Black & White

Self-Portrait: A Study of Focus

The Legion Of Honor, one of the local museums here in San Francisco, has an exhibit on the surrealist photographers and artists Man Ray and Lee Miller.  I've been to the exhibit several times now, and while I don't usually love Surrealism, I found their photographs intriguing.  The basis of their work is often an attempt to see the world in new and surprising ways, to take a known image and change it to create something new.  I'm no surrealist, but visiting the exhibit and studying Man Ray's and Lee Miller's work inspired me to try to view my world, myself, and my photography in a different way.

With this in mind, I noticed one morning that the early light coming into my apartment created interesting reflections on the guitar I have hanging on the wall.  As I began to photograph my image in the guitar, I saw how it would change when I adjusted the focal depth of the photo.  It wasn't exactly that when the guitar was out of focus, my reflection came into focus (or vice versa) because, as you can see, my image in the unfocused guitar is still blurred and imprecise; it is more that the shift in focus gives each photo its own unique texture.

The Self-Portrait is a common subject for many photographers and artists.  Lee Miller and Man Ray were especially fond of photographing themselves, as well as each other.  I'm not quite as bold as they were.  When it comes to myself as the subject, I prefer to remain a blurred silhouette in the face of a guitar.


I love books; they are my favorite possessions.  I don't know that I could ever stand to use a Kindle because I love books too much: the way they look and feel - the typefaces, the cover art, the varied sizes and weights.  I have a lot of books.  Not enough to say I have my own personal library, but I'm on my way.

I have two bookcases, but those became too crowded as I acquired more books, so I nailed a couple of shelves on the wall to handle the overflow; except now those are nearly full.

I decided to photograph these books because I realized that I spend a lot of time looking at them.  As I obtain more books I arrange them in different ways, sometimes by author, other times by theme, other times by size (grouping the large books and the small books), some books I group by the author's nationality, some by where I was in my life when I read them.  I admit I can get obsessive about it.

I remember a quote about music lovers from the movie Almost Famous - "If you ever get lonely, just go to the record store and see your friends."  I know it makes me sound like a loner, but I think I like staring at my books, and arranging them, and having them around me because they are sort of like my friends.  At the very least they are good company.

Various and Sundry

Going through my camera a few days ago I came across some photos I'd planned to put on the blog but had neglected to download.

These first two are from last May.  This hayfield, on the neighboring Luchetti Ranch, was nearly ready to be cut and whoever had been spraying happily left the old tractor in the middle of the tall grass for me to photograph.  On the skyline is Cobb Mountain, the tallest of the old volcanoes in South Lake County.

In the background of this photo are the South Hills, the one thousand acre backcountry of our ranch, with the Meadow Barn just in front.

These two I took in a Walnut orchard near Chico, CA.  I liked these because of the contrast between the symmetry of the trees and the random chaotic light of the afternoon sun coming down through the branches.

Walnut trees are interesting because they are actually a combination of two different species of Walnut grafted into each other, an innovation pioneered by Luther Burbank, a well-known horticulturist from nearby Santa Rosa, CA.  The dark base and root system of these trees are Black Walnut and the white upper portion are English Walnut.  The fruit of the English Walnut is more desirable though the Black Walnut is a stronger tree.  The combination of the two produces an ideal orchard tree.  The United States is the world's largest exporter of Walnuts, 99% of which are grown in orchards like these in California's Central Valley.

The Lost Coast

It's been two years since I took these photos along California's Lost Coast, but this June I'm going back.  I haven't decided whether or not to take a camera on this next trip.  It's such a weight burden to add to an already heavy backpack and I'd run the risk of breaking something along the way.  Last time I lost a lens cap and had to fashion a new cover out of a sock and rubber band.  It worried me the whole hike.  Maybe I'll take a little film camera just for fun, something durable and more lightweight than my 7D.

The entire twenty four mile trail from the Mattole River trailhead to the small town of Shelter Cove runs right along the beach, which varies from wide sandy stretches backed by open meadows, to rocky shorelines in the shadow of 700 foot cliffs.  We took our time and did the hike in four days.  That allowed us ample opportunity to take hikes inland and explore the backcountry our away from the beach.  We felt like conquistadores setting out into a new world.  I can't wait to do it again in a month.

A few miles down the coast from the Mattole River we encountered the Punta Gorda Lighthouse.  Long abandoned, this lighthouse was (and still is) one of the most remote along the Pacific Coast.  When it was in operation in the early 20th century no proper road connected the lighthouse to the cities and highways of inland California.  Building materials for the lighthouse and its appendages (several outbuildings and two Victorian style homes for the light keeper's family) had to be highlined to the shore on cables that ran from the beach out to a large schooner anchored offshore.  Its remote location made it one of the least desirable assignments for a light keeper and many referred to it as the "Alcatraz of Lighthouses".  Today only the shell of the lighthouse still stands as the other buildings were razed after the lighthouse was decommissioned.

During the summer months it's almost always foggy along the trail, though with little wind it doesn't get too cold.  Occasionally the sun would burn through in the afternoon but only for a few hours.  I didn't mind the fog.  It gave life to the landscape, made it mysterious and ever-changing.  I felt like I could take a hundred photographs at the same spot, and as the fog obscured and revealed little bits of landscape before me, no two photos would be alike.

Almost all the land along the trail is part of the King Range National Conservation Area, which means it's all government owned.  But there are a few patches of private land, most of which have been owned by the same families for generations--long before the government designated it as their own.  Most of these plots have simple cabins on them that the owners use as summer homes or weekend getaways.  In the whole twenty-four mile stretch of the trail there are maybe three or four cabins, all of which are reachable only by primitive jeep trail, boat, helicopter or small plane.

The tide pools are plentiful along the trail.  Starfish, Sea Urchins, Mussels, Starburst Anemone, Sea Snails--they cover the exposed rocks in great clusters at low tide.  The entire coastline is teeming with life.  We saw Sea Lions and seals basking on the rocks offshore and one morning came across bear tracks in the sand just outside our campsite.  Luckily he didn't actually come into camp, though we had all our food closed up in bear proof containers, which are required for all hikers.

The whole area is unbelievably pristine.  When engineers set out to build California's coastal Highway 1, they had no choice but to cut inland at the Lost Coast.  The terrain was too erratic, the cliffs too steep, the canyons too dramatic to reasonably provide a path for a highway.  So they left it alone, and thanks to that the Lost Coast escaped the population boom, the tourism, and the general overcrowding that has been eating away at California's wild lands for the last 150 years.