Saturday, October 13, 2018

On Capturing Ethereal Elegance Aloft

For your consideration:

Recently I left my humble abode with my standard collection of camera gear (Canon 7D Mk II, various Canon lenses, batteries, binoculars, carrying case, etc.), and headed for my own private oasis, a local park.

(I permit, grudgingly, visits from the public-at-large to this cherished refuge; my security detail — Danni On Guard [DOG] — keeps such serenity distractions at a reasonable distance).

As with all things, the distinctly seasonal environment assures gradual and, over time, recurring facets with respect to the soothing foliage and diverse wildlife. Nature's current theme, much to my deep delight, is biased towards daily visitations by representatives of some of my most coveted photographic subjects: herons, egrets, and their kin.

The past few days in particular have been something of a Utopia . . . the normal population of one, or, on a good day, two such elegant (and shy) avian emissaries has suddenly been augmented by six more such angelic visitors — a mix of five Snowy Egrets and a pair of Great Egrets have congregated around the sole pond still filled with sufficient water to be attractive to them.

Consequently, armed with my long telephoto (Canon 300mm f/4-5.6L, effectively a 480mm due to my APS-C sensor), I've been utterly absorbed with the intensely challenging, deeply rewarding adventure of photographing these extremely skittish creatures.

                             §       §      §      §      §

Over the past few seasons I've learned, by much trial and even more error, some essential techniques which significantly increase the possibility of capturing superior imagery of these regal fliers . . .


* Carry binoculars for advanced "intel" on the location; utilize them to carefully consider both the approach plan to your subject and when seeking optimal perspectives (see [III] below);

* Ensure lens settings are correct (stabilization modes, aperture) and that the front filter is clean before taking the first shot;

* Review desired focus and shooting modes (BURST mode is mandatory!);

* Verify sufficient capacity on storage media (esp. when shooting in RAW mode); bringing a spare card is advisable;

* Check that the camera batteries are ++charged++; bring at least two fresh ones;

* MANUAL exposure settings: frequently review, comparing best results from prior shoots as per changing lighting conditions;

* Set the shutter speed well beyond the lens focal length (e.g., for a 300mm lens, set the shutter speed to at least 1/500 sec) . . . when photographing swiftly moving wildlife the faster the shutter speed the better — I usually shoot at 1/3200 or faster, when lighting conditions are amenable;


* Beware undesirable, distracting objects potentially competing for unwanted attention, e.g., buildings, signs, vehicles, flags, hominids, UFOs, Jimmy Hoffa, etc.)

[III]  * * *  MOVE    V E R Y    S   L   O  W   L   Y   *  *  *

* Large birds generally need plenty of "runway" room to become airborne; their "safe zone" extends out accordingly. Ergo, when approaching these subjects it is absolutely imperative to move at an excruciatingly slow pace so as not to provoke a sudden, premature flight into the distance.

                             §       §      §      §      §

Lastly, this: assume other pesky hominid intruders will appear, ); such entities are notoriously unawares, and usually disinterested in your pursuit of Fine Art in the field . . .

. . . thus, Be ready to leverage these movements: knowing that (much) sooner rather than later these bipedal types will blissfully stroll right over and into the aforementioned avian comfort envelope, as if it doesn't exist — provoking imminent launches into flight by the waterfowl. Paying acute, silent attention to these developments can often yield stellar opportunities to capture imagery of the angelic fliers, close up, as they strive for heavenly safety.

                                  ◊    ◊    ◊    ◊    

Leveraging my experiences as outlined above, I was able to capture this image, with astonishingly little time to prepare and execute the shot: once these large, fragile creatures decide to seek safer scenes they waste NO time in escaping the bonds of gravity which keep us mere mortals fixed to the ground, watching, . . .

. . . as I often do, with silent amazement, and reverence.

Snowy Egret, Late Afternoon, Edith Morley Park   [7DII.2018.9015] 

© 2018 James W. Murray, all rights reserved.

(click image for larger version)


October 10, 2018;

Canon 7D Mk II; f/8 @ 1/4000 sec; ±0 EV; ISO 640;

Canon EF f/4.5-5.6L 70-300mm IS USM @ 155mm

Friday, January 19, 2018

Resurrection and Presence

For your consideration:

A return to this forum and form, long long overdue (blame Facebook) . . .

A caveat up front

Some of you may have come to expect a certain level of prose herein, above the standard, everyday vernacular which passes for daily conversation . . . I beg your patience in this regard: after more than a year away from this forum I am quite rusty -- considerably out of practice, if you will:  ramping up to a somewhat elevated level of writing will likely take some time.

(Another confession: I've been away from this personal milieu so long that I am struggling, already, with various formatting issues, some of which require minor tweaks to the underlying HTML . . . hang in there -- it's gonna be a bit of a re-learning curve . . .)


Last June (2017) I decided to retire from my stint as an IT Support specialist at San José State University. The reasons are varied, but in the end I was weary of a daily dose of crises management, with scarce appreciation from my management for my skills and efforts. (I will be eternally grateful, however, for the wonderful, enriching relationships -- and friendships -- I forged with many staff and faculty members over the years I served them.)  It simply became untenable to continue awakening on a daily basis, stressed before even arising from bed, about what potential mini- (and in the end, major-) crises were lurking just around the corner.

After a particularly visible system failure, which I addressed by means of a nine-hour phone session with a Canadian vendor's top systems' specialist -- an event that stretched past 11:00 p.m. -- resulting in a solid solution . . . I was for once confident that the weekly report I was required to give to my management would be well-received.

Silly me.

I'll not go into the inane details -- it would not be professional to do so -- but the debriefing was so lacking in perspective and dismissive that I knew, finally, it was absolutely time for me to exit Stage Left.  After consultations with Human Resources (and my union), to confirm that my departure would not jeopardize my pension nor other vital benefits (lifetime heath care in particular), I abandoned my post with acutely conflicting feelings.

I made the right choice.

In the eight months since, I've been relieved of relentless (and largely unnecessary) stress, and, thanks to a modest financial cushion I've had the true blessing of being free to wander about, visiting friends, family, and places hither and yon, without the standard workweek constraints.  For the first time in decades, my time was entirely mine to manage . . . with near total flexibility to indulge in any (reasonable) whim of travels/explorations, local and distant, that my soul yearned to experience.

I shan't recount every aspect of the myriad short jaunts taken throughout the second half of 2017;  the vast majority of my explorations have been well within ten miles of my residence.  There have been a couple of Jerry Jaunts however . . . the most of recent of which being a four-day swing around the Sierras (southbound as far as Bakersfield, and up to Bishop on the eastern side of the range).

The primary goal was a spectacular and exceptionally well-preserved set of Native American Petroglyphs, tucked away in a remote spot known to few travelers. These magnificent drawings -- artwork of significant moment --- have been given the moniker of Sky Rock, which in its own way is certainly an apt christening: indeed, the etchings are on a boulder's face

                                    §      §      §      §      §

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Intuition, Instinct, and Incessant Inevitability.

For your consideration:

I've found it to be rather more fortuitous to carry a camera with me at all times (well, not 100% -- yet), even (particularly) in cases where I do not anticipate photographic opportunities to be in play. I've many excellent images eternally trapped in my brain, forever beyond publishing as they exist only as memories, tagged with "If Only I'd My Camera." I'm sure I'd be famous were that imprisoned cranial portfolio been published . . .

