Personal Development, Photography

A Snail’s Path

This is a snail with direction.

Been somewhere; going somewhere.

Its past and future make a straight line.

As it slithers along that line, untroubled by its own languid tempo, does the snail set an example for us?

Does it convey the message that even when we are moving at “a snail’s pace,” we should stay on course, following our chosen path, trusting that the destination will arrive in time?

On second thought, we might say that this photograph is a lie.

The snail’s apparent “path” is artificial. It was made by the photographer, who used a technical trick to create the appearance of a clear line traversing the blurred sidewalk.

This path was imposed, but not on the snail, who was oblivious to it. Imposed on the viewer.

So does this photograph speak about false paths? Wishful thinking? Deception?

Is this photograph a warning that any act of interpretation can skew reality, creating the appearance of a path, a direction, progress — where there is none?

In fact — and you’ll have to trust me on this — the snail was moving roughly along the path shown here. So by way of creative distortion, the photograph reveals a “truth” of the situation that would be harder to see otherwise. Without the blurred background and foreground, the snail might have appeared to be lost on this vast expanse of cement. I couldn’t talk with the snail, of course, but it seemed pretty confident in where it was going.

So does this photograph make the case that an image can be “honest” by lying a little? Does it say that art can reveal the truth to us by bending the truth? Does it show how clarity can be achieved not despite blurriness, but through its deliberate use?

There’s a protagonist here – the snail – and a supporting character, the observer who saw the snail. And we should care about them why? We might care about them if realize that we can’t escape being these characters ourselves – the protagonist, and the observer – any time we think of who we are, where we’ve been, and where we’re going. The observer in us might even lament the “snail” in us for moving too slowly towards what we want.

But as observers of our own lives, we have the freedom to blur some areas and bring others into focus, creating the appearance of a path that we might be following. Sometimes we have to imagine a route that’s not obvious in the full complexity of the scene. Once we’ve shown it to ourselves in a simplified picture, we can cleave to it. By imagining that path, we can manifest it.

A snail doesn’t need to use imagination to find clarity about its path because it doesn’t have an imagination to create confusion about its path in the first place – but we do.

And while we don’t have to thank a snail for inspiring a reflection that it had no intent to inspire and no ability to comprehend, we still can. So, thank you, snail! Hope you get where you’re going.

Photography, Seasons

Photographic Resonances

These portraits of me were taken in the Summer of 2022 by the wonderful Agnieszka Rytych-Foster.

This first one is about geometric abstraction:

About the second one: it’s easy to center a sunflower inside a square so it looks good, but here I wanted to create an asymmetric composition where the swirling core is in-and-out of focus, bleeding across the left edge of the image, while giving way to a radiance of petals on the right. Why does this image pair with the crumbled temple stone from South India? I could try to explain it, but I’ll save my words and let you look:

In the third portrait, I’m holding a fall leaf and a spring leaf side-by-side. I captured these images a few years apart, not thinking about the first leaf when I later encountered the second. Looking through my portfolio one day, I noticed that the central veins of these two leaves align with each other, allowing the two photographs to almost snap together like lego pieces, creating one extended leaf. My smile in this photograph is a reenactment of how I felt when I noticed this happy coincidence. And I’ve dedicated countless hours to searching for more coincidences like this — not taking photographs with the intention to pair them in a specific way, but rather discovering these resonances after the fact, where an image from one time and place might surprisingly happen to connect with another image from a completely different time and place. I think the fall leaf is the simpler of the two images here. I like it simply for the way the veins stretch throughout the square frame, filling it with an yellow-orange glow. The image of the spring leaf combines light shining through the leaf, creating a green glow, with light shining on the leaf, highlighting its fuzzy texture. The two images come together to form a larger “phrase” about the transition between seasons.


Visual Sentences

When you make art it can be a challenge to find the right language to explain what you’re doing. One might say that an artist needn’t ever explain him or herself. But art is a good conversation topic precisely because no two viewers or listeners share the same perspective. And since a viewer doesn’t share the artist’s own perspective, since a viewer isn’t intimately familiar with the history of choices the artist made in pursuing a certain visual result, the artist must offer the viewer a stepladder for reaching a vantage point that allows a work’s potential to be seen. That “stepladder” might be a word or phrase, a bit of language that gives the viewer a suggestion of where to look, how to begin understanding the piece at hand.

I’ve been describing my effort in photography as “photo pairing.” That’s been my language so far. I’m looking to create pairings or marriages between images that give rise to a kind of contrapuntal dialogue, where each image gains from being situated next to the other, where the viewer’s eye is guided seamlessly back and forth between the two images in such a way that no one image steals all the attention.

Some new language occurred to me the other day, as I was trying to make a video. Each photograph in a pairing can be thought of as an individual “word.” Together the two photographs combine, like words, into a “visual sentence.” The sentence draws out a deeper, and more specific meaning than each component word or image would convey on its own.

So instead of saying I’m working to create interesting photographic pairings, I’m going to try out some new language. I’ll say that I’m working to compose “visual sentences.” Sentences that mean more than the words they consist of. Sentences that teach us something. Here’s a video where I’m using this new terminology:


Photo Pairing

As a photographer, I strive to create pairings or marriages among disparate images. The goal of photographic pairing is the same as the goal of musical counterpoint. In counterpoint, we take two independent melodies and play them at the same time, hoping to discover something new in their dialogue, hoping the melodies may express something in conversation with each other that they could not or would not express on their own. When we take two photographs of different subjects, captured at different times and places, and position them side by side, if we’re lucky, we may achieve the same result — a conversation might arise, a dialogue between the two images where each individual seems to be enhancing the other, helping the other realize its full potential.

