Tuesday, January 13

Christmas Colored - Happy 2014

Once upon a time... it was December 12th and A Longwood Christmas 2014 was underway when Rita and I joined Marty and Gib Armstrong for the 45 minute ride down to Kennet Square in Chester County. Some of you don’t know about these 1,077 acres of gardens, woodlands and meadows where the Dupont Family (Yes, that duPont family) created what might be the world’s premier botanical gardens in Brandywine Creek Valley. 

A disclaimer: While I’ll glue some images together with a narrative in this post, it’s a hard fact that discussing the mystery of flowers is more difficult than describing the shape of mist. I find that the stuff of Longwood Gardens goes through my mind directly to my feelings without ever passing through words. 

 Maybe three or four times a year we try to visit Longwood Gardens. Their Christmas display is a magical explosion of color that’s a magnet to a fine art photographer’s lens. Floral inspiration comes from plagiarizing what nature’s created. So  in a effort to  find my voice this year, I decided not to just take photographic dictation from the flowers. But still, for those who either missed it this time, or for you folks way far away from here, all around the world… well I’ve attempted to let the show communicate the idea of Christmas Colored. Make sense?


Within their glass bubble, the curators of Longwood have stuffed a dense luxury of star dust… Their trails contradict the wintry outside ice to trigger feelings of seasons past or coming. They do it with polychrome sparks along trails leading off into humid tropics, arid desert, and among lushly weird exotica from every continent and most islands. 


So this Christmas, instead of trying to document their enormous show I hunted just for the accessories which set off the elusive feeling of Christmas ColoredYou know: examine trees instead of forrest? Like this tiny glass bird nestled maybe ten or twelve feet up there among vines hugging a strange tree? Is that breadfruit? And does this shiny little guy evoke a fragment of lost holidays you captured somewhere a long time back?

The photographer Brooks Jensen’s written, “Picturing flowers is too easy, like clubbing baby seals.” But capturing their conclusions… now that’s a challenge. So that’s what I hunted in those four and half acres of heated greenhouses joined together by lush corridors of plants and meandering brooks burbling with ebony water. On a near bank I found a Scotch pine hung with lights and snowballs while on the far bank a giant palm was back-lit with orange-golden spots. Do photographs lie? Is there such a thing as non-fiction in any media? What images do is reflect the photographer’s life-view. The more interesting question is whether there is a gap between their creator’s narrative and reality. 

A sign announced that there are over 5,500 plants in the 20 indoor Longwood gardens cut with half a mile of trails. They’ve begun a forty-year expansion overseen by the Dutch landscape architecture and urban planning firm, West 8. And already the efforts have won international awards… Including one for this…


There was a cheery docent at the main entrance. “Down there’s an award winner," she pointed us to a corridor that led to this row of doorways. Want to guess what’s behind them? These are toilets! Uh-huh. They look like mausoleum doors, don’t you think? And for what is that a metaphor? But who knows what Dutch WCs look like? Um, wait a minute, I was in Holland recently. Didn’t see anything like this though. Hmmm… Maybe I spent too much time wandering their notorious Red Light District?


In 1906 Pierre du Pont, the industrialist, bought this property as his private estate and today his mansion which is also part of the Longwood Gardens Foundation sits about a hundred yards from the sprawling crystal greenhouse. Also open to the public, that home’s built around a two story atrium where this graceful wreath whispers its early 20th century message of holiday elegance. Have you ever noticed that simplicity is elegance and vice-versa.

Has it occurred to you how short, “now” has become? We seem to have no time for it. Now seems to be what’s keeping us from something. Now’s an impediment. The du Pont mansion’s interior details  speak of a time before 24/7 news cycles, streaming video, audio, and games. Everyone at the du Pont dinner table shared the same culture-space. There were no virtual guests competing for attention from hand-helds. Its interior details lent themselves to the muted color-capturing-nostalgia of watercolors. 

