Notice at the end of the video how Joe “appears” from behind the wedge like it is a telephone booth… and he’s Superman with iphone on ear. Makes me smile.
We visited the Twin Cities area for a week in late April, early May, 2012. Why Minneapolis of all places? The American Association of Museums held its annual meeting and I accompanied Joe as his taxi driver. We stayed at a hotel that was several miles from the Convention Center, and I dropped him off and picked him up. In the mean time, I did a bit of relaxing and exploring. I didn’t take a lot of photographs, and I actually used the camera on my phone for many that I did take. I was surprised at the collections at both museums we visited, and I enjoyed the cool weather. Minneapolis = pretty nice place, ya’know.
Anyway, photos can be found here.
So, does this look familiar? I swear I did not know what I was doing when I took this shot. After I got home and started developing my photos digitally, there seemed to be something oddly familiar about the angle and the shape of this church. I couldn’t figure it out, and I originally thought that this shot was unusual because I chose the back of the church to focus on. There was something iconic about the shapes and how they fit together — the tonality of the adobe — that made me really want to capture it.
I’m not the only photographer or artist who has taken a look at the backside of this church and thought “I must have that.” It turns out that many examples of the back of this church appears in the dialog of images of the Southwest.
I found Ansel Adams’ image, taken circa 1929 to be very interesting. I had no overt knowledge of this image before doing a bit of research upon my return from Taos this week.
I decided to see what I could do to approximate the same image ratio and color. The second image shows my results after utilizing Darktable and Gimp for processing and desaturating the color. Side by side, Adams’ image looks taller and more austere. Of course, his format is different and his materials and technique, wildly different; not to mention his expertise and skill at capturing the universal elemental expression that is felt at this very spot, if one simply looks.
What I find intriguing is that I chose virtually the same angle as my predecessor did over 80 years ago. When editing, I decided to keep my lens flare in the image. My photo was obviously taken at a different time of day in a different season, but the similarities to me are incredibly striking. I must have stood in almost the same spot Adams chose. Note also that the present day stucco is quite different and softer. By my understanding, the structure is re-stuccoed just about every year by the villagers.
Ansel Adams wrote in his book Elements, “it is not really large, but it appears immense. The forms are fully functional; the massive rear buttress and the secondary buttress to the left are organically related to the basic masses of adobe, and all together seem an outcropping of the earth rather than merely an object constructed upon it.” This is even more true with age and the softening of the edges by repeated application of adobe.
“We should never deny the power of intuition or hesitate to follow its revelations… It is essential that the artist trust the mechanisms of both intellect and creative vision. The conscious introspective critical attitude has no place in the luminous moments of creative expression, but should be reserved for later, when the work is complete.”
He stated, “I seemed to know precisely the square yard of earth on which to place my tripod.” He also says, “Some intuitive thrust made this picture possible.”
I completely agree.
Another famous artist also found the back of this church irresistible: Georgia O’Keefe. Also apparently completed in 1929, her painting is a bit of a different take, because she chose a different angle and different materials to communicate the timelessness and the elemental quality of the structure.
And of course, not being able to help myself when in the presence of this church, I felt the need to document it from other interesting angles as well.
It appears I was more interested in the buttress on the left, and O’Keefe was rightly more interested in the rectangular shape of the rear of the church and the visual asymmetry of both sides. From my light reading, O’Keefe and Adams were in Taos the same year, and both were intrigued by this church.
Originality be damned, it’s reassuring to see that these two luminaries, as well as many others, experienced and attempted to communicate the striking presence of this church. I took what I believe is a unique angle of the structure, and I find the sky against the snow and adobe textures elemental and sensual in this image.
I suppose this image could have been taken at almost any adobe structure in town, but I do like the shape and grain of the buttress with the thin frosting of snow against the strength of the towering adobe walls and the clear blue sky. I believe that while being abstract, the image reflects the strength and compassion I have found in the people and land of the region.
Overall, I guess I accidentally learned quite a bit from this church at Ranchos de Taos. It is rewarding to recognize a happy accident and look at other interpretations (sometimes eerily similar) after an experience, especially considering the expanse of time, technique and season.
