In the back yard of my childhood home, a giant chestnut tree spread its limbs.
From far above me, its chestnuts fell and landed with a solid clonk. These gems were colored a deep brown. I gathered and polished them, leaving them in piles inside our family home on Council Crest, a hill known as "Portland's rooftop garden." This heavenly Oregonian chestnut tree inspired me to climb its relatives, photograph its kin and talk to many others. This year, I read Trees, a book by photographer Frank Horvat with an essay by John Fowles (1926-2005). The beauty of the book inspired this selection of quotes by Fowles, the famous novelist. . .
"There is a spiritual corollary to the way we are currently de-foresting and de-naturing our planet. In the end what we must most defoliate and deprive is ourselves.
We might as soon start collecting up the world’s poetry, ever line and every copy, to burn it in a final pyre; and think we should lead richer and happier lives thereafter."
"That two branches grow in different directions and ways does not mean they do not share a same mechanism of need, a deeper set of rules."
"Evolution did not intend trees to grow singly. Far more than ourselves they are social creatures, and no more natural as isolated specimens than man is as a marooned sailor."
All quotes by John Fowles
I am the siren, half-woman, half-bird. I am winged Leucosia, stroking with both oars as I sing of the water. I wield my Leica to weave images as I sing. A song-teller, I sing of the water that courses within.
Crooning my siren song, I call to you.
My trill is peaceful. Leucosia lures you only so you know that all is well. Not like those old time wahines Scylla and Charybdis. My flowing hair floats, like the wavy clouds that drift above the creek now, as if they are pleased with my melodies and delighted, in the way of clouds, to be aloft at this moment in the pre-dawn of the Autumnal Equinox.
I sing and feather my oars, sliding into the stillness of this creek to become one with the fog. I am a sole siren in this small boat. My powerful breasts are full of life and I lean back and stroke the oars. I sing in rhythm, with two oars as my wings. I am woman, wo-man, wo-man. Woman-singing, singing bird.
I am avian. I dream I spread both wings and fly up from this rowboat, letting go the oars to flap through fog to land in an ancient pine. There, I belch out a note, pushed out by my belly-full of minnows. Earlier, my strike was fast and sure. Now, a fishy tang tinges my notes, and I am singing off-key like some startled night heron.
My verse rises out over tannin-colored water and echoes a touch of pink that is painting the clouds. These clouds seem completely still, until I look away and look back, and feel that they've moved without needing a gaze at all. My third verse touches dew drops of spider webs that drape over the tall grass. My last verse tickles the fur on the otter's back.
The water is still, marked only by oar-lifted bubbles behind the boat that, as if keeping rhythm, pop in time with the beat. Silent now, I have sung. Moments pass. Behind the clouds, the sky begin to glow. All is silent as the first sun rays lighten the living infinite.
Our ship's radio came alive in The Great Dismal Swamp.
Many of us have looked skyward to see an osprey with a fish in its talons. The bird is probably looking too, but with different intentions. We may watch as our sushi is served to us, but an osprey must depend on its own keen vision to snare fresh fish.
An osprey excels at catching fish while on the wing. Its visual acuity is so keen, the bird sees six to eight times better than any humans at a distance. Osprey have evolved a set of visual skills that have allowed them to become the sole North American raptor to live on fish as their main food source.
I am sailing on the Choptank River on Chesapeake Bay. The bay the largest population of osprey in North America—about one quarter of all American osprey. In years past, the use of pesticides around the Chesapeake had a harmful effect on these birds. Fortunately, the ban on pesticides led to an increase in the number of osprey pairs. By the 1980's, there were about 2,000.
We almost caused this bird's extinction. Only a sustained conservation effort with a well-defined vision over decades saved the osprey. Fortunately, years of effort rescued these fine birds. After osprey were deemed a threatened species, dedicated groups of birders and conservationists worked to save them. As a result,osprey are thriving today. They live on every continent but Antarctica and migrate over long distances. An osprey nesting in Québec but wintering in southern Brazil may fly 120,000 miles during its 20-year lifetime. Osprey migration is a special wonder of the avian world.
While both the male and female osprey feed and care for their chicks, the female bird outweighs the male and is slightly larger. Osprey are devoted parents. Female osprey have between one and three eggs. Their eggs hatch in about a month in the order they were laid. Today we thrill to see an osprey plummet out of the sky, strike the water, fly up with a wriggling fish and then try to evade a dive-bombing eagle so it can feed young osprey on the nest.
