grow was a Chia Pet, so you can imagine that gardens and gardening are somewhat of an impenetrable mystery to me.



On the left is an example of Mt. Hood National Wilderness (From the Ramona Falls trail. See http://thenarrativeimage.blogspot.com/2007/05/ramona-falls-trail-super-sized-part-two.html). On the right is an example of Portland Oregon’s Japanese Garden. While I personally find both scenes beautiful, there are several aspects about the garden scene that show evidence of human tinkering. Some of the obvious signs are a human constructed concrete artifact, groomed bushes and trees, and a preponderance of plant varieties seemingly chosen for aesthetic purposes.




Just for the purpose of comparison, this corn is an example of a garden designed for the efficient production of a food crop. Curiously, I find this scene aesthetically pleasing also, but did not find any growing at the Japanese gardens.

It is tempting to get carried away and insinuate that the designed gardens are easy to recognize because of their obvious order.



But in the biggest garden of all, we often see that order and disorder go hand in hand. Great swaths of habitable ecosystem are swept away in the blink of an eye. A new niche is provided for some other opportunistic species (and if there are any favorites, it would appear to be the beetle family).



Japanese Garden - Portland, Oregon - Admission gate

After paying eight bucks to get in, I walk past the guardian lions and take a look at the Welcome Brochure I’ve been handed. The brochure informs me that, “Eastern symbolism challenges the visitor to reflect and be open to varying interpretations of sights and sounds.” Keeping this in mind, I take a second look at the guardian lion, and as the brochure suggests, I try to take a moment to feel the Garden’s mood of peace and harmony. The lion’s expression seems none too peaceful and I imagine it softly growling at me, “Stay on the path or this globe I’m standing on might as well be your left testicle.”



Japanese Garden -Portland Oregon - Strolling Pond Garden

It’s an overcast day so I set the White Balance on the Rebel to the cloud symbol. This may have been a mistake because later I will see that most of the pictures have an artificial looking warm yellow-green tint.

Japanese Garden - Portland Oregon - The Natural Garden

See what I mean?




Japanese Garden - Portland Oregon - Strolling Pond Garden

I thought the red in this tree would make a good complement to the predominate greens everywhere else. While I was trying to make the picture, I was also thinking that it would be nice (though not possible) to sit under this shaded canopy for awhile with a quality beer or two, watching the endless line of tourists stopping to pose on the moon bridge to have their portraits captured.


Japanese Garden - Portland Oregon - Authentic Moon Bridge

Here I try desperately to get some believable green colors, but end up using Photoshop’s watercolor filter instead.

Japanese Garden - Portland Oregon - Strolling Pond Garden

The water in the pools was muddy and unsettled. It provided good cover for the Koi until they neared the surface. At first, only a slow moving golden glow would diffuse through the suspended silt, like a distant lantern in the fog.

Japanese Garden - Portland Oregon - Strolling Pond Garden

I spent some time just watching the primitive looking fish moving in their world of water, patrolling the bank in front of the visitor benches just in case some of the bipeds proved to be illiterate (Please don't feed the Koi! - Throwing coins prohibited!) with a pocketful of crumbs. I thought about surfaces and boundaries, ripples and reflections, all between worlds and points of view.

Japanese Garden - Portland Oregon - Sand and Stone Garden

Maybe the attraction of gardens is that it gives us the illusion of control and a chance to feel like co-creators – super-hero sidekicks – helping to order and direct various manifestations of life.


For more information about the Japanese Garden, visit their website at: www.japanesegarden.com



Monday, May 14, 2007

REMEMBER ME

This handprint appears above a depiction of a spotted pony that was painted in a gallery of a cave at the end of the last ice age some fifteen thousand years ago. Scholars point out that the gallery was far away from any living quarters and difficult to get to and therefore posit some religious – perhaps magical – significance to the artwork. It is one of the first recorded instances of a hominid making a characteristic gesture across time – a message that cries, “I was here. Remember me.”



Later, in one of the first super civilizations, the Egyptians went to great lengths to have their respective deity remember them each as specific individuals.




Of course, the more resources one had, the greater the lengths attained…





Who will remember me?

When you face that question, it becomes easy to see the selling points for religion as it exists today. What peasant, toiling in the mud of the fields during a short brutish life wouldn’t want to be re-united with God and family in an Eden-ic paradise?



A forgotten town in West Texas



Memorial Day at Willamette Cemetery

Marcus Borg’s historical, metaphorical approach to the Bible makes a keen distinction between the pre-Easter Jesus and the post-Easter Jesus, and if accurate, makes literally derived ideas from ‘scripture’ about eternal life no more reliable than other approaches. Borg seems to suggest that Jesus’ gospel, at least the one the gospels say he shared, was mostly not about Jesus so much as it was about something called the Kingdom of Heaven – that is - it looks like Jesus was trying to say something about God, not himself – something about how to live while you’re alive and not about setting aside happiness and rewards for your eternal afterlife. (JESUS: Uncovering the Life, Teachings, and Relevance of a Religious Revolutionary.)

How do we leave a mark on the world?

Who will remember us?

In Munich, a man approached me and began speaking, but I couldn’t understand what he was saying. His appearance was weathered and merchant-marine-like. His skin was deeply tanned and crackled like old leather. His coat looked lived in with the polishing that comes from wear. I figured he was a beggar or panhandler. He carried a box of cheap white candles. He could see I didn’t understand his words, so he tried some different ones, finally asking, “English?” to which I nodded. He started over again in very good English, telling a story about a friend of his who had just died that day in the underground. He said he was collecting money so he could buy candles to make his friend a small shrine. I had never heard this approach used by panhandlers in Portland, so I handed over several Euros. No doubt my contribution would put him that much closer to acquiring a bottle of cheap wine. I didn’t think of him again.

At the end of a day’s worth of sightseeing, I took the underground train back toward the hotel. As I walked in those long, perpetually lit mall-ways, seeking the surface, I passed a dead end of sorts and chanced to see the ‘beggar’ with 4 or 5 friends standing around an arrangement of candles.




Bad public high school history classes talk about ancient cultures as if the people who lived in them were primitive next-to-cavemen like monkeys who foolishly worshipped the sun. But looking at the art the Egyptians made to mark the event of death lets you see that, if the perspective were to be reversed and they found themselves somehow looking back at us, they would likely shrug at a culture that worshipped the son and look askance at our sheet-rock architecture designed to last for a decade or two.

I think we humans, across cultures and time, are all identical in the desire to be remembered.





It isn’t a pyramid of course, but last night I left my hand-print on some of our more durable examples of contemporary construction. Since I used a spray bottle of water to make the negative hand-print, it seems I will only be remembered for about a half an hour at best.

(Detail of figure above)





Here, where homeless people sleep, the hand-print still seems pretty eloquent.



("I just want to mean something", found artwork under the west end of the Fremont Bridge)

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