Category Archives: Bemusements

Don’t Even Think of Parking Here

© Harold Davis

Also posted in France

Vietnamese Viagra

When a guy in Vietnam feels the need for an increase in, shall we say, manliness, potency, and virility, he reaches not for a little blue pill but rather for a concoction of snakes fermented in alcohol, such as the blend shown in a glass jar in the image.

Vietamese Viagra © Harold Davis

Vietamese Viagra © Harold Davis

If you want to try this at home, note that King Cobras are best. Thanks to my friend and traveling companion Eric Ryan for his wit, and for this caption. To the best of my knowledge these are farmed snakes (the Vietnamese army runs a snake farm in the Mekong River delta, where we photographed this jar of snakes), rather than wild or endangered species.

Also posted in Vietnam


Ever since the era of Adam and Eve, there has been something enticing about an apple!

Apple © Harold Davis

Apple © Harold Davis

Hope is for hostages

Hope is for Hostages © Harold Davis

Incredibly Attractive Highly Repellant

Of course, this leads to a grammatical question: Is the implied subject female or fabric? Methinks it could be either, or maybe both.

Incredibly Attractive Highly Repellant © Harold Davis

Incredibly Attractive Highly Repellant © Harold Davis

Also posted in iPhone

Free Wrecked Blue Couch for House Guests You Hate

Wrecked Blue Couch © Harold Davis

Wrecked Blue Couch © Harold Davis

Here’s an ad I wrote for Craig’s List recently about one of the two couches we are trying to get rid of:

Too many folks trying to crash at your place? Let them sleep on this couch and they’ll move on fast! All four of my kids have had their way with this blue couch, and wife now wants to upgrade. It’s not in great shape, note the tear on the right arm fabric, but with a throw over it it still looks half way decent, and I could see it in a man cave or something. Basically, you are getting a wreck—with a width of about six feet. Come take it away for free, and win our thanks!

Not very surprisingly, we’ve had no takers. But it was fun writing the ad copy…

Old and New: A Tale of Two Kirk BH-3 Ball Heads

My Kirk BH-3 tripod ball head has served me well on four continents on the trail, in the studio, in mountains, deserts, and along the rugged Pacific host, from the barrios of Havana to the souks of Morocco and the Boulevards of Paris. So one day recently, when my BH-3 reported to duty with a definite kink in the retaining plate bracket and knob, it was with sadness that I replaced him in favor of a brand spanking new model. Time goes by, and since change is incremental one doesn’t see the markings until there is a new one for comparison.

Old and New - Kirk BH-3 Ball Heads © Harold Davis

Old and New – Kirk BH-3 Ball Heads © Harold Davis

As I’ve noted, technique is not at the apex of the Maslowvian triangle of photographic needs (vision is), but technique is still my craft, and I am very fond of the tools that help me practice my craft, and want to give my old BH-3 ball head the most honorable send off possible, as it retires and becomes a paper weight and conversation piece rather than an ongoing part of my day-to-day photographic life.

Kirk BH-3 Ball Head - Facing Retirement © Harold Davis

Kirk BH-3 Ball Head – Facing Retirement © Harold Davis

Also posted in Equipment, Photography

This way is not the way

Not the way © Harold Davis

Not the way © Harold Davis

Also posted in Japan, Photography

Something Fishy

One of my favorite characters in fantasy literature, J.R.R. Tolkein’s Smeagol, would have appreciated the nice, plump and juicy slab of fish I brought back from the store. The fish meat rested on skin on the back, and the skin and scales glistened with a rainbow of pastel colors in the light. I knew I had to photograph the fish scales up close and personal.

Scales © Harold Davis

Scales © Harold Davis

I used my 85mm tilt-shift macro with a 36mm extension tube at an effective aperture of f/51 and an exposure sequence at ISO 100 from 1/8 of a second to 8 seconds. This is extreme close-up photography, with a magnification ratio of about 15:1, meaning you are viewing the fish scales fifteen times actual life size. Magnified this way, the fish scales look almost soft, and could be barnacles, or schools of fish themselves.

Fish Scales in Black & White © Harold Davis

Fish Scales in Black & White © Harold Davis

Smeagol a/k/a Gollum would probably not have approved of my light source: directed sunlight (Gollum preferred dark caves, and the sun hurt his eyes). He also might have thought that the way it was prepared (by smoking) “ruined” my nice, plump and juicy raw slab of salmon. But I, to use Gollum’s vocabulary, thought my nice piece of smoked fish was “tasty” indeed—when I ate it after photographing it!

Fly Day

What day is it today? For many of us it is “Fly Day”—no matter what the calendar says. And while flying, what better way to while away the time than to photograph the airplane wing with my iPhone, then play with the results (this iPhone image was processed using the Plastic Bullet, Lo Mob, Filterstorm and Snapseed apps).

Fly Day © Harold Davis

Fly Day © Harold Davis

Also posted in iPhone

Van Gogh’s Church at Auvers

Auvers-sur-Oise is hallowed ground for fans of Vincent van Gogh (and who isn’t a fan?). Here he painted many of his greatest paintings, lived the last 93 days of his life, and is buried. Today a suburb to the north of Paris, in van Gogh’s day Auvers was a pretty country village, home to Dr. Paul Gachet. Dr. Gachet was part of the same circle of avant-garde  impressionist artists as van Gogh; he boarded and “treated” van Gogh for mental illness, although van Gogh felt that Gachet actually was in worse shape than he was.