My relatively recent purchase of the most excellent Fujifilm X100T has significantly improved and facilitated my willingness to "open carry" [caveat: nobody dies, but I do capture souls . . .] Putting aside the camera's superb performance, its nearly feather-light weight, vis-à-vis my Canon 7D Mk II (plus any of several much-heavier-than-the-body lenses), makings taking a professional-grade camera whenever stepping out the door a no-brainer.

Not that I ALWAYS do . . .

Last Saturday posed the question: I was taking a close friend to a support group focused on a rather grim disease, which sadly is waging a relentless war his body. Thus several factors argued against my pixel yearnings. The  most obvious: it would certainly be appallingly poor form to photograph such an intimate gathering, particularly as an "outsider", without advanced, unanimous approval. Secondly, I wasn't "out in the field" to pursue my art, but rather to facilitate another man's ability to connect with his peers in need. Thirdly, see #s 1 and 2 . . .

And yet . . . it so happens that my comrade is an enthusiastic admirer of my camera work, and in fact more than once has told me he derives great enjoyment simply watching me take shots of some of the bizarre, in-the-moment objects that catch my eye. Ergo, I had his blessings to indulge in my art a bit (outside of the group, of course).

Then, too: that often barely discernible nudge of intuition which advocates the "just in case" cause made its presence known . . .

Thus, this . . .

Taken shortly after the support group adjourned, this scene immediately presented a visceral, compelling tableau which would've instantly entered that aforementioned Pantheon of Missed Images in my noggin.

Not ironically, it struck me as Zen-like, infused with conflicting atmospherics: a sense of peace and order derived from the pristine couch and delicate, symmetrical arrangement of the glass orbs . . . beneath a massive pane of fog, from which tentacles with needle-like points are intruding . . .

The Twilight Zone, perhaps?

In any case, I spent a considerable amount of time -- well more than an hour, perhaps two -- in the post-processing of this image. For reasons I didn't fully understand, it was vital that I get THIS presentation Exactly Right.

I posted the result to my photography site just short of 5:00 a.m. this morning.  It wasn't until early this afternoon that the photograph at hand struck me as an all-too-real metaphor for my friend's situation:

Despite his noble efforts to live a highly orderly life, with great attention to detail such that all is As It Should Be, The Disease, already emergent from the fog of its slumber, will conclusively have Its Way -- its spiked appendages are relentlessly piercing the talismans of comfort and normalcy, and will inevitably, impersonally subsume the remnants of a beautiful man.

§       §      §      §      §

Sunset District, San Francisco   (#DSF-1242)

© 2016 James W. Murray, all rights reserved.

(click image for full-sized version)

Details: August, 27, 2016, Fujifilm X100T; f/8 @ 1/200 sec; ±0 EV; ISO 200;
Fujinon 23mm f/2 ASPH lens

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Seeing 2016 (Anicca)

For your consideration:

Well, perhaps delay is a wholly inadequate term to describe the vast gap — nearly a year — since my last musings found their way to this milieu. My deepest apologies.

Hibernation might better enunciate the circumstances of my silence. Certainly for much of the past quartet of seasons I've experienced a predominating emotional atmosphere both surreal and taxing, an environment heavily laced  with unpredictability, acute setbacks, mirages masquerading as oases, and myriad moments of  confusion, pessimism, self-doubt, self-recrimination and, it must be said, despair.

Yet, as these keystrokes evince, I persevere.

Key to my continued presence — voluntary inhabitation among the assembled species upon our celestial marble — has been, and continues to be, this axiom:

All things pass.

All things.

§       §      §      §      §

Caveat Emptor: what follows will likely have a paucity of sunshine and kittens. It will be real, however. And, in the end, optimistic.

                                                        §       §      §      §      §

In the course of the past six weeks or so two friends have departed this mortal coil (Starr and Ed); another has been diagnosed with a particularly ugly disease (ALS) which relentlessly extracts its daily quota of stamina and mobility from him; another comrade in arms is increasingly frail, now blind and evaporating under the burden of respiratory failure. So too, an intimate and his wife are both suffering from severe physical afflictions; their prognoses are not bright.

Less physically insulting while acutely emotionally potent is the grief, regret, confusion and loss (among a kaleidoscope of other feelings) other friends are experiencing by the sharp, jagged shards of difficult relationships and terminal marriages (a special species of death).

Yet let's not be oblivious to other trajectories, leading to landscapes of radiant joy, optimism, and mutually shared pleasures.

To wit: one good friend and work colleague — quiet, unflappable, stolid and infused with a beautifully quirky, droll wit — recently threw off the shackles of Career and crossed over into that (for me) mythical Land of Retirement; immediately on the heels of this transition came the disclosure of another mentor/co-worker's having started his active countdown to the same release into freedom.

Still another sweet soul, a member of my Monday meditation sangha and former fellow library denizen, gave me the news that she and her husband shall pack up and leave the Bay Area — the fact that this bittersweet altering of my (and their) social landscape will not be manifest for another two years does not provide great comfort. (Who else can I find to converse with in French, as horrid as mine is?)

Even so: the Sun also rises . . .

My kid sister recently graduated*** from a prestigious East Coast university with a Master's Degree and I could not possibly be any happier nor more proud of her! (***Well, close to a year ago now, but let's not quibble: it's been just as long since I last gave this forum my attention.) Many of my closest friends are thriving both professionally and in their family lives. My dearest, longest friendships (sweet Rose, wise Nino, droll and steady Big John, and a plentiful host of others) continue to be solid, uplifting, encouraging, supportive and above all deeply, maturely loving, even as our individual circumstances change in place and time.

Jerry. Vernon. Ben. Bryan (he of the Tanner Experience [another time, dear reader]). Mike. Cheyenne. Bill. Greg. Barnaby. Micah. Altaful. Mr Sloan. Mr York. Steve G. Dave (of MLK). Eric. Mr O'Brien. Kenneth. Harry. Mr Baumann. Mark V.  Michael. Sal (he of 99 years!). Mr Ahern. Jack. James (the Man in Black). Jeff (our beloved sangha founder). Pankaj (representing the Asian subcontinent). Paul. Mr Corteway (Zombie Apocalypse vanguard) . . .

And the occasional, spontaneous visitor, James: a beautiful soul who simply showed up at my office door a few years back, looking for the former occupant . . . I invited him in to sit a spell, and from that chat a sweet friendship has evolved (bonus points: he is a painter, as was my father).

Once a loner, today my circle of Men is large, rich, sustaining, vital and the font of immense wisdom.

And, blessedly, my life's canvas is enriched by powerful, nurturing, creative and  magical women, in number. Another day, that topic.

Naturally over the years the cast of characters has changed to some degree; such is the inescapable, essential characteristic and agenda of Life. The core group, however, has been ever present, granite in solidarity, and a substantial, essential component of my life's foundation.

Dear reader. as I strive to regain my footing in this specific milieu I am at this very minute (4:02 a.m.) listening to Lou Reed (a beautiful, beautiful artist of far, far more importance and sweeping influence of which most have nary a scant inkling) on my iPod singing, Oh! Sweet Nuthin'. There could hardly be a more apropos message given my perceived circumstances, and the travails over the past 18 months or so.

