Monday, July 15, 2013

Switchbacks and Snowdrifts

One of the major disappointments from our trip through the Alps was the weather.  As scenic as specific areas were we could get no respite from the haze.  I have dealt with fog and low lying cloud covers before and at times they can make for some really intriguing compositions.  Click HERE or HERE or HERE for examples.

Haze not so much.  Haze can be useful for shots where there is a planned recession in the layering of peak lines or mesas, but that was not happening with the scenery available.  So in the end, I didn't shoot as much as I had planned that I might. 

After I got home and started processing what I did shoot, I started realizing I could mitigate some of the effects of the haze with Lightroom.  The final images would not be what would be captured on clear days, but it did make me wish I had shot more. 

On the day we first crossed over the spline of the Alps in Western Austria we took the Grossglockner Hochalpenstrasse.  The road is traversed slowly and for a fee as it passes through the Hohe Tauern National Park.  It reaches a highest point of 2504 meters, or 8215' with a view of the Grossglockner, the highest mountain in Austria at 3798m or 12,461'.  If you are looking to travel quickly, you take the autobahn from Munich to Innsbruck to Bolzano instead. 

As we crossed back and forth on the switchbacks, we stopped numerous times to take touristy pictures of the nephews standing on snow drifts etc.  At one of the stops we could look across the valley to the lower slopes of the Grossglockner.  When gravel and sand erode down the side of a mountain and into a dessert flat like Death Valley, it is called an Alluvial Flow.  As I looked across at one particular snow drift that was still melting, the mixture of snow and rocks reminded me of something similar though I don't know the geological name.

As we were looking across, we noticed the melting drift encompassed parts of a small narrow road with switchbacks as well.  We then saw a car drive up the road past one particularly treacherous looking stretch that crossed the drift, only to find after 7 more switchbacks, crossing the drift again was impossible.  After waiting for the car to back down to the previous switchback where it did a 13 point turn and headed back down the mountain across the drift at a creepingly slow rate, I took the image in today's post. 

I liked the tension between the manmade diagonals of the switchbacks being confronted and overwhelmed by the diagonal fingers of the drift itself.  The image was shot through a lot of haze as mentioned above, so there is much more processing than I would normally do, but sometimes, you have one shot and you take what you can get.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Dachau - The Blue Ribbon of the Obchodni Academy

Today's post includes another couple of images from the Dachau Concentration camp outside Munich.

The imprisoned workers who lived and worked in the camp lived in a series of barracks that lined a central road through the camp.  There 34 barrack buildings in total, 17 on each side of the road.  To bring a little humanity to the camp, the mail road was planted with poplar trees on both sides of the road and grew to a fair height before the camp was liberated.  The poplars remain to this day as a living link to the prisoners who were held there.

After the war all the barracks were torn down, only the foundations remain.  The foundations are filled with pebbles, and a maker to show which barrack was which.  Two of the barracks have been rebuilt and serve as part of the museum, showing how living conditions existed when the camp was first opened and deteriorated through the course of the camp's existence.

As we walked down the main camp road, in between the poplars, at one of the Barracks footprints I noticed flowers and a ribbon at one of the building markers.  I took a picture of it relative to the barrack footprint and then got closer to capture the ribbon itself. 

The ribbon was left as a memorial, one that has turned into a bit of a historical research to understand the story behind the ribbon.  The ribbon is from the Obchodni Academy.  An internet search quickly identified it as a school in Prague.  Formed around 1900, The school is open to this day, preparing students for careers in business.

In reviewing the pages of the schools website, the page on the school's history indicated that the school was shut down in 1944, and the students were put to work in armament factories for the German war effort.  Dachau's main output was war munitions.  The signs and clues point to this barrack, #20, housing the students who were taken from the school and forced to work building weapons for their oppressors.  Of course, it could also be the case that the school took a field trip here and the students simply left the flowers and ribbon in remembrance of the victims in general.  I may do a little more research to find out.

We had our two nephews who had recently graduated high school with us, and as I think about them and the students of the Obchodni Academy, I can't help but think how much talent and youth has been wasted by mankind.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Dachau: Tragedy and Remembrance

Outside Munich is the quiet little town of Dachau. Before the WWII it was known as an artist's community.  Then in 1933 the Nazi's built one of their first concentration camps just outside of town and Dachau has come to be associated with something more tragic and sinister ever since.

