Category Archives: Monochrome

Giant Ficus Tree

Giant Ficus Tree © Harold Davis

This giant Ficus tree, Ficus macrophyllia, dominates one corner of Ventura’s Plaza Park. It was planted in 1874, and you can see how big it is by comparing the size of the car parked on the street to the left of the tree, and the street light to its right that is dwarfed by the giant tree.

Cefalu

Wandering through the Sicilian village of Cefalu, I made my way to the harbor jetty. Looking back at the whitewashed village, it was clear that from a monochromatic perspective, the contrast between the white buildings and the black headland behind them was very interesting. I made a series of bracketed exposures that would enable me to take advantage of this contrast once I had converted the photo to black and white.

Cefalu © Harold Davis

Nikon D850, 44mm, 6 Exposures at f/29 and ISO 64, shutter speeds ranging from 1/10 to 1/160 of a second, tripod mounted; processed to monochrome using Nik HDR Efex Pro.

Related story: Accordion Player.

Also posted in Italy, Photography

Patterns in Paris

The common theme in these three monochromatic images taken in Paris is that they are about patterns—as seen in three dimensional architectural objects, but reduced to two apparent planes. And also where the patterns end, and where they do not extend.

Musee Picasso © Harold Davis

The image in the courtyard of the palace that houses the Musee Picasso (above) contrasts the regular patterns of windows in the background with the odd shape of the white ball thing in the foreground. Actually, there’s no way to know the scale of the white ball, which is interesting. Photography can render size as an illusion.

Below, the glorification-of-war frieze can be found in the Place Vendome on the very three dimensional Colonne Vendome—a sort of obelisk thing clad in cast-metal, three dimensions attempting to be two dimensions.

The Clash © Harold Davis

Finally, the spectacular colonnade that encompasses the Catholic church of the Madeleine (below) is inherently patterned, and three dimensional. But amid the op-art effect of the recession of the pillars, would you visually understand the three dimensional nature of the scene without the break in the pattern on the upper right? 

Madeleine © Harold Davis

Also posted in Paris, Patterns, Photography

Accordion Player

Winding down the steep, narrow streets of the medieval Sicilian town of Cefalu towards the seaward ramparts, I could hear faintly some rather delicious accordion music. Getting closer, he sat high up on the seawall, playing with some virtuosity. I made my way up.

Accordion Player, Cefalu © Harold Davis

Surf lapped at the base of the old walls, clouds sailed overhead, and a strong wind blew as I listened to the minor-key harmonies of the accordion. I was reminded of the words of the sad and beautiful Joni Mitchell song For Free:

I slept last night in a good hotel 
I went shopping today for jewels 
The wind rushed around in the dirty town 
And the children let out from the schools 
I was standing on a noisy corner 
Waiting for the walking green 
Across the street he stood 
And he played real good
On his clarinet for free 

Not quite the same circumstances, but the same idea. I put a one Euro coin on the pavement next to him, and he smiled acknowledgment, and kept on playing. I wanted to give him the money before asking to take his photo, so he could say “no” to the photo if he wanted without worrying about monetary consequences. 

When I asked if I could take his photo, he said “sure,” and stopped playing for a moment. I showed him the image on the LCD. He said Grazie mille, and went back to his accordion and his sad, sweet tunes.

Also posted in Italy, Photography

Domes in the Palermo Cathedral

I don’t get to use the word syncretic nearly as much as I’d like. Last appearing in this blog to describe the quasi-official mix of Shintoism and Buddhism in Japan, I am happy to trot out syncretic again in Palermo, Sicily.

Domes, Palermo Cathedral © Harold Davis

My definition of “syncretic” is that the word describes the situation when multiple belief systems that are manifestly, and on their face, contradictory live together in perfect harmony. Hence, Shintoism and Buddhism. In Sicily, particularly Palermo, syncretic well describes the historical and architectural heritage that is a blend of Islam, Byzantium, and the Norman strain of Catholicism.

I had a great time today on a self-guided photo walking tour of the syncretic neighborhoods of central Palermo; tired and footsore at the end I stopped at a student hangout joint for an inexpensive grilled steak with potatoes.

Also posted in Italy, Photography

Palazzo Berardo Ferro, Trapani

Yesterday to get away from the madness at the hotel, I got up early, had a quick breakfast, made my way out the barricades, and drove to Trapani, an old port city on the western tip of Sicily.

Palazzo Berardo Ferro, Trapani © Harold Davis

In Trapani I parked, and walked through the oldest part of the city to the tower guarding the harbor, photographing along the way. I had lunch, a delicious stuffed calamari and insalata mixta. On my return walk to the car, I stopped to photograph the entrance to this historic Palazzo. Like most formal architecture around here, it is organized around an arcaded central courtyard. The Palazzo is now taken up with several pensiones (small B&B hotels), and probably some residential apartments as well.