Upon du Pont’s death in 1954 he left much of his estate to support the Longwood Foundation which manages the gardens that  are open to the public seven days a week. And more importantly he left us the opportunity to look at the luxury of his day.We can look at what maybe never was… And I guess that’s what nostalgia is, huh? A look at what never happened, but should have? 

Still, it’s moving, particularly at Christmas, to imagine living when families ate together each evening. And more importantly knew enough about one another to share and communicate in their “now” which has become the “when” or “then” of the nostalgia that perhaps happened: Once upon a time...


Above: That friendly docent who pointed us to the prize-winning bathrooms saw my camera and volunteered to picture us in front of the grand hall where this all starts and ends. It takes about 90 minutes to walk the trails and visit the nearby du Pont mansion. That’s Gib and Marty to the left of Rita and me. Do we look hungry? The Armstrongs drove us back to Frank Fox’s Aussie And The Fox restaurant in downtown Lancaster. Which is where we discovered that, yep… We were famished.

Oh… a last capture. Among the Longwood Collection is a group of Bonsai miniature plants. In the display’s center is this pomegranate girl. “Ewww,” a woman muttered next to me. “I thought my baby was big! Now that…  THAT’s what I call labor !!”

Tuesday, December 16

Uganda: Wobble

Odd, straddle the equator... Y'know... one boot on each side and... Well... The spinning world makes Y'wobble.

Actually this is a street fashion image. It's my exclusive Bwana Ted look. Hey... what part of "exclusive" y'don't unnerstand? Eh?

Sunday, December 7


Beside the bus driver I sat in a single seat surrounded by windows from roof to floor:  A glassy bubble. We’d stopped when a sinewy hand snap onto the arm of the outside rearview mirror. 

“Huh?” I muttered turning to the driver who stared behind me. Whipping  around… “OH MY GOD!” I screamed at this… millimeters of glass away. 

Clicking off my Canon 7D’s auto I focused the 17-85mm lens all the way down… tried to get those eyes vice-tight… not much depth of field so close. Hammered the trigger once as the driver crammed down the gas. 

Post done in PS4. What I didn’t capture was this guy’s strength. Later my driver said that creature could tear the window away. In flashbacks, it’s not the glass that I feared he’d tear off. 


Sunday, November 16

Uganda: Gasp!

I'm told that hippos can't swim. They sunburn so the huge beasts spend the day largely submerged in water where they walk along, even when it gets deep. Apparently they can hold their breath for long periods eventually popping up from below to take a huge gasp of air... like this.

Y'think the color's a tad dramatic? Okay, here...

Saturday, November 15

Look! Caravaggio's Dog

So, friends at Radiant Vista  flung a challenge, "Imagine an image through the lens of Caravaggio's chiaroscuro light." Well why imagine? The last time I was in Rome I passed Caravaggio's doorway and... well sort of channeled one of his forgotten works...

And here, everybody... as you can plainly see... this here long lost Caravaggio's got chiaroscuro all over it. Huh? Huh?

"Authentic?" You ask? Well look... down there on the lower right. Uh-huh, there's the master's unmistakable signature. So it must be authentic. Right? Of course right!

Want more detail? Duh, well yeah... so here... look at the way chiaroscuro's slathered all over the canvas. Making it clear that, well, there ain't no way to... let sleeping dogs lie.

Friday, October 24

Uganda: Highway Takeaway

In the 14th century
“To advertise”…
Meant to reflect or think- 
Upon something.

Now there’s reality
And advertising’s
Of it.

But on a Sunday morning along the road to Mbarrara, Uganda, this advertising once again made me think upon the tradition versus modernism of this couple as a Highway Takeaway….

Last August 19th, my Canon 7D was a time machine as I cranked the 17-85mm zoom wide to imagine this moment coated in the ancient palette of Kodachrome II slide film - the brand that ruled  from the 1940s through the 60s.