Dachau was a concentration camp as opposed to an extermination camp like Auswitz, meaning that the camp was originally meant as a point to concentrate political and social enemies of the reich, separating them from, society, imprisoning them and forcing them into menial labor.  As the war started, progressed and went badly for the Germans, the diversion of resources to the war effort meant a drastic decline in conditions within the camp.  The differentiation between concentration and extermination camps ceased to exist. 

After we got off the S Bahn that took us from Munich to the town of Dachau, we sat and waited for the public bus that would take us to the camp. As we sat we noticed that all the busses had a strange abstract pattern on the side of them under "Stadt Dachau" designating the town.  Jenny and I having been to Dachau before knew what the symbol was.  We asked the nephews what they thought it was.  They looked carefully but had no idea.  Jenny said "You'll know soon, and once you do you won't forget."

In the front of the central square where inmates were forced to assemble today stands a large cast iron statue.  It dimensions are immense, probably 100' long by 25' tall.  Given background objects, and on this day the MILLIONS of German teenagers on field trips, it was impossible to get a clean shot of the statue in it's entirety.  So I captured one small corner of the piece and that image is below. 

Meant as an abstract representation of the tangled piles of bodies that were found when the camp was liberated, seeing pictures of the actual bodies, you realize just how un-abstract the memorial art piece actually was.  Seeing the statue points the mind directly to the photographic images of the aftermath and the statue has the clarity of seeing the images themselves.

On the far opposite end of the camp past where the barracks had stood and along the line of fence that led to the crematoriums stands the 4 memorials for the four faiths that lost followers at the camps.  As originally a penal camp, inmates were not mainly Jewish as at the extermination camps further east.  Memorials stand in remembrance for the Jewish, Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox prisoners whom lost their lives within the camp. 

The image below is from inside the Protestant "Church of Reconciliation" memorial.  Originally, there was resistance to allowing the protestants to build a memorial within the camp.  It was argued that the protestants who lived free outside the camp had turned a blind eye, either indifferent or accepting of the atrocities that were going on within the camp and thus had no business participating in the memorial remembrance.  It was pointed out that members of the Confessing Movement (a group of German clergy who had protested the Nazi atrocities) and European Quakers had also been imprisoned and died within the camp.  The church memorial now stands as a testament to the dangers of silent, implicit approval in the face of evil.

To me these images tell a story of hope and optimism in the face of evil.  That no matter the evil that confronts and may destroy man, manmade evil can never smother the spark of light within each of us that connects us to the divine.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Favorite Friday - Indiana Photographic Society Show

For today's Favorite Friday images I decide to post the images that I recently displayed at the Indiana Photographic Societies annual show at the Garfield Park Arts Center.

These images all abstracts that challenge the observer to ponder what the larger image was...

As such I will simply leave you with the title of each...





Click on these Images to see them in Larger form or to Purchase Prints of them.

9 by 12 is the largest suggested print size for Fire and Water.  Steam and Diesel render well at all available print sizes.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Abstract Leftovers...

Today's post contains a couple of abstract images from the visit to the BMW Welt and Museum. 

The first image is of from the BMW Welt which is essentially a large marketing platform for the brand.  Built in the late '90's, it contains displays of current cars, futuristic prototypes of cars soon to be on the horizon and brand stores for both BMW and Mini.  The building is a bold abstract statement in and of itself, who's most striking exterior feature is a large double helix column that as a third planar point, supports the roof independently of the rest of the building.

Inside the building is a whole lot of space and a whole lot of geometrically shaped fabric panels and composite sheets that transform what might otherwise be a very large warehouse space.

The Image is that of the side of a spiraling walkway that leads to the second floor.  I like the tonal changes the curved composite sheets captured from the available lighting as contrasted with the odd geometrical shape.

The next two images are from the BMW museum across the street.  It was originally built in 1972, it has been recently updated and it's boldly futuristic, yet simple design almost overwhelms the vehicles it contains. Light emanates from all sorts of odd angles and places within the museum which takes the visitor through dramatic tonal changes from tableau to tableau. 