Church at Auvers © Harold Davis

Church at Auvers © Harold Davis

Before his very untimely death by gunshot to the chest under ambiguous circumstances—often, but not definitively narrated as suicide—van Gogh painted many scenes around Auvers, including Dr. Gachet’s house, the famous Wheat Field with Crows, and of course the Church at Auvers.

The modern pilgrim to the hallowed ground trod by the great van Gogh finds many of the Auvers landscapes unchanged. While not quite as overrun as Giverny, there are plenty of visitors,  and signs for tourists have been strategically placed more-or-less where van Gogh painted, showing his great painting of the location on each sign.

With the image of the Church at Auvers shown above I decided to include the tourist sign in my image. I left the right side of the photo including the sign without manipulation, and worked the left side in post-production so that one could perhaps be stepping into the reality of a van Gogh painting—or maybe a kind of dream. Because, as Vincent van Gogh put it, “I dream of painting and then I paint my dream.”

Vincent van Gogh's Grave in Auvers-sur-Oise © Harold Davis

Vincent van Gogh’s Grave © Harold Davis

Related stories: Sweet Treat; The Role of the Artist; Go Van Gogh; Starry Night.

Also posted in France


This statue was resident in the lobby at the Hotel Lutetia in Paris when we held the 2013 Photograph Paris with Harold Davis workshop. It amused me to snap an iPhone photo, more or less from the viewpoint of the front desk.

Derrière by Harold Davis

Derrière © Harold Davis

Also posted in iPhone, Paris

The infinitesimal and the infinite

I think perhaps that The Incredible Shrinking Man, a 1957 film about a man who shrinks to nothing following an encounter with a radioactive cloud, had an indelible impact on a portion of my visual aesthetic. I know that The Incredible Shrinking Man was one of the first movies I ever saw (what were my parents thinking?). No doubt due to my tender years, I took the pseudo-profundities uttered by Grant Williams, the actor who plays the shrinking man as, well, profundities.

Death Valley Badlands by Harold Davis

Death Valley Badlands © Harold Davis

It’s hard to resist lines like this one: “So close — the infinitesimal and the infinite. But suddenly, I knew they were really the two ends of the same concept. The unbelievably small and the unbelievably vast eventually meet — like the closing of a gigantic circle.”

To this day, I enjoy playing with scale in my imagery. It’s one of my goals to create iconography that compels at least a second glance, and using indeterminate scale is one way to get there.

Sand Dollar by Harold Davis

Sand Dollar © Harold Davis

For example, the Sand Dollar shown above is captured at near microscopic level. But the vista of badlands in Death Valley (far above) could easily be an enlargement of the pattern in the shell. You see, it’s all a circle, with the large and vast ultimately smaller than the small and tiny—or vice versa.

For the record, the other movie I remember well from my early years was Some Like It Hot. My brother and I were supposed to be asleep in the back of the family station wagon at the drive-in movie theater. Now what artistic influence did Some Like It Hot have?

Also posted in Monochrome

Smoking Gun

There’s one somewhat discordant element in this tableau of a metallurgic assayer’s desk, shot at Laws Railroad Museum near Bishop, California. What is the gun doing in the image?

According to the docent I spoke with, most assayers tended to deal in gold and other precious metals as well as to assay it. The natural tendency for miners hitting what passed for civilization out of their stakes in Death Valley or the Panamint Range was to want to get some ready money quickly—no doubt for some to spend on booze and women in wild boom towns like Bodie. These miners would often come to feel that they had been low-balled by assayers who had taken advantage of them; hence, a revolver to defend against disgruntled small mining stake-holders was standard equipment for most metallurgists.

Assay by Harold Davis

Assay © Harold Davis

Exposure data: 52mm, ten exposures at shutter speeds between 1/80 of a second and five seconds, each exposure at f/13 and ISO 200, tripod mounted; exposures combined using Nik HDR Efex Pro and Photoshop, and converted to monochromatic using Photoshop, Nik Silver Efex and Topaz Adjust.

Also posted in HDR, Monochrome, Photography

Tennessee Beach Landslide

For many years one of the pleasures of the two-mile hike down to Tennessee Beach in the Marin Headlands has been to view the wonderful hole in the cliff on the north side of the beach. This dramatic formation as it appeared in 2007 can be seen in the photo below, which is lit by moonlight. A star appears through the hole in the cliff in the photo.

Tennessee Beach in 2007 (original title "Power of the Moon") © Harold Davis

Tennessee Beach in 2007 (original title “Power of the Moon”) © Harold Davis

Sometime during the tumultuous storms of the last few weeks this cliff collapsed, presumably brought down by rain and wind. The impact on the appearance of the north end of Tennessee Beach is tremendous and visceral, as you can see in the 2013 view of the scene below that I shot yesterday.

Tennessee Beach in 2013 (facing north) © Harold Davis

Tennessee Beach in 2013 (facing north) © Harold Davis

Looking at the fault line exposed by the landslide, it seems likely that erosion will continue. Perhaps the cliff jutting out into the sea is doomed to become an island sea stack in the course of time. But I am no geologist.

The cliffs looking north from Tennessee Beach are still spectacular, although I miss the unique formation of the hole in the cliff.

This slide in a beloved landscape is a reminder that nothing lasts forever, and that the only constant is change. Confronted with clear evidence that even something as apparently immutable as the iron-bound cliffs of the Marin Headlands are not static we have to conclude that our lives will change as well—in ways that are hard to expect or predict, and out of our control.

Change can be disconcerting, particularly when it is precipitated by exogenous events—the human equivalents to landslide. The way to survive in style is to eschew denial, and accept that the unpredictable is by definition unpredictable.

Also posted in San Francisco Area, Writing