Here it is then:


Yearning for self-inflicted pain?

Indulge in the pursuit of attachments. Relentlessly strive to get what you crave (rather than relish and appreciate what is).

Fiercely guard what you have lest, god forbid, it should change (oh, and it will, regardless, as so shall  you — largely obliviously, moment by moment).

Above all: Resist the natural order of the real world, which is incessantly in flux, gloriously and emphatically altering The Equation at every instant of existence . . .

Oh, my, what a blessing that is.

For much of my life I operated as a loner. Turned utterly inward, unconscious to the depth of my own Fear of Living, terrified of engaging in the myriad aspects of beauty and profound mystery in which All That Is resides and habituates. I am pleased, and relieved, to report that such is no longer the case, at least not as my default, unwavering  modus operandi. Of course, I still have my moments.

On those days when I indulge (yes) in Self-Pity, deluding myself that some aspect of my existence is deficient and paucity is my secret (or not so) burden, I'm utterly, woefully disconnected from the inexpressible depth of bounty which permeates every moment of my quite human journey. To the degree that I find myself engaged in the non-starter notion of Getting My Way, Keeping Things Like This (or THAT), and blah blah blah, just so do I suffer in direct proportion.

A moment's pause then.

Join me in considering, at depth, just how rich and resplendent is the tapestry of life: yours, mine, and All That Is.

Oh, and this: please remind me again and again to pause — to connect with Reality, Life on Life's Terms, rather than remain mired in delusion and fantasy.

For like you, I again shall fall asleep and toil under the spell of my own proclivity to Attach, soon enough.

 Thus the journey continues. Someday, perhaps, at least a glimmer of  bodhi.


                         §       §      §      §      §

Listening, Listening . . .   (#DSF-1242)

© 2016 James W. Murray, all rights reserved.

(click image for full-sized version)

Details: March 23, 2016, Fujifilm X100T; f/8 @ 1/4000 sec; ±0 EV; ISO 800;
Fujinon 23mm f/2 ASPH lens

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Seeing 2015 (#2: Metta)

For your consideration:

Welcome back . . .

It's self-evident that grounds for my attention to this forum have been rather fallow for some extended time. Without offering a concrete commitment — much of the landscape remains acutely unsettled and the route to safe passage ahead unclear — herein I (finally, after much yearning) am putting energy into restorative activities for public consumption and, I hope, reaction (good, bad or otherwise).

While I've been ever more eager to resume authoring some coherent thoughts in new entries, as each day draws to a close so too does the requisite energy and time seem to ebb and evaporate.

So what is different today?  A priority of rare potency (and short self-life) . . .

An Homage, or, if you prefer, an Ode.

Today, being April 2nd, marks the twenty-first anniversary of my grandfather's passing; his sinewy, weathered, desert-heat-baked body and stringent yet passionately loving soul transited The profoundly unknowable experience: that of crossing that portal from exhausted  animus to ethereal, illimitable enlightenment, and release from his mortal coil.

Pete, as he was colloquially known to what few peers and friends inhabited his small, infrequently accessible circle, was infused with a strain of willpower as indefatigable and uncompromising as his lifelong burdens of severe asthma/emphysema and heartbreak were unrelenting.  Born in 1911, Marshall (his proper name, used by family excepting my grandmother Betty, who anointed him "Marsh") was raised by his pure Danish parents in the northern environs of Chicago; he emerged from his culturally conservative, Midwestern, Depression-Era genesis with a strict determination to make a (modest) success of himself, regardless of whatever obstacles might manifest.

The challenges were indeed significant.  By the time he was a teen his respiratory condition was such that sleeping laying down was impossible; his "bed" instead was a chair at the kitchen table.  It wasn't until a physician urged him to relocate to the arid, warm climate the Arizona atmosphere (then) offered that he found a respite from vertical, ragged slumber: upon checking into a hotel after arriving in Tucson by train he fell asleep, exhausted, on a bed . . . Many hours later, for the first time in more than a decade, he awoke laying down, rested.  The year was 1941.

Even so, Tucson's climate wasn't a panacea.  His condition even when young was advanced, and when the weather turned cold in the winter my grandfather struggled hugely for oxygen (to the uninitiated reader, the high desert can produce frigid temperatures — naturally not the sub-zero extremes of Chicago — but when the mercury is hunkered down readings in the low teens are experienced).

No matter. His chosen occupation reflected the earnestness and ramrod determination of his essential character — my grandfather was a master Mason . . . a bricklayer.  Even my father, who has never been Marshall's biggest advocate, told me that he'd seen his father-in-law routinely out-work men half his age while laboring in the summer's 100-degree desert furnace.  Grandpa's drive was such that he designed and built the five homes which comprised what was in essence the family compound. Three were constructed of brick, one of adobe, and the last of concrete block.

This football-field sized parcel became both my own private playground as well as a terrain of many safe, secret hiding places when the insanity of our secret, secluded family dysfunction boiled over into intolerable, toxic levels.  Which were ever more frequent occurrences in my childhood.  I learned vital survival skills in this constantly turbulent, dangerous emotional territory: escapism (both physically and emotionally), and a vivid imagination to keep myself entertained as well as distracted from the chaos which constantly percolated just beneath the surface between frequent eruptions.

Ergo the source of my grandfather's heartsickness:  my mother, in her own right, was a force not to be reckoned with, marinated and steeped in mental illness, aided and abetted by profuse family system denial.  She was truly the center of her own hurricane of surreal behaviors, a generator of far ranging downpours of strife, despair, frustration and ultimately numbing depression.

I shall not go into detail here. My mother passed several years ago. What matters is this: my grandfather had invested all of his hopes and dreams in her.

Grandpa had always wanted to attend college and earn a university degree (architecture was his dream), but a single semester (at the University of Alabama) proved to beyond his abilities, largely due to the innate stress and perpetual exhaustion stemming from chronic asthma. While he never gave me the sense that he wore that disappointment as a cloak of failure, nonetheless by the time I was a teen in middle school ("Junior high", in my day) it was obvious that he'd transferred his personal academic aspirations onto his daughter (well before my birth), and when her mental handicaps obliterated that dream I became his last hope . . .

For what?  Redemption?  Vicarious joy?  Indeterminate validation?

No matter.

Despite this desperate yearning that (now I) should succeed in academics, my grandfather never pushed this on me in the mode of a Sargent taskmaster. Rather than overtly, punishingly driving me into a mold from which I might emerge as the idealized image of The Man He Wanted To Be, instead my grandpa gently nurtured my interests in reading, the Arts, and especially all things Science.  He lovingly guided my path using the tools of persistent, authentic and unflagging encouragement.  Through him I learned to treat books with a sense of both respect and reverence; thanks to this "uneducated" man by the 2nd grade I was already enthralled with the "space race" of the NASA Gemini and Apollo programs; together we watched virtually every launch and related news updates (including the tragedy of Apollo I, and the near disaster of Apollo XIII — sans Tom Hanks).

In the end this was his basal dream: that I get an education. His charter, expressed in innumerable ways, was that I learn. And the beautiful thing was this:  he cared little about what specifically captured my interest, so long as I found my own muse, one which would lead me to healthy and happy destinies.