Anyone remember how it rendered stark, narrow-range color, through a grainy veil? Yeah… So, after tweaking the dynamic range in PS4 I poured K-II all over this image with Alien Skin’s magical Exposure 6 to return to the faded-memory hues of the early part of the last century - the place where Uganda’s hopes seem stuck.

Or wait… maybe that is a time before chrome at all?

Thursday, October 9

Uganda: Sleeping Baby

Silent Dog, Still Leaves

Along this path 
Men and beasts
Come and go
Like shadows among
Whispering things that
Lurk in the night.

"Be on your guard against a silent dog and still leaves." - Latin proverb

I flew then bussed a total of 8,000 miles to find this path by Lake Mburo in Uganda. Moments later, safe in an Arcadia cottage as the light died, a hippo growled from that hole in the darkness.

Alone, my Canon 7D captured this moment hand-held at an ISO of 1250 - f5 at around 7:45 in the evening (sun sets at the equator at about 6:30pm) through my 17-85 Canon at 35mm.Lightly post processed in PS4. The moment was mystical, even the monkeys whispered. 

Monday, October 6

Uganda: Safari - Uno

Remorse ain't guilt, y'know what I mean? Read Ugandan history and your head hurts. It's an angry geyser of horror. Recently international authorities report torture and extrajudicial killings remain a pervasive Ugandan problem. Its people are breeding themselves out of space. Yesterday they reported an extremely virulent strain of ebola's struck down a hospital worker in Kampala, the largest city (where we spent four nights). And here we were, eleven european faces visiting a four star lodge high over Lake George in the Queen Elizabeth Game Park on Safari on a plain in the southwestern mountains.

The place isn't shabby… 

They have a menu of safaris, we chose one from the lion column and checked a box next to a water trip. See there in the bottom pano above… Right below the lip in the center behind the curvy railing? Down there are the docks where we boarded the African Queen to ply Lake George for a cruise to the right along the far bank. But more on that later. Safaris are done in the early morning and late evening when the nocturnal animals are still awake or awakening. We went lion-ing in the AM, hence the blue shift in the guy up above. Does my squirming conscience peek through these words? 

BTW, safari sounds so… so… 19th century romantic, eh? An adventure into the jungle and bush. Hiking miles with bearers lugging supplies dangling from bamboo poles. Pitching tents. Lying awake, guns in hand, eyes darting through the darkness to spot what rustling or growling so nearby. Well, that ain't it kid. 

Nope, we bundle into Land Rovers, drive off road with the heaters on against the chill, windows up against the spitting rain, and a tracker with a directional radio aims us toward beasts with transmitters dangling from their collars. Very Eight Flags or Disneyland. And that's what Bwana Ted did. Every one of these pix was captured through the car's rain spattered window. So much for buying the best optical lenses available, eh?

Hey, if they can pretend that safaris are great adventures, why can't I pretend that my pictures are…. well in this here hall? Huh? Huh? 

So soon I'm going to post some pix. A handful. You all  know that we can capture thousands of images in a day. I did. Who can manage all of that? Who cares to see all of them? Who wants to watch granddad's slide show from his summer vacation? Yawn. Sooooo…. I shall pluck out maybe a baker's half dozen or so of lions lying, and elephants menacing, and … 

But before I do that, let me show you the one animal that truly terrified me… These guys tried to climb inside with us. Worked to yank open windows. With dagger teeth and razor claws these omnivorous seventy pound acrobats are methodical killers. And they hunt in troops. More than snakes, panthers, or apes, it was baboons that made me glad we weren't huddled into skimpy tents, in the night, clutching guns…

Saturday, September 27

Uganda: A Hole In The Storm Of Heartbreak?

Ida Amin's demagoguery warped the sentiment of Ugandans into their will. Tyrant's snatch power by  turning hope against fact. It's their promises of romantic hope that pummels reality with ferocious storms. 

Pedaling exhaustingly above those clouds, do Ugandans wonder now, is the tempest impending or receding? Is this a hole or an end in their storm of heartbreak?

