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  • Cherry Blossom Time My self-assignment to photograph cherry blossoms in Washington D.C., back in the early '90's, had been carefully worked out. From maps I studied the locations of monuments ...
    Posted Feb 16, 2012, 2:28 PM by Fletcher Manley
  • Skillet Glacier - First Tracks I was pleased to have been invited to join Bill Briggs, Peter Koedt, and Dick Persons to record a climb and first ski descent from the top of 12,594 ...
    Posted Jan 31, 2012, 3:56 PM by Fletcher Manley
  • From The Train I was a voyeur riding the train south from Hokkaido and along the west coast of Honshu, Japan's main island. Voyeur is a French word meaning "one who sees ...
    Posted Nov 22, 2011, 7:01 AM by Fletcher Manley
  • Stannard Church - an image made Upstate New England still retains a network of interlacing dirt roads, many of them connecting original settlements and early communities. When planning a trip, and time permits, I often try ...
    Posted Nov 21, 2011, 1:22 PM by Fletcher Manley
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Cherry Blossom Time

posted Feb 16, 2012, 7:51 AM by Bruce Richardson   [ updated Feb 16, 2012, 2:28 PM by Fletcher Manley ]

My self-assignment to photograph cherry blossoms in Washington D.C., back in the early '90's, had been carefully worked out. From maps I studied the locations of monuments and their proximities to each other, where to park, traffic flows, which streets were one-way, etc.

My objective was to produce transparencies of some of our national monuments with the blossoming cherry trees. Early morning and late afternoon shots only. I had a pretty good idea of where the sun would rise and set relative to selected monuments, and planned my shooting accordingly.

The weather alternated between snow, freezing rain, and rain as I drove south toward D.C. Steady rainfall and congested Beltway traffic that evening did little to elevate my spirits.

On schedule, and according to plan, I parked at my predetermined location near the Tidal Basin early the following morning. Joggers and day walkers were already circulating. The cherry blossoms looked good, and I figured that a little sun and warmth would have them picture perfect.

However, what with all my planning and logistical considerations, I failed to take into account one important thing - lots of people. Bus loads and bus loads of cherry blossom viewers. At times it seemed as though a camera on a tripod set up a magnetic attraction to other camera bearers. "Look", I heard one junior high-schooler exclaim, "there's a photographer", and fifteen or twenty kids were soon streaming out of their yellow bus and enthusiastically clustered in front of my view with their instamatics at the ready. The misperception seemed to be that I knew something they didn't.

The next morning was clear and fresh when I parked beside the Basin in time for the early light. Although I felt better about some of the photographs I took that morning, I still didn't feel comfortable and relaxed with my approach, or more to the point, with my looking. Maybe my plan was to rigid, I began to think, maybe I should plan less and see more. After all, plans can change.

So, for the next two days I walked, and looked, and photographed whatever moved me. Instead of trying to avoid people I often let them become my subjects.

School kids, picnickers, fellow photographers - all subject matter against the backdrop of our nations capital at Cherry Blossom time. Everyone was having a good time, and I was no exception.

I returned home satisfied with the outing. Instead of feeling disappointed about the planned photographs that I didn't take, I felt good about the unplanned ones that I did.

Skillet Glacier - First Tracks

posted Jan 23, 2012, 10:14 AM by Fletcher Manley   [ updated Jan 31, 2012, 3:56 PM ]

I was pleased to have been invited to join Bill Briggs, Peter Koedt, and Dick Persons to record a climb and first ski descent from the top of 12,594 foot Mount Moran in Teton National Park.
The date was June 1 & 2, 1967.

Our planned ascent route became evident as we crossed Jackson Lake. Skillet Glacier was clearly identified on the face of Mt. Moran, with it's "pan handle" pointing straight to the top. That was our destination.

