Art In Glass

Publication © Harron/Watson 2016

Publication © Harron/Watson 2016

A priceless advantage when shooting digital is having the opportunity to very carefully examine each image. This is especially true of subjects shot indoors under controlled conditions.

These exquisite glass bowls, created by master craftsman and glassmaker Karl Harron and shot in natural light, held a wide range of pale shades and hues on a flawless matt surface. Retaining the nuances of detail was paramount, especially if the shots were to be used commercially when the tonal range would degrade slightly, as in a print.

Although the camera was set to capture RAW data and a .jpg file, the neutrally processed in-camera JPEG was accepted and used. However, in retrospect, because of the graduated tone of the background, A TIFF from the RAW file could be edited to smooth away irritating irregularities.

To learn more about the artist, his creations in glass, comprehensive workshop facilities and master classes, please click or tap on the image below:

Darrow: The People Person

As the 20th century evolved celebrity status became increasingly common, and very ridiculous. Actors, comedians, royalty, musicians and singers, politicians, business and sports personalities, TV presenters—their widespread fame through the media made many of them seem important. But let’s face it, a host of today’s famous elite are no more worthy than the workaday folk in the street where you live. Being courted due to fame is very different to being well known because you are genuinely important.

Clarence Darrow (1857-1938) is a good example of someone who became famous for good reasons. Many considered him important, and not just because of his lively intellect and commanding skills as an attorney. His forceful and somewhat bombastic personality was certainly hard to ignore. He was also well known for his agnosticism, frequently maligning fundamentalist belief and practice. “Have you got to get rid of all your knowledge and all your common sense to save your soul?… I know the weakness of [human reason], but it is all we have…” (Absurdities of the Bible).

In 1925 reason and science clashed with faith during the engineered and widely publicised Scopes Trial. Darrow attempted to defend teacher John Thomas Scopes who was charged with teaching evolutionary theory in a public school. During the proceedings Darrow took several shots at literal interpretations of the Bible, one of his pet hates. We can only guess how peeved he would be in our scientifically enlightened age by the intelligent millions who continue to believe the Bible is inspired and relevant. He would certainly be very colourful in his dismissal of Christian Apologetics, the somewhat optimistic expression of a scientific and “reasonable faith”. He preferred the age of rocks to The Rock of Ages.

No one can deny that he could be opinionated, controversial and overbearing. To be fair, the failings of human nature have a lot to do with many things, but Darrow’s uncomfortable traits were often counterbalanced by his dedicated humanitarianism. He cared about the little guy, sometimes at his own expense. He was very much a people person who upheld the sanctity of human life, even to the point of headline-grabbing controversy. He defended those who were victims of Social Darwinism, the despicable notion that natural selection was a good excuse to treat the underprivileged like dirt.

He wrote: “When we fully understand the brevity of life, its fleeting joys and unavoidable pains; when we accept the facts that all men and women are approaching an inevitable doom: the consciousness of it should make us more kindly and considerate of each other. This feeling should make men and women use their best efforts to help their fellow travelers on the road, to make the path brighter and easier as we journey on. It should bring a closer kinship, a better understanding, and a deeper sympathy for the wayfarers who must live a common life and die a common death” (The Essential Words and Writings of Clarence Darrow).

It may be ironic to some that Clarence Darrow’s self-sacrificing concern for the helpless and the oppressed reflected an attribute of the very Creator and fundamentalism he vigorously dismissed and mocked. Somewhere much deeper than laws, logic and politics we find neighbourly individuals who love and give freely. Regardless of their personal beliefs and failings, they help hold our world together and heal many of its wounds.

Darrow’s vision and drive should inspire us to be people people. In spite of our innate selfishness we can find ways to go the extra mile and show compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience. Suffering with those who suffer and practising forgiveness might not come easy, but the alternative is ugly—and common.

 

 

Winter Apples

“MODERN ART IS A ASS!”

If Dickens’ Mr Bumble had the good sense to pooh-pooh one of the Law’s many paradoxes, what would he have said about modern art? Probably unprintable.

A long time ago I worked dispassionately in the printing trade behind a huge window opposite a Belfast art gallery. One morning a van pulled up and some new exhibits were unloaded. Among these was a mid-20th century kitchen chair, in itself as artistically plausible as any object in the universe can be. But rising up through its seat was a disturbing wooden point, like a huge thorn, painted to give the impression it was running with fresh blood. Blasé gallery staff set about positioning the hideous thing on display where it surely unnerved the public walking by on the street and gave small children nightmares.

But hey ho—it’s art. Maybe the artist regularly smoked a banned substance and found his inspiration and creativity in that. Who knows. And who should care.

There’s a lot of this artistic lunacy about. Did you hear about the everyday industrial skip, creatively outlined in “glowing yellow”, that was placed on a street as part of Brighton’s arts festival? According the event’s curator, “It is just amazing how [the artist] can transform ordinary, everyday objects into something extraordinary.” What’s absolutely amazing is the £90,000 taxpayer-funded grant that made it possible. It’s perhaps surprising that no one threw the artist in it. But once again, it’s art.

It’s art, and it’s modern.

And so is a pile of used nappies (diapers if you’re American), bricks laid out in rows, a dirty unmade bed (“littered with dog ends, condoms and underwear”), and a huge black rectangle, all of which were successfully exhibited at one time or another. As was a pickled sheep, and a frozen blood head—whatever that is. Some years ago an artist on TV turned himself into living art by taking off his clothes and becoming a hat stand and somewhere to park a bicycle. Seriously.

Sometimes normal people mistake so-called art for literal rubbish, and who could blame them. A sculpture made from polystyrene, resin and cement was thrown out by waste disposal workers. Staff at Tate Britain in London very reasonably threw away a sculpture they thought was a bag of waste paper, which in fact it was.

Back in 2001 a cleaner removed an exhibition after it was mistaken for rubbish that needed cleared up. “The collection of beer bottles, coffee cups and overflowing ashtrays was said to represent the chaos of an artist’s studio” (newspaper report). In the 80s what was thought to be “a very dirty bath” was scrubbed clean by a conscientious gallery worker in Germany. Such industry is commendable.

Photographic Art

What about photographic art? While there’s plenty of twaddle to be found here too (particularly in black and white it seems, judging by the magazines), it can be a wonderful way to create a visually arresting image. I had a go at one myself, and in an unrestrained moment of inspiration and originality called it Winter Apples. See what you think. Would you hang it on your wall? I thought not.

ISO 800, 1/160, f4.

Art and photography will meet wherever you want—what’s your vision? Here the intention was a stripped back artistic representation depicting fruit stubbornly clinging to bare branches, despite the bitter arrival of winter. Sharpness and tonal range can be overrated and technical excellence shouldn’t always be the goal, but that’s no excuse for creating imagery that’s the photographic equivalent of a pickled sheep.

The image I used was a passing grab shot over an old wall. Even with a mid-zoom lens it wasn’t possible to get close enough to frame the detail I needed without trespassing. Although metered from a mid-tone and underexposed by 1/3, the camera still managed to lose important highlight detail in the apples. Working on the cropped image in software, the matching apple tone and colour were added to the hot spots from elsewhere then feathered and subtly faded.

In a new layer a copy of the image was darkened and the original apples were allowed to show through by careful use of the erasure tool. Another copy was then drastically brightened several times and blurred before the application of a merge mode. Finally, magenta, green, red and blue were targeted and reduced.

Increasing the pixel dimensions of this image (interpolation) means it’s possible to print to whatever size I like. It’s also possible to scan a smaller pro lab print to retain good quality in much larger sizes. This approach is often overlooked.

 

Control the Range of Focus

EXTEND YOUR CREATIVITY

There are various creative techniques that will make your images more interesting. Controlling the range of focus is one of the most elementary, but it can be a little confusing.

Depth of Field

Depth of Field is the area of apparent sharpness in front of and behind the focusing point of the lens. Depth of field does not extend equally either side of the focussing point but rather extends farther behind it than it does in front.

Although a lens can only focus on one subject at a time, the range of apparent focus, or sharpness, can be extended or reduced by adjusting the size of the hole through which light passes. This hole is known as the lens aperture. If the aperture is large, f2.8 for example, there will be less apparent focus than if the aperture is set to f16 (the bigger the number, the smaller the hole).

Many cameras have a special button or custom function setting that will allow you to see the effect of depth of field by closing down the lens to your chosen aperture. However, it’s not always easy to see the effect through the viewfinder.


Depth of Field and Depth of Focus Explained


Depth of Focus… is the distance by which the lens can be moved towards, or away from, the film when the subject is in focus without producing noticeable confusion and blurring of images on the final print. In practice some latitude is permissible in focusing a camera accurately, because the human eye does not notice a slight confusion in the image on a print.

When a distant object [A] casts a sharp image on film the image of a closer object will not be sharply in focus for it will be cast sharply behind the film at point B1. On the film itself the image of B will take the form of a blurred circle of confusion [A1]. But as the diaphragm of the lens is ‘stopped down’, i.e. made smaller in diameter, the circle of confusion will grow smaller and the depth of field will thus be increased. The smaller the diaphragm stop [aperture] the more sharp will the image of all objects, near and far, appear on the film.

Depth of Focus is sometimes called Depth of Field but this is wrong because, though the two are related, they are not the same thing. Depth of focus, as we have seen, is inside the camera whereas depth of field is outside it.

Eric de Maré (1910-2002)
Photography, (out of print)

Wide-angle lenses

A lens’s angle-of-view also affects the range of apparent sharpness. Wider lenses, or wider focal lengths on a zoom lens, will extend the range. A landscape shot, properly captured with a 20mm wide-angle lens set to a small aperture, will appear to be sharp from the foreground to the horizon.

Longer focal lengths

The sharpness range can be greatly reduced with longer focal lengths and larger apertures – an effect that can be used to isolate a subject from a distracting background or draw attention to the subject by blurring what is in front of it and what is behind it (selective focus).

Macro lens

The perceived range of focus with any lens decreases the closer the subject is to the camera. This very shallow range of focus presents unique difficulties when using a lens designed for the photography of small subjects. The camera should be perfectly steady and the subject still.

Summary

In more simple terms, the aperture setting, the lens’s focal length and the shooting distance, all work together to affect the appearance of sharpness in your images.

Hyperfocal Distance

You achieve hyperfocal distance with any lens/aperture combination by focusing on the nearest point to the film plane that keeps the farthest point of the scene (infinity) in focus. This technique is useful when using a wide-angle lens for landscape photography. Hyperfocal distance is thought by many to maximise depth of field. Maximum depth of field can mean a tripod will be necessary to keep the camera perfectly steady. Built-in stabilisation technology will help too.

Grips for the Fujifilm X-E2 and X-E1

The trend for compact camera kits shows no sign of abating and, ironically, neither does the need for grips to make camera bodies larger and more comfortable to hold.

I don’t have particularly large hands but after using a semi-professional DSLR for years I found myself struggling with the design of the mirrorless Fujifilm X-E1. It all seemed a bit too fiddly at times. Of course Fujifilm had a hand grip readily available—currently it’s the MHG-XE—fancifully priced at around £65.


Just to be clear about it, it doesn’t come with gold plating and won’t have your name engraved anywhere. Thankfully independent manufacturers were quick to produce X-E1/2 hand grips for the working class at rational prices. The excellently machined grip pictured above is from Andoer® and is available for around £18. It would be nice though if the main surface was textured for extra grip.


Thumb grips are available too that slide into the flash unit housing. Using both together certainly makes a camera more manageable and I wouldn’t like to do without them now.

You may want to consider bending the thumb grip very sightly away from the camera body (see below). In my opinion it’s more comfortable overall and keeps my thumb a few millimetres back from the command dial. Perhaps this particular thumb grip could have been a slightly different shape and a little longer? But you can’t please everybody.

The Mint Below the Seat (and other poems)

On Shadowy Stanzas

There’s nothing like amateur poetry for offending talented sensibilities. So, if you’re truly talented you won’t find much to enthuse over here!

If nothing else, sombre and reflective poetry is honest. Are you arrested by poems like The Toys by Coventry Patmore, and John Hewitt’s very sobering A Father’s Death? We all should be, but not everyone can. We should all understand the why of poems like these.

Given the chance too many poets, inexpert and otherwise, have a tendency to emphasise misfortune and misery. I’ve stopped writing poetry. Reading through it again it’s too often marred by suffocating melancholia, and I’ve come to hate that so much.

I cherish the nuances and vivid beauty of nature, and feminine charms, and many other things, but just look at what’s escaped into my poetry instead. For some of us there are weighty truths that resonate more than others: “When reaching for life’s roses we bleed among the thorns”; “Behind every beautiful thing there’s been some kind of pain*”. Focus on these traits and we sink too easily. Accommodate that negative twist in your nature and you’ll spend too much time in the sucking quicksand of oppression.

Cutting Roses by Daniel Ridgway Knight. Be careful.

Cutting Roses by Daniel Ridgway Knight. Be careful.

Over the last couple of years, with more than a little frustrated assistance, I’ve learned I need to complain less and be hopeful more often. Melancholy complainers wallowing in their mood swings don’t inspire confidence and can’t help the tearful along a dark worrisome road.

Life moulds us and many struggle to fight back. Sometimes it can’t be avoided. Before frailty threatens dignity, many among us become badly damaged and unavoidably reflective. If you’re into positive thinking you’re unlikely to want to spend too much time with folk like these. They know too little about temporal joy, peace and hope. Such things are occasional flashing sparks that briefly fly high from burning lives. Souls like these need love and support.

I can’t see around the next steep turn in the road, but my enlightened aim points to somewhere beyond this life. I’m determined to be more hopeful, or at least try. Life is short. We didn’t choose to be here but we can choose how to live. Use everything to build your character so you can do better the next time—if there is one.

*Bob Dylan


Beautiful Strange

Woodland walks with my wife

After days of ripped lives,
Awakened and whole.
Beautiful strange.

Set still, though hidden through
Nights too long endured,
About the closed-up home
Nature moves suffused.

Whether we struggle ill
Or lie longer weak,
Papery poppies bend,
Birdsong scorns the stark

Towers of western rain clouds.
Woodland scents rise through
Full-leaf branches shading
Deep paths love turns to.

Healing ways drawing us
To vivid and bold.
Beautiful strange.



The Mint Below the Seat

(For Claire)

When I was small I swung my legs
And sang a silly tune.
I counted yellow ladybirds
While Nana cleaned her rooms.

When I was young I laughed and played
Below rain-darkened skies.
I never knew a sorrow borne;
I rarely wept and sighed.

I never saw cut flowers decay
In vases on the sills.
I never sensed the curse of time
That stole my games and thrills.

When I was ten each loving touch
Would ease my pain and fear.
I’d yet to sit through bedside ills
That whispered death was near.

Now older I can understand
That hardship bars my way,
That those I love may someday leave,
But I will have to stay.

Once I was young and liked to pluck
The mint below the seat,
While Granda clipped the garden hedge
And swept below my feet.



Visiting on a Winter’s Morning

To set aside these binding knots I rise with,
I wish I could pull on a heavy coat and
Walk the sunlit hill to my grandparents’ house.
At the door I’d turn on the red polished step to look
Back along the path to the gate,
And pause, leaning on the unsullied days of childhood.

Loved in the ordinary things again
I would gladly sit by the fire with a cup of tea,
Hot coals and sticks popping and hissing
On a frosty November morning.
Worn slippers, a pipe, crochet on the chair,
The squeaking pulley over the stairs, so often laden with washing;

At the wee window a burst of slanted light through the net curtain
Casting warm hues on each familiar smile.
Such endearments are lost now,
For life flickers low in the absence of comforts passed.
Not even these earnest tears can carry me where I’d rather be,
Though, for now, my memories hold.



In Stone

Now I’m not diseased meat on the medical table,
Tethered and frightened, unsure of my frame.
Now the sting and the bite of life-threatening terrors
Are destroyed like a beast nobody could tame.



Gulf

The gist of the matter at a glance,
Experience strolls while children prance.
Ample wisdom uses knowledge well,
Intellect glories but cannot tell.

Hot blood is fed by thrills and spice,
Bald heads, contented, are not enticed.
Age in a margin is rarely sought,
Youth in a hurry cannot be taught.



It Goes On

In the valley’s warm morning air, I unexpectedly remembered someone.
An early thought before the sky was heated summer-blue,
As soft as trodden moss, gentle like the smooth arcs of mist wisps
Aimlessly down from the lake.

It goes on, and I should smile at the memory-glow,
But a lone soul, so detached and vagrant now,
Is likely to sigh and fold against the rough bark
Below cool, dark boughs.



In Donegal Hills

(In Memory of CW)

In the soot-streaked wall the grate is warm and dusty white.
After the turf’s evening heat,
Two mugs and a plate sit on the chipped hearth.
Contentedly accepting the good chilled air
He’s standing unshaven at the open door,
Hands in deep pockets, shirtsleeves rolled high.

Close treeless humps of hills
Rise to clouded mountains beyond the tufted lane;
The foaming stream gushes darkly,
Gurgling on the withering browned slopes.
A windless sky, dense with low Atlantic greys,
May soon drop rain on his stark view,
Singular, and remembered often.



Vase Flowers

I’m weary of
flowers in my house this Spring,
beautiful but fading rootless,
stressing the dreadful companions
death and disease.

Better out-of-doors’ blooms in gardens,
or flung wild, fixed for vitality,
from seasonal life to life
where they belong,
not tied unfitly to hardship’s tears.



Blue Frost

Where the deep earth is cold
And tormented me,
Where barren nights of grief laid
Frost blue on the morning grass;
With my torn heart
Now dead with yours,
Can I ever rest a day
And say goodbye
At last?



From Early Love To This

Silent together on that first winter’s night,
Resting on the warm pillows of her breasts,
Newly bound to hope.