Many, many times he said to me, with an understated yet unmistakable earnestness and passion: "Get an education, get your degree. They [the evildoers, I suppose!] can take away your material possessions, but nobody can ever steal your education."

By the time I finally graduated (after enduring my seven-year pace to complete a four-year degree) Marshall was in extremely poor health. I was surprised, frankly, that he lived long enough to witeness me wearing that cap and gown, and I'd come to believe that seeing my graduation day actually arrive was the sole (soul) thing keeping his paper-thin heart beating. (Blessedly I was wrong about that: he lived a full decade beyond the convocation, which he was too ill to attend.)

Through the course of my life to date I'm not sure how much I've truly learned, but this I do know with absolute certainty:

As proud as I was to earn a university degree, save for his wedding, my graduation was the proudest day of my grandfather's life.  

And to Marshall Weston Peterson I shall be eternally grateful; he was far and away my biggest champion, my hero, my mentor and my friend besides being  my grandfather.

Rest well, grandpa. 

Marshall Weston Petersen, February 11, 1911 - April 2, 1994

 §       §      §      §      §

A few notes about the image (below)  selected for this essay:

At the very end of a long (and quite enjoyable) exploration of the Livermore area with my fellow pixel hunter Jerry we finally found purchase on a small patch of land affording decent  sunset-lighted views of the surreal, looming, somewhat extraterrestrial-esque windmills which heavily dot the surrounding hills known as the Altamont Pass.

Key to the scene was the gorgeous warm lighting from the rapidly descending Sun; the acute, low angle of the sun rays added dramatic effect by casting vast expanses of abstract producing shadows.

Thus the confluence of vantage point and vital, quality illumination finally came together . . . Unfortunately, the conditions were swiftly changing as Sol determinedly dove towards the west horizon.  Time was of the essence. A few shots of golden spike-like whirling monsters then — dusk.

Which, for my unrealized/unconscious purposes, is when the magic bloomed . . .

The paucity of light forced an altogether different approach: rather than blazing fast shutter speeds (1/4000 sec) to freeze brightly sunlight propellers (which resulted in unavoidably static scenes) I had to figure out how to work with these behemoth subjects now submerged in swiftly deepening darkness.

Inspiration . . . Yes. . .

Tripod?  Check.  Long telephoto lens?  Check.  Sufficient ISO?  Relatively new camera, thus vastly improved sensor capabilities . . . Check.

Then, the coup de grâce — the instant of artistic awakening (I hesitate to say, enlightenment . . . but okay, there it is!) — long exposure times = slow shutter speeds . . . which in turn will yield blurred blades slicing through the sky . . . accordingly, I experimented with times between 1 and ⅛ seconds.

Voilà!  Dear reader, the emergent image thus depicts motion in an otherwise sterile composition, and action on a grand scale at that. (While there's no reference point in the photograph below, these windmills tower a full 430-feet tall.)

Consequently, not for the first time I realized the beautiful irony that it is often by slowing down that more will be revealed.

There's a vital lesson here: when seeking your opportunities for photographic expression never quit too soon, and strive to keep an open mind (and eye) to sometimes instantaneous moments when the universe presents an entirely, delightfully unexpected new way to SEE.

Finally, why did I choose this particular image?  

It wasn't until I sat down (much earlier!) this evening and began meditating upon and then actively composing this blog entry that I realized I'd already subconsciously picked this shot for this missive. . . or, rather more accurately, the image chose the entry . . .

The tableau I offer for your contemplation is that of a loving, upright, strong and stalwart elder standing behind, encouraging, and, with a hint of wistful yearning, regarding a younger charge ready to head towards the Light beyond . . . 

Motion, and e-motion. 

Sunset Sentries, Altamont Pass, #5593-7D-II

© 2015 James W. Murray, all rights reserved.

(click image for larger version)

Details: March 29, 2015, Canon 7D Mk II; f/8 @ 1/2 sec; ±0 EV; ISO 1000;
Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM @ 86mm

Monday, February 9, 2015

Seeing 2015 (#1: Anicca)


(R.I.P. Lloyd M.; gone far, far too young six years ago yesterday, a friend to many)


(Note: this is an unusually long entry; the photograph, as usual, appears at the bottom of this essay; as always be sure to click on the image to see the full-resolution size . . . it is particularly important for this image.)

For your consideration:

My apologies, dear readers, for the extremely long silent period in this milieu. Due to circumstances not to be elaborated on here, at least not at this point, a hibernation was needed.

It's very, very good to be back.  Thus, the first entry of 2015 . . .

A vector in time . . . evoking a vector of time . . . 

From cradle to grave each of us creates and live our unique narratives.

A few are born into luxury and wealth — a life of "privilege" — wherein most material needs are met with great ease, and access to many resources enabling the semblance of comfort and even nobility is virtually a given aspect of their human experience. In this peculiar universe social status is often paramount, typically coupled with a de facto assessment of personal  value/worth derived from financial standing.

However, the the majority of this tiny orb's Homo sentient beings emerge onto a vastly different stage, a drama featuring considerable daily struggle for basic comforts: adequate shelter, sufficient nutrition, reliable access to potable water, distance from the threat of mortal injury due to the insanity of proximate warring factions . .. the list can be broadly extended. Attending are the oppressive weights of mental and spiritual duress arising from these unceasingly acute challenges.

There is too the middle set, those of us who are neither on the cusp of daily life-and-death scenarios nor inhabiting the artificial cocoon of High Society atmospherics. Here the preponderance of populace energies are focused on the altar of ever-more transient status memes: breathless Twitter trends; Facebook frolics; celebrity fashions; obtaining the next iSomething  — and of course prurient scandals and failures among the rich and powerful.

I posit that those souls in the lower tiers of our species' socioeconomic classes are ironically closest to the authentic experience of true consciousness: day to day the poorest among us are focused on the task at hand, that being simple survival.  Moment to moment much is at stake. Daydreaming of climbing the social ladder is not just beyond comprehension, but also an ill-afforded distraction from the reality of Now.

Meanwhile the rest of us — and I absolutely include me in this herd — live as if in a subtly surreal dream, akin to being actors in a movie, all the while utterly unaware of this self-created reality-show script. As with every person to have trudged the earth we all are driven by the projections we conjure up in our mind. And are not most of us preoccupied with a dyadic conflict, that of being focused on either the past or future?  Only exceedingly rarely are most of us truly, fully engaged in This Moment — a state of Mindfulness.

We're virtually perpetually disconnected from the current state of things.

Compounding this rubric is this: our recollection of the past is guaranteed to be flawed; some details morph (often as per our egos' criteria) while others evaporate; yet other facets of our mental annals are unconscious inventions altogether. As to our views of the future . . . well, honestly now: how much of your life's plan has unfolded as expected?  It is oddly difficult to admit, despite the sheer definition of the matter, that the future is entirely opaque and unknowable in any detail.  With every instant a new moment of reality has arisen, and with it every particle in the universe having vibrated and shifted from that of the instant just passed.

All things change. Superficially this may be a bromide, a cliché dismissed (dear reader) with perhaps more than a hint of disdain. Yet the core of the matter is this: the only reality is the reality of NOW. The entirety of our longevity consists of three states: inhabiting our (flawed) past, projecting a fantastical future, and — if we can discipline our mind enough — being fully Present, and thus fully awake.

Thus, we come to the motivation for this entry's photographic offering: a composition at once stark and spare, paradoxically static while conveying a vector of movement and intensity.

Unlike many (if not most) of my photographic explorations, this image was taken specifically with a preconceived idea: the concept of Mindfulness; I sought out a subject which would afford me the elements of depth, abstraction, and a pointed, singular focal point . . . in particular I wanted to capture a scene wherein a tiny percentage of the image unexpectedly demands the viewer's attention, and thus dominates the tableau, much as the reality of Mindfulness inhabits none but the current instant rending all else (past and future) blurred in comparison.

To execute this shot I chose a macro lens: it allows exceptionally sharp focusing on quite minuscule objects, and the nature of optics in such compositions ensures that the depth of field — what will be sharp versus blurred — will be extremely shallow. Indeed, I set the aperture to its widest (f/2.8) to minimize how much of this vector would be clear . . . ergo, all that comes before and after this focal point is murky . . . a mere single segment can be discerned . . .

Selecting f/2.8 also allowed me the vital asset of a fast shutter speed (1/500th of a second); as I was photographing "hand-held", without any stabilization, an extremely short exposure was essential to ensure any chance of clarity, particularly in light of the very shallow depth of focus on the subject.

The atmospherics were just as I wanted, yet the room was consequently dim enough that a high ISO would be needed to compensate for the 1/500th shutter speed . . . this lead me to use ISO 5000 (!). Not only metaphorically, I held my breath to see how "grainy" the end product would be.  (Given the setting, I'm well-pleased with the outcome.)

Finally, to ensure an absolutely minimalist scene I shot a black surface in a space relatively softly illuminated (light filtering through windows from heavily overcast skies); this ensured the brassy metal would nicely shine against, essentially, a void.

And what exactly do we have here?  A segment of a piano top's hinge. The reader's close inspection of (the full-sized!) image will find a barely perceptible swath of dust to the right of the focal point, lending a subtle sense of actual surface depth, rather than pure void.

(Un)hinge(d): The Essence of Annicas, #2366-7D-II

© 2014 James W. Murray, all rights reserved.

(click image for larger version)

Details: February 6, 2015, Canon 7D Mk II; f/2.8 @ 1/500 sec; ±0 EV; ISO 5000;
Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Seeing 2014 (#6)

For your consideration:

A study in form, detail, depth, the illusion of space . . . and an experiment in stacking.

At a recent gathering of men I meet up with weekly one of the gents brought in a hearty basket filled with avocados.  Home grown, no less, and correspondingly scrumptious — or so I believe: not being especially fond of this variety of berry (yes, look it up!) I did not consume any myself.  However, among the nearly perfectly formed specimens I immediately spotted the one with character.

Those who've paid any attention to my oeuvre will have noticed that I carry a fascination and love of lines, vectors, and all forms geometric. I'm particularly attracted to such elements when they are situated in unexpected contexts, or add a sense of abstraction or motion to the scene.

In this case I could not resist the rugged scar streaking down nearly the full length of this otherwise smooth ovoid. Yes, yes, there are other dings and blemishes afoot (most of which I could have easily removed in post-processing, an occasional evil I try to keep to a minimum). Yet the surprising jaggedness, length and intensity of this tattoo strikes a stark contrast to the beauty of a surface gently adorned with a myriad of tiny specks . . . the effect, for me, is evocative and wonderfully reminiscent of a meteor sighting against a moonless, star-strewn night sky.

Thus was I compelled to pick this sample from my friend's offering, though not for culinary pleasure but rather for an attempt to expand my photographic skills; the instant I spotted this object I knew what vision I held for it, and the technique I'd need to employ — a method I'd never before attempted.

The goal: present a tableau wherein the entire length of the primary subject — that being the scar rather more than the entire avocado — would be in sharp focus. In photographic terms, I wanted the depth-of-field to be maximized throughout, from front to to back.  Any blurriness would utterly destroy the visual impact of the wound.

So what's the issue in pulling this off?  Well, if you've done true macrophotography work you too are acutely acquainted with the problem of focus: the closer the camera to the object at hand, and the greater the magnification, the shallower the field of focus will be in front of and behind the critical focal point. This is true, in proportion, regardless of the aperture used. Consequently, had I focused on the very front of the avocado, using a single photograph, very little would be in focus beyond the beginnings of the scar's run . . . essentially the great majority of the scene would have been increasingly blurry to unrecognizable beyond the first few centimeters of the front tip of my subject!

What do to?

Image stacking.

Sparing you the excruciating details, the simple description is as follows: using a sturdy tripod (mandatory for this type of work) I took eleven virtually identical shots of this organic etching. For each successive image, however, I adjusted the focal point to be ever-so-slightly further back from immediately previous shot. Thus, in the last image, none of the fruit is in focus until the far back end, starting just beyond the terminus of the lovely wound.

After taking the series of shots, each with a quite small difference of focal point, I loaded 9 of the 11 images as layers in Photoshop, using its Stacking processing feature.

By means of mathematical wizardry far beyond my comprehension, this software simultaneously guarantees the perfect alignment of the complete set of shots and blends them together in such manner that the entire depth of focus, as covered over the images' span, is revealed it all its wonder.

This was, as I've stated, my first experience and attempt using this approach. I am well-pleased with the outcome.  And so I present it you, dear reader, for your shared appreciation and enjoyment (I hope).

A few last notes on this particular effort . . .

As most know I'm usually extremely particular in how I want my photographs' final versions to appear (as is true of my peers in this art).  Thus it came to pass that over the past week I've uploaded to my main photo site  three different versions of this single (resultant) photograph.  My dissatisfaction was not with the focus, but rather the surrounding space — the foreground and background, such as they are.

My setup for this shot was quite simple: I placed a large bolt of black cloth on a table top, then turned off all the room lights except a small directional reading lamp which was the sole illumination source.

My original vision was to present the subject simply floating against a pure black space . . . but upon posting it I simply did not like the resulting feel. The composition was unbalanced, with an awkward, excessive "lean" to the right.  The depiction cried for a counter weight.  Thus I realized it was necessary after all to reveal at least some of the texture from the backdrop.  So, I went back and made some adjustments (using Adobe Lightroom) . . .  I lightened the areas surrounding our stoic subject just enough to make the surface presence known . . . And yet . . . the second version ("B") remained wanting . . . I was being too conservative. Ergo, one last visit to the "digital darkroom", pushed those sliders a bit further, and produced the end result("C") presented here; there's just enough texture (and a fortunate, subtle parallelism within the folds vis-à-vis the running scar) to bring it all together.

For your consideration, of course.

(As always, be sure to click on the image to see the full-sized, best quality view.)

Avocado, #6542-6550-7D (9-image composite)

© 2014 James W. Murray, all rights reserved.

(click image for larger version)

Details: October 11, 2014, Canon 7D; f/11 @ 1/2 sec; ±0 EV; ISO 250;
Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Seeing 2014 (#5)

For your consideration: an (apparently) tightly sealed box of unknown provenance, straddling and forming an intense juxtaposition of radiant energy and black emptiness.  Or what appears to be a space null and void.

Much is uncertain and contradictory in this geometric construction.

Then this:  what is the composition of the rectangular form?  Wood? Metal? How about heavy paper? Even its fundamental nature is a matter of speculation rather than certainty.