Young osprey can leave their nest after only two months. Sometimes these juveniles return for several weeks to beg food from their parents until they can hunt on their own. In some areas, young osprey stay within their winter home grounds for an entire year, instead of going back to their breeding grounds. This might improve their chances of breeding when they finally return to the family nest area.
The osprey success story is threatened by a worrisome trend. Global wildlife populations have fallen by 58% in the last 50 years. This news is from the 2018 Living Planet assessment released by the Zoological Society of London and the World Wildlife Fund. If this trend continues, the decline will impact two-thirds of all vertebrates by the end of 2020.
To make matters worse, we are seeing the disastrous effects of our current administration’s policies, leading to costly environmental damage and species endangerment.
USA POLICIES WEAKEN PROTECTION
According to the New York Times in a July 19, 2019 article on the Endangered Species Act, "significant proposed change, which has been rumored since April when a proposal was posted to the White House’s Office of Management and Budget, would alter how the Endangered Species Act deals with animals that are categorized as 'threatened,' or one level below ‘endangered.’ "
This is important because government agencies are obligated to extend the laws protecting endangered species so that the protections cover threatened species (think about the osprey population in 1983). Changing these rules could take away some of these protections.
While weakening wildlife protections, the current administration is also waging a scandalous war on wildlife. The policies that have been implemented in 2019 are leading to the destruction of North American wildlife. Protections for endangered animals are being erased.
TAKE ACTION AND GET INVOLVED CLOSE TO HOME
To get involved in conservation photography, visit
Photographers can get involved. We can work to benefit endangered species. We can learn how too many nutrients in the waters of the Chesapeake Bay are an important issue.
Let us keep our conservation vision and focus on making our work useful to birds like the osprey. By doing nature, travel and landscape photography, we can help create economic benefits to wildlife.
To become a conservation photographer, start close to home. Check Facebook for Wildlife Protection groups. Find an endangered location or animal species. Choose one you can easily photograph. If you find out it needs protecting, tell others. Visit your site or animal often and photograph everything that makes it special.
Article and Photography by Jim Austin Jimages
Kodak has been a vital and important part of my photography life, so it was thrilling to learn a while ago that Kodak Alaris brought back a new version of 36 exposure T-Max Professional P-3200/TMZ film after it was discontinued 5 years ago.
At ISO 800, its print appearance looks like TMAX 400 film. The difference is that T-Max P-3200 Pro is designed to be pushed to a higher resolution of 3200, reminiscent of Tri-X, but to have a finer grain film when raising its ASA to 1600 or 3200. It is an ISO 800 box speed film. Now, this film is different than original Tri-X and T-Max (the latter used for the photograph above). But the relatively new T-Max P3200 will be useful for concert photography, night images, and for low light street work.
Film is Kodak's heritage. Tennis is my heritage. I started playing amateur tennis when I was 9, and professionals like Stan Smith and Jimmy Connors seemed like heroes who lived on another planet, visible only through a small, distant TV screen. As a kid, watching Connors, I craved a Wilson T-2000 metal tennis racket, so I could hit as hard as "Jimmy" did. Ha!
Then, I heard Connors was coming to a Fall tournament in Denver, Colorado. Now, I had the chance to see my hero, the bad boy. For 160 consecutive weeks, Jimmy Connors ranked #1 in the world. When he played in Denver in 1978, my senior year in high school, Connors was the men's singles champion of the Denver Open for the 3rd year.
I quickly volunteered to be a ball boy for part of this tournament. During one match, photographing from court side, I exposed 36 frames of TMAX-3200 at the Connors-Smith match. Because the two pro players were moving all the time, I concentrated on timing. Only one frame of 36 had the tennis ball in visible focus; it was of Connors returning serve. I made copies of the image in our high school darkroom to get the black and white tonality right to make a final printed photograph. What can I say-some of us loved the graininess of TMAX-3200.
In 1978, fast film was still a pretty new concept for high school photography. To be able to shoot at ASA 3200 was truly useful for stop-action. This speed of pro tennis, the player's serves and strokes, move way to fast to freeze action at SAS 400 or even 800, in the indoor area lighting.