The idea of pairing photographs occurred to me sometime during the Covid lockdown of 2020 when I was contemplating my next steps as a photographer. I have been pursuing the same “thing” as a photographer since I first displayed my work publicly in 2011. In some sense, my style hasn’t changed or evolved in all that time. In a decade plus, I have been seeking better and better examples of the ideal that has captivated me since I first began.

I take closeups of everyday subjects — a chain link fence, a shriveled leaf — using them as raw material for graphic abstractions. I’m interested in these subjects both for what they are, and for what they offer visually, for what lines, textures, and colors they provide. I want the image to look like the thing itself, not like a photograph of the thing. When I print the image, I want to feel amazed, almost afraid to pick up the print, because it looks so real, so palpable, because its texture is so boldly accosting, because it seems to be alive and in motion even though it portrays a still subject. I want the image to delight in its squareness, meaning that it should be a dynamic square, with a sense of motion or activity throughout, addressing all four corners of the frame, in such a way that the composition breaks the symmetry of the stable, solid, unbudging square while still appearing balanced, harmonious, proportionate inside those walls.

Every once in a while I’m successful in achieving these goals that I’ve just begun to describe above. Every once in a while I’m left with something perfect. A photograph can be perfect, this medium lends itself to perfection, I don’t mean to toot my own horn. The flaw of a perfect photograph is that it is too perfect. Sometimes I want more variety, more diversity from a perfect image. My biggest revelation in my past couple of years of photographic works is that when I’m unsatisfied by a “perfect” image, I can sometimes find what I seek by pairing that image with another. Through coupling, through marriage, a photograph can extend beyond itself, becoming something bigger and greater than it can be on its own. My personal library lends itself to this kind of coupling because, again, my style has remained the same over ten years. An image from 2011 can find a partner in an image from 2022, with them both appearing to have been shot on the same day.

Since I began pairing my images in 2020 I’ve accumulated a few dozen examples that excite me and that I would like to share with you in time. To begin, I’ve made these two videos about what I’m pursuing:

Photography, Seasons

Fall 2020

Fall leaves can look like fire. Here, I see a ring of fire circling a negative space. When we look into that space we see nothing but a blur of still-green leaves above:

These leaves, rustling in the wind, all the same shade of red, look to me almost edible, like ornamental candy wafers:

The branches and stems here call my attention to all the work that had to be done in spring and summer to bring moisture and nutrients to so many leaves, then young, now orange and resplendent and soon to fall away:

This image recreates for me a bit of the swirling sensation that I experience when, in a forest, I notice that even the things I thought were still are moving:

Taking a closer look at a cluster of leaves glowing in the sun, we find there’s still some green to be seen and remembered as it cedes the stage to brown:

Sometimes a photograph that seems a mistake turns out to be more than that. Here, motion blur combined with shallow depth of field creates a composition that looks chaotic, but for me the diagonal stems give it structure and the smaller leaves in the background that are clearly in focus anchor this image as a photograph. A photograph that reminds me of an expressionist canvas:

In this image I don’t see any one leaf that’s particularly remarkable. The leaf that’s most clearly in focus is also shaded, so we aren’t able to enjoy its full visual potential. But this image teaches me that a composition doesn’t need to contain a “star” to be effective. The shallow depth of field makes the background seem like a watercolor and I like how everything hangs from those two stems at the top:

Here is an enchanted forest. The original version of this image was pale and badly overexposed, and nothing is quite in focus, so I considered discarding it. I find that trying to salvage a flawed image is usually a waste of time; better to go out and take another. But there are exceptions. My efforts to vivify this image in post-processing resulted in a product that represents — pretty darn well — what I think I actually saw. Just the other week, my mother told me that one of my grandmother’s first jobs in the 1930s was colorizing black and white photos. I wonder what my grandmother might have done with the original version of this image, which was nearly black and white, and how much the end product might have resembled what you see here:

My eye is drawn to fall leaves that glow in the sun. Sometimes I have to remind myself to look at those beautiful leaves that don’t happen to be illuminated at the moment:

Of course, I’ll always be a sucker for sunlight, whether it’s lighting up a thousand leaves or just one:

The images here were taken October 17th and 18th in Hopkinton and Berlin, Massachusetts, though I feel like I’ve been collecting them — maybe just the idea of them — for much longer. Dear viewer, thank you for joining me on my Fall journey this crazy year, 2020!



Jul 2 Fireworks

After years of photographing Boston harbor fireworks from my vantage point in East Boston with short exposures, I finally decided to work on the long exposure technique. Boston’s July 4th fireworks happen over the Charles River but this year there were also July 2nd fireworks over the harbor as the conclusion of Boston HarborFest’s Parade of Lights.

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Random Fireworks

On Thursday May 2, at 10:30PM, I was in bed when an unrelenting series of booms and thuds convinced me the world was about to end. It turned out to be random fireworks. Having lived near Boston Harbor for years, I’ve seen lots of fireworks and I know that these shows are sometimes put on by private organizations who see fit to use their spending power to inflict their own “private” celebration on the entire city. Still, I couldn’t imagine that such a thing would be happening at 10:30PM so early in the season with no warning. Once I realized that the world wasn’t ending, I got out my camera and took these photos.








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.

New Year’s 2018

New Year’s 2018

New Year’s 2018

New Year’s 2018

Aug 30, 2018

Aug 31, 2017

New Year’s 2016