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February 8, 2020 … articulation

A random post on Facebook last week caused me to think about the processes and mechanisms of human thought, and especially my own. The writer was a person who thought verbally and was shocked to learn that there were people who think in other ways such as in images. This came as a shock to me too, but from the other side of the fence. Somehow, until now I had never understood the difference between verbal and visual thinking. I seem to be a visual thinker.

There is nothing linear, logical or even verbal in my usual thought pattern, as far as I can tell. Nothing that remotely resembles a coherent verbal sentence in my native language. Though I don’t suffer from synesthesia, I can sense that this moves in that direction. Whatever is on top at the moment can be displaced in an instant by something triggered by a smell, a sound, a taste, a touch or something glimpsed out of the corner of my eye. If someone asks what I am thinking about, it takes quite some effort to put together a coherent answer. This can be frustrating to those who want to know what I am thinking, when I am unable to respond. I am not being difficult, I just have nothing useful to give them.

It makes me wonder how, in Heaven’s name, I ever completed my post graduate degrees which obviously required lots of linearly evolving verbal exploration of the topics. If I were to choose a word to describe my thinking processes, it would be “scatterbrained”. Now these are matters for me to explore in more depth and in some other arena. However, I wanted to see how all this impacts on my photography and how it affects my sense of what is art. So this week, you may notice a slight change in the style of the purple prose.

Varnish

On the city side of Wellington’s Clyde Quay is Chaffers Marina, characterised by a generally upmarket fleet of glossy yachts. On the other side of the quay, nearer to the Freyberg Pool is the Oriental Bay marina where the moored boats are much more humble. I made this picture for a number of reasons. First, there is that boat with its lovely juxtaposition of red/gold varnish and white paint. Second, the hull is reflected nicely in almost calm water. Finally, this is an honest-to-goodness home-built yacht, Look at the uneven seams between the planks clearly visible on its side.

While I try not to be rule-bound in making my compositions, I also know that some time-worn conventions help make a better image. For example, I try to avoid having eye-catching material intruding at the edges of the picture. I also try to ensure that it is clear to the viewer what the subject of the picture is.

Seeds of an idea

Mary came into the house with a beautifully symmetrical dandelion seed head and thought I might like to make a picture. At first, I was not enthusiastic, but conditions outside were uninviting, so I set up the camera with tripod, macro lens and my “dark box”. To be clear, the seed head was positioned outside the box, and was illuminated by light from the window. I rarely use artificial light. I use the box to provide a totally black background behind the subject.

This image is made using a technique called focus stacking . It consists of about eight images, the first focused on the nearest point, in the front centre of the subject and each successive image is focused a little further back until the last one reaches the “equator” of my little globe. The images are then merged in Photoshop (which is not a bad word, nor is it in any way “cheating”). The software takes the in-focus sections of each image and if I made enough images produces a fully focused whole. I have attempted this several times before, but I think this one is the most successful to date.

Giant dragonfly

In the Pauatahanui Wildlife Refuge, I was walking along the trail to the Thorpe Family bird hide when my peripheral vision was captured by a transparent blue thing flitting about. To be honest it was not until it paused on a bush that I got a clear view and could identify it as a dragonfly. Later inspection of the picture suggests that it is the New Zealand bush giant dragonfly (Uropetala carovei) or in Maori, kapokapowai. I had the long lens on ready for birds so had to step back to be able to focus … and the darned thing instantly zipped off on its erratic zig-zag course. However, it didn’t stray far from where I first saw it so I stood patiently and attempted a shot each time it paused. The autofocus systems on modern cameras are wonderful in many circumstances, but not in this case. The camera doesn’t know whether I want to focus on the third stalk of grass, the eighth, the insect or anything else that might be in the direction I am pointing it. Most of the images I took were not as sharp as I hoped for but I got lucky with this one. Isn’t nature beautiful? I would have liked to miss the shiny blade of grass across the lower left, but I’ll take it.

Dabchicks with a dabchick chick

Many of my favourite photographic gurus counsel against setting out with a photograph or even a plan in mind. Rather they advise keeping an open mind and waiting until something grabs your attention. This is consistent with my erratic way of thinking as discussed earlier. However, I am prepared to make an exception for dabchicks. The New Zealand dabchick (Poliocephalus rufopectus) is a member of the grebe family and it holds a special charm for me. This is especially true when they have chicks. In the first week or two the chicks ride on the back of one or other parent, hidden in the plumage except when they stick their heads up to be fed. By three or four weeks they are too big to be carried. They are still fed by the parents for up to ten weeks after which they make their own way in the world. Their legs are very far back on their body and the feet are much better for propulsion in water than walking on land. Scientific naming conventions are rarely as direct and prosaic as in this case – Poliocephalus rufopectus translates as grey head, red breast.

