In the past few years I’ve enjoyed photographing fireworks when they happen over Boston harbor and sharing the images on Facebook. I feel these photos had become part of my Facebook identity. Looking back over my history there, I also see dozens of post about my musical projects and I remember struggling to describe the technical details of those projects in a way that might be accessible to my non-musician friends. With fireworks, I could just post an image and rely on the fact that people would want to see it because it’s the sort of thing people want to see. It always felt kind of decadent and fun to share something with incontrovertible popular appeal. Living in East Boston I have a good view of harbor fireworks and I end up seeing fireworks so often that I sometimes think “Not again!” But this past New Year’s Eve of 2019, the weather was rainy, the show was abbreviated, and I couldn’t get any decent shots, so I now feel a renewed interest in photographing fireworks the next time I have the chance.
Two images of ice that formed at the edge of a stream in Caratunk Wildlife Refuge, Seekonk, MA, 1/13/2019.
Back in January 2018 my neighborhood in East Boston experienced significant flooding along with many other coastal parts of the city and region. At the time, I posted a few flooding-related photographs to Facebook and now, as part of my resolution to leave Facebook in 2019, I’m moving the material here. All three of these images employ the selective colorization technique that I wrote about in my post on Salient Color. They are all taken at the site of new condo developments on the East Boston waterfront near the Maverick T Station. The third image, “Sold Out,” was taken by Kannan T. and edited by me.
My process for leaving Facebook will involve reviewing what I’ve posted there and moving the good stuff to my blog. So here’s a start. Back in September 2017 I challenged myself to post one photograph each day for fifteen days.
Although photography makes up a large portion of what I share online, I feel a lot of internal resistance to posting my photographs. What gets posted is a minuscule portion of my growing collection. The resistance comes from a sense that the online world is a spectacularly bad place for concentrating on photos, and that to do justice to the images I love, I should make the effort to print them, frame them, and find somewhere to hang them, rather than taking the easy route of launching them into the noisy, crowded chaos of the internet. The goal of my September 2017 experiment was see how it would feel to bypass this internal resistance, suspend all my doubts, and just freely share my images for a while.
It felt pretty good. I appreciated knowing that my friends were finding some interest or pleasure in the pieces.
Here are the photos I chose to share on each of those fifteen days. On the first day, September 1, 2017, I posted three images of the same subject so there’s actually a total of seventeen photos here. To be clear, the photos were not taken on the days when I posted them; they are all older photos that had been waiting in my archive for a moment on stage.
Four images of the facade of the I. M. Pei building at 177 Huntington Ave. in Boston, taken 12/12/2018:
I saw this sign at Boston City Hall on November 20, 2018 at the edge of an exhibit of posters made by MassArt students to raise awareness about climate change. Many of the posters in the exhibit were ominous, like one poster that showed a human whose neck had been caught in plastic six pack rings as happens to turtles other animals when they encounter our dangerous waste. When I saw a sign with the words “No Art Beyond This Point,” I immediately interpreted it as if it were itself a poster in the exhibit, and I apprehended a message to the effect that “If climate change continues unabated, we will reach a point of chaos beyond which it will be impossible to make art.” Given this interpretation, the “No Art Beyond This Point” sign struck me as perhaps the most ominous of all the items in the exhibit. Of course, the sign was most likely posted by the exhibit organizer to let viewers know that they had reached the end of the exhibit and there were no more posters to be seen down the hall. Or perhaps it had been placed there by City Hall staff to the let the exhibit organizers know that they should not hang posters beyond that specific point. One thing that struck me as odd about the wording is that there seems to be an unofficial convention that signs of the form “No X beyond this point” mean that the thing in question, X, is not to be taken or done beyond a specific point. For example, “No alcohol beyond this point” means that you can’t carry your drink any further. “No fishing beyond this point” means that you can’t fish past where you are now. Considered out of context then, “No art beyond this point” should mean that you can’t carry your art any further? You can’t leave with art? You can’t make art outside these confines? Speaking of conventions and common assumptions, there seems to be a prevailing idea that photographs are “artistic” when they contain lots of bokeh. So, I thought it might be provocative to take a photograph showing the “No Art Beyond This Point” sign along with the nether region that is supposed to be devoid of art, with the quirk that this nether region appears “bokehfied” and, maybe, full of the intrigue that bokeh is supposed to supply.