For that match, with just one roll of Kodak TMAX 3200 film in the camera, I pushed the entire roll two stops, exposing and processing it at ASA 3200 (1:25, stand developed it in Rodinol in the high school darkroom, with instructions from Mr. Thomas Schultz, our high school photo teacher). Thanks Tom. I overexposed the highlights on the film negative. It didn't matter. The experience of watching the pros play was embedded in my dreams and in a few timeless B/W photographic prints.
Recently, TMAX Professional P-3200/TMZ has been moving slowly through my film Nikon. Its about $10 a roll. When all is developed, the story will continue. Thanks for your visit. Jim Austin Jimages.com
Simplify Gear to Sharpen Your Attention
Our cameras help us make photographs efficiently. Our gear should not get in the way of our vision. A guiding principal for our gear is to "simplify" it. This lets us experience where we are, and see it deeply, without being distracted by bells, chimes, breakdowns in gear, and fatigue from packing too heavily. We want to attend to creating photographs, not to the camera menu. To help simplify a landscape workflow ask: "if I allow myself only 7 pieces of gear in my bag, what do I choose?"
Reasonable criteria for choosing a "good" set of gear depend on these questions we pose about our workflow: is this piece of gear affordable in the long term? Can I carry it easily? Does it flexibly and creatively help my craft? How does it fit with my other gear?
How Do I Decide Which 7 Tools?
The most useful items are your camera body, lenses, tripod and all weather clothing.
The final three tools should be flexible to your specific landscape photography challenges. In a monsoon area, you may want extra dry bags and anti-moisture silicon dry pads. In dusty areas you may need a larger dust blower. Since our needs as photography are highly individual, a reasonable and flexible way to figure out our essential tools is determine the criteria for keeping a piece of gear in our bag day in and day out.
By criteria, I mean a quality like weight; many photographer's travel extensively, so the weight of each tool takes on added meaning. For instance, a heavy metal tripod goes with the gear when travelling by car, but for plane travel a lightweight carbon fiber travel tripod gets packed instead.
What Criteria Is Helpful to Use ?
Photography is a personal craft. Each of us gives a different weight, literally, to the gear we use, and we should wear our thinking as well. For instance, if you are reading this and think "Wait, he didn't mention my iPhone", I support your personal choice. What you won't read here are the words "right gear." The 4 basic criteria are economic, artistic, experimental and ergonomic. Think of all four when choosing a specific piece of gear. We all have highly individual criteria; here are mine:
1. Economic. Can I afford this tool? Can I afford to pay more for a more reliable and rugged form factor.
2. Artistic. Does this tool improve my range or vision, sharpness or some photographic quality I find invaluable? Does the tool help me express (share) my message? For instance, on the first qualities, a tripod allows longer exposure durations, and also makes for sharper images by decreasing camera movement.
3. Ergonomic. Does the gear fit efficiently into my workflow and bag. Do I feel like I want to pick it up and use it (haptics, weight, size). Does it balance the rest of the items in my bag?
4. Experimental. Can I experiment with the gear (open source, DIY, hack) or am I limited by a gear maker's proprietary design?
Clearly, this is only an outline, as you will create your own specific personal gear set depending on what kinds of photographs you make. Here are my 7 choices, based on what I've used in the past few months this year:
Your Gear is Unique to You
Of course your mileage will vary, and we each have unique photographic needs. I am doing more travel and nature photography. Portrait pros, wedding pros, bloggers, nature photographers all have developed specific skills and thinking for their differing challenges. We are all searching for workable, efficient ideas and a tool set to match them.
What gives photographs a sense of place? With return visits, out photographs help us build a sense of place. When I went to Chestertown, I am grateful for a thing I learned from a life long photographer: "photography is an art of observation, about finding something interesting in an ordinary place…it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.” ~ Elliott Erwitt born July 26, 1928, age 92.
A NEW HARDCOVER FINE ART BOOK
Visions of abandoned lighthouses, churches and homes illuminate and expand our knowledge of unique Bahamas settings. Bahama Spaces is the first book to explore the unseen Bahamas. Inside, a collection of photographs and stories brings living history and shows, in vivid color, the relationships between people and their Family Island land. Five Bahamian islands are featured in the book: Eleuthera, Long Island, Cat Island, the Berry Islands, and Acklins & Crooked Island.
BAHAMA SPACES is Jim Austin's fine art coffee table book, 11" by 13", of his color photography, ten years in the making. It portrays celebrated monuments and unknown sites in the Bahamas through compelling landscape photographs. Austin chose lighthouses, churches and abandoned rural ruins with deep historical and social relationships to make the book unique. These quiet, hidden settings reflect the deeply valued beliefs of their Bahamian builders.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: "Photographing these remote island ruins, I was often surprised by the unexpected. Fixing a point in time was less important than spontaneity and surprise. Finally, adventuring into these ruins for photography enlarged my consciousness and gave me hope for the people of the Bahamas and their future."
See the book Bahama Spaces here.
On his travels through northern Japan, the poet Matsuo Basho made Nikko his 5th station stop. In 1689 he wrote a haiku about it:
O holy, hallowed shrine !
How green all the fresh young leaves,
In thy bright sun shine !
In his notes, Basho recorded that the word "Nikkoo" meant the bright beams of the sun. Basho's eternal sun light glowed along on the stairway handrail as we walked up the steps of Toshogu temple. The name of this building translated as “light from the East” and it symbolized the dawn of a new born nation: Japan, land of the rising sun.
PHOTOGRAPHING BEAUTIFUL NIKKO
We'd come to Nikko (NĒ -KŌ) to photograph its sites, to walk along the racing Daiya River, and explore old Japan. We stayed at the Nikko Kanaya Hotel and we left all our optical gear there but one camera and one lens we packed for a day's photographing. From Tokyo, we traveled about 120 kilometers to Nikko on the efficient Tobu-Nikko Line train. For the whole trip, I'd packed only a couple lenses, with wide and medium focal lengths, and left the tripod behind. Since Nikko’s humidity was hard on electronics, all gear traveled in Ziploc bags with moisture absorbing pads. With some exceptions, our cameras were welcome in most shrines and temples. We arrived in the winter when the mists settle around sacred temples and shrines around Mount Nikko.
NO PICTURES PLEASE
A sign outside the sunlit temple read “No pictures of the Buddha, please.” "Okay," I thought, at least it will be warm inside and my hands will stop shaking. After leaving our hiking shoes by the doorway near snow-and-moss-covered rocks, our sock-clad feet slid easily across the polished wood floor of the outer hall. Inside, we inhaled an ancient aromatic combination of incense, mildew and lacquer.
A priest named Jikaku built this temple, known as Sanbutsu-doh. “Doh” meant hall and “Sanbutsu” meant three Buddhas. We walked under the three 16-foot high wooden Buddhas. Each figure was smiling. These Buddhas were off-limits because their temple housed a hallowed mausoleum. Worshiped for over two thousand years, the Buddha figures are sacred representations of three local mountain peaks. Shivering, we kept the cameras turned off and just stared at the gold-leafed Buddhas.
THE GREAT UNIFIER TOKUGAWA IEYASU:
The Nikko Toshogu temple was built to immortalize Ieyasu Tokugawa (1543-1616) one of three "Great Unifiers" of Japan. At the temple entrance, the ornate gate has two Niō, wrathful and muscular guardians of the Buddha. These gate guardians were carved with fierce expressions that were meant to terrify evil doers. I was shaking as I photographed the open-mouthed guardian on the right side of the gate, the Misshaku Kongō, but my tremors came more from the freezing January chill than from statue-induced terrors.
We marveled at Ieyasu’s armor, swords and household objects in the temple collections. Some objects were marked with the Japanese katakana character for samurai and with Ieyasu's logo. This most famous Samurai (soon to be featured in an FX film based on James Clavell's novel and shot in Japan) this Shogun gathered builders and craftsmen from all over Japan to construct his mausoleum at Toshogu Shrine. A warrior and king, Iyeyasu Tokugawa's presence remains vibrant and his image is deified in many of the temples and shrines.