Uganda is as close to Eden as a place might get. High up above the equator, it's climate's fixed in the range we call delightful. Uganda's green, lush, and fertile: Croesus' rich in precious minerals. Everything will grow there but prosperity. It's people have created a place between promise and performance. Perhaps when nature yields without resistance, there are fewer muscles of will to separate reason from madness?

*GEEK STUFF* The image was captured high into Uganda's south-western mountains with my Canon 7D through its EFS 17-85mm (f4-5.6). PP in PS4. The wispy/cloudy texture screens and brushes are mine. I cross processed it in part with AlienSkin's Exposure 4 and my own palette imaginings. And the details were selectively enhanced with Topaz Adjust 5.

Friday, September 26

Uganda: To The High Plain

Uganda sits atop a plateau and it's nestled within a rim of mountain ranges that feed its giant lakes and create it's potential to feed all of Africa from rich, dark, deep, moist soil. Climb the western range toward the Congo and there's a high veld… a plain dappled with grasses and tree clusters. Fifty years ago it teemed with marquee animal life. Idi Amin slaughtered much of it. 

Since his exile in the late 70s the country's worked to bring them back in protected national parks. On our fifth day in-country we climbed through the clouds to the south-eastern Queen Elizabeth park, the nation's largest. 

And along the way children gestured at our white faces.

I captured these boys and truck with my Canon 7D through its Canon EFS 17-85mm (f4-5.6). PP in PS4 painting in localized glows and textures created with multiple layers of Alien Skin's Bokeh2, and then cross processed part of the image in Alien Skin's Exposure 4.I added the gritty grain to emphasize the glowing pieces of cloud.  I finished it with a hint of vignetting and then the borders, text, and signature. 

Don't the cloudy mists paint a mysterious patina over the mountain road? 

Thursday, September 25

Amsterdam Layover: The Canals of Summer

BTW:  Between Newark New Jersey and Entebbe, Uganda - we laid over - both ways in Amsterdam. Uh-huh, two afternoons and nights in Holland's capital. Can't wait to get back for longer. But, still it is astonishing how much we packed into those Amsterdam hours. And how much there is to pack in.

These three snapshots I grabbed with my iPhone. See, to all of my, er, critical friends… I can still take pictures that look like, well, pictures. Amsterdam, like a hot woman, really doesn't take a bad picture.

Did I go to the legendary Red Light District? Heh heh… wait and see, K?

Tuesday, September 23

Uganda: It's Wealth

Uganda has Africa's highest birth rate. The population about doubles each decade. That's a problem that also makes it the youngest nation on that continent, and perhaps the world. There is apparently a law in the country. I mean, there must be. There must be legislation forbidding ugly people from leaving their homes. Here's what I mean… (click on an image to expand it, K?)

Doesn't every girl want a big brother like this?
These are farmers and families of the Village of Mytiana, Uganda.

And here's their teacher.

Sunday, September 21

Uganda: The Butcher Shop

Mityana, Uganda, a couple of weeks ago on August 9, 2014… Here's a butcher shop at mid-day on Saturday. There's something compelling about the grit… the texture… the moody aura of wispy, shimmery, hues.

The men cut hunks to order… wrapped them in banana leaves… Notice, no scales! And their body language… They're friends laughing with buddies. Social shopping. Was this a painting? Did my brushes better shape and suck at this feeling? Hmmmm…
Click on this version.
Sometimes an image is floaty, misty… You know? Poetry's always ambiguous, right? It's the nature of a poem to poke tack-clear meaning into your feelings. So do paintings, particularly oils. But pull out a tool from your logical toolkit and you just can't crack into the things. 