Considering that today is a holiday that has some association with spiders, I thought I would share some photos of a Cross Orbweaver that I took in September 2017. I found the spider one day in my garden, and it stayed there for about a week, building and rebuilding its web. I developed an obsession with photographing it. By the time it left, I had taken around 1240 shots and had begun to refer to the creature as “my spider.” I’ve been struggling to edit the collection since then, but with the impetus of Halloween being today, I thought I’d present an abbreviated version.
This first shot shows the spider with its legs outstretched, as if in shock, desperately grasping for something that’s no longer there:
I just said the spider looks like it was “desperately grasping for something that’s no longer there.” Indeed, that’s what it was doing, and I’m to blame! You see, as I photographed the spider over many hours, I felt so much gratitude for the fascination it was affording me that I made a resolution that I would never do anything to disturb it, even if some disturbance would give rise to better photographs. My one manipulation of the environment was to mount a piece of black paperboard in the background to make the web easier to see. At one point, when I was probably five-hundred shots already into this photographic journey, I inadvertently violated my resolution. As I was adjusting the paperboard, I accidentally touched and jostled the web, causing the spider’s meal — a meticulously encased moth — to fall tragically to the ground. This photo shows the spider reaching for the meal that had just dropped from its preprandial embrace. I was surprised at how long the spider held this pose (maybe five seconds?) as if it simply couldn’t accept that moth was really gone.
Eventually the spider retracted its legs in a gesture filled with more pathos and desperation than I am used to seeing from an arachnid:
The spider seemed to be feeling pretty bad, and so was I, for having put it in this state. Luckily I hadn’t entirely ruined the spider’s day. While I had caused it to lose one of its meals, there was another partially encased moth waiting elsewhere in the web. The spider eventually emerged from its curled-up lamentation and began heading towards the second moth as I watched:
When the spider found the second moth, it decided that this morsel could not be left where it was (why?), so it began carting the thing to the other end of the web. Here you can see the spider pulling and swinging the second moth around with only two threads supporting the precious cargo:
Now the spider begins to approach the precariously suspended moth as if ready to eat:
But instead of commencing its feast, the spider decides that the moth must first be wrapped in more layers of silk (again, why?). Here you can see the spider secreting a “blanket” of silk from its rear end and wrapping it around the moth:
After further encasing the moth, the spider again decides that the moth cannot be left where it is (why?). For some reason, another precarious transfer is undertaken. The moth, now hanging from just one thread, seems to be in danger of plunging to the ground at any moment:
But spider’s execution is virtuosic, the silk is remarkably strong, the moth never falls, and finally in this third position, the spider begins to eat:
Here’s a closeup:
That’s the end of our little story of the spider losing its meal and finding another, but I do have a few more images to share. I should mention I don’t really know anything about spiders. I just love watching them. I’ve never studied entomology. But by taking photographs and looking at the photographs very closely, I’ve learned some interesting things on my own. For example, spiders (some spider) have claws. That’s how they’re able to grasp the strands of the web. Look at this:
And as we saw above, spiders can “spray” a nebulous blanket of silk from their rear ends (technically, from their spinerrets) when encasing their prey. But they can also secrete a single, well-defined thread of silk. Here’s a nighttime shot of the spider pulling thread to use in rebuilding its web:
Haven’t seen enough yet? Here’s what the spider’s underside looks like:
I should mention that while the spider looks big and dramatic in these photographs, it’s really a tiny little thing that you might consider to be visually unremarkable if you didn’t get in very close. This next image shows my basic technique for photographing the spider. The idea was to position the black board behind the web in such a way that the board itself would be in shadow while the web and spider would be illuminated by sun. I got lucky with several days of bright sun. The photos in this collection were all handheld shots taken with a macro lens at a distance of only a few inches — basically as close as I could get.
I’ll leave you with this closing portrait of our eight-legged friend: