Wednesday, January 27, 2016

A Five for All

Sky and Telescope diagram

     There's a planetary block party going on in the morning sky. Five of our solar system neighbors are visible just before dawn and you don't need a telescope to see them, although an alarm clock might be handy. You'll want to get up around six am and be out there even though Mercury may not have risen yet. The lineup from east to west is Mercury (dim), Venus (bright), Saturn, Mars and Jupiter. Look all around you for the most amazing planet of them all (hometown pride!). The Moon will be joining the parade as the week progresses. Uranus and Neptune are too faint to be seen without magnification and Pluto's been demoted. We think planet nine is out there but it hasn't been found yet.
     Information and the illustration come from the Sky and Telescope website. I've read the magazine since I was a kid and it's got to be the most accessible and entertaining media outlet in the natural sciences. Highly recommended.
     We're living in a golden age of astronomy with discoveries coming at us like a meteor storm - a new planet, huge stellar explosion, massive black holes, comet landings and Pluto flybys! Luckily we have Sky and Telescope and its website and other sources such as APOD to help us keep up. Still, there's nothing like just going outside and looking up. Puts our relationship with place in big, beautiful perspective.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Picture This

     It was a drizzly, foggy evening when I walked into the Hudson River Music Hall. Not surprisingly, it was a drizzly, foggy evening when I left some thirty minutes later. The same and yet different.

Hudson River Music Hall

     Nothing had really changed yet everything looked different. In truth, what had changed was the way I saw things. I had spent the last half hour enjoying Kendall McKernon's evocative photographs of Hudson Falls and the surrounding countryside. Now, as I drove out Maple Street and back onto Main, I saw the park, churches and downtown buildings with fresh eyes. On this dark, wet night I saw the beauty that I'd been blind to before.

     I drive thru Hudson Falls often, and too often I'm in a hurry. It might be something I need at Walkers in Fort Ann or maybe I've snuck away for a quick hike up Sleeping Beauty. Preoccupied, things go by in a blur, unnoticed. Fortunately, Kendall McKernon has noticed. He has taken the time to look and capture with his camera the little scenes of wonder that surround us.
     Take Juckett Park for example. You drive by it in seconds and a walk-around would take only a few minutes. Yet in a remarkable series of images McKernon slows us down long enough to appreciate the uniqueness of the place. There's interesting city block architecture, soaring church edifices and hidden geometry in a park bench.
     Beyond downtown he finds magic in train tracks, a cemetery and the gridding of a bridge. One memorable scene is of sunrise over the Five Combines of the Feeder Canal. Biographical info reveals that McKernon is a native of Hudson Falls who left for a long successful career as an interior designer. Upon returning to his hometown he reconnected with both photography and the landscape of his youth. You can see more of his work on his facebook page or by visiting the ArtSpace gallery at the Hudson River Music Hall on Maple Street in Hudson Falls. They're open on performance nights and every Wednesday at 7:00 pm when they have open mic. Call 832-3484 for more information.

Kendall McKernon photo
     We're a visual species, we love our images. Ask someone to describe a place and they'll tell you what it looks like, not what it smells like (unless it's an industrial hog farm). Our eyes take in non-stop stimuli every waking minute and we even dream in pictures. But much of what we see is so familiar it hardly registers, the scenes go by in a whoosh. In this maelstrom, photography isolates, focuses and preserves. It slows the action movie of life down  and freezes a small bit of it. This momentary stillness gives our consciousness time to catch its breath, to absorb and appreciate.
     Photography has been evolving since the 1800's. Initially portraits were its most popular use. Still are today although now they're called "selfies". Things have changed with digital replacing film in recent times. I still have a film camera, a Canon AE-1 Program with a telephoto lens. It takes better pictures than the little point and shoot I use for this blog. It is also heavy, awkward to carry and often left at home or in my pack. The film and processing are expensive and you have to wait for your photos to "come back". I used to go on a hike and take a few shots. Then I would write notes in a journal and put the photos in an album - the two separated, never to be reunited. You can see where I'm going with this. Along came computers and the internet, digital cameras and Googles blogger. Photos and text in bed together and quite cozy. I can be a bit of a curmudgeon about technology, especially when "This 'blipping' thing doesn't work!" My long suffering wife allows me my frustration tantrum then sweetly suggests "Maybe we can click and drag it here." And, of course, for her everything falls smoothly into place.
     The camera has become a versatile tool. Portraits, figure studies, candids and even pornography
(XXX has its fans) are highly popular ("Wonders are many, and none is more wonderful than man..." - Sophocles from Antigone). But there is also photojournalism, travel and landscapes, still lifes, botanical and flowers, architectural and micro- and astrophotography. There used to be a saying, "A photo never lies." Maybe, but there's a whole lot of fibbing going on. All photography involves manipulating what comes thru the lens. And that's fine as long as it's done honestly and openly. Take the Astronomy Picture of the Day. You will never see anything like those with your naked eye. A typical shot of a beautiful barred spiral galaxy about gadzillion light years away requires the Hubble Space Telescope gathering its feeble light for many hours. The artistic and technically adept don't so much distort reality as enhance it.

