Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Last Rays....

As the sun approaches the winter solstice, its arc getting ever lower each day, the quality of light gets finer and finer.  About two years ago I started carrying a pocket camera. Since my preferred mode of dress on a typical day is a pair of overalls over a flannel shirt, I have a perfect pocket on the bib in which a small camera is right at home.  I started out with a Canon SD1100 IS, an 8 megapixel with all the necessary features to make grab-shot photos easy and of a quality that is very useful. 

Somehow, on a recent trip to Colorado, that little camera and I parted ways.  I hope whoever found it gets as much service out of it as I did. I replaced it with a Panasonic Lumix FH-20, which, at 14 mpxls and with an 8X optical zoom lens, is an even more capable camera.  It almost doesn't matter what pocket camera you choose, there are very few bad ones out there in a market that is so competitive that incompetent products don't last very long and manufacturers know that their reputation is always on the line.  The key is to have a camera WITH YOU at all times. 

Below is a shot of a local farm, taken in the last few moments before the sun dove below the horizon.  I was able to pull off the road, jump out and capture about six images before the sun was gone.  For me, what is most enjoyable about this image and all pix of this type, is how radically the yellow-rose sunlight transforms the buildings.  If you look at the various areas of them you will see colors ranging from a very warm, almost Naples Yellow Pale, to pinks, mauves and even distinctly violet shades where the shadows fall.  The multiple surfaces all catch the light in unique ways and reflect colors differently. If I decide to use this image as a reference for a painting, the test will be to not over exaggerate the colors.  They are already very saturated and to take them much further would run the risk of stepping across the line into garishness.  Light as it naturally occurrs is almost always about as good as it gets.

This image could be made very easily by anybody with a camera.  There is absolutely nothing about it that required any skill......other than the obvious one:  SEEING THE LIGHT.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

How Dogs Tamed US.....

Last night I saw the first episode of "How Man Tamed the Wild" on Nat Geo t-v.  Among the interesting segments was one that made me really sit-up and watch closely.  It was about the 'Metrodogs' of Moscow.  These are members of the approximately 35,000 feral dog population that roams Moscow without restraint.  They are also smart enough to know that being friendly to the Muscovites is necessary if they want to live their lives unmolested, so they are actually quite sociable as they go about the tough job of making a living by their wits.  The so-called 'Metrodogs', however, go a step further.  They have learned how to use the extensive Moscow subway system, and it seems clear that they both get on and off trains at the stations of their choosing.  In other words: THEY KNOW THE SUBWAY SYSTEM.  One Russian who is researching these amazing mutts--who all look somewhat the same, btw, like a German Shepherd-Labrador cross--guessed that they know the various stations by their unique appearance, by scent......and because the announcer tells them the name as the train pulls in. 

On hearing this I immediately had a mental image of this dog getting off his seat, stretching and yawning, "Well, that's my stop." written across his face as he makes his way toward the door.

There was plenty of footage of these dogs sharing the platforms with passengers of the two-legged variety, and there is even a bronze statue of a Metrodog on one station platform.  Obviously, Muscovites like and admire these pooches for their independence and audacity.  One passenger remarked that the dogs will go right between your legs to get where they want to go.  And he was smiling as he said this.

Moscow dogs have formed packs in exactly the same way wolves and coyotes do....not to mention inner-city human juveniles too, of course.  Their territories are precise and non-negotiable; any dog caught in a neighboring pack's territory is in for a very rough time of it. One such pup, trapped along a steep riverbank was calling for his pack-mates to come get him out of a jam.

Another very interesting tidbit was that researchers have discovered genetic differences in animals that are non-aggressive and those that remain aggressive.  This, in fact, was the defining criteria for being 'tame' or wild: friendly or not.  They have some idea that a few wolves with this 'tame' gene began to reach out to humans about 15,000 years ago, and that was the beginning of the endless adventure of dogs and humans working and living together. 

But, perhaps the most interesting research that has been done in this area is that of a Russian scientist, beginning in the 50s and still underway--he, btw, actually braved the firing squad under the Stalin regime to do it. Dimitri Belyaev found that some 60 generations into artificial selection for 'friendliness' that silver foxes began to actually change their appearance. They became multi-colored, developed a lighter bone structure, and they began to do something no wild fox does.....wag their tails as a sign of friendly intentions. 

And, last but not least is a story from an island far out to sea off County Donnegal, Ireland: Tory Island.  Up until he disappeared in 2008, there was a porpoise named Doogie who was the local 'harbor porpoise'.  This is actually not a rare thing for a porpoise to become habituated in a particular harbor and to visit with the local fishermen and boaters.  I have heard some amazing stories about such animals.  But, one day in Tory harbor, a yellow lab named Ben saw Doogie out there and decided that he needed to meet him.....so he paddled out and began a friendship that went on for years. On a given day Ben would see Doogie and make his way out for a frolic in which Ben would swim in tight circles as Doogie swirled around him.  Click on the header above to see a video of Ben and Doogie having a visit. 

When I first became aware of this, my thought was: "What in the world went through Ben's head that he decided swimming out into a frigid, dark body of water to meet a very large and only partially visible creature?"  Then I remembered: "Oh, that's right...HE'S A DOG!!"

Friday, November 19, 2010

Uh-oh, there he goes again.....

In Tsarist Russia, sometime around the fin de siecle, an officer in the Tsar's secret police (Pyotr Ivanovich Rachovsky) fabricated something called, "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion."  He just made them up, even plagiarized some of the content from a French literary work, "Dialog in Hell between Machiavelli and Montesquieu" by Maurice Joly, a political satirist of the 1860s.  These were supposedly secret protocols describing a plan by means of which the 'Elders' of the world Jewish community planned to take over the planet. These fake protocols might have faded quickly into the dustbin of history but for the fact that Henry Ford became aware of them and saw to it that they were widely distributed and published them in, "The International Jew".  Apparently, dear ol' Henry was an anti-semite of some serious standing and ambition.

When Adolph Hitler came to power in 1933, he saw to it that Josef Goebbles et al, distributed the Protocols throughout the Third Reich.  This was a part of the strategy I have previously written about here, called "The Big Lie", one of the tenets of which is to turn the tables on your perceived opponents, and make them to blame for, well, for EVERYTHING, of course. The crystalline clarity born of hindsight has shown that it was the Nazis themselves who were implementing the 'protocols', almost step-by-step, all the while using their existence to fuel the hell-fires of the Holocaust.

Now, slip forward in time to the present.  We have a clown called Glenn Beck, or at least he poses as a clown, telling people, "Hey, what do I know?", "I'm just a fool", "Don't believe me," and yet he also let's fly phrases such as, "Hey, I couldn't say it here, if it weren't true."  He's the kind of clown that would have all the kiddies at the birthday party crying and cowering under the furniture after the first few minutes. He relishes his role as a stoker of fear, a spreader of lies, a painter of dire pictures of the future.  And, despite his disclaimers to the contrary, he is well aware that he commands the attention of a large audience, estimated to be in the range of 2.1 million people, though it should also be noted that his audience has shrunk by approximately 800,000 since the beginning of 2010.

Apparently there are over two million Americans who are sitting in front of televisions at 5:00 p.m. and sucking up the words this man spews out.  His latest campaign is to reveal how George Soros, a self-made billionaire who survived the Holocaust in Hungary as a teenager, and now is somewhat of a media mogul, has been plotting to, "....take over the United States."  With his now typical assemblage of props and chalk boards, Beck goes into far-flung elaborate explanations of how Soros is implementing his nefarious plan, using, of course, his media empire to great effect to do so.

This is the most blatant and callous use of the Big Lie strategy since the Nazis.  Soros does give money to support various liberal causes and politicians.  He has also been vigorously putting his support behind any group or government that fights communism, fascism or totalitarian forces wherever they occur.  Soros has consistently put his money to work to fight against all those who would trample human rights...anywhere.

So, because he is fully qualified to fit Beck's definition of a "progressive", Beck's response has been to identify Soros as perhaps the most evil person on the planet, easily worse than weenies like Bin Laden because Soros is actually accomplishing something with his efforts.  Beck, to the amazement of even some conservatives, has claimed that Soros was a collaborator with the Nazis at the age of 14, when the truth is that he was--at his father's request--sheltered by a Christian so that he wouldn't be hauled off to Auschwitz with the rest of his family.  (aside: the man under whose care he stayed alive, took him along when he appraised confiscated Jewish properties, and for this Beck has said that Soros confiscated the properties himself.....a wild and ridiculous perversion of the truth, in typical Beck fashion)  The amazingly hypocritical irony behind all of this is that Beck works for Rupert Murdoch, far and away the most powerful media mogul, and one who throws his vast wealth behind conservative causes however he might, via his own much vaster media empire.  The cause Murdoch supports is that of the wealthy getting wealthier, empire building, amassing not merely money but unimaginable power as well.  In fact, wealth is just a vehicle for wielding power and Murdoch is a master of using his 'fair and balanced' news network as a pure and simple propaganda machine.....not at all different, in tenor or substance, than what Goebbles did with the Propaganda Ministry of the Third Reich.

Beck lies without blinking.  He makes up 'facts' out of whole cloth, and seems to feel wholly justified in so doing.  He puts forth his own Big Lie so unashamedly and with such vigor that it is almost hard to take him seriously....but, apparently, over 2 million people do.  I doubt that most of his listeners realize the extent to which he turns the facts and the truth upside down, and inside out.

In Nazi Germany, people became circumspect about the propaganda that they were bombarded with unceasingly.  One of the primary instruments for this was a newspaper, "Der Volkischer Beobachter", "The Peoples' Observer".  It was, pure and simple an organ for the Nazi regime to spin reality.  Eventually, people widely understood this and the conventional wisdom became that if you really wanted to know what was going on with the war, or anything, you simply read the 'VB' and turned everything around 180 degrees.

I have actually tried this with all the sewage flowing from Beck's mind.....it actually works.  Try it yourself, I think you will be amazed.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Down to the Bare Bones......again.

Now that almost all the leaves have fallen, leaving only a smattering of bleached beech leaves that will still be there in the early spring, the landscape is fully revealed.  It is a time of year that frustrates me as a photographer because everywhere I look I see the trunks and branches of the trees and shrubbery, and they make amazingly fine textured filigree designs.  But, when I try to put a lens on them and bring those designs to a two-dimensional plane....they mostly fall flat.  I have still--after four decades of trying--not figured out why this is so.

At one point in the 90s I even took-up large format photography, went out and bought a Toyo 4 x 5 field camera, and all the attendant accessories, but still was not satisfied with what I was able to capture.  Perhaps I am just being a spoiled brat of a photographer....expecting something with the impact of more dramatic landscape images where, in actuality, what exists and calls out to me, is very quiet, subtle and much less accessible.

But, in the end, all images captured with a camera will fall short of capturing what was in front of you at the moment the photograph was made.  I think that what appeals to me is the soft colors and gentle light, bathing a frothy landscape of weeds, brush and bare trees against a sky that forebodes the coming of winter.

This is an image of a marsh that I drive past on my way to Portland.  And, it is telling me of the fleeting seasons. Click on it to see it larger.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Don't miss it........

For reasons known best to himself, Mark Burnett, the creator of the Survivor series on CBS, has come up with another kind of reality series altogether.  In fact, it may be a real stretch to use the term 'reality', because it is an 8 segment show on the life of Sarah Palin.  You may have already seen the trailers for it: Sarah hiking up a mountain pass, in a boat near some tussling Grizzlies, driving an ATV, extolling the virtues of freedom in the great outdoors, etc. 

Here is a link to an article about the series: http://www.boston.com/ae/tv/articles/2010/11/12/sarah_palins_alaska_follows_a_mama_grizzly_in_her_natural_habitat/?p1=Upbox_links

The first thought that crossed my mind when I saw the initial trailer for this series was that Sarah has found a way to 're-brand' herself.  So, when I read the above article, all I could do was nod my head and acknowledge that she's now running for president.  This series will portray her as an All-American, hockey mom, outdoor woman, in charge/take charge kind of person who is someone we can really identify with.  Nevermind all that we have learned about her in the last two years since she stepped onto the national stage.....nah, none of that is what we should be paying attention to.

She is not the journalism major who couldn't tell Catie Couric the name of a single newspaper she reads.  She is certainly not the person who has put her foot in her mouth more often than a spoon or fork.  Just read the article and get a deeper insight into what is coming.


Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Twilight Cafe.....the painting.

I seem to be making a habit of going back to places and images that I have already painted and looking at them in new or different ways.  This painting is an example of that.  I had the thought one day that it might be interesting to photograph on Congress Street, in Portland, just at dusk, when the day is fading and the city lights are coming on.....not yet dark, but no longer daylight either.

So, I put myself at my chosen spot about a half-hour before sunset, set up a tripod and camera and waited.  As the light changed I made a steady record of it, but I knew that it was still too light, and I was still anticipating that there would come a moment when the interior light in the Starbucks across the street would seem balanced with the daylight outside its windows.  Ultimately, I was there for nearly an hour before I saw what I had hoped for, and I shot a long series of images documenting the street-lights coming on--which they do gradually, btw--and the coming and going of patrons in the cafe. 

One of the aspects of this scene that appeals to me--in any light--is how each window becomes a fleeting visual narrative about its ever so temporary occupant(s), and also conveys a sense of each person being isolated.  The fact that many--even most--of the people are using wi-fi laptops to surf the web adds to that isolation.  Each person seems lost in their own little world as the city goes on about its business around them.  This also plays into a theme in my work that has been there since college: "a stranger in a strange land", after the Heinlein novel by that title, of course.  I often see people as alien visitors in their immediate surroundings, travelers who are either actively or passively participating in an ongoing cosmic psycho-drama... here on the earth-plane.

So, here is "Twilight Cafe", a 22 x 30 oil painting on a Baltic birch panel.  Thanks for looking.  Recall that you can click on this image and see it 'full-size'.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

And the Times They are a Changin'.....

Well, here in Maine we have pretty much done the same thing that much of the country has done: gone to the polls with a snoot full of petulant anger.  We have elected an ultra-conservative governor, Paul LePage, and a state legislature that is largely of a much further right persuasion than usual.

The new governor--you may have heard--is the fellow who said, "I'll tell Obama to go to hell." How nice to know that we will be artfully cooperating towards solving the financial and social problems that plague Maine, just like the rest of the country.  I suppose we should feel lucky that we aren't represented by Rand Paul, who said in his acceptance speech that he intended to go to Washington and work on getting President Obama impeached....exactly for what--other than disagreeing with Paul--I am not sure.

The mood across the land is one of angry rejection of what the government has done to re-form health care, prevent another Great Depression and to impose some kind of restraints on the Wall St. wankers who caused this recession in the first place. Hmmmmmm....I suppose it would be good to let them just do what they want.  After all, they're the 'experts', right?  And, God knows the health insurance companies are paragons of kindness and consideration.  Why would we want to reign them in?  But, worst of all, we should have let the poo hit the Wall Street propeller and let those pesky banks and brokerages--not to mention two of the three largest auto-makers--just go down in flames.  Then we could really re-build America from the ashes of a debacle that would have 'purified' the financial and business environment of any weaklings who were destined to be non-survivors in the rough and tumble business world anyway, right?

I must be missing something here.  Instead of taking measures that either protect the working people from the predations of fast and fancy financial whizz-kids.....we are supposed to let them just do whatever they want, and celebrate the joys of 'free enterprise'.  Is that the wish of the Tea Baggers?  If it is, then I admit I am really bamboozled.  Most of the folks I see holding up, "Don't Tread on Me" flags at Tea Party rallys, look like ordinary working people.  Do they really think they are worse off because the government is going to prevent the predators in the pharmaceutical, energy, financial/credit industries from strip-mining the middle-class of its wealth?

Can they really not see that these industries are doing exactly that?  We are like aphids on a rose bush, and the 'ants' keep us well-tended with what we think we want....entertainment galore, toys, and a life-style that was heretofore unimaginable to our great grandparents....and then they 'milk' us.  Whether it be userous  interest rates on the credit we all believe is vital to the maintenance of this life-style, or gouging us for the drugs and medical care we must have, bleeding us dry to heat our homes and drive our cars, it is all just a part of the Big Plan.  That is the one where 1% of Americans acquires 23% of ALL THE WEALTH.

And, guess what, THEY ALREADY HAVE. 

The biggest joke of all is that the Tea Baggers--clamoring for what they believe is the Freedom all Americans have guaranteed to them as their birthright--are acting as the pawns for the Amassers.....doing just exactly what the Big Money lords want them to do: make damn sure that the plundering will continue unabated, without any constraints imposed by the supposed boogeyman: our elected government. Apparently, from what I have been able to glean from their figureheads and vociferous idiots--like Glenn Beck, of course, and dear ol' Rush, Bill O. and--TADAAAH--Sarah Palin--we'd be ever so much 'freer' and happier if the government would just go away.  Wha?  Hey, no taxes sounds pretty good....but, at the cost of what?

Generations from now, doctoral theses will be written on how this came about, how the people were used against their own best interests to insure than the super-rich would become ever more so.  These future economists and social anthropologists will shake their heads and wonder why we could not see what was happening.

In fact, I am doing that right now.