Last week, my mother sent me a photograph of my great-great grandfather, Moses Maurice Smith, who came from Georgia and settled in Indian Territory in the 19th Century. He died in Bohchito, Oklahoma in 1925. Anyway, another relative emailed her the photograph, and I thought it was really cool. This must have been taken in Oklahoma – or Indian Territory, as it was called then (Oklahoma became a state in 1907, right around the time this photo must have been taken). Whoever scanned it used a good resolution – the original is 1981 x 1601 at 300 dpi. That’s not really huge, but it’s worth working on to get some decent results, especially if all I want to do is display it at screen resolution, and it might make a nice small print as a bonus.
As you can see, the original had tears, folds and scratches after being passed around for over 100 years. I decided it was worth it to take the time and restore it using GIMP on my Ubuntu. All told, this restoration took about four hours, just so it’s not as simple as hitting the “Fix Photo” button. But it isn’t that difficult, either.
I don’t have a huge amount of experience with GIMP, but I’ve done photo restoration a few times. I usually use GIMP just for fairly quick photo manipulation and color correction, so this was going to be a learning experience. Enter Google and my world-wide network of sharing experts!
First, I needed to remove the tears and generally clean the image up. If you looked closely, there were scratches that were minor, and some staining and foxing. Some of that would be all right to keep just for character, but much of it should go. We wanted to see Ol’ Mose looking good.
After Googling around a bit, I found the web site of a Russian guy who wrote a script that separates the grain and the color into two different layers. You will need this and you might as well grab it now at:
Scroll down for the English version of the instructions. Also, he’s using Windows, so if you are using Ubuntu, you will want to install the script in /home/yourdirectory/.gimp-2.6/scripts where “yourdirectory” is whatever your user name is. You may also have a different version of GIMP so the directory might be .gimp-2.5 or some other version. You get the idea. Also note that directories with a “.” in front of them are hidden, so if you are using Gnome to browse your files, hit “ctrl-h” to unhide them.
Start or re-start GIMP and look under “Filters.” You should see “Leon” on the list and “Grain-Colors” in the sub menu. Great. You’ve installed the script.
Now let’s get to Leon’s instructions for fixing up your vintage photo. They are at:
Always use a copy of your original, and save versions as you go along. I’ve found this very handy. Leon is Russian, and tends to be spare with words, but he’s really very good and it’s fairly easy to follow along with what he’s doing. The script he wrote separates your image into two layers. You can use this script to totally remove people from images as well (see the script download page). What we want to do here is remove all the tear marks, and then go back in and fix some tones that were damaged with age.
First, you’ll work on the Grain layer, smudging out all the tear marks, then you’ll switch to the Colors layer, and use the Clone tool to match adjacent areas. Although time consuming, I think this worked out pretty good for me. I confess to not understanding the last part of the tutorial where he creates another layer, uses a black mask, and draws in details with white, but I don’t think I needed that because this wasn’t a portrait like his example.
I also decided that the image looked too gray (perhaps I should have tried to work more with Leon’s script and get the masking correct), and I wanted a more sepia tone look. So, back to Google. You can just use the “Old Photo” filter that comes with your GIMP install, but I wanted something more subtle. I found a tutorial at gimp.org by Eric Jeschke to give me that kind of control:
It uses masking as well and he’s working on a modern color photograph. He also gives credit to another site (http://www.retouchpro.com/tutorials/lum-mask-sepia.html) that details the difference between auto sepia tone (ie. Old Photo filter) and the controlled method of doing it. His tutorial has visual examples, so it’s easier to follow.
So here is my final version of Moses Maurice Smith (Old Mose), probably taken somewhere in Indian Territory around the turn of the century.
I wish his face and hand could have been more distinct, but they were too damaged in the original. I lost some tonality somewhere – you can’t see his horse’s eyes in my version, and in the original you can. It just looks darker overall, but I’m pretty happy with it anyway, and I learned a couple of new tricks.
I doubt if you’ve ever shelled a cashew. Think about it. Any images of shelling cashew nuts in your childhood? Didn’t think so. Cashews aren’t your average nut. I thought about this one day after a trip to the store to replenish my trail mix. Why can’t you buy cashews and shell them yourself? Thanks to the handy-dandy interwebs, I got my answer, and it’s fascinating.
Cashews are native to Brazil, but are grown all over in tropical regions, especially India and Africa. The Portuguese took the plant to India to help with soil erosion (the plant has a massive root system) in the mid-1500′s and Indians fell in love with the plant, using it widely in their cuisine. Odds are, the cashews you buy in the store are from India or Brazil – in other countries, processing the nut is both labor intensive and beyond their technical infrastructure. The nut is just thrown away while the fruit is consumed, sometimes on the spot. Cashews are not grown commercially in the US, because they have no tolerance for cold weather (there may be a few novelty trees in Florida). There’s a $400 million import market for them. 31% of Americans rated cashews as their favorite nut.