Also posted in Italy, Photography

Abstracting Sacré-Cœur

High atop the hill of Montmartre sits the cathedral of Sacré-Cœur—which, as I’ve pointed out before, is emblematic (when constructed) of a hard-right quasi-fascism as encouraged by the Church. From a visual standpoint, it is kitsch and rococo, and just a bit weird.

Knocks against its politics of origin and the kitsch aesthetic aside, it is a hecka fun monument to photograph on the exterior (the interior not so much). The rear of the Sacré-Cœur exterior is shown here in an abstraction of wheels-within-wheels (arched arcades over arched arcades), and processed to look as much like a lithograph as a black and white photo.

Sacré-Cœur, exterior detail © Harold Davis

Also posted in France, Paris

Bridge of Light

Along the Oregon coast, hard by Heceta Head Lighthouse, we paused to photograph Cave Creek Bridge, lit by crepuscular rays in the morning mist.

Too often in this life we see the darkness, not the light. But just as often around the corner there is a bridge built of light—to take one ahead as a vessel of lightness. Shadow and light alternate, but we should attempt to take the bridge of light when it is presented to us. Too often we pause in mediocrity, or stare blinded by the darkness, when our best selves are better blinded by the light.

Bridge of Light © Harold Davis

Also posted in Photography

Devil’s Postpile

Deep in the heart of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, down the drainage of the Middle Fork of the San Joaquin River from the Minarets, Mt Banner, and the Ritter Range, lies the formation of basalt pillars that is the basis for Devil’s Postpile National Monument. As it happens, a dead-end road leads from the ski resort town of Mammoth Lakes, over the Pacific Crest, and before the road ends at the Reds Meadow pack station passes within half a mile of Devil’s Postpile. 

Devil’s Postpile © Harold Davis

In September, on my way to the night photography workshop in Lone Pine, on a deliciously golden sunlit day, I took the time to travel over to Devil’s Postpile. With my camera on tripod, I made a series of abstract exposures, much more interested in the shapes of the formation than any larger sense of context.

Also posted in Landscape

X-Ray Photography and the Inner Form of Beauty

The process of making these x-ray images of flowers and shells is more like making a photogram—what Man Ray called a rayograph—than it is like using a conventional camera. The flowers are arranged on top of the capture medium, in this case a digital sensor and then exposed. But the exposure is to x-rays rather then to light in the visible spectrum, as in a photogram, where objects are placed on top of a photosensitive medium (historically, more oftern emulsion-coated paper rather than a digital sensor).

X-Ray, Sunflower © Harold Davis

The x-rays reveal the inner form and shapes rather than the surface manifestation of the object. It is possible to look at the petals of a flower as though they are gauze or veils, and to see the capillaries within a leaf.

Spray Roses X-Ray © Harold Davis

Rather than the surface of a shell, when the x-ray “camera” is pointed at a shell, the inner spirals, shapes, and forms of the structure is revealed. 

Shell Collection X-Ray © Harold Davis

More: Revealing the Unseen with X-Ray Photography of Flowers. Sometimes the seen and the unseen, the surface and the shapes within, come together by combining high-key visible light photography with x-ray captures: X-Ray and “Fusion” X-Ray Images of Flowers.

Also posted in Flowers, X-Ray

Rainbow Falls in Black and White

I hiked into Rainbow Falls in Devils Postpile National Monument. No rainbows this day, but a great waterfall in monochrome!

Rainbow Falls in Monochrome © Harold Davis

Also posted in Photography

Papaver Poppy Pods Gone to Seed

When Papavers go to seed, they produce pods that hold the seeds. You can scrape out the pod to harvest the seeds. When one puts a  clump of these seeds into a mortar and pestle and grinds them into a paste then one is well on the way to refining opium. Of course, to be clear, you have to start with a Papaver somniferum rather than some other Papaver variety to get opium. Who me? Lest anyone is curious, mine are purely decorative, and I have absolutely no interest in growing my own opium patch in my garden. I swear…

Papaver Pod from above © Harold Davis

I think the Papaver gone to seed looks almost like a marine sea creature, perhaps more like a sand dollar than a flower!

Papaver Seed Stalks © Harold Davis

I photographed the specimens shown here on a black velvet background, and processed the images in Photoshop using my digital Karl Blossfeldt effect.

Papaver Seed Pod © Harold Davis

Also posted in Flowers

Summer Grass

In the traffic island in the middle of our Morning Glory Circle, as spring turns to summer the grass is drying and turning a California brown. I