In the Shadow of the Moon

life_in_maine_shadows_of_the_moonI spent the Wednesday walking in the shadows of the moon. The brilliant white of the snowpack makes traveling through the forest under a full moon magical. The air is clean and crisp, and sound seems to disappear into the clear winter sky. The world loses its hard edges. Trees become shadow, and distance and scale illusionary. Click on the image for a larger view.

Photography: Truth or Fiction?

life_in_maine_fact_or_fictionIn short, the absence of truth is an unescapable fact of photographic life.

Geoffrey Batchen

It has become fashionable in the photo art world to label all photography as fiction. This is tossed out like an undisputed fact. It seems the main claim (and there are many sub arguments for the fictitiousness of photography including the Post Photography movement of Geoffrey Batchen) is that photographs can be manipulated and are subjective.

The manipulation argument is strange as it is seen as something new. Ever since the invention of photography, artist have been using it to create fictitious images (just look for the 1857 photograph The Two Ways of Life by Oscar Gustave Rejlander if you think Photoshop was somehow groundbreaking). But that is a bit like saying ever since the Greeks started writing mythologies, writing can only be fiction. But just like mackerel are not all fish, manipulated photographs do not account for all photography. Continue reading

Three Trees

life_in_maine_three_treesWhat is this curious addiction to form humans have? We talk about beauty as if it is a quality of things out in the world. But beauty, as the expression goes, is in the eye of the beholder. That is actually a complex statement. You could take it to simply mean it is a personal opinion, but it is more complex than that: beauty only exists in the beholder. Seeing, or rather experiencing, beauty is an evolved human quality—we are built to create it. But, like most human qualities, we have different capacities to experience it. Eric Kandel in his book The Age of Insight states, “The beauty of an image may recruit not simply a positive emotion, but something more like love, an aesthetic addiction…” Beauty, it seems, lets us fall in love with the world. Click on the image for a larger view.


life_in_maine_birefringenceSome material, like the crystals in this granite sample, is known as birefringent, meaning it has two indexes of refraction so the speed light passes through the material depends on its angle of vibration. If you pass polarized light through this material, an odd thing happens—the material divides the light into two perpendicular vibrating rays. Because the rays have two orientations, they move through the material at two different speeds. If the exiting light passes through a second polarizer, the two rays are combined and the difference in their speed creates either constructive or destructive interference, resulting in changes in brightness and color. On the left is a simple brightfield image of a thin section of granite. The right is a polarized image of the same sample. Click on the image for a larger view.

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Magic of Light

life_in_maine_magic_of_light_1Our experience of light is rather simple —we shine light on something and we can see what it looks like. Shining it from one side or the other does not seem to change the object’s inherent appearance, but just the shading. One of the neat things about microscopes is because they work at such small scales and with very controlled illumination that they can reveal light’s complex nature.

This image is of a tourmaline crystal. The microscope technique is known as a brightfield, meaning if the light striking the sample is not altered by it, you will see an even white field of light. But, because of scattering, absorption, and shifts in phase, the sample modifies the light, decreasing intensity, resulting in an image. This light is parallel to the optical axis. Now, if I took this light and shone it from the side, you would expect a similar result with a few more shadows. Continue reading

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Out of Sight

life_in_maine_bug_headOur vision creates the world. When we look around, we imagine seeing objects in space in front of us. Yet, all we are doing is processing an image projected on the retina of our eyes. The world we see and its external reality is an illusion of our psychology and biology.

We take this vision so much for granted that what we perceive must be the same for everything. We all know about the compound eyes of an insect. Unlike the eyes of a mammal, it does not use a projected image to see. What becomes even more amazing is that many insects do not have just two eyes—spiders have eight. This particular animal has three additional eyes on the back of its head, the clear dome structures. What kind of reality does this creature perceive? Click on the image for a larger view.

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life_in_maine_depthMaine has a fascinating environment. Sometimes the perception of distance dissipates and all that remains of the landscape is depth, like strata in an archeological dig. Click on the image for a larger view.

Barren Landscape

life_in_maine_barren_landscapeThe dunes along Seawall Beach at Bates Morse-Mountain Conservation Area. Winter holds the landscape in stasis. Click on the image for a larger view.