Spring was well advanced with the days becoming quite warm, yet changing weather at that time of season could still produce anything, so our plan was for an early start in order to be off the summit before noon. As we climbed, the warming sun softened the snow, releasing frequent small slides, adding to our apprehensions about something larger.

New snow had fallen two days prior to our start, making each step increasingly laborious in the softening snow. The small avalanches removed the fresh snow down to a firmer base, creating narrow chutes in the glacier not unlike a children's playground slide. Ascending in these cleared paths made boot steps much easier but meant climbing straight up rather than making a more classic zig-zag traversing route.

Bill kicks off a small cornice at the top of the pan handle before starting our descent.

Not unexpectedly, weather moved in on the upper part of the mountain, limiting visibility and adding to the difficulty of picking a line down the debris laden snow field.

After refreshing cups of tea and a short rest we packed our equipment for the final descent back to the boat landing.

We secured the boat at Spaulding Bay Landing and made our way through the trees and over decaying Spring snow. Ascending the lower section of the glacier, we climbed for an hour or so to a suitable camping site on a plateau area about a fourth of the way up.

I was behind Bill when we both heard the swishing sound of a wave of snow coming down the path directly ahead of us. Instinctively, we both jumped out of the chute just as it passed like a relentless freight train. But before we could shout "jump" the slide caught Dick and Peter and drove them about fifty yards back down the mountain. Dick was buried up to his waist and all we could see of Peter was the top of his head and the skis on his back.

Fortunately, the slide was not large and we soon shook ourselves off. We were nearing the top so we continued on cautiously, but with a renewed sense of urgency to finish the climb and start down.

Bill Briggs has the honor of setting the first ski tracks on Skillet Glacier.

Weather and snow conditions improved as we approached out camp site, making for some enjoyable skiing.

Our tracks in the snow are but brief testimony to vanishing achievements.

From The Train

posted Nov 21, 2011, 10:34 AM by Fletcher Manley   [ updated Nov 22, 2011, 7:01 AM ]

I was a voyeur riding the train south from Hokkaido and along the west coast of Honshu, Japan's main island. Voyeur is a French word meaning "one who sees,"more specifically a voyeur is "one afflicted with undue curiosity." For some people, and I am among them, it is this visual curiosity that impels them to travel.

When I boarded the train at Sapporo station I didn't have a real destination or objective other than making my flight from Tokyo ten days later. I mainly wanted to absorb as much of the visual flavor of Japan as time permitted. It was winter, cold and snowy, and the landscape was reminiscent of Japanese prints I had seen.

Ticket agents urged me to take the express trains instead of the slower locals, or country trains, that I requested. "Why take twice as long and be so uncomfortable," they would ask. Only when I showed my cameras and explained that I was a "pictureman" did their heads nod in approval, finally comprehending my purpose.

I knew that train travel for a photographer would impose certain restrictions. Chief among them was the inability to turn around and go back for another look. Most visual opportunities came and went quickly. In a way, it became a contest between my photographic reflexes and the rushing train.

Photographing from the train provided unique occasions, however, for capturing those little arrangements, or little moments, of life that I find so telling. With nose and camera pressed to the window my visual concentration became intense. I would anticipate a composition and release the shutter on instinct, for the lag between thinking and doing was often the difference between success or failure. Instead of working against it, and permitting frustration to thwart my efforts, I learned to work with the train, to utilize my vantage point. The train frequently became a component of my seeing.

When I got off the train at Yamagata a fresh snowfall had transformed parked bicycles into a network of abstract patterns. There was no urgency now, for the train was at rest and students were not yet returning to claim their snowy bikes.

Riding the train along the coastal plain I watched a woman crossing rice fields on a narrow roadway. The road, lined with irregular poles, led from a village in the background and ran towards the train. The woman carried a large umbrella and held the hand of a little girl accompanying her. Falling snow veiled the scene in softness. My eyes and camera were ready. When the road and the railroad converged in front of me the shutter clicked at one one-thousands of a second.