Credit: Hubble Heritage Team, ESA, NASA

That blue marble beyond the moon's surface looks familiar
Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State U./ Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter

     I'm interested in photography that defines our sense of place. If it involves Washington County and surrounding areas, all the better. McKernon's exhibit prompted the following review. It's certainly not inclusive, just some personal picks. To the best of my knowledge Ansel Adams never clicked his shutter here but we've still got some great talent.
     Neil Rappaport (1942-1998) was a photography professor at Bennington College who lived just over the state line in West Pawlet, Vermont. From the '60's and into the '90's he documented slate quarries and his neighbors who worked in them. He often worked in black and white which seems well-suited to the subject matter. The last time I was at the Slate Valley Museum a series of his photos were on exhibit. You can also view them here.
     Dr. Gorden Ellmers is a Fort Edward veterinarian who has become well-known for his vibrant bird photography. He often goes out early in the morning scouting the Feeder Canal, the Hudson River or the Grasslands to get super sharp images of owls and hawks, herons and eagles. He has occasional exhibits, gives programs and has photos online.

Gordon Ellmers photo

     Grey Villet (1927-2000) was a master of the photo-essay. Born in South Africa, he came to New York and soon had a job with Life magazine, where he distinguished himself. Perhaps his best known work is "The Loving Story" about an interracial couple who were persecuted because of their devotion to each other. Barbara, his widow, lives in Eagleville and maintains her husbands legacy with occasional exhibits and a website.

     Carl Heilman is a one man photography juggernaut. His company, Wild Visions Inc., produces books calendars, posters, videos, puzzles, DVD's and fine art prints as well as photography workshops. Beyond his aesthetic sense and professional skills, Heilman has the advantage of being a fit and highly competent outdoorsman. He can snowshoe to the top of a winter peak for a sunrise shot, canoe lakes and rivers to capture their life and even do some rock climbing for dramatic perspective. Although he travels widely, the Adirondacks are his special place. Washington County's northern wild lands are prominent in a small book titled Lake George. Looks like Shelving Rock on the front cover and Sugarloaf/Black Mountain on the back. Check out Carl's website or his facebook page.

     My old hiking buddy Jim Appleyard is another master of Adirondack landscapes. Years ago he did his best to nurture me in the craft but that was a fools errand. Apples still likes black and white film and you can see why in his striking images. He ranges widely but often returns to the wild forest on the east side of Lake George. I highly recommend Jim for weddings and events. Your memories will be in good hands. Contact him here.

Jim Appleyard photos

     I've mentioned Jackie Donnelly here before but it bears repeating, her flower and botanical photos are gorgeous. Best place to view them is at her blog Saratoga woods and waterways. She'll also be giving a program entitled "Mother Nature's Riverside Garden" at 7pm on Wednesday, February 17 at Crandall Library in Glens Falls. It's sponsored by the Glens Falls Chapter of the Adirondack Mountain Club.

Jackie Donnelly photo

     In southern Washington County Ian Creitz is doing interesting work including a series on abandoned industrial sites and the Agricultural Stewardship Association is growing our next generation of shutterbugs with its Farm Photography for Kids workshops. Cliff Oliver, Corrina Aldrich, Ellie Markovitch and Dona Ann McAdams lend their talents to the program. Several years ago my daughter Holly was helping out with the workshop when they went over to McAdams farm in Sandgate Vermont. McAdam's husband, Brad Kessler, is the author of Goat Song. Those very same goats gave the kids great subject matter for their cameras. McAdams is well known for using her camera to document performance art, street scenes and thoroughbred horse racing.
     Finally, a genre I enjoy are books of historical photos. The 1860's seem to be the start of a consistent pictorial record. These volumes show us where we've come from and perhaps offer some guidance in where we want to go. In the Images of America series by Arcadia  I've found five titles covering Washington County. They range from Huletts Landing and Lake George down thru Kingsbury and Hudson Falls and on over toward Cambridge and the Battenkill. Also of note are albums published by Towns and local historical societies. I've seen ones on Fort Ann, Hebron, Salem, Argyle, Cambridge, Kingsbury and Whitehall. Look for them in local libraries, book stores and from the Washington County Historical Society.

     Here's hoping your new year is "pretty as a picture".

      * Note to photographers: I recognize that your photos are your creation and controlling their use is important. The rules governing usage of internet images isn't always "black and white". If I've crossed any lines in posting images let me know so I can make adjustments. The purpose of this piece is to honor your work and how it enriches our lives.