I have recently been around conversations in art, and in particular, photography. One conclusion I keep taking away about our art world seems to be a boredom with the world and its beauty. Photography seems to echoing our narcissistic times by making statements about itself; declaring itself a fiction and fetishizing this revelation. And when it does look at the world, it is to exploit it as a freak show or to confuse banality with profundity.

Or is our wider culture simply bored with the world? Like adrenaline junkies, we seek out novelty, something weird or strange. If there is nothing that gets our immediate attention, do we move on? Has the norms of advertising conditioned us into wanting instant recognition, instant gratification?

Sand is the detritus of the land. Having been reduced to such a fine state, the wind and water control its destiny. Yet, plants have evolved to exploit this unlikely environment. Invading it. Holding the shifting ground in place. And when dormant in winter, this organic colony continues its grip. Even when it trades its summer green for brown, it is beautiful.

Fish as Big as Dragons

Dragons are creatures of water, dwelling in the ocean, rivers, clouds, and rain. tokyo_fish_like_dragonsKoi carp are symbols of strength and perseverance. In ancient times, a school of Koi came to a huge waterfall while swimming upstream. The fish tried to jump the falls to continue their journey. Seeing their struggle, a demon made the falls higher out of malice. The fish did not give up. After a year of striving, one fish managed to reach the top. The gods, impressed with its determination, turned it and the fish that followed into a golden dragons. These Koi are in a pond in the Imperial Palace in Tokyo. Click on the image for a larger view.

Plenty of Fish in the Sea…

tsukiji_more_fish_in_the_seaA report was issued recently on the state of the cod fisheries in Maine. After decades of overfishing, a strict quota was placed on the level of the catch. Based on models of cod reproduction, the stock should have rebounded, but it didn’t. What was left out of the model was the change in the environmental conditions in the Gulf of Maine. That body of water is one of the fastest warming areas in the ocean. It is claimed that if we protect the environment, it will destroy economic growth, it will kill jobs. Yet, I don’t see the current plan working out very well…

Earth Wind Map

earth_wind_mapEarth Wind Map is one of the neatest visualizations and interactive maps I have seen. You can see current data of ocean currents, particulate extinction, chemical extinction, temperature, cloud water, relative humidity, and a bunch or other stuff including wind. You can turn the globe, or whatever projection you chose (there are several), and zoom into areas. Simply click on the button labelled Earth to select the options—the top of that dialog box tells you what you are looking at. The data are updated every three hours. You could click on my image composite of their projections or, better still, go to the site. This is something worth bookmarking.

Walking on the Moon

apollo_17_panorama_3Apollo 17 was the last manned mission to the moon. In 1972, Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt descended in the lunar lander, while Ronald Evans remained in orbit. This is a composite I created from seven images from the NASA’s Project Apollo Archive. Click on the image for a larger view. Note the lunar rover on the right of the image.

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apollo_earthriseThis image is from the newly released Project Apollo Archive by NASA of the pictures taken during the Apollo missions. While the crew never reached the surface of the moon, Apollo 8 was the first time humans had left Earth’s orbit and orbited another celestial body. It was the first time we could view our planet from a place other than Earth. The crew on that mission was William Anders, Frank Borman, and James Lovell. Click on the image for a larger view.

More than Meets the Eye

life_in_maine_more_than_meets_the_eyeCameras imitate human vision. Color is purely a human response to light: it does not actually exist in nature. How far we see in the electromagnetic spectrum, we call that range light, is simply a response of our biology.

But eyes are not simply tiny cameras. Our vision is a complex system. Part of the retina of our eyes (rods) only sees luminance—how bright things are. Part (cones) only sees color, or, maybe more accurately, differences in color. These signals are transmitted to our brain where it recreates an image of the world. But even in our brain, luminance and color are processed in entirely different areas. So while our experience is a unified vision of a color world (the middle image), the reality is part of our brain is processing luminance (the left image) and another part color (the right image).

We are really not that good at seeing color, which is a late evolutionary adaptation (many animals do not see in color). But it is important. The sky is rather dull in simple luminance—the orange sky at the horizon has the same brightness, or equiluminant, as the blue sky through the cloud. The addition of color in our perception creates far more separation. But color alone lacks structure and detail—color acuity is low in human vision, which why it can be really hard to read red text on a green background when both colors are equiluminant. Click on the image for a larger view.

Summer Skies

life_in_maine_summer_skiesClick on the image for a larger view.