Trees Like Cotton

Yesterday’s snow was so pretty, laying itself down thick and heavy on the tree branches. Everything was drenched in white. Then today in the sunshine all that snow started falling off in globs, leaving behind these odd clusters of “cotton” on the branches.

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Abstraction in Snowy Branches

I guess we’ll be shoveling later tonight, but meanwhile the snow is beautiful ❤️

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Caterpillars Don’t Become Butterflies!

A blogger I follow published a link to this older post today, which he said has become the most-visited/read post on his blog. I can see why. Number one, I’ve never heard this about caterpillars. And number two, the metaphor for our own lives is pretty deep to ponder. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did.

With thanks to Mitch Teemley . . .

via Caterpillars Don’t Become Butterflies!

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Brutalism Softened

One of the Juneau Village Towers apartment buildings, photographed in the soft haze of our misty “wintry mix” today.

With their Brutalist looks, the towers of this apartment complex have always reminded me of the old Soviet Bloc style housing. Ugly, utilitarian, and possibly even slightly menacing. But the mist hanging over downtown Milwaukee today softens the concrete structure’s hard edges.

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Snow in Repose

Just a photo I took of a bench outside the Starbucks at Red Arrow Park. Winter can be pretty and even peaceful.

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Seen walking back from the dentist

It had been raining on the walk over from my office, but the sun was out by the time I left the dentist to start walking back. It’s only about a 15-minute walk, and I like to swing through Red Arrow Park—more specifically, the Red Arrow Starbucks 🙂 —on my way back.

I liked this reflection of City Hall in the glass walls of the new BMO Tower mirrored side by side with the real thing. This image may owe its striking good looks to the rainwashed air and backdrop of gray clouds in contrast with the bright sunlight shining down on the building itself.

When I got over to Red Arrow Park, I was happy to notice that although the wooden cross and flowers and candle of an unofficial memorial to Dontre Hamilton four years ago had been removed, presumably by county parks workers, the rock itself had been allowed to remain. Dontre Hamilton, an unarmed black Milwaukeean struggling with mental illness, had been sleeping on a bench in Red Arrow Park shortly before he was shot by a police officer. Horrifying and tragic.

Here is what the memorial looked like when I wrote about it four years ago. (You can see my November 2015 post here).

And here is what the rock looked like yesterday. The faint remains of “Dontre” still linger on the surface.

Below you can see the rock in its larger context. That’s it right next to the sidewalk below the bush that has a red-covered planter behind it.

Nice. It’s good to see Dontre Hamilton’s rock there near the other memorial stones and that the county workers left it alone when they removed the rest of the tribute. Very classy move on their part. What happened here needs to be remembered.

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Balanced, calm composition (veering slightly toward hysteria)

I was instantly struck by this four-quadrant checkerboard pattern of vertical and horizontal lines and areas of shadow and light when I walked into my office around 1:00 this afternoon after teaching my freshman report-writing class.

I fooled around with my iPhone’s editing filters and had planned to use one of my black-and-white versions in today’s post. That made sense because of the picture’s emphasis on light and dark contrasts. Wouldn’t those contrasts be enhanced by limiting visual elements to the grayscale spectrum?

Yet once I saw the edited photos, I decided I liked the original image best. It wasn’t the patterns of light and shadow that were calling to me, I realized. It was more the sense of calm I felt emanating from the balanced composition of vertical and horizontal lines and planes and blocks of color.

My zen office corner 🙂

Only the original photo’s muted colors and soft contrasts truly captured what I felt when I walked into the room.

I’m posting all versions here so you can see what I mean. Maybe you’ll feel that one of the other versions creates a better photo.

When I first started fooling around with the filters, I initially thought I’d go with the “Mono” filter. I even originally titled this post “Arrangement in Black and White No. 2,” which would have been a nice follow-up link to my earlier “Arrangement in Black and White No. 1.” Here’s the “Mono” version.

Then I tried another b/w filter, “Silvertone,” seen below. I liked the warmth and richness that one seemed to add. But you couldn’t really understand what was going on with the black and white vertical lines atop the cabinet. There was so much contrast that it was hard to see that these were shadowed set-back areas of the corner.

Finally, to really heighten the contrasts and make the lights lighter and darks darker, I went with “Noir.” But this one seemed flatter and suddenly only about the black and white. 