Whence the lighting? Artificial? Or, if natural (then presumably from the Sun), what time of day might it be — early morning?  Late afternoon?

The scale at least seems discernible . . . provided an assumption is made regarding the size of the paired fasteners (screw heads?  Or might they be bolts?  Or neither?) . . . much depends on such assessments.

And this brings us to the nettlesome problem of perspective. Is this a view of an object attached to a wall, or rather an overhead shot of a larger than suspected structure covered with and standing in a field of snow and ice, an Antarctic satellite look?

Ultimately, the deepest mystery is the matter of what this image's subject might contain.  A secret button? Chocolates? A tangle of wires? A body? A manufacturing plant?  A portal to another universe? Perhaps this: nothing.

Or, famously, a cat.

Ergo, a plethora of questions, speculations all, each with the same answer: who knows?

Until the container is actually opened, its content examined, the mystery's reply cannot be determined.  The reality remains inert and unknowable prior to the decision and subsequent act of peering in.

My bet's on the cat.

Such is the nature of many of life's challenges, especially those which demand choices and options be executed. Until one makes manifest an action, any resultant outcome is possible. We delude ourselves that we know picking A will cause B to follow, versus taking C which we forecast would lead us to D.

Ah, my friend, were it that easy. Life has a persistent manner of presenting us paths with forks aplenty, and frequent is the moment when choose we must . . . We may linger in the junction, biding time, yearning for a sudden stroke of prescient clarity that one direction trumps the other. Yet despite our procrastinations (usually fear-based, when we're honest about it), no genuine illumination of the yield of our choice can be found before we indeed forge ahead by opening the box, and thus discovering what is in store as the reward.

After consideration, whether feeble or profoundly plumbed, in the end a choice must be made, an action undertaken . . . and thus a new adventure revealed.  Depending upon where we stand in our journey, mustering this movement often requires a quantum leap.

Courage, dear one, and faith.  All choices are valid, all paths noble, provided one's heart is clear.

Homage à Schrödinger, #9780-7D

© 2014 James W. Murray, all rights reserved.

(click image for larger version)

Details: December 12, 2013, Canon 7D; f/11 @ 1/250 sec; ±0 EV; ISO 320;
Canon EF 24-70mm f2.8L II USM @ 70mm

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Seeing 2014 (#4)

For your consideration:  a stellar performance, witnessed.

'Tis all too easy to lose one's focus, to stray far afield from any consciousness of the literally boundless wonders resplendent in an incomprehensibly vast universe, that profoundly mysterious space which is in fact the incubator of our fragile lives.

What's your preoccupation?

Mine has been the bizarre fate of Malaysian Air flight 370, the unrest in the Ukraine, the horrific Oso mudslide (in the grim category); the joy and heartbreak of my Arizona Wildcat's journey through March Madness, the nascent MLB season ahead for the San Francisco Giants (true confession: casual fan here), the passing of the torch by David Letterman (entertainment category); what can possibly go wrong next in technology at work, and which of the literally hundreds of newly-photographed-fountain images do I want to process next (work-and-play categories) . . .

Regardless of one's chosen niche in life, the vast majority of us inhabit a microscopically narrow slice of the available and readily accessible, amazingly diverse paths which can be pursued; we tend to unwittingly fall asleep to the plethora of wonders surrounding us at every instant of our existence.  A pity, that, for midst the so-called demands of the world, too often sources of stress, anger, and myopic despair, thrives spectacular, splendid, euphoric beauty and grace.

This alternate reality accompanies and calls to us with every breath, every step, every beat of the heart. The challenge is to awaken to it, to pause long enough to notice that indeed the heavenly spheres have their music. And what a joyous, moving, healing and awe-infusing symphony it is . . .

Thus, despite a self-imposed conflict of being too tired (lazy) to undertake the logistics (on short notice, especially), of being immersed in the warm comfort of my digital darkroom, and of telling myself that the "seeing" would, due to the local metropolis' overwhelming light pollution, be lousy anyway . . . at the last possible moment I rousted myself from the mundane, engaged the technical and aesthetic challenges, the misty, damp air and soaking wet grass beneath my vantage point (in a local park), and turned my gaze upward, in pursuit of a view far beyond my Self . . .

And was amply, profoundly, humbly rewarded.

Lunar Eclipse, April 15, 2014, 12:55 a.m., #2253-7D

© 2014 James W. Murray, all rights reserved.

(click image for larger version)

Details: April 15, 2014, Canon 7D; f/5.6 @ 1 sec; ±0 EV; ISO 800;
Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM @ 300mm

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Seeing 2014 (#3)

For your consideration: a narration of one my life's most amazing experiences.

Un hommage à mon grand-père.

§       §      §      §      §

I took the photograph below during what was, in some respects, an ill-advised solo hike to the top of the highest peak (4,687 feet) in the Tucson Mountains. It was taken under unexpected extreme conditions; the farthest peak in the background is the summit.  The increasingly lightness of the sky as it meets the horizon in this image is a reflection of the vast amounts of dust in the air . . .

This is a favorite trek of mine; since my (long ago) college days I've taken this walk a number of times in every season of the year. Not apparent in this image is the (normally — I'll qualify that momentarily) commanding view afforded of Tucson to the east, Picacho Peak to the north, the telescope domes of Kitt Peak and the Baboquivari mountains to the west, and the Santa Rita mountains to the south. In simpler times the access roads to various picnic grounds such as Signal Hill and Ezkiminzin in the Saguaro National Park were not locked up at sundown; back then my cousins and I took in a couple of spectacular sunsets (and actually managed to build a fire) from Wasson's spectacular viewpoint.

No such radiant moments were in store for me during the quite unexpectedly extremely arduous adventure I endured on the April day of this photograph. Not that I didn't have fair warning.

It started out innocently enough.  I was in Tucson accompanying my wife Julianna, who was attending a function on the campus of my alma mater, the University of Arizona.  I actually forced myself to arise from a perfectly comfortable bed in our hotel at 4:30 a.m.; my intent was to be in the desert early enough to photograph the holiness of a new day's dawn caressing the saguaro and ocotillo.  I deeply miss the severe beauty of the Sonoran terrain and flora; being an incurable night owl I'd only very rarely experienced the silence and freshness of this wonderful environment in the morning hours.

My ungodly-early riser efforts were nicely rewarded, as I wrote of in this earlier entry. It was a sublime time of communion with my soul's home ground.

Unfortunately, however, I chose to ignore the "Hazard" warning I happened to (fleetingly) notice on my cell phone's weather app before leaving the safe confines of my hotel.

All was bliss and sweetness for the first two hours or so of my casual, meandering photographic exploration of the trail head's immediate surroundings. The temperatures were perfect, the sky utterly, impossibly clear, and spring's bloom was in resplendent form. My wife was going to be occupied until 5:00 p.m. or so; I was in no particular hurry to begin my ascent from the desert floor as I had literally all day. This being the case, I lingered, luxuriously, at the mountains' foot until approximately 10:00 a.m.

Wow.  What was that supposed weather hazard's warning, exactly?  Oh yes: a high wind advisory. Something bizarre about 60-70 mph winds, possibly sustained.  Yeah. Sure. I'm a Tucson native; I've never witnessed winds anywhere near those velocities for any significant period . . . in fact I was quite sure no such hurricane-strength had been seen in the area in my lifetime, surely. The app had to be misinformed.

