Category Archives: photography

at the end of January 2024

Lest January escape me, time for a salvage blog post. A lot of my writing energies have gone into texts for Convivium discussions (Solstitial Matters, Word of/for the Year, Navigating the year’s challenges, Gettin’ Above Your Raisin’, or Beyond) and of course onto the ever-growing heap of yellow pads. Various affordances await my attentions (Valoi negative scanner, CZUR book scanner, a digital microscope), each bought with specific projects in mind, and because the technologies were irresistible…), and musical plots continue to hatch, as always. I’m preparing support materials for 5 of my photographs that will be in the Maine Photographers Showcase (opening in April), and navigating the flow of new books that sloshes over the threshold. And there are always new photographic forays. So: More of Same, Piles Higher and Deeper. I intend to use the blog to track such doings more assiduously, aware that the 20th Anniversary of the blog is fast approaching.




(this is just a beginning of a continuing Saga)

Photographs from the past ENCODE messages that may/can resonate across time. In fact, that’s how they work, in a sort of temporal accordion (folded up and hidden until the bellows are tugged open, then producing stored/implied/immanent/nascent SOUND). Above is a photo of my maternal grandparents, whom I have never seen pictures of. It arrived in my life this week (indirectly, from a first cousin once removed whom I’ve never met) and I’ve been working on investigating and unpacking the story it tells, and the Story it is a fragment of evidence within.

I have spent many many happy hours in the company of the Abandoned Ancestors of others, and also in my own trove of family photographs, passed down into my curatorship from earlier generations. The pleasure/game/discipline of reading images, of excavating stories, imputing personality and other characteristics, and connecting up the (sometimes fanciful) dots … is bottomless and basically harmless to anybody now living, or so I tell myself.

The people are: Carl Kikkebusch, Mary Joerndt, Harriet Joerndt Kikkebusch, and William Henry Joerndt.

Harriet is my mother’s elder sister (by 9 years). I “know” bits about each of these four people, though the knowledge is somewhat suspect, or at least heavily inflected, by (1) what I remember of (2) what my mother (who died in 1972) told me about her family of origin, (3) what my sister Alice (who died in 2010) told me, and (4) what I’ve deduced for myself from such family papers as I preside over… and in the last week, (5) a lively correspondence with my sister’s oldest nephew (is he my nephew-in-law? There’s no Nacirema kinship term for the relationship).

What can we read from the photo? How would backstory enlarge our reading? Where does this photo fit in the catalog of genres of vernacular photographs and snapshots? [people and cars…]

Four by the car still more joy
the new car, 1926

Walt Whitman would agree that these images contain multitudes —well, any image does, and the viewer’s opportunity is to explore those multitudes, all the better to deepen one’s appreciation for humanity and the vast complexities and complications of people’s lives and relationships.

So how is it that this is the only photograph I’ve ever seen of my mother’s parents, and that that seeing was just a week ago? Short answer: as I understand it, my mother was estranged from her parents from about age 14. I believe this to be rooted in a Joerndt family tragedy in 1908, resulting in the death of 3-year-old Marshall …and the subsequent divorce of the parents, evidently over the mother’s resort to various ‘spiritualisms’ in order to reach Marshall (that may be apocryphal, as may be the possible institutionalization of the mother). There’s much more to this drama, but there’s nobody left who knows.

The effect upon my mother between ages 9 and 14 was enormous and profound: her family “broken” (the term of choice in that era) around her just as she was emerging into personhood. At 14 she was sent to school at Urbana OH. Here’s how she described her state of mind:

I came here here hungry for affection, disturbed about the way I had seen people injure each other, and about as confused as a young girl can get…

Being sent to Urbana was utterly and completely the rescue that she needed:

Urbana University Schools, Urbana Ohio
Sixtieth year opens Sept 21, 1910
All grades from Kindergarten to second year of college
Especial attention given in regular classes
to instruction in The Word and the Doctrines of the New Church
Good, wholesome influences surrounding students
both in and out of school.
A few scholarships available
Paul H Seymour MS

So we find ourselves in a Swedenborgian world, in which both of my parents grew up (my father in the Boston Society) and lived their lives. Just how the Joerndts came to be in that world is a mystery, but the Humboldt Park Society of the Church of the New Jerusalem is the locus. Rob Lawson suggests