The cashew grows on a rather unremarkable looking evergreen tree that is related to the mango tree, pistachio tree, poison ivy and poison oak. It’s a generally bushy, low branched tree that might reach 35 feet. You’d never guess a tree this average looking could produce such an unusual fruit. It blooms with yellowish-pink flowers, and the nut has a double shell with a spongy honeycomb tissue in between that’s toxic. It’s a lot like poison ivy and will blister your mouth. The nut develops first and then a pear-shaped fruit forms that is about 3 inches long ripens to a yellow, juicy appendage above the nut shell. The trees flower for about 2 weeks at the beginning of the dry season (May in India and October in Brazil), and in 2 or 3 months you’ve got fruit. What makes the cashew weird is that the seed is outside the body of the fruit. The fruit is called a pseudo-fruit, or commonly, an “apple.” The nut hangs from the bottom of the apple. In its pre-processed state, the shell of the nut is leathery, not brittle, like most nuts.
When ripe, the apple and nut fall together from the tree. They are collected by hand from the ground. The apple can’t be transported any distance because it is very fragile and spoils quickly. The fruit will rot if left on the ground for a day, so at harvest time daily walks are made through the groves. As a fresh fruit, you can chew them, swallow the juice, and spit the fibers. They are bitter and give you the dry mouth because they’re high in tannins. But cooked, dried, candied, or made into wine, they are apparently pretty tasty. Before the fruit falls to the ground, it is poisonous, they can’t be picked early and ripened while in transit
There are a couple of ways to get to the nut we all love. The nut can be washed in water and stored in heaps for a couple of days. The shell eventually ruptures and the poison runs out. Then they are roasted in a large cylinder to burn off any remaining toxins. Or, the nuts can be dried in the sun and stored (for up to two years) for processing. When it’s time to process them, they are re-hydrated and roasted in a large rotating cylinder. That burns most of the toxic oil off.
There is actually a very good market for the toxic oil. It is used to termite proof wood, in the production of polymers in the petroleum industry and in the automotive industry as a component in brake linings that reduces squeaking. Some roasters are rigged with a trough that collects the oil and maximize profit in the process.
The nuts are usually shelled by hand to get more whole nuts and fewer pieces. But wait, we’re not done yet. They still have to be dried again and peeled by hand. Finally, they are re-humidified vacuum packed in 25 pound cans filled with CO2. A can of cashews sold in India in 2008 for about $2.20.
“Walter D’Souza, former chairman of the Cashew Export Promotion Council of India, said that
manufacturers are not being paid on time by purchasers. Seventy per cent of exported kernels
are sent to the United States and Europe, where ‘purchasers have problem with their bankers’.”
– The Hindu, India’s National Newspaper, December 3, 2008.
Once they get shipped to the US, they are usually roasted, salted and packed into smaller quantities. Cashew farming is hazardous and labor intensive. Our favorite tasty treat is harvested and processed by mostly poor tropical countries that have a surplus of manual labor. There’s no other way to do it. There’s no other place the cashew tree will grow.
So I guess that satisfied my curiosity. But now I’m worried about the toxic oil, the cashew trade, cashew futures, and all the poor people who harvest, roast, shell and pack the cashews. I also want to know what cashew apple wine tastes like. It is called Feni in India, and available at sendwine.com for $65 (including shipping), but I’m going to look for an Indian store and see if I can get some there.
Finally! I’ve found a WordPress plugin for photographs that does exactly what I want it to. Visit my Portfolio if you’d like to see it in action.
After tons of experimentation, WP Photo Album Plus is a big relief. I don’t generally review or recommend a plugin, but this one is different. In fact, I highly recommend it. It’s easy to use with fairly fine control over the gallery’s look and feel. Slideshow enabled, sub albums, easy uploading and importing. So far, it’s a joy to use.
The basis for the plugin was WP Photo Album, by R.J. Kaplan, but it is now extended and actively maintained by J.N. Breetvelt (http://opajapp.nl – which is, unfortunately, not in English but has some nice photos).
The plugin adds a new option to the side menu on your Dashboard, “Photo Albums.” Within this menu, you’ll find Photo Album management, uploading, importing, exporting, settings (very specific so you can fine tune the appearance to your theme), photo of the day widget, comment management, and useful help and info.
