Category Archives: photography

at play on a Monday morning

This post is a waypoint in the process of learning to use drawing tools to explicate mysteries.

I included this image in Elevenses but hadn’t parsed it for its content—for its component creatures:


Gradually I’ve discovered a variety of possibilities, beginning with a burro-like creature:

and an elephant:

and just yesterday a woman appeared:

and just maybe she’s holding a baby, though that’s not as clear… yet:

The imp on the shoulder suggests that this is a Sagrada Familia, where the part of Joseph is played by an elephant:

I’m not sure what the next steps are, but perhaps a refinement of my initial tracings would be worth attempting. The iPad/iPencil combo clearly works, but just as clearly I’m only beginning to explore the potentials of the tools. Stay tuned.

Descry: to see (something unclear or distant) by looking carefully; discern; espy

When I first processed this one

I saw the whole as a dog-like figure, but I completely missed seeing until today this marvelous face:

This sort of thing happens a lot, and is basically A Good Thing: there’s always more to be found in images and/or in one’s mind. The problem is often how to articulate, describe, convey what one descries. Another example from this morning, from the very same source material, in an unfolding I made a couple of days ago:

god of Spaniels

At first I saw the canine figure in the top third of the image, seemingly with forepaws raised in benediction, and the first thought was “ah! the God of Spaniels!”. And next I saw another and larger canine in the center of the image, and read that one as a fox. But this morning that central canine appeared as a spaniel in transports of delight, floppy ears flapping, smiling muzzle, and eyes expressing a degree of pleasure that I imagine for a young spaniel playing in surf. The figure I first saw, the God of, is a spectral presence, blessing the joy of the dog beneath.

Wholly imaginary, since the seed material was a stump, cut off flush with the ground:

spaniel precursor
and it may well be that nobody else sees what I see. And indeed, I had no idea there were spaniels to be descried when I snipped out a bit of the original image and mirrored it.

of Ot

This little story is complicated and digressive, but well worth trying to put together. It begins maybe a dozen years ago, in a taxi in Providence RI, a city that has a lot of public sculpture and other art stuff to look at. We passed by a particularly arresting sculptural creation and one of us said “What’s that?” and the taxi driver said “That? That’s ot” and thus the term ot was implanted into the Lexicon.

So yesterday morning one of the blogs I follow pointed to another tumblr with the stark message

2019 is almost over and all I gotta say is what the fuck was that

which expresses succinctly one of the mental states into which I occasionally stumble.

And the next though that coursed through my mind was

I take refuge in Ot

Where do these things come from? What imp instantiates them, sends them into Consciousness, which then offers them up to me to play with, these illusions and allusions that connect things to improbable other things?

The next thought was

hmmm. “take refuge in”…

which of course is a formula in Buddhist practice (one takes refuge in the Three Jewels: the Buddha, the Dharma, the Sangha), and that led to the realization that I was a bit less clear about this Dharma thing than I thought I should be, so a brief Wikipedia digression happened, and that led to an article on the Vedic concept of Ṛta (“the order that makes life and universe possible”, which seems to be nothing more or less than the Tao, innit?). That Sanskrit Ṛ phoneme is “a vocalist r, like that in pert or dirt, when pronounced with a rhotic r, e.g. as in American…”, but in Providence or Boston dialect would be non-rhotic [caa, paak, ot…]. And /Ṛta/ can be glossed as ‘Truth’.

And so on.

This Ot in which I claim to take refuge is well known to whatever readers of this blog there may be out there. Yesterday produced several more examples:

admonishing the young

punk sensibilities

(name it and you can keep it)

a new toy

Not sure if this is a Good Thing or a calumny, but it’s progress of a sort.

The new iPad arrived yesterday, and I’ve been playing with Adobe Illustrator Draw, attempting to actualize an idea I’ve had for a few months. Take an image in which I see something that I want to call other viewers’ attention to. Sketch the outlines of what I see on a new layer, then export the sketch. Here’s an example, raggedy but clear enough to show the potential:

Start with an unfolded image (what I call a tessellation, though it’s just a single mirroring), like the one I labelled “voracious blue-eyed goddess”:

voracious blue-eyed goddess

sketch in the lines my imagination sees:


and turn off the background:


Who is it?

Hillary Clinton.

I had no idea…

Cucurbitae of November

I sent the eleventh photo book (called Elevenses) off to Blurb a couple of days ago, and I’ll put up a link to its pdf once I know that everything is as I intended. I’m quite pleased with what went into it, and almost feel that I’m in control of Adobe InDesign, such that other books will follow soon. Meanwhile, and while I await delivery of some shiny new Apple hardware in the coming week, I awoke this morning with an idea for a quick 20-page booklet with rock images. By 4:00 this afternoon it was complete and uploaded to Blurb. Here’s the cover, front and back:

A Pumpkin in Late November Cover

…and it’s downloadable as a pdf.

An explanatory web page is up in an early version, but I’m still working on what to include therein.


The life of a photograph is pretty chancy: many never get processed from their RAW capture, some of those that do never make it to viewers’ eyes, and some are out there on Flickr but hardly anybody happens upon them. And a few have second and third lives after their original appearance. This one was an offhand grab as we walked along the shore of a pond at Gros Morne National Park in Newfoundland:


Surely geography. I liked it for its ambiguity of scale (an aerial view of an island? a closeup of a mossy rock?), but it’s had only 4 views by Flickr users. And then this morning (2 months after it was taken) it occurred to me to mirror it, and lo and behold:

verdant owl wings

I see an owl with wings spread, perhaps closing in on a mouse. There are other possibilities too, of course, but it seemed to me that it belonged in my Flickr Album called A Catalog of Wings for Celestials.