Near the end of the free ride

Here we see two chicks on the back of the left parent, hoping that the other parent will dive to the bed of the pond to get food. What they may not know is that the success of the almost constant feeding will make them too big to be carried after about two weeks. To my eye, the appeal of the two dabchick images above is more in the story than in any artistic value or composition. This tends to confirm the advice that it is often better to shoot what catches the eye than to make a preplanned image.

Soft shades

Most of my photography is a solitary activity. I don’t mind being in my own company. On this occasion, I had a friend with me and after visiting the dabchicks together, we went up over the ridge into the Maungakotukutuku Valley where there seemed to be some swirling mist about the tops. Well, when we got down into the valley, no swirling mist, just soft but steady drizzle. It was different to the effect I expected to find, but I am always a sucker for receding layers of landscape in soft shades of grey. Sadly, they tend not to do well in the eyes of other judges. On the other hand, I don’t care. I like them.

The Prancing Pony

In Oriental Bay, I pulled in to a rare empty car park slot with the intent to get a shot across the harbour. My butterfly brain was instantly distracted by this beautiful Ferrari California in the adjacent slot. Pininfarina was a design genius, and the underlying machinery is amazing also. I am torn between admiration for the sheer beauty of the thing and my revulsion for the ostentatious consumerism. Despite being a ten year old car, these things sell for about NZD$160,000. A new one would go for double that. I would never spend more than a tenth of that on a car.

Hanging in there.

After I made the image of the seed head earlier, I neglected to clean up after myself. A day or three passed by and the poor thing began to droop. It was in a water-filled vase, so it fought the good fight for a while before it began to droop. Finally remembering that I needed to put things away, I went back to the dandelion, and loved the beautiful curve that I saw. A few seeeds had dropped so the head was not quite as symmetrical as it had been, but close enough that it still made a nice image. Since I had not yet put the dark box away, it was pressed into service again, and another image was made before the dandelion was finally discarded. This is still in natural light from the window.

Lindanger is not in danger

A hazy morning with no wind tempted me down to the harbour in Lowry Bay where the tanker Lindanger was emerging from the mist near Miramar. CentrePort’s two tugs, Tiaki and Tapuhi emerged from the mist behind Matiu/Somes Island and made fast at the designated tug-safe areas. As the trio approached the Seaview oil terminal, the red paint became more obvious. A friend who is both a professional photographer and an experienced photographic judge once told our camera club that any image that contained a large clear splash of red had a significantly greater chance of being accepted by other photographic judges. As an accredited judge myself, I suppose there is some truth in this, but usually I want more than just a splash of colour. In this case the reason I made the image was the separation from the bank of mist in the background.

White fronted tern getting rest while it can.

My many encounters with terns always reinforce the delight I take in their delicacy, the sheer elegance of their presence whether in flight or at rest. If the red-billed gulls are weight-lifting gymnasts, then the white fronted terns are a ballet troupe. They tend to come ashore in times of sustained strong wind and find a place where they flatten themselves below the flow of the wind. The whole flock usually weathercock into the wind. In this case, the flock was on the crumbling jetty near the remains of the old patent slip in Evans Bay. I was amused at the way they merged with the guano-mottled concrete of the wharf.

Wind, wind, and more wind

When the wind is strong enough to be annoying and nothing else comes to mind, I often choose to follow the Wainuiomata Coast Road down to the Southern shore near Baring Head. On this occasion, though the wind was not all that strong, I saw some fairly forceful waves near Turakirae. I love watching long slow waves. If the waves are more than ten seconds apart they tend to be worth watching. Slow majestic walls of water advance towards the rocky beach and arrive with a thump that you can feel in the ground through your feet. The white wind-whipped wave crests contrast beautifully with the deep green wall of each succeeding wave.

One of many stairways in Wright’s Hill Fortress

A few days ago we observed Waitangi Day, New Zealand’s national day. After attending morning observances I drove to the South side of Karori intending to look for landscape opportunities from the top of Wright’s hill. When I got to the top, I discovered that the people who manage the old World War II fortifications were having an open day. The fortress is an extensive network of tunnels and gun emplacements under the upper part of Wright’s Hill. Though I am not fond of enclosed spaces, I had never visited before so I paid the $8 to the restoration society and set out along the tunnels. There were lots of other visitors but the extensive nature of the tunnels meant that I could easily get images without other people in them.

