Stopping by woods

…on snowy morning.

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First Snow

Sleepless. I worked last night, and should be exhausted. What woke me up? I look outside. Snow blankets the world. There is a dull hush over everything.

A quick check of the laptop shows it’s 5:30, still a half hour before dawn. Pulling on sneakers, sweaters, and a down jacket, I slip down to the the lake. The snow is damp, it squeaks under my feet. At the industrial corridor, the high voltage wires sizzle with the damp. Snow continues to fall.

This isn’t just snow, though, it’s a milestone, a change in the season. Snow signals Christmas, and all the other festivals of light.

It was like this when I was getting ready to leave Jordan. For two months I was in despair, not wanting to leave. Then came Ramadan, the street vendors frying qadieff in the alleyways, a shift in the seasons. Suddenly it was all right, I could leave.

And so to work.

Some photography links

Photography masterclasses from BBC.

How to take macro pictures and other stuff from National Geographic.
(I can no longer find the haunting photos of the women of Afghanistan taken by a medical team; here are some Saudi women.) [UPDATE: the Afghan women are here: “Veiled Rebellion”.]

An exhibition of photographs by John White (I wrote about John White here “Three F-words… “)  is at the historic First United Methodist Church at 77 W. Washington in downtown Chicago until Feb 28.

Faith.  What is central and right for your life.
Focus.  What will still be important a hundred years from now.
Flight.  The movement of the moment.

Time magazine has a group of newly discovered photos from the late Jacques Lowe who was in JFK’s inner circle–he’s the same one who took the iconic photo of LBJ taking the oath of office after the assassination.

At his death, Lowe had plans for a complete Kennedy record. But five months after he died, all his Kennedy negatives stored in a vault at 5 World Trade Center were baked to dust by the fires of 9/11. Friends, former colleagues, his children and publishers saw the possibility of a new book in the surviving prints and contact sheets that had remained in his loft.

Finally, here is a list of photographers from somewhere on the web:
Cindy Sherman, Laurie Simmons, John Coplans, Martin Parr, William Wegman, Robert Mapplethorpe, David Hockney, Moholy-Nagy, Andy Warhol, Rodchenko, Richard Prince, Nan Goldin, Alfred Stieglitz, El Lissitzky, Edgar Degas, Sophie Calle, Robert Irwin, Gordon Matta-Clark, Edward Steichen, Charles Sheeler, John Heartfield, Sylvia Plachy, Muybridge, Paul Strand, Henri_Cartier-Bresson, Andy Goldsworthy, Sally Mann, Sherrie Levine, Christopher Williams, Andres Serrano, Leni Riefenstahl

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Spring iris

The chill of autumn
Foreshadows winter days of
Remembering spring’s bloom.

Taken May 31, 2010:

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Lorca by moonlight

Does Federico Lorca’s gypsy poem La Casada Infiel (which I ran through Google Translate here) take place in the moonlight or in the dark? And can you see colors in the moonlight?

To answer these and other nycthémèrish questions, I set out a few hours after the start of the full moon Friday night to take some pictures, and ended up at the confluence of, er, Wolf Lake and Indian Creek.  Yeah, Chicago has some real world-class rivers and lakes, and undoubtedly more prestigious confluences, and maybe some day I’ll take the trouble to conduct experiments on those too, but this one is within walking distance.  I have also seen a wolf here with my own eyes, so quite possibly this is a lycanthropic stream, although I’m not sure of the effects of last century’s reversal of the stream to flow into the Calumet River on any of its magical properties.  Probably the same as before.

I used a hundred-dollar camera (Cannon Powershot 560), timed exposures, and no tripod. The photos are more, or maybe less, associated with a line or phrase in the poem.  More details after the photos.


yo me la llevé al río
[I took her to the river]

Se apagaron los faroles y se encendieron los grillos.

[The lanterns were extinguished. The crickets were kindled.]

como ramos de jacintos

[like hyacinth buds]

me sonaba en el oído

[they sounded in my ear]

como una pieza de seda

[like a piece of silk]

Sin luz de plata en sus copas

los árboles han crecido

[without the silver light in their crowns, the trees have elongated]

y un horizonte de perros

ladra muy lejos del río.

[a horizon of dogs barks far in the distance]

bajo su mata de pelo

hice un hoyo sobre el limo

[under its mat of hair I made a hole over the inundated terrain]

Ni nardos ni caracolas

tienen el cutis tan fino

[neither petals nor shells have skin so delicate]

ni los cristales…

[not crystals…]

…..con luna

[…in the moonlight]

relumbran …


… con ese brillo

[…with such shining]

como peces sorprendidos

[like surprised fish]

montado en potra de nácar

[mounted on a mother-of-pearl steed]

sin bridas y sin estribos

[without bridles or stirrups]

La luz del entendimiento

[the light of understanding]


And here is a gratuitous photo of the full moon at the end.

The objects brought to the lake were materials from this and other Lorca poems:

  • silk–one a light blue-green, and the other with a black and white pattern
  • crystals–manufactured crystal globes, a natural crystal polished in the shape of an egg (a crystal will reverse print), and a natural white pointed crystal with facets
  • silver colored hand of Fatima and blue protective eye with beads
  • a dark purple crystal from Mount Sinai, a metal key chain with a picture of the pope on it blessed by the pope, a cross of Ethiopian silver, red and yellow Palestinian-style cross stitch, and a paper straw sewing basket with a blue satin lining, none of which photographed successfully in the moonlight.

Yes, I could see color; I was wearing blue jeans and green sneakers, and could determine the colors of both in the moonlight.

The shell was a conch (in the Carribean pronounced conk) from the thrift store–they were popular tourist items in the last century and are now scarce. The flower was a moonflower from the back fence.  I photographed some of my irises but they didn’t really turn out or look very scary.

I started out by walking around Wolf Lake by way of the alleys on the south end, but there was a lot of ambient light, nothing good to rest the camera on for timed exposures, and not very good access to the lake, not to mention no river as in the poem. So once again I ended up sneaking into the park after hours.  After taking pictures for some time, I suddenly became aware that it was late, and I was alone in the middle of deserted park in a dangerous city. As if to underscore the need for alarm, I saw a movement close to me.  Not Lorca’s barking dogs or the intruders they were presumably barking at, but a raccoon lumbering under the foot bridge.  Then came a huge splash on the other side of the creek.  Turtle?  At night? Or a surprised fish?  At any rate, the vegetation suddenly seemed unfriendly and it seemed wise to leave the park as quickly as possible and move towards the road where there was still some occasional traffic.  As I left the park area, a stranger in a silver sports car stopped and offered me a ride. I declined with a wave of the camera and he quickly drove off.

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These bloom at night, presumably to attract night-flying insects for pollination. The sun is barely below the horizon and they have already unfurled themselves.

Hibiscus and hyacinth

Locally this is called Rose of Sharon; the Latin name is hibiscus syriacus. In the language of flowers, hibiscus means “delicate beauty”.

And by moonlight? Maybe…

This is a hyacinth, but not the usual garden variety, like the grape hyacinth that blooms in the spring. By googling the beautiful and unusual black and white seeds, I have tracked it down as hyacinth bean vine, dolichos lablab or now lablab purpureus, also called Indian Bean and Egyptian Bean. It is grown in the tropics, especially Africa, for food. Are these the ramos de jacintos from Lorca’s La Casada Infiel?

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