FROM SHINTO TO STAR WARS
There were many works of reverent art at Nikko. Shinto shrines, like Toshogu, were built throughout this UNESCO World Heritage Center, and art culture is central to the Shinto faith. The term Shinto comes from two words. “Shin” means gods. The second part, “tō,” means “way” or “art.” Think of Shinto as “way of life,” or “way of the Gods.” Shinto embodied a Japanese native belief system that cherished one’s ancestors and the spirits of nature called “kami.” Kami existed in both divine and earthly forces, including plants, animals, mountains, and stones. To Shinto believers, the world was good and people were good. While there was harmony in life, it was always threatened by evil spirits, who must be kept at bay. Does this sound familiar? Talking to park attendants, we learned that George Lucas based his Star Wars themes on the samurai culture in Japan. Mr. Lucas heard the Japanese word “jidai,” meaning “age” or “time period,” and he came up with “Jedi” for his Star Wars knights. One reason you would look all day was that many of the Yomeimon Gate's figures were parts of plays and story-telling theatrical scenes.
DON'T EVEN THINK ABOUT EVIL
Bolstered by a can of piping-hot buncha tea from a Pocari Sweat soft-drink vending machine labeled "attakaii" for hot drinks, we strode to the nearby stable. The horse stable at Tokugawa Ieyeyasu’s masoleum was also a national treasure. It held the painted panel carvings of the Three Wise Monkeys over the stable doors. They embody the old saying “See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil.” Samurai were ferocious warriors when mounted on horseback and, in feudal Japan, horses were rare. Caring for a samurai's horse was a sacred duty. Horse caretakers were expected to be loyal to the samurai, like a squire to a knight. A Buddhist monk from China introduced the "see no evil' concept into Japan. The three monkeys’ poses demonstrated an ancient religious motto: “if we do not see, hear or talk evil, then we ourselves shall be spared all evil.” In Japan, the old monkey saying also shows a play on words. The Japanese word for monkey, saru, sounds like the word zaru that means the negative form of any verb ( i.e. “don’t”). The Japanese saying “mizaru, kikazaru, iwazaru” means “don’t see, don’t hear, don’t speak.”
LOOK ALL DAY AND NOT TIRE
There is a gang of weird animals at Nikko. In feudal Japan, people’s imagination invented many evils. Then, as now, the temples’ carved animals were considered good luck charms to ward off evil spirits. Like the fierce gate guardians, Shinto shrine figures were there for protection. One temple gate, called the Yomeimon, named for a gate in Kyoto, had 508 figures on it. Its Japanese name, “higurashi-no-mon,” meant that you can look at each animal all day long until sundown and not tire of them.
Trying to stay warm, we kept moving from one shrine to another. In Nikko Park, an elderly woman attendant offered us 200 yen home-brewed fermented tea to ward off the chill. She told us we'd come too early in the year for sake. On the 13th of April, Nikko National Park has a 4-day festival called Yayoi Matsuri. Town residents parade decorated floats and sake is ladled out of the barrels and put in square wooden cups for everyone. Being practically minded, the sake brewers hold two festivals to pray for a good future crop and reward the work done to harvest the Fall rice crop.
We photographed large, colorful sake barrels, stacked up near the Roumon gate. The gate is part of Futarasan Shrine, which dates to the year 767. There are many varieties of sake. At Nikko, undiluted sake, or genshu, is a specialty. Crafted by the master brewers at the Tobu-Nikko station, tasty genshu sake can inspire anyone to write poetic haiku. As a master of haiku and one who often got drunk while sipping sake, Basho knew alot about sake:
waves smell of saké
BLESSINGS FOR CHILDREN & TRAVELERS
Leaving the cedar tree forest, we walked on Daiya river valley road. Along it, one hundred carved stone figures were labeled Bake Jizo (bah-kay-jee-zoh). The figures were protectors for travelers and children who came to Nikko. Digging through the frozen soil to repair a statue, maintenance workers toiled to enlarge the trail and protect the statues. I made of photograph of a live traveler seated in the middle of the Bake Jizo.
ETERNAL SUN LIGHT
We reached the end of photographing after several days at Nikko. Sunlight and sacred scenes had surrounded us. The enshrined presence of the Shogun was present everywhere we went. Nikko's racing river, misty mountains and the warmth of its residents made us want to return, at a time when we might toast Basho with a glass of undiluted sake. Meanwhile, the eternal Nikko sunlight keeps shining onto stone steps that are worn from the tread of centuries of reverent feet.
Last two Images
1. Kanji calligraphy, Matsuo Basho: ( The more I drink / the more I can’t sleep / night snow).
2. Sake barrels stacked at Nikko.