Then, like petals driven on a cold May wind,
The sweet blossoms of intentions and promises
Were torn out before their full beauty was seen.
Though contrite and miserably forgiven,
A carnal soul crouches low, hiding in shadowy corners
Having squandered treasures.
These are crushing burdens none should ever know:
From early days of deep love to a spirit broken
By stoking fires God’s clenching hands put out.

Perfumed dark hair lies tossed on clean bedclothes;
Godly thoughts and pure bodies are grafted.
They believe every tomorrow will be shared.



The Me in You

You’ve worked your brain so hard
Your conscience leaked out through.
“I’ve sought the Lord about it,
And this is what I’ll do.”

Necessity has forced a trip
With selfish slips and prayers amiss,
Steam-opened flesh out on a limb
Betrayed the Master with a kiss.

None dares to point the finger,
But what’s that fruit on view?
Call it anything but sin—
I see the me in you.



Shabby Suit

“City life is millions of people being lonesome together” (Henry David Thoreau).

Unholy are the calculations
hammering thoughts beer can-flat in a sinking mind,
digging in deep hollows for reasons
not torn up yet, that won’t ever.
Draw them out, then spin and weave them in,
donning flaws all the way fading
along cracked paths on the other side of the bare hearth,
wherever home was, and when.

Numb knuckles on the litter bin scatter soggy butts to
the endless tired watching again.
High cold drops are massing
to run over double yellow lines a shunned life is parked on,
shaded by a sickly avenue tree cemented in.
Wear that shabby suit out, denying what you are recalled when
others rage, deride, remind you, behind you, scorning faceless.
What remains can’t turn away younger, head sound.

In a sewn pocket finger-clink old coins your grandfather hid –
never spent, worth stealing.
Cross the road shopless, too worn to zebra back
to racks of gents’ coats reduced, none fitting a wasted size.
Flapping from the slicing wind the broken come begging when
barging in, elbows punching into a warm space.
Peer through sheltering glass
muffling heavy vehicles’ rumbling
and piercing-pitch school kids, flushed and careless.



Pain Harness

Pain exchanges distant for devoted
and so ignites love
Pain exposes true riches
and makes peace valuable too
Pain insists we beseech and blubber
Pain burns off clogging dross
Pain points at limitations we had ignored,
reduces us, crushes souls

It’s pain in the human frame
It’s pain we can’t ignore
It’s pain that harnesses and educates
It’s pain that plunders all

Pain buries us in frailty, mortality
Pain devises worthwhile goals
and ridicules every fantasy
Pain convicts
and announces crimes
Pain ponders the future fearfully
and obscures every horizon
Pain is revelation and uncertainty paired



Echoes of Protest and Pain

“Save, Lord, we perish,” was their cry,
“O save us in our agony!”

Pull me from this, like a bloodied knife deep in the gut
of a being I could blame.
Through loud Heavenly choruses you hear the violent raging
of minds exhausted by holy demands.
Thinking renewed, ever waiting, abiding, watching, denying –
our daily prescription for the disciplines of righteousness,
in the hope of spiritual fruit.
When strength is small, the heedful few are buried again
under heavy frustrations.

Cut me if I reach for God,
Tear when sunshine chases rain.
Harm me when my heart is pure,
Slice through if I’m wrong again.

The Will of Wisdom, when fused with fleshly ways,
will twist dispositions and shatter bodies.
Spirit of Christ within, without,
take, if fitting, all of life’s mire we are neck-deep in and,
by miraculous reforms, please breathe on the glow
dying after the fiery zeal.
In the friendless absence of realised love and peace,
through stumbling distresses in many weaknesses,
our deadweight afflictions crush us.

On and on we press,
Through all that God allows,
Though tears blot out The Way
And hands slip from the ploughs.

So, when our life is clouded o’er,
And storm winds drift us from the shore,
Say, lest we sink to rise no more,
“Peace, be still.”

Godfrey Thring, 1862



The Smile You Do

For all that’s been instilled,
I’m rarely touched,
Unhopeful still.

Around this tired chair
These walls are ageing too.
At least I’ve known
The smile you do.

 



Slashed Canvas

Click or tap to enlarge.

Click or tap to enlarge.

 



I Will

(Lennon / McCartney)

Who knows how long I’ve loved you
You know I love you still
Will I wait a lonely lifetime
If you want me to I will

For if I ever saw you
I didn’t catch your name
But it never really mattered
I will always feel the same

Love you forever and forever
Love you with all my heart
Love you whenever we’re together
Love you when we’re apart

And when at last I find you
Your song will fill the air
Sing it loud so I can hear you
Make it easy to be near you
For the things you do endear you to me
Ah, you know I will

(Hear Kathy Mattea sing this on The Original Transatlantic Sessions, programme 5, or CD 2.)