Getting started is as easy as visiting the plugin page from within WordPress (Plugins > Install New > search for WP Photo Album Plus), installing (just push the install button), activating (click the activate link), and looking for the new choice on the sidebar. You’ll need to add two albums and upload some photos — or (and this is a neat trick) — pull them from other directories already on your server. I pulled existing photos from previous uploads to my media library into one album. Then I created some more albums and moved the photos into their appropriate album.
The plugin is addictive, especially if you have as many photos as I do and you like to organize and describe. There’s a form that gives you a thumbnail of the photo and lets you title, describe, and file it in an album (or delete / move it).
And the results are gorgeous. I did have to go into Settings and nudge a few options around. Also, if you want black text, you need to type “black” and not the html rgb code. It’s all fairly self explanatory, and if you can’t see the reason for an option, simply ignore it. If you’re feeling brave, change it and see what it does. You’ll probably be pleasantly surprised.
June 22, 2011 – I think this is the first real rain here since September, 2010. This was taken on 2nd Street in McAllen, TX. At this elevation, water doesn’t want to drain off, so it’s like driving in a lake.
From my “Watcher Watching” series. Joe at the National Gallery. Captured March 3, 2011.
Joe and I had these wonderful desserts at a French cafe in The Village near Rice University in Houston. Pic taken with my Android phone.
Part camera bag, part 007 James Bond spy gear, the CloakBag is actually a cool idea that means that protecting your camera doesn’t equate to missing that shot or not even taking your DSLR with you. I’ve taken to leaving mine at home because I don’t want to draw an undue amount of attention. This looks like a really great way to carry and protect my camera.Florida design group Naranja Studio released the Cloak™ Bag, the world’s first shoot-through camera bag that allows a user with an SLR camera to take photos without removing the camera from the bag. This ability allows on-the-go photographers to take photos at a moment’s notice and avoid drawing the attention of tourist-targeting thieves. The release of the bag coincided with the launch of its accompanying website, www.cloakbags.com
Made from high-quality nylon, this is seriously an idea that’s time has come. I could see myself using this while stalking people it’s raining or if I want to be stealthy. The only drawback I see is that flash is not going to work. But that’s OK for my purposes. I like to work with available light. It is priced reasonably at $49 and is available in two colors: a brown called “coffee tree” and a slate gray called “fog & turquoise.” Because this is one of those “Lori Must-Have” items, I ordered one today in brown.
Benini Sculpture Ranch, Feb 28, 2010
This ever changing kinetic sculpture by La Paso is one of many on the Benini Sculpture Ranch. As guests of Benini and his wife Lorraine, Joe and I visited the Ranch and enjoyed a tour of the studio and exhibit center, as well as a meandering drive around the 140 acre property.
The land is dotted by about 100 large-scale sculptures, and features a trail you can drive your vehicle through as well as a walking trail. Think safari. Well worth the one hour drive from San Antonio, the Sculpture Ranch is open to the public from 10AM to 6PM Thursday through Sunday. It is located about six miles west of Johnson City, TX. The Beninis are warm, welcoming artists, and they work and live on the Ranch full-time. The property used to belong to Lyndon Baines Johnson. It’s quite a drive down a winding dirt road to get to the Ranch, and the effect of the large sculptures in the rough landscape is striking and sometimes surreal.
Visit http://sculptureranch.com/ for more information.
by Michael Shelden
I so enjoy our 19th century literature, and this book focuses on the last decade of Twain’s life, after his persona was fully formed and he was truly an American character. You know you love Twain, but did you know that he only started wearing the white suit after a Congressional hearing on copyright? It embarrassed his entire family for ever after. The winter man’s “costume” was a staid black suit, but he wanted to make a statement with his attire at the hearing, and he did. Afterward, he adopted the suit and later, an Oxford don’s garb to express himself.
He also reminds me a lot of the Michael Jackson phenomenon, only on a 19th century scale. He loved children, especially little girls, and had a collection of “Angelfish” in his “Aquarium.” After a very loving marriage and raising 3 daughters, I’m convinced, as is the author, that the relationships he built with these young women were innocent. However, the relationship with his housekeeper (who later married his smarmy financial advisor) is less suspect. They really tried to screw him. I’m about 2/3 or more through the book, and I’d highly recommend it for a fascinating read. I’ve been glued to it for a week, and I’m starting to get abnormally concerned for the long-dead Mark.