I saw the station master at Oguni coming up as the train slowed to approach the platform. I guess he saw me too, for our eyes met through the frosty window as we passed. I thought 'ah,ha!" and the shutter snapped.

Sometimes my train companions were subjects of my visual curiosity. How could I have left Japan without an image to share of the doll-like Micheko who sat opposite me. Her English was as limited as my Japanese but she understood that I was a pictureman and was honored that I wanted to take her photograph. She explained that she was a student of Ikebana (flower arranging) and wanted someday to teach students of her own. She had been studying Ikebana for ten years.

Mkicheko offered to share her lunch of cold rice balls wrapped in sea weed that she had carefully stored away in a cloth napkin. I opened the plastic packet of dried fish that I had purchased at an earlier stop and offered it to her and the older gentleman sitting beside me. He split his orange into three even pieces as a contribution to the impromptu meal.

Stannard Church - an image made

posted Nov 16, 2011, 10:41 AM by Fletcher Manley   [ updated Nov 21, 2011, 1:22 PM ]

Upstate New England still retains a network of interlacing dirt roads, many of them connecting original settlements and early communities. When planning a trip, and time permits, I often try to route myself along some of those old roads. I find them more interesting, and certainly less hurried, than the well traveled paved highways.
Returning from Stowe,VT a few weeks ago I consulted my Vermont Road Atlas and decided to check out the old Stannard Mountain Road. The effects of "Irene", that did so much damage to this part of the country, was still prevalent and I knew that traveling these back roads could easily turn into a major time looser if, without forewarning, a "Road Closed" or "Bridge Out" sign suddenly confronted you. But, hey, I figured that a branching spur road would always get you somewhere!

The Stannard Mountain Road wends its way west to east from one valley to another, up and over a long, high, north-south running ridge. Logging and subsistence agriculture are the regions past. 

There is a village of Stannard. It isn't really a village by common definition, but more a place that once was. A few houses, a meeting hall/town office, and a church are about it today. In front of the meeting hall a polished marble stone welcomes you to Stannard.

I had traveled this road a number of years earlier and sort of remembered the church as being a bit out of the ordinary, so I was curious to see it again. Contrary to my recollections, the church was now freshly and brightly painted, and its setting against the remote landscape inspired me to pull over and shoulder my camera bag. I like moody autumn weather, but that day was dark and the light flat. Here, I thought, was a worthy subject where a photographic image would need to be "made" rather than merely "taken".

The angle that I chose to photograph from was looking westerly, pretty close to the afternoon sun that was flitting in and out through holes in the dark clouds. I adjusted the exposure on my Canon 5DMk2 so the histogram indicated that the highlights were in bounds and not blown out. Doing that left the rest of the subject underexposed, but there was ample detail there and I knew that I could deal with that portion of the file later. So I clicked off a few RAW exposures at 24mm focal length. Shooting in landscape mode, even at that focal length, I had to tilt the camera out of vertical in order to accommodate the tall steeple.

Original RAW file - aperture priority

RAW file adjustment #1                                          RAW file adjustment #2

Sitting at my computer the next morning I selected one of the RAW files of the church and opened it twice in Photoshop CS5, adjusting the Exposure slider in the first one to retain the highlight values in the sky area where the sun broke through the clouds, and in the other I adjusted the Exposure slider to optimize exposure for everything else and let the sky area fall where it may. Then, opening Photomatix Pro, I selected the two adjusted church files and fused them into one. Now that I had the exposure range of the file under manageable control I was better able to add contrast and selective color enhancement to the new image, thus bringing it closer to where my visual interpretation wanted it.

Applying vertical corrections to the file so that the church and steeple wouldn't appear to be falling backward resulted in the top of the steeple becoming cropped. So before I made that correction I added about an inch of sky across the top of the file. Then, when the vertical correction was applied, enough sky was retained so as not to crowd the top of the steeple.

Traversing the back roads certainly has its rewards.

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