Over the next while, I'm going to try to tell you feelings about Uganda. We visited there between August 7-14th. People come back from Africa with photo cards crammed full of stereotypes. You know, the dancing, barefooted, scar-faced warriors in bones, furs, and piercings. Or bare-breasted, neon-skirted women, snowcapped mountains, smirking terrorists, fat-bellied, fly-eyed, starving infants… Odd foliage, rainbow birds, screeching monkeys, you know, those exotic muscles packaged inside of tough hides and pelts. Man-eaters. And yeah, those are African things. But...

Those aren't what I found either in Ugandan cities, or deep in the equatorial countryside… WHERE THERE IS NO JUNGLE! Jungles are all gone in most of this country. Nope. This butcher shop's what's there. These guys are probably cutting up goat or cows, not some sort of lion, hippo, snake, or monkey. They mostly eat what we eat coated with local spices surrounded by native veggies. 

And they dress like these men. They mostly speak the same English like once-British colonialists do all over the world, including here in the states. Lots, perhaps a majority, of adults carry cell phones, many smart phones. They watch American movies, TV, listen to American music, and read sensational tabloids. 

Me? I came back with pieces of feelings… This butcher shop… It's one. Maybe it ought to be a painting like this second image? Dunno. You think? Maybe Africa is better communicated with poems and brushes. I'm going to see as this series rolls out. 

Saturday, June 14


Don't hold
His look.

We were both walking in Musser Park this morning at half past nine. My Lancaster city home's just off of the park. He was about 7m (22') away on this VERY bright morning. Which brings me to a thought. Unless we get up near dawn, or wait until just before sunset contrast is not our friend. Oh sure, we can wait for clouds or hope for overcast… But most of the time, particularly when traveling, we've got to take the light we get.

Before digital, I'd coped for decades with narrow range film which meant exposing for highlights or shadows knowing that one or the other would be detail-empty. Oh sure there were lots of soft films, and I found myself developing them for even more contrast. Add in polycontrast papers… which were a big compromise with respect to quality, and then lots of burning and dodging and.. well… I still lived with compromise. Maybe that's a metaphor for life?

But look at this image. I was able to build it from a wide-range raw capture that gave me almost two stops of latitude on either side… Or five stops of detail to dig into. The blown highlights and dark shadows were my choice, not the film's.

Last evening I visited our camera shop, Coe Camera, here in the city. They've got a great used equipment department with cabinets filled with classic 35s like  Nikons, Leicas, and Canons. I hefted a terrific 4X5 Linhoff in a carry carry-all filled with a ton of stuff. Everything they take in looks as new and shiny as I remember it wooing me in the shops I used to visit to dream.

 Funny, I fondled a bunch of the things, hefted the (non-auto focusing) lenses and felt not a drop of nostalgic pang. I can remember lugging a Speed Graphic with its film packs and flash to cover sports and even now, the memories aren't good. 400 ASA Tri-X, even pushed to 1,200 still demanded a big flash gun for basketball and night football and hockey and accident coverage and.. and…

My shoulders hurt just thinking about it. And all of the hours that followed in the wet darkroom. Still, the Coe folks say there's a good market for the old cameras among kids who are nostalgic for film. It's easy to be nostalgic for something you've never experienced I imagine.

Out in front of the steps leading into our historic home there's a boot scraper. You know why that was built right into our brick sidewalk maybe a hundred and fifty years back? I'm not nostalgic for the hot summer days when on returning home… you needed that thing.

Nope, not nostalgic for film and its cameras and I'm totally happy about how we can crack into what a searing sun will do to contrast today. Hmmmm…. wonder where this is all going, eh?

Lancaster, PA… USA

Here's The Geek Stuff: Canon 7D w/Canon EF70-300 f/4-5.6 IS USM, 1/1000-f/11, Bokeh as captured through my lens cranked out to 300mm.  ISO800: Square cropped & processed in PS4 where I reset the dynamic range of a 9:30 AM capture under direct spring sun.

Converted color palette and grain structure with *Alien Skin Exposure 6* to Polaroid Time-Zero Film for its edgy hard contrast punch - inserted Holga light leak to "explain" main light.