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 oook.info/LI/ is up in an early version, but I’m still working on what to include therein.

hmmmm…

I’ve spent this week in a Maine Media workshop on InDesign, super-intensive because there were just two students, and the other has been away for the last two days. Today is the last day, and I’m trying to wrap my mind around what the upshot will be. In short, I seem to be deciding that I’m too old to do this: too old to learn my way around complex software (I can bumble through but can’t retain everything I’m told), too old to find it character-building to feel frustration with my own limitations, too old to revel in challenges. It’s akin to how I feel about physical challenges. Only a few years ago I’d leap from rock to rock while hiking, but now I go much more carefully. And I find that I’m using my reading glasses more and more, where I used to pride myself on uncorrected visual acuity.

So I’m beginning to wonder whether more InDesign Blurb books are the right presentation medium for the hoard of photographs I’m sitting on. The photographs themselves give me as much joy as ever, and certainly keep coming. This being appeared on a stump just outside the Maine Media classroom, and I had the wit to capture it:


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I expect to have more to say about this general subject.

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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:

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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:


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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,
stories.

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:


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


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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):


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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:


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

Encounters with the Numinous


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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.


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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.


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


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


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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


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or Buddhist iconography


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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…


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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.


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unfamiliar ways

Today Andy Ilachinski’s post quotes Richard Dawkins, with this punchline:

…we can recapture that sense of having just tumbled out to life on a new world by looking at our own world in unfamiliar ways.

This is just what I’ve been trying to do in being attentive to faces that manifest as I prowl, looking down and looking around. And they are everywhere:


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And there are dancers:

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And magical geographies:


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And (with a grateful nod to Tolkien) roads winding ever on and on:

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And enigmas, always enigmas:

surface

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Mt. Megunticook

As we were climbing Mount Megunticook last weekend, this thought wafted through my mind:

Am I seeing what I think I’m seeing,
or
is my imagination working overtime?
How would I know?

Finding faces in beach or mountain rock is an exercise in imagination, perception, analogy, metaphor. But always: the more, the more, and definitely the merrier, as I’m pulled along by the joys of discovery. As Broot observed: Rock faces are on rock faces.

And just this morning Andy Ilachinski posted this quotation from Leonardo da Vinci:

If you look at any walls spotted with various stains or with a mixture of different kinds of stones, if you are about to invent some scene you will be able to see in it a resemblance to various different landscapes adorned with mountains, rivers, rocks, trees, plains, wide valleys, and various groups of hills. You will also be able to see divers combats and figures in quick movement, and strange expressions of faces, and outlandish costumes, and an infinite number of things which you can then reduce into separate and well conceived forms.

A few cases in point from the Megunticook trove:


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My search for rock persons continues.

two Newfoundland gravestones

As I work on a project (photographic or otherwise) I’m continuously wondering why—seeking for reasons, bits of insight, overarching whithers. What is it about gravestones that keeps me returning to cemeteries? It turns out that the answers are many, and not simple, forever unfolding into new revelations of the depths and varieties of Form. For me, so much of the pleasure is in reading (that is, imagining, chasing, constructing) the Story contained in any instance of the Form.


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This stone is from Querpon, at the northern tip of the western shore of Newfoundland. ‘Killed by dogs’ is not a phrase found on many gravestones, but we surmise that Murray Roberts might have been teasing tied-up sled dogs (there were not many snowmobiles in Querpon in 1967) who got loose and took revenge. I had a chance to find out, but muffed it: also visiting the tiny graveyard the day I was there was a man of more or less my age who was “visiting the parents” and told me he’d left Querpon in 1962 to join the Canadian Forces and only returned to Querpon when he retired… but he’d have been a teenager at the time, and would surely have remembered the incident. And it’s not unlikely that Murray was a shirt-tail cousin, Querpon being about 20 households.

This double stone, from Isle aux Morts at the southwestern tip of Newfoundland, sketches a tale that it turns out we can fill in details on. We begin with two brothers, a disaster to a named boat, a precise date, even some detail on their marital status:


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Straits Pride II went down in a storm 29 years ago, and the incident was thoroughly investigated by the Transportation Safety Board:

On 17 December 1990, the F.V. “STRAITS PRIDE II”, inbound to St. John’s, Newfoundland, from
the fishing grounds with a two-third load of round (ungutted) codfish stowed in the fish hold,
encountered adverse weather, capsized and sank throwing the six-person crew into the ice-cold waters. Three crew members who managed to board the inflatable liferaft were subsequently rescued, but the remaining three lost their lives.

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada determined that the vessel continued to fish after learning of a forecasted storm warning and that the combined effects of the weather, shipped seas, stowage of the catch, free surface effect of liquids, loss of the port paravane, and downflooding caused the vessel to capsize and sink by the stern. The suddenness of the capsizing precluded efforts by three of the crew to successfully abandon the vessel, displacing them into the sea. As they were wearing only normal winter clothing with approved lifejackets, their survival time was limited. The other three crew members boarded the liferaft from the sea and were rescued some eight hours later in a mildly hypothermic condition. (see the detailed report of the incident)

and there’s more, in the form of a song:


I also learned (via Google) that Russell Bond’s wife Darlene died in February 2019, and that Russell had found a life-ring from the Ocean Ranger in 1982:

Officials at the Search and Rescue Center said Friday that a life-ring found on Newfoundland’s south coast was not from the Ocean Ranger oil rig that sank in February but from a Greek vessel bearing the same name. The ring was discovered on the beach at Burnt Islands, near Newfoundland’s southwest corner, last week by Russell Bond, a local fisherman. Bond turned the life-ring over to the RCMP and told local reporters he was certain it had come from the giant oil rig that sank Feb.15 on the Grand Banks, killing all 84 crew aboard.

Small things, bits of drama from lives lived quietly, of no great significance, but fascinating for their essential humanity.

Rocks from whom one learns


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Last night I took this specimen along on a visit and our hostess said “oooh is this a gift?” and I was immediately protective. “Certainly not!” I said, and immediately regretted my vehemence in defense of my rock, as I hadn’t even photographed it yet. I did make its portrait today, and thus recognized a Lesson in Attachment—one I might have learned (but had clearly forgotten) with the Bodhidharma example cited at the end of the Morphic Resonance post. In what wise is this rock my rock? Why should I wish to hold on to it? Wouldn’t it be better to appreciate it and pass it on so that others could enjoy its verisimilitude? Isn’t it enough to have discovered its several personalities and felt its agency? Yes, yes, 10,000 times yes.