Unbelievably, like a scene from the Truman Show, no sooner did I turn serious attention to starting my actual hike to Wasson's summit did the wind-spigot open.  Completely.  With abandon.

To adequately describe the sheer intensity of the rest of the day is difficult to do.

One marker is that I saw precious few other hikers throughout the entire day (and none after 11:00 a.m., I'd estimate); yes it was a weekday but ostensibly (in my mind at least) the weather couldn't have more perfect. The only other person I actually met and spoke with happened to be a park ranger; this was perhaps thirty minutes after I begin a serious assault on the trail.  We converged at a saddle between peaks, one of several trail junctions; by this point the winds were veritable blasts without abating.  The ranger and I exchanged bemused grins at our mutual disbelief, and laughed at the surrealism of the weather. I asked him if he'd seen anyone else (nope), then we bid one another adieu as he headed down towards the visitor's center and I continued my self-appointed mission.

The brutal, unrelenting force of the winds began to take a significant toll on my energy level in surprisingly little time.  It didn't help that I was weighed down with more than few pounds of camera gear. As time went on (and I kept forcing my way upwards) I became incredulous — and increasingly discouraged by the utterly unflagging, and extreme velocity of this full-on gale. I wouldn't fully acknowledge this to myself, but notions began to whisper to me that for the first time ever I just might be thwarted from completing this normally moderate hike.

No.  No way.  On I labored.  I had to, for I had a secret mission:  I fully intended to reach the top and visit the scene of where I spread my grandfather's ashes; it was my intense desire to honor his memory and, in so doing commune with him in a fashion, that motivated me to willfully continue what had become a forced march.

On a normal day reaching the top would've taken perhaps ninety minutes.  I required more than three hours, and there were more than a few times when I stopped and considered whether or not I could make it. My fatigue level became substantial. The winds more than once nearly blew me completely off my feet; as the trail ascended there were fewer and fewer rocky outcroppings behind which I could take temporary shelter. It didn't help my state of mind that I'd forgotten how many "false summits" are on this trail; after rounding a bend I'd see a somewhat distant knoll which seemed to be the top . . . only to discover hidden behind it yet another higher point ever further off.

Yet by my perseverance I was more than amply rewarded.

A moment came when the trail essentially vanished, having blended into bare rock.  This was quite high up, at a point devoid of shelter, and I was exhausted. I had to kneel; I had to rest.  Go on?  Could I?  Should I?  I remained hunched and bent over against both merciless wind and the compounded affects of several hours of  an equally unrelenting desert Sun. I paused.

As I remained there I found myself reflecting on my grandfather's life and what he'd brought to me; I gazed down and noticed the color of the rock at my feet.  There was a pervasive rust/rose hue.  Marshall was a bricklayer and stone mason; he loved rocks.  Many times he'd take me rock collecting, usually on Mount Lemmon; he had a particular affection for rose agate.  He and I built a bird bath out of such treasures on the Tucson property where he had designed and built five homes, a semi-compound where I spent most of my early life exploring and playing.

Then it happened. 

As I gazed at the wind-blasted rocky terrain at my feet a small, black-winged moth appeared.  Out of nowhere.  Impossibly present: at this point the winds were unimpeded by any natural barriers and were as viciously harsh as they'd been the entire time I was on this largely barren mountain. How could this tiny, frail, virtually weightless moth be here?  Yet what struck me even more was this: the moth's color, and the pattern on its wings were salt-and-pepper gray. Exactly the hue of my grandfather's perpetually thick "Ronald Reagan" hair.

As I continued to crouch there, a profound sense of Presence infused my consciousness: "You can do this, Jim [which is what he'd call me]; thank you for making the effort to visit me . . . now don't quit when you're so close to your goal. I'll be with you."


One of the two or three most profound spiritual experiences of my life.

I remained still for a few more moments.  Then, briefly, the photographer persona attempted to inject himself: maybe if I move slowly I can capture this moth on my camera . . .

Just as instantly as that notion made its appearance I knew that THIS was NOT a Kodak Moment. This nearly ethereal visitor was not fodder for pixels, it was messenger of the most divine pedigree. For another brief moment I watched the moth remain unbelievably resting in its private pocket of protection from the howling winds; with next blink it was simply gone.

The next step was obvious and without retort; I struggled to my feet and resumed my plodding towards Wasson's summit.  Eventually I made it.  I was so completely tapped that I had to lay down on the wholly rocky peak for nearly an hour, and I ate what meager rations I'd brought along (for what I expected to be a trivial, short jaunt). As I gazed around I was shocked, and stunned, by the scene:  by this time (1:00 p.m. or so) the winds had been blowing for so long and with such force that the entire city of Tucson, right at the foot of this modest mountain range, was virtually invisible beneath of blank of muddy brown dust; vistas in all directions were just as obscured.

I found out later from my wife (who was NOT happy with the risk I'd unwittingly put myself in) that the situation down in the civilized world was so intense that the authorities barred pedestrians from the streets during the worst of it; she and her seminar mates were virtually imprisoned indoors by what amounted to be a massive dust storm of epic proportions; at least parts of the University lost power. Amazing.

This entry is already of epic proportions itself, thus I won't extend it to serialization-worthy length by recounting every detail of my descent.  Suffice it to say that it took nearly four hours, wherein I found I was forced to carefully ration what little water I had remaining after "summiting"; I was near total exhaustion for nearly the entire effort and at least twice gave serious thought to trying to call for official search/rescue help if only my cell phone had enough reception. I saved my last few sips of water until I could actually see my car in the parking lot . . . and that sight was its own form of heaven, a vision beheld much closer to sunset than I would've ever imagined when I set out at 4:30 a.m.

So, dear reader, I shall now bring this entry to a close.  Today (April 2nd, when I started writing) marks the 20th anniversary of my grandfather's passing. It was nearly one year ago exactly that he visited me on Wasson Peak. It's to his honor, and to the never flagging love that he gave me, that I dedicate this piece.

I miss you, grandpa.

Marshall Weston Petersen, February 11, 1911 - April 2, 1994

Wasson Peak Summit Trail, #3119-7D

© 2014 James W. Murray, all rights reserved.

(click image for larger version)

Details: April 8, 2013, Canon 7D; f/11@ 1/1600 sec; ±0 EV; ISO 500;
Tokina AT-X Pro 11-16mm f/2.8 DX @ 13mm

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Seeing 2014 (#2)

For your consideration:

A private moment, a sweet indulgence under a majestic, protective, silent canopy of coastal redwoods.

Freshly brewed coffee, the grace of solitude, and the opportunity to commune with one's spirit: a trio of pillars upon which to create an enlightening day.

This intimate scene captures an anonymous friend of mine, one of ninety-one other men with whom I had the deep honor and privilege to share eight days deep in the Mendocino forest.  It was a profound experience, easily one of the most potent of my life, and a soul adventure at turns acutely arduous and blissfully healing. I plan to return to another such conclave again this summer.

+    +   +   + 

On the topic of photographs involving coffee:  beginning today, March 1st, I shall be showing a selection of my images in the Great Bear Coffee house, in downtown Los Gatos.

The current loose agenda  is for me to begin hanging my photographs in the early-to-mid afternoon.

I plan to linger for quite some time; please come down and join me and imbibe in your favorite caffeine beverage (and perhaps some of the quite tasty food on the menu); I'll give you a personal dissemination of the artist's thoughts, motivations, and circumstances of the prints.

I hope to have the pleasure of seeing you there, and communing over a good brew.

Early Riser (Mendocino Forest), #7441-7D

© 2014 James W. Murray, all rights reserved.

(click image for larger version)

Details: August 15, 2013, Canon 7D; f/5@ 1/200 sec; ±0 EV; ISO 640;
Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM @ 182mm

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Seeing 2014 (#1)

Well, Dear Reader (optimistically: "readers") — it's certainly been awhile.

Not that you (and this venue) have been far from my mind . . . 'twas not the case.  Rather than conjuring up a plethora of semi-plausible excuses, I'll just note that, for this entry at least, I'm back.

As is undoubtedly true for all of us, given the passage of time, far too much has transpired to be recounted (particularly with the major traditional American holidays packed into the gap).  The good news is that together we've emerged, intact, if not necessarily wiser.  Speaking for myself, in any case.

The past year was particularly challenging for me.  There were few areas of my life that were not laced and laden with some degree of duress. Compared to prior times and places on my path, I'd characterize the overall theme and tone as that of a contraction, or hibernation.  The weather inside my cranium was too many days akin to that of Newfoundland.

Yet such immersions can incubate untapped strength, germinate unforeseen insights, spawn unexpected fortitude, and yield nascent resolve and optimism.  Thus emanates resilience.

From darkness, then, light.  From fallow soul, reincarnation — blossoming.

Ø     Ø    Ø

A half-century 
point five:
The breath suggests
I'm yet alive;

The journey's amazements
are myriad 'tis true —
Not least among them:
a celebratory serenade
(duet with kazoo!)

                                                                        — James Murray, 2/25/2014

Appealing Orange Blossom, #0551-7D

© 2014 James W. Murray, all rights reserved.

(click image for larger version)

Details: February 9, 2014, Canon 7D; f/11 @ 1/250 sec; ±0 EV; ISO 500;
Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Seeing 2013 (#33)

For your consideration: an image all too predictive/indicative of my roiling spirit this evening, one subliminally mimicking the ironic, utterly unforeseen trajectory of many events in my life.

The time and circumstances of this time-lapse photograph were no more on that day's agenda than has been the abrupt appearance of a brutal emotional crash landing this afternoon.

The initial plan, on last week's anniversary of a Day of Infamy, was to revisit the Alameda Naval Air Station for a bit of pixel hunting in while the sun was shining — the Daylight Version, as I pitched the idea to my fellow photographer Jerry — of our prior (and first) visit to the decommissioned base. (An image from said  nocturnal excursion can be seen in this gallery on my main photography site.)  As it happened we hadn't seen one another in awhile, and in our enthusiastic catching up with one another during the relatively short drive up the peninsula we drove right past Alameda . . . and found ourselves in South San Francisco.

Thus we resorted to spontaneously formulated Plan B, which was an attempt to find a decent viewpoint overlooking the runways of SFO (San Francisco's airport) from the surrounding hills.  I've long wanted to take time-lapse imagery of the activity there. With a little help from locals, we managed to summit a small bluff affording a broad vista, but by then it was extremely windy on an already bitterly cold afternoon . . . and the sun was setting . . . thus neither of us was inclined to test the boundaries of hypothermia. We called finding the view a Mission Accomplished and scurried back to the blessed shelter of the car.

Plan C, immediately formulated from desperation, was to find a coffee shop of any species.

A bit later, having thawed out, we set out for home . . . but curiosity intruded, leading to an exploration of the nearby waterfront.  As I'd been in this area before, during a photography seminar weekend last summer, I knew we would be rewarded with a wholly different observation perspective of the significant air traffic, this from the bay's inner shoreline.

Capturing this image was not nearly so brutal, weather-wise, as was our earlier stint up in the hills:  I set up my camera on a tripod on a walkway next to Jerry's vehicle, attached a radio-controlled interval timer, and then spent the next thirty minutes or so triggering long-duration exposures while sitting in the cozy warmth of the car. This is best result of several shots.  

Most of the streaks low on the horizon are landings at SFO; the lovely arc skyward is the lone takeoff during this five-minute interval.  Very close to horizon, a bit left-of-center, is a small curl of light seemingly rising from a knoll; this is a departure from SJC (San Jose).

That was a fun evening, and rewarding.  That was then.

Today started out with a dose of unpleasantness at work; I suppose the flight plan had been filed but I was oblivious as to the radical course change awaiting . . . Just at the end of my day an excruciating blast equivalent to wind shear obliterated any chance of a peaceful landing for my evening's path.

It's a bit cruel how one's personal journey can be so sharply jolted by turbulence absent from the soul's radar; for me, at least, such blows are absolutely disorientating and deeply discouraging.

Tonight I  feel as a stranger in a strange land.  I'd love to crawl into this photograph and ride a streaking flight out to parts unknown.

Bay Area Arrivals and Departures, from Pigeon Point, #9776-7D

© 2013 James W. Murray, all rights reserved.

(click image for larger version)

Details: December 7, 2013, Canon 7D; f/11 @ 301 secs; ±0 EV; ISO 100;
Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM @ 25mm

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Seeing 2013 (#32)

For your consideration:

A study in tones, subtle geometries and topography which by prior arrangement conspire to elucidate a universally recognized form of sensual beauty, presented with an unyielding aura of confidence and power.  This tableau exists purely in two dimensions, yet by dint of both subtle perspective and continuos gradations it speaks of a fully-realized body offered without restraint, wholly present, fearless in pose and proximity.

I presume the viewer shares an evolutionary kindred with the entry's subject; intimate familiarity with one's own species makes recognition of a familiar model having a common pedigree swift and intuitive.  And yet, perhaps not.  Incongruities challenge the standard assumptions.  Even for the fairest of Scandinavian clans this inhabitant features a considerable degree of translucence.

Then there's the small matter of the navel. (Everyone has one, right?  Right?)  This model's seems to be an "innie" . . . however, something's amiss.  The symmetry is simply too perfect. Set off and encircled by an orbital-like ring, this hardly seems the remnant of an umbilical cord of any organic constitution.

An acute disconnect from the clan of Courbet's L'origine du Monde is certain.

What then can we divine from this semi-realized, modestly ethereal torso?

At the very least this visitor bares witness to the reality that regardless of how authentically presented—nakedly honest, if you prefer — ultimately we can never know the true depths of our fellow travelers; beneath the exteriors of body and personality to which we are accustomed reside untold elements of mystery.  Indeed, all of us harbor interior chambers unknown — and perhaps ultimately inaccessible – even to ourselves.

In recent times astronomers, physicists and cosmologists have been investing prodigious intellectual and material resources to in the pursuit of dark matter.  Without it, explaining the realty of gravity is a real problem.

This entry's subject suggests we might alter the parameters of the search.

Dark matter, indeed.

Nude, #7359-7D

© 2013 James W. Murray, all rights reserved.

(click image for larger version)

Details:  August 11, 2013, Canon 7D; f/3.2 @ 1/250 sec; ±0 EV; ISO 400;
Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM @ 57mm


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