The first image is from the waiting area within the entry way to the museum. 

The second image is from one of the narrow sanitary hallways that cleanses the senses for the observer as they transition from one space to another.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Waiting for the Wheat to Ripen

All spring I have had the idea of an image in my head.  An image of very simple composition, that is the younger sibling of an image I took earlier this winter. 

The winter image was taken after one of our many snowfalls this winter.  It is an image of two contrasting texture patterns juxtaposed at the bottom horizontal third.  The top texture is of a barren woods splattered with a thick wet snow.  The bottom texture is of a hayfield covered by about 4 inches of snow with the golden stalks of un-mown alfalfa sticking up through the snow.  It is one of my favorite images I have ever taken. 

I decided it should have a mate, an image of similar composition but of completely different season - juxtaposing images of images that juxtapose.  The second Image would be of a golden ripe field of wheat, with a line of trees in the background and blue skies above the trees.

SO I have spent this spring scouting for such a field.  Only about a tenth of the land where I live is planted in wheat in a given year.  Wheat is the fifth planting in a crop cycle that not all farmers observe, it is meant as a rest stop for the soil in the cycle of beans to corn.  Only a few of the fields around me had wheat planted last fall.  Add to that the need for a clean full line of trees behind the field of wheat and you'll begin to understand the challenge of finding the perfect spot.  My wife also understands the challenge, since she had to ride around with me as I took every conceivable detour on our way to run mundane errands.

Eventually I found the spot.  Then I had to wait for the wheat to grow and ripen.  Given the timing of our vacation this year, I thought for sure that when I came back all the wheat would be harvested.  But a cool wet spring extended corn planting season, which extended bean planting season, which extended hay cutting season.  The wheat was still there when we came back.

Since I have been back it has been raining.  A LOT.  The jet stream is parked right on top of us shooting low pressure system after low pressure system over us meaning we get the hot rain at the front of the system and the cold rain at the back of it.  Usually this sort of silliness is meant for Minnesota or Wisconsin,  not us.

Finally last Friday there was a gap in the weather and we had some sunshine so I headed to the spot and shot the image about 10 different ways.  Different placement of the top line of wheat, Bottom third horizontal, middle horizontal, different focal lengths, one where the trees were the middle flavor of a Neapolitan landscape, some where they were a thin ribbon.  Looked them all over while eating lunch and decided they were all rubbish.  There was not texture in the sky, simply a stripe of uninteresting blue. 

On the way home from lunch they sky was beginning to cloud up, so I went back to the spot.  Shot some more but still felt uneasy about what was on the card.  As I drove home, I thought I would go to my back up location.  I didn't like it as much because of the telephone poles that sat in front of the tree line in the back of the field.  As I pulled over and got out of the car, I looked at the clouds in the sky and realized my chance had come, a big wedge of cloud had formed.  I walked to the corner of the field and lined up the shot so that the wedge of clouds sat on the Baroque Diagonal of the image and clicked the shutter.  I had harvested my wheat..

Monday, July 1, 2013

The First Chamois

Today's images come from the recent trip to Europe.  It was not our usual type of vacation and as a result I probably came back fewer images that excite me for their artistic quality than the trips Jenny and I usually take.  For this trip we had company.  Our two oldest nephews graduated High School and this was their present.  We had promised the trip two years ago and the parents had set grade expectations on the trip which were met easily by both boys.  So on this trip instead of getting into myself and becoming a photographic savant, I was tour guide and bus driver most the trip.  Most my images are pretty pedestrianly  touristy as a result.

But that is not to say I like the images any less.  For what they lack in photographic quality, they make up for with memories that will last a lifetime.  The best part of this trip was seeing the amazement in someone else's eyes of things you have in some shape or manner, become accustomed to.

A perfect example is "The Hike".  We had meant to do more, but we were on the run from here to there so often we really only got one good hike in.  On the day we left Munich for Austria, we drove south and to the Berchtesgaden National Park.  Berchtesgaden is a little appendage of Germany that pokes into Austria just west of Salzburg.  The Northern reaches of the Alps is noted by snowy peaks and deep lakes, including the Konigsee. 

