Timeless Beauty

There is no place quite like Yosemite National Park.  It’s been a while since I visited the park – all my pictures were taken with my old Minolta film cameras.  I’ve been looking through my slide collection lately and after looking at these pictures for the first time in over twenty five years, it was time to “scan” some of the slides so that they can finally be a part of my digital collection.  Here are a few pictures from my last trip to Yosemite, taken in May 1994.  I need to go back and visit this wonderful place once again.  Of course, I can say the same thing about Bryce, Yellowstone, Arches, Acadia, the Tetons – the national parks are a true treasure that have endured for millennia.  Let us work together to ensure that these landmarks, centuries from now, are still a source of wonder and inspiration for those who come after us.  Assuming, of course, that Yellowstone doesn’t blow its top in the meantime.

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And then, Yosemite

When I was young, my parents used to take me along trips and vacations to see the wonderful places the world had to offer.  I remember driving to Skyline Drive and Shenandoah National Park for the first time.  My father was ecstatic looking at the mountains and the seemingly endless views of the valley below.  My mother was busy posing for photographs.  I was unmoved.  A typical teenager, I just wanted to stay home and do my own thing.

A few years later, my grandparents were visiting us in Virginia and they decided to visit their friends in rural southeastern Virginia.  If the barely two hour drive to the Shenandoah was long, the drive to Richlands, Virginia seemed like an eternity.  Mountains, hills, valleys all melded into a mosaic of interstates and highways, rural roadways, the occasional town.  It was a happy time for all – friendships rekindled, beautiful mountain air – with the exception of the grumpy teenager who just wanted to stay home.  And of course, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was only a “short” distance away.  So what to do?  Drive through more mountain roads, look at never ending forests, gaze upwards to look  at yet another mountain peak, and meet native Americans for the first time.  That part of the trip was actually interesting.  Clean mountain air, the fog that covered the mountains that made for spectacular sunrise and sunsets, the breezes that made the hot summer days bearable – I didn’t breathe, see or feel any of that.  I chose to ignore the beauty that was around me.  I just wanted to be home.

When my father bought me my first real camera, I started taking pictures of my friends.  Eventually, I started taking pictures of the monuments and landmarks that were so close to me.  Visit to the woods and parklands soon became a favored diversion.  I started to read about the great places to visit in the United States.  Shenandoah National Park.  The Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  Yosemite National Park.

I visited family and friends in San Francisco and they offered to drive me to Yosemite.  I was unprepared for what I saw.  I knew that the place was beautiful – who hasn’t seen the pictures of Yosemite taken by Ansel Adams and other great photographers.  I envisioned cliffs, mountains, streams.  Instead, I was treated to one of nature’s great cathedrals.  Yes, El Capitan, with its granite face was a sight to behold.  Half Dome, Yosemite Falls – they were indeed impressive. Still, they are but backdrops to the true beauty of Yosemite.  The life sustaining valley nestled within the great peaks of the Sierras.  The stone monuments, beautiful as they are, are the supporting cast to this place that the trees and animals call home.  Yosemite.  A monument for the ages.  A cathedral for the living.  A gift of magnificent beauty for all.

Beauty in Everything

We are surrounded by beauty.  Often times, we look at everything at the most superficial level.  We see a pretty face, a pretty dress, a beautiful landscape, a stunning sunset.  We travel all over the world to see the Andean glaciers, the auroras in Iceland, the arches and hoodoos of the American southwest, the water wonderland that is Guilin.  We dream of going to far off places, depicted so beautifully by thousands of photographers and artists who share the same passion of seeing, drawing, photographing the places and things that have been universally deemed as beautiful.

We ignore the innate beauty around us.  From a child gazing longingly at the candy cane in the window, the grandmother being escorted by a loving grandchild as they cross a busy street, to a homeless man grateful for a cup of coffee that a stranger provides.  There is so much beauty in the world, if we could only look beyond our preconceptions and prejudices.  And wonder at the beauty that is everyday life.

The bluebird singing.  The stars in the night sky forming patterns that have guided mankind’s journey throughout the ages.  That feather in the grass. Pick it up and look closely.  You may be amazed at what you see.

Unopened Folder

I was browsing through my computer in search of pictures I can use for a new blog posting.  I noticed a folder that hasn’t been opened in a year.  A year old, untouched, pictures unprocessed – what was inside the folder?  A quick glance reminded me that I was at Huntley Meadows that August day.  In search of birds (probably hummingbirds).  I vaguely remember that after a few hours of August humidity and heat, I went home.  I copied the pictures to my hard drive and did nothing else with them.  Until today.

Browsing through the photographs, I see pictures of hummingbirds.  And dragonflies, butterflies, herons and goldfinches.  Remember the end of “Raiders of the Lost Ark”, when the Ark of the Covenant is placed in a crate and stored in what seems like a never ending warehouse of similar looking crates?  Well, that crate among crates seems like an apt metaphor for all the folders sitting inside my computer.  They all look the same, but they are all different.  I am not claiming to have found the Ark, but I did find some interesting pictures.

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We all make mistakes. We all learn.

It was 1996.  Eleven years earlier, Steve Jobs was ousted from his job at Apple.  The investors believed that Jobs had outlived his usefulness at Apple and replaced him with a numbers man.  A very good numbers man.  John Sculley, hired by Mr. Jobs, orchestrated his removal from Apple.  For a while, Apple thrived.  Not too long after the coup, however, Apple started to lose its way.  The Macintonsh went through various product updates, but it was losing market share to the IBM PC and its clones.  What was magical became mundane, as Microsoft introduced iteration after iteration of Windows, each version closing the gap between the Macintosh and the PC clones.  Windows, the upstart product from Microsoft, was at its peak – Windows 95 reigned supreme in the computing world.  The Macintosh, the first successful personal computing product that utilized a graphical user interface on top of its operating system, was losing its innovative edge.  And market share.  A succession of products from Apple, while technologically competent, failed to capture the imagination (and wallets) of the American consumer.  The company developed cheaper products that offered fewer and fewer features that differentiated them from even cheaper products from the myriad of manufacturers that sold IBM PC clones running the Windows operating environment.

Gil Amelio was brought in to save Apple.  He saw the need to update the item that made the Mac unique in the first place – its operating system.  After some exploratory talks with several companies, he decided that Apple’s best way forward was to buy a company called NeXT and use the operating system it developed, NeXTstep.  It bought the company, it got its operating system.  It also got something else.  Steve Jobs.  Jobs started NeXT after he was ousted from Apple.  Jobs had said that he learned a lot from his failed first stint at Apple.   He used the time away from Apple to hone his skills as a leader, as a marketer, as a salesman, as a head of a company.  He didn’t let failure stop him.  He adapted.  He bought Pixar.

In February 1996, Apple was in trouble.  The acquisition of NeXT was still months from completion.  Investors were restless.  It was becoming an afterthought.  It was a body without a soul.  A year later, Apple had Steve Jobs back.  A man that was mercurial.  A man that had flaws.  A man who had vision.  A man who believed in his vision.  In early 1996, the world was not expecting a second Renaissance.  The headlines proclaimed the death knell  of a great American company.  Looking back, the headlines were probably right.  And yet, Guy Amelio was about to make a mistake (as far as his future employment status was concerned) that caused, as they say, “a great disturbance in the force.”  Guy Amelio wanted one thing.  A new operating system for the Mac.  He got what he wanted.  Apple ended up gaining engineering knowledge and knowledgeable engineers.  And it got one other thing.  Steve Jobs.  The rest, as they say, is history.

What can we learn from this?  We all fail.  Many times.  As a species, we are all prone to failure.  What separates us from other animals on this planet is that we get up and try again.  Failure is the catalyst for learning.  For improvement.  For developing a vision that is all our own.  We can enjoy the accomplishments and work of others.  And learn from others.  In the end, it is the development of our own personal vision that will make what we do interesting and meaningful.  We may not be as groundbreaking as a Steve Jobs.  We may not have his impact in the world that we live in.  As long as we develop our own sense of self, our own vision, through failures and successes, we can make our own impact in the world we call home.  Think different.  That was a slogan that was bandied about decades ago.  Let these two words serve as an inspiration in the things that we do.  In our art.  In our photography.  In our lives.

We are a part of a collective, yes.  Let us not forget, however, that our greatest contribution to the world will not be borne of our need to do the same things that other people do, like the lemmings in that first Macintosh commercial.  We are one community of different individuals.  Be your own original you.  Think different.

Wet and Wonderful

It was a rainy Saturday afternoon in early September.  I’ve become quite keen on macro photography lately, and with the intermittent nature of the showers, it was time to explore the flowers at Meadowlark Gardens in Vienna, Virginia.  Raindrops are beautiful when viewed closely, especially when the world around them is refracted and reflected in unpredictable ways.

The garden was not as quiet as I thought it would be.  On the Atrium at the garden, a wedding reception was getting under way.  My first thought was – well, I wonder what kind of wedding pictures the photographer will be able to take.  With a heavy overcast and the rain fairly steady, the wedding party wasn’t spending a lot of time in the beautiful garden.  Sometimes, the best laid plans are thrown asunder by water droplets from the sky.  Still.  A wedding is a celebration, after all.  I suppose wedding photographers will have contingency plans for times like this.  I am glad I am taking pictures of flowers, raindrops, and dew laden plants and not have to worry about pleasing clients on their wedding day.  I wish the newlyweds joy and happiness in their new life.  And may their special day be captured in a special way.

Back to the garden.  The overcast skies made the colors of the flowers really pop out.  It was a feast for the eyes.  The colors!

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Orange, yellow, pinks, purple, red hues, deeply saturated.  The flowers, holding the moisture in their petals. Insects, weighed down by the moisture, slowly drying themselves out in the open air.  Each droplet beckoned to be photograph.  I felt like a bee, moving from flower, to flower, getting ever closer, looking at a familiar world made even more beautiful by the transient beading of water from the sky.

Closer.  Closer still.  Until the world around the flowers can be seen reflected in the droplets that hang precariously on a ledge.  In an instant, a droplet would separate itself from a leaf, from a petal, the reflection rendered so beautifully being pulled down by the invisible force of gravity.  A drip here, a drip there.  Beading, elongating, falling.  Focus.  Focus.  Images go in and out of focus as the lens points excitedly to yet another seemingly frozen moment of time.  Click.  Click. Click.  Each drop a picture.  Each drop a memory.  Nature paused and I was transfixed.

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Classic Subject, Vintage Lens

Over the weekend, a very nice lady gave me an old Minolta Rokkor-TC 135mm f4 lens.  This lens is over five decades old.  It was a sunny day yesterday, so it was a good opportunity to test the lens on a classic subject.  It was off to Meadowlark Gardens for a quick lunchtime photo session.  The lens was attached to a modern Sony APS-C mirrorless camera.  Some pictures.

The lens is lacking in contrast compared to modern lenses; this is most noticeable when there is strong backlighting in the image. Focus peaking works quite well and the ability to magnify the area that I am focusing on is very helpful; unfortunately, I was concerned that the butterfly would fly away before I achieved optimum focus on the subject, so I some of the images are not as sharp as they could have been.

The images were sharpened, contrast added, vibrancy and saturation tweaked, and in the case of the featured image, I deleted “unnecessary” objects from the picture to isolate the flowers and butterflies.  I also had to extensively blur the backgrounds on the featured image and on the last image in the set.  Still, the lens is quite nice.  I am looking forward to using this lens for portraiture – it will probably great for that.

The old lenses are certainly worth trying out.  And as the 135mm f4 Rokkor-TC shows, they will be useful tools for decades to come.

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