Carl and Henrietta Joerndt [William’s parents] would have been very knowledgable of the New Church German Society as early as the 1850s. The Pastor of this branch of the Chicago Swedenborgians, John Henry Ragatz, was from Switzerland and a contemporary in age with the Joerndts&mdsah;just a few years older than Carl. Ragatz started out as a minister of the Joerndt’s Lutheran Evangelical Church, of which the Joerndts remained members at least up to 1899. When Ragatz started the German New Church in 1854-55, the Joerndts may have had friends who left the Lutheran church to hang out with their Pastor Ragatz and his new-found adoption of Swedenborg’s spiritual offerings. It’s just a guess…

Aunt Harriet and Carl Kikkebusch were married in the Humboldt Park church in 1910, and at one point both my mother and her younger sister Eunice were sent to live with Harriet and Carl. Somebody in the Humboldt Park Society suggested and then managed my mother’s flight to Urbana, but I know none of the details.

Just to relieve the suspense, a few more bits of the story: after the divorce, William married again, one Augusta Knopf, who died in 1926. He then married (wait for it…) …Mary Joerndt in October 1926, in California… and both Harriet and Eunice were living in California in the early 1920s. The Mary Joerndt in the photograph

is physiognomically very similar to my mother when she was about that age.

While my mother was at Urbana, when she was perhaps 16, she had appendicitis and her father (by then a Christian Scientist) refused permission for the operation that would save her life. Alice Sturges, the Housemother, took responsibility and signed in loco parentis. Her father disowned her. Or so goes the story.

And here’s one of Mary Joerndt and Harriet in 1907: the year before Marshall’s death, when Harriet was 16:

This will probably be continued, so stay tuned.


So what happened to June and July? A strange summer, mostly unseasonably cool and foggy here in midcoast Maine, while sweltering ‘most everywhere else (fires, plagues of frogs, rain and more rain…). I put a lot of time and effort into four Convivium Questions:

…which l enjoyed working on but can’t really claim had any useful effect beyond my own sorting out of what I was inspired to discover and put into words, and of course plentiful Collection Development by way of book purchases to salve arising curiosities.

In photographic realms, just a few Flickr Albums generated, but no new ground broken by way of image projects, and no public display lined up until maybe next spring. I have ideas for Blurb books, but nothing underway. I now have the wherewithal to make good scans of a lot of old negatives from 40-50-60 years ago, and those might feed into books too.

And in musical realms, I continue to play for an audience of one, and to acquire irresistible new-old instruments via Jake Wildwood, but Betsy is of the opinion that there are Too Many instruments, so there’s a plan afoot to recycle some of the rarely-played via Jake.

Otherwise, the rapidly-approaching 80th birthday is beginning to loom…

at the end of May

Last night’s coffee porter photo


seems a cunning synecdoche for where things are at the end of May 2023 — a dynamic blend of order and randomness, of the literal and the figurative, of the stochastic and the entrained, of moments hunted and moments preserved, and with Imagination to the fore. There’s no better way for me to live, delightfully below the radar and in deep appreciation of family and friends.

coughed up by Flickr

Every now and again an image hidden in my Flickr photostream floats into view and tempts me to re-think a project that’s been back-burnered by other fascinations. Today’s case in point is from 2018, and Flickr tells me that somebody looked at it yesterday –no idea how, or why, it was chosen, or discovered:


One of a bunch taken along a stretch of rocky St George shoreline (see the Flickr Album from that expedition. I see all sorts of wonderful lithic landscapes, full of interpretive opportunities, and expressing an aesthetic rather different from that I’ve been drawn to in the last few years).




So it’s high time to think about the creatures of the lithic world again, and try to understand just what it is they’re trying to communicate. Each tells a geomorphological story, involving an odyssey of exposure to heat and pressure deep in the Earth’s mantle, a tectonic-driven journey upward to the surface, transport and abrasive sculpture from parent rock somewhere far away (probably Canada) to the shore in St. George by glacial advance and retreat, and then a few thousand years of tumbling by waves of the Gulf of Maine. Awesome.