And then I happened to look at the lower left hand corner and saw this mountaineer coming around a boulder:


So many wonders…

Pullman, Purcell, Grandville

As is often the case, Chance is favoring the mind as it Prepares for a week-long project-centered workshop on InDesign (which I’ve used to construct most of my Blurb books, though clumsily). The first episode, a couple of days ago, was this fortuitous quotation that jumped off the page/screen of Philip Pullman’s just-published The Book of Dust: The Secret Commonwealth:

You won’t understand anything about the imagination until you realize that it’s not about making things up, it’s about perception.

(Much of my attention in recent years has been pinioned by the polyvalence of Imagination in my photographic life).

And then I stopped in at Hello Hello Books, as I frequently do, to eyeball the Photography shelf for anything new, and found Rosamond Purcell’s Bookworm, a beautifully designed book of her collages, constructions, and photographs of books “inevitably invaded by forces of nature and decay.” The whole issue of design is one I hope to attend to in the InDesign workshop, and Purcell’s book is a magnificent example.

And yesterday’s email brought me a pointer from my co-conspirator Daniel to an essay on Grandville, whose work I’ve loved since discovering it long ago via a Dover book. The author (Patricia Mainardi) goes into some detail on a late and little-known book that Grandville inspired and illustrated, but which was never translated or republished after its first edition in 1844: Un autre monde. The subtitle seems absolutely on the money as a characterization of what I hope for my photographic work:

Transformations, Visions, Incarnations, Ascensions, Locomotions, Explorations, Peregrinations, Excursions, Vacations, Caprices, Cosmogonies, Reveries, Whimsies, Phantasmagorias, Apotheoses, Zoomorphoses, Lithomorphoses, Metamorphoses, Metempsychoses, and Other Things

This illustration from the book seems an ideal accompaniment to what I wrote two years ago in Reflection on my own Body of Work at the end of the Andy Ilachinski workshop:

The I is
playful, wry,
in search of
paradoxes, epiphanies, essences,
curiosities, ambiguities, amusements,
the occluded, the improvisatory,

two remarkable rocks

A birthday walk along Beauchamp Point Road (a gravel throughway on the east side of Rockport’s harbor) disclosed some marvelous rocks. This one immediately found the title ‘Krishna hugs a blue whale’ though so far as I know there’s nothing in the Mahabharata to suggest that Krishna, who did lots of pretty amazing things, ever did anything with cetaceans:


A bit further down Beauchamp Point Road I came upon this fantastical eroded rock:


Of course I immediately see a face, but a closeup of the rock is even more jaw-dropping (and click on the image once it comes up in Flickr to zoom in further):


We’ll surely be visiting this one again in different seasons and different lights.

While we’re at it, consider this, from the same general area but mirrored:


There’s more on the Beauchamp Point Road rocks via Maine Geological Survey.

Encounters with the Numinous


On my birthday I spent an hour or so in about 100 yards of beachfront rocks at Drift Inn, territory that I had explored before and found to be inexhaustible as a source of vibrant images—some anthropomorphic or zoomorphic, others abstract and otherwise fractured, and still others shapes and textures that hint at still-mysterious underlying order.




The geologic forces (pressure, strain, erosion) that formed what we see are merely a freeze-frame moment in processes that have taken place over vast stretches of time, and are of course continuing. The rocks of a decade or a century hence will look much the same, but a visitor tomorrow or next spring may not see the same things that I saw and photographed. Different light conditions change the view from hour to hour and day to day, and the flat light of an overcast morning discloses different figures than one sees in the raking light of a clear dawn or late afternoon, or in the mistiness of a rainy day. And angle of view and distance from rock to focal plane—and of course the framing chosen by the photographer—are other axes of variation.

Within that hundred yards (perhaps 10 yards wide) I found hundreds of tranches that spoke to me, some of them clearly faces or creatures, others only disclosing hidden creatures once the images were processed.


Stories popped out of some, while others remained mute designs.


Some were marvelously different if I rotated the image as taken, or tweaked the vibrancy and sharpness.


The question of optimal presentation of this wealth of images is vexed: large prints on paper, encouraging immersive viewing on gallery walls? Screen-filling digital still, or video? Dissolves? Ken Burns-style pans and zooms? For me, each image is first and foremost an object of contemplation into which I can fall in search of Minor White-like elseness (yes, they are pictures of rocks. But what else are they pictures of?) and Stieglitzian Equivalents (visual moments of personal discovery and epiphany) and, often enough, bits of free-hand numinosity and revelation perhaps more felt than verbalized.

Would an impartial observer visiting those hundred yards have anything like the same experience I enjoyed? To what degree was mine a prepared mind, expecting faces, equipped to see references to Chinese landscape painting


or Buddhist iconography


or similarities to any of thousands of images stored in my mind from a lifetime of looking? Just how idiosyncratic are my readings of these bits of silicacious narrative? I see gargoyles, djinni, caricatures, disembodied spirits, reminders of other worlds fictional or fantastical, allusions to particular styles and movements in art history…


The possibility of capturing and presenting tracings of the figures I see (via Apple’s promised Sidecar link between iMac and iPad) suggests a new mode of explication, but will require a deep dive into graphics software.

The whole set from Drift Inn on September 16th is available as a Flickr album.