After a maze of poorly planned construction projects and a lack of tangible detour routes on our way from Munich, we found ourselves in the park and at the town of Berchtesgaden. We decided to take the ferry to the Monastery of St Bartholoma on the distant shore of the lake.  The boat ride was a pleasant affair, but deep crystal clear water with towering mountains on all sides tends to be a pleasant experience. 

The Boat's tour guide made a point to stop the boat, turn off the engine and serenade the mountain walls with dulcet tones from his trumpet.  The mountain wall returned the serenade and for this miracle of nature, the tour guide extracted a euro from each passenger.  NOTE:  When in Europe, if you see someone with a musical instrument in public...RUN LIKE HELL.  But then sometimes they follow a few years back in Dresden when Jenny and I were followed around for 5 minutes by a wandering band of gypsies who thought their performance should have been valued at a higher rate than the euro we tipped them...

Anyhow...Back to the story...After arriving at St Bartholoma, we admired the ancient monastery church with its roof containing seven "onion" domes within its construction.  Jenny decided to relax and watch people from a bench by the lake shore and the nephews and I decided to hike to the "Ice Chapels".  The chapels are formed as a wall of ice melts each spring and summer and slides further down the mountain but away from the mountain walls, creating  a gap between the wall of Ice and the mountain - The Ice Chapel.
After a quarter mile the trail became steep for about a half a mile, which combined with the altitude, gave the nephews a good burn in the calves and me a pretty elevated heart rate.  It became less steep thereafter.  As it rose above the tree line, views to the lake below and across to other showy mountains became quite impressive.  The nephews' eyes swelled with amazement.  The trail eventually turned into a scramble over rocks and a fast heavy flow of water across the seasonal snow fed river was too risky to cross so we had to stop just a few hundred yards from the ice chapels.

I didn't really think too much about it at the time, but afterwards they both mentioned the hike as the highlight of the entire trip.  For all that came before and after, I was a little surprised. 

It was a mystery I deciphered on the flight home.  It took me remembering back to my first big hike in the high mountains above the tree line.  For me it was in June in the Rockies above Vail.  The hike kicked my ass, but I remember sitting at the top of the trail looking down at the village below captivated by the experience.  It was crack to the senses.  It has never left me and I realized that the boys were having that same experience.  You'll never have the same experience in a car.  The physical exertion to get there is a catalyst for the euphoria.

The way back also brought another first for all of us.  As we walked, Braden suddenly stopped and fumbled to get his camera out...he pointed and said "Deer" and as he did, something rustled away deeper into the woods.  Knowing that there are not really deer as we know them in Europe, their Red Deer is probably more akin to what we would know as an Elk.  But this thing moved too fast to be something as large as an Elk, so I asked Braden to describe it.  He said it had antlers with only one, maybe two points.  I said that I thought it might be a Chamois.  To which the invariable question was asked what’s a chamois?

I tried to explain what a chamois was as we walked further.  But the best we could do was to come up with word play jokes about highly absorbent wash towels.  We eventually came upon Alec who had wandered ahead.  He had stopped and was looking at something.  He asked "John what are those?"

"Chamois" I said, as a mother and fawn chamois stood but 100 yards from us.  The fawn was as captivated with us as we were of it.  The mother was a bit more timid.  Everyone took pictures, they with their PNS’s and I started off with my 14 - 150mm walk around lens...but no one was getting close enough to really let the images visually describe the animals in front of us.  Prior to the trip I had purchased a Panasonic 100 - 300mm telephoto for the OMD in case such an instance occurred.  I had been openly hopeful it would be used to photograph Ibex.  Turns out it was meant for a pair of Chamois, Mother and Fawn. 

As the MFT format doubles the focal length measurements compared to standards lenses, It is a long lens.  With the shade and sun, the lighting was tricky.  Shooting handheld, I wasn't particularly steady from the long hike.

We lingered for 25 minutes photographing and watching the Chamois and in return the Chamois were watching us.  We loitered such that we nearly missed the last boat back to Berchtesgaden.  The Chamois was a first for all, another on what had become a trail of firsts for all of us. 

I can see now why this was the nephew's favorite moment of the trip.