One of New England’s Autumn rituals is the Binding of the Evergreens. A bolt of [gunny] sack cloth or burlap or tow sackin’ or hessian (dialect variants for pretty much the same very rough cloth, almost loose enough to qualify as net) is sourced from somewhere (Tractor Supply, maybe?) and wrapped around ornamental evergreens for the first 5 or 6 years after they are planted. One must wonder why (not to mention where and when and wither and how) this custom came to be and to spread to its present territory?

And of the style and other niceties of the Binding: The most common configuration is the line, which often looks nothing but military:


The ideal is a uniformity that is rarely achieved. Most straggle and sag and some even wander. Some manage to stand in a line as if on parade:


(most of these can be read as faces…)

With Evergreens planted as specimen trees, there’s more latitude for the fanciful when it comes to Binding. It’s not clear if the Binders consider that they might be doing Evergreen Sculpture, or if the main point is to ward off hungry winter-browsing deer, and you get the burlap around her good enough…

Remarkable characters sometimes emerge:


hawk-nosed portrait head with extravagant plumed headdress


I can’t decide between genuflection and a couch too deep


Exercise: caption this as you will

Some are marvelous portraits of character. I read this one as disgruntled old sergeant with silly tufted headgear.


Longtime I’ve thought of these as Hessians, a tip o’ the hat to the 18th century Germans with whom the Crown sought to maintain order in 1770s North America. Others collected can be seen in my Hessians Flickr Album.

My friend Brian Higley, landscape architect and vegetation whisperer, comments thusly:

I like to call these, trees in bondage. Whenever I see them, they look pretty tortured to me. But maybe the more creative way to see them is perhaps… homage to the landscape artist Christo. See the forms without any preconceptions, only for what they are as sculpture. What happens to the flora when you wrap it? … The wrappings can actually serve a purpose in some cases, but those cases included, it usually means that someone has planted the wrong species of plant in the wrong location, or deer.

Some species of evergreen trees and shrubs are extremely sensitive to wind and can become dessicated in the winter. If the winter wind doesn’t kill them, they will stay nice and brown the rest of the year. Wrapping can keep them alive and perhaps green.

Heavy pressures from a starving deer population (the case in several places I have worked) can make it next to impossible to have any new plantings without a seven foot deer fence around your entire property. Many people with money do just that, and then the remaining deer have that much less land to feed on. When they are starving they will eat anything in sight, including things they aren’t even supposed to like. Some people like to wrap up their plants in winter to protect from the hungry deer, a reasonable protective measure by tree loving owners, but in my view the dressed up soldiers stand out as a loud and obvious symbol of defeat. Really? looking at wrapped up trees all winter? I get it though. Falling in love with your trees can be as irrational as falling in love with another person.

Now if you live in Beacon, New York and you happen to get a nice little fig tree, and you wrap it all up and bury it in the fall to keep it from getting too cold, you can get some nice figs every year — it is totally worth the trouble. And the ugliness you have forced upon the plant, and the rest of the world, is justified.

scanning photo albums

Yesterday I began sorting through some accumulated heaps of Abandoned Ancestors and came upon a slim and anonymous sixteen page album which I scanned and reordered and uploaded as a Flickr Album. The most remarkable image is surely


but this one is a close second:


One rarely finds such direct engagement with the photographer as seen in the riveting gaze of the woman on the left, and there’s the further enigma of the evidently symbolic arrangement: the five participants seem to be holding hands in an expression of solidarity.

The album also includes nine cyanotypes, all of male subjects doing outdoorsy things. This one is especially gripping:


But what does it all mean?

Learning to read albums of snapshots is challenging, since context is often missing and all one usually knows is that the assembler of an album cared about the photos included, and invested energy into arranging the images on the pages. What can we make of this pair, from the disintegrating and faded remnants of a small album from perhaps a century ago?



(see the scanned album and try figuring out its story)

Perhaps further exploration of that album will give us some hints, but it’s a salvage operation. Most of the photos are faded, and so needed extensive work with Lightroom. There are a few captions, but nothing definitive. As vernacular as it gets.

Clark Island at low tide

“The Mysteries of Pebbles” by Paolo Mucciarelli and Enrico Ranzanici (via BoingBoing)

(and review How did I arrive at this fascination with imaginary beings?)

Yes, well… today’s photographic expedition took us to the intertidal zone at Clark Island, where I discovered all sorts of Personages and some lovely Surfaces. The Flickr Album offers the whole set, more or less sorted into a Narrative. I can’t pick a favorite.