When I looked back at my original, I decided I liked the muted colors after all. But since the “Vivid” filter was right next door to the original version, I gave it a try. And I actually did like the way “Vivid” (below) brightened up the colors and heightened the contrast. But the tan-colored walls were a bit too bright now. And I was rapidly approaching my insight that this picture was less about contrast than it was about balance.

So in the end, the muted colors of the original came closest to capturing what I saw when  I spotted the photograph “in the wild,” as it were.

Sometimes the simple truth of an unedited photo is best. In fact, that’s almost always my approach. If I see a “picture,” I try to capture an image in camera that best approximates the flash of “sight” (insight?) that created the photo in my mind’s eye. And I try to do it upfront instead of via editing as often as possible. For me there’s an authentic integrity in that simplicity.

Kind of an Occam’s razor approach to photography 🙂

Someone once told me that photography was not art. Pointing a camera and clicking the shutter is not at all in the same realm as sculpture or painting. Because there was skill involved, they conceded, photography might be considered a “craft.” Then they also modified their position and went so far as to say that possibly an edited (i.e., “painted”) photograph might be considered art. But an unedited photo was definitely not a work of art.

Obviously, that person’s mind would be difficult to change. Where even to begin? The art-versus-craft debate is somewhat pointless and therefore particularly vehement. (Reminds me a bit of that saying about how campus politics are so vicious because the stakes are so low.)

But to counter the idea that photograph cannot be “art,” I think that “seeing” is an art, number one. Perception. Art is not “art” until it has meaning, so if no one sees meaning in a work of “art,” then it’s not art. To create art requires seeing and technical skill. That’s my number two, by the way: “technical skill” and the ability to employ it effectively to create the work that captures your vision.

The “seeing” works on both ends of the creative process. To create art requires seeing and technical skill. To recognize art requires seeing and vocabulary or similar conceptual frameworks. Vacabulary and other symbolic tools open your eyes and allow you to see what was previously invisible.

The first time I taught film studies I asked my students at the beginning of the term to list their favorite movies and say what made them special. Almost without exception everyone cited “acting” as the thing that made a movie great. But it wasn’t really the acting, I realized when I asked them to say more. Students cited acting only because they didn’t yet have the vocabulary or conceptual framework to “see” anything else. As they learned about camera lenses and composition, about lighting, production, and sound design, etc., over the course of the term, they also developed an ablity to recognize elements of true art in cinema when they encountered them. Including acting, but now with an ability to discern what made an actor’s performance a work of art.

Sorry to get all preachy 🙂

While not every photograph is art, photography itself is an art. Agreed? Okay! 🙂

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Photo taken today on the south side of Wisconsin Avenue, somewhere between 35th and 12th Streets; can’t recall exactly where.

This struck me as an interesting assortment of “forgotten” things, so I took the picture while stopped at a traffic light.

I haven’t seen a pay phone in a long time. Nor a phone number like the one in the faded “FOOD MARKET” sign on the wall bearing an old alphanumeric exchange, “WEST 4520.”

And even that wall itself manages to show off some history in the old Cream City brick—made in Milwaukee and the source of our town’s “Cream City” monicker—displayed here in all its variety of appearance: black where it was exposed to weather over the years, grayish beige where it was painted over and thus partially protected by the “ghost sign” 50+ years ago, and creamy yellow where it somehow remained completely protected from the elements.

At the time I took the picture, I didn’t notice the discarded “ROAD WORK AHEAD” sign leaning against the wall. But looking at the photo now, I can see that it fits right in with the other relics here.

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Corner offices, late afternoon in mid-December

We’re getting to that time of year when darkness falls in Milwaukee well before it’s time to leave work for the day. I took this photo yesterday at 4:17 pm.

And guess what? Little did I know, that was the exact time of yesterday’s sunset!

Anyway, as I crossed the street I noticed all the contrasts between light and dark, and also the geometry of the different lighting configurations, so I stood at the corner once I’d arrived and took the picture.

And I just noticed the security camera at the bottom center of my photo taking a picture of me back! I guess we’re even now 🙂

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Inspiring article on Reese Witherspoon to get you unstuck

Truly enjoyed this fascinating and substantial Hollywood Reporter profile of Reese Witherspoon, especially how she took charge of her career when the entertainment industry’s existing system offered limited opportunity.

You can find the article here.

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