The Engine Room in Wright’s Hill

In the 1940s when the complex was built, it was necessary for the facility to have its own power to enable all the activities associated with the two big 9.2 inch guns installed there. To the great sadness of the restoration society, the two Ruston Hornsby 6VCR diesel generators which provided power for the guns are both missing major vital parts. Ruston Hornsby is long defunct, so spare parts are no longer an option, and any replacement bits will likely need to be made from scratch. The smaller 4VRO provided lighting and forced air for the facility and it has recently been restored to running order. Why did I make this image? My dad spent much of his life working in ships’ engine rooms and I was often allowed to clamber down the oily companionways to inspect the mighty machinery. Engines like these hold a place in my heart and remind me of my Dad.

That is all for this issue. I am not sure whether my thoughts about thinking make sense to anyone else, but they may explain the scattergun approach to subject selection.

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Animals Birds Cook Strait South Coast Turakirae Weather

July 24, 2013 … luck or planning

Despite dissenting views, I stand by my opinion.

Serendipity produces some good results now and then, indeed that’s almost the definition of serendipity – accidental happy outcomes. However, the photographers whose work I most admire, the ones who inspire me, work hard to achieve the photographs they want. They will stake out a site for days or even weeks, waiting for the lighting and other factors to match their visualization of the possibilities they saw for the picture. I don’t want to copy their images, but I do want to emulate their method for success.

Sadly, all of today’s images are casually snatched while wandering about looking for images.

Irresistible force and immovable objects
South coast swells

First, on the South coast on the Wainuiomata road, I watched heavy green swells rolling in to hurl themselves against the solid rocks. That grey lump of rock is about the size of a double-decker bus. The waves beyond are bigger still, and they arrive with a thump that you feel through the soles of your feet.

Wave bursts
Very impressive spray

Shattering spray is hurled high in the air, perhaps ten or twelve metres, and there seems to be no end to the succession of swells.

A brief check into  the Rimutaka Forest Park provided me with this encounter with a native pigeon in the same Tree Lucerne as the cluster of pigeons I found there  almost a month ago.

Native wood pigeon on the Tree Lucerne
Lovely plumage

Then on a farm near Wainuiomata, I noticed a herd of goats which had produced kids very early. They were gambolling about like spring lambs, but they moved across the paddock when I stopped the car.

A kid gallops ahead of its mother
I suppose lambs will soon be everywhere

Tomorrow will probably have its share of accidental images too, but after that, I am heading to Queenstown.

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Animals Cook Strait Maritime Turakirae

December 10, 2012 … wild windswept wilderness

Colour is a very subjective thing.

Looking at images after the event, I sometimes ask myself “was it really that colour?”. I checked images on either side of my first offering today and am confident that my camera recorded faithfully what I saw through the viewfinder.

In the first instance I was pointing at the container ship (possibly the CMA-GGM line’s Utrillo) passing Eastward offshore, probably bound for Napier, Tauranga or Auckland.  But look at the colours in the water. Look at the luminoity of those breaking waves (clearer in the enlarged image). That milky-green in the middle ground marks the mixing of the Orongorongo River in the foreground with the deeper blue of the Cook Strait. There is nothing beyond that ship but thousands of kilometres of wild water until you reach the ice of Antarctica. Colours of the sea

As we progressed along the coast towards the Turakirae Scientific Reserve, the sun and wind were at our back, and as I looked over my shoulder I was lucky to catch the flying manes created by the wind taking the top off that battalion of white horses charging ashore. It’s something of a photographic cliché, but I like it.White manes on white horses

The spectacular jagged rocks at Turakirae Head are the site of the largest of three major fur  seal colonies  in the region. Others are Red Rocks and Cape Palliser. This particular colony may contain up to five hundred juvenile males putting on weight in the winter, prior to the breeding season.

Since it was the off-season, I had not expected to see any seals, but as I peered through my long lens, I saw what appeared to be a gleaming black slug clinging to the side of an offshore rock as white surf crashed around it. In between each onslaught it would climb another metre or so out of the water until at last it was triumphantly clear of the water, and could join two companions basking in the sun. When they are dry, their skin is remarkably similar in colour to the rocks. The recently emerged wet one is easily visible, but the dry one to left of the same rock is harder to see.

NZ Fur Seal gets clear of the water

It was an invigorating and spectacular walk, though one that requires good footwear unless you wish to risk your ankles. It is a wild an unforgiving coast.

As we got back to the car, near Baring Head, a family group on the rocky beach  were silhouetted against a glistening silver surf, and there was a nice contrast with the incoming succession of waves. It is a popular spot for surf-casting, and indeed for surfing. Not a place to get into trouble though. There are no lifesavers here. Succession of waves

It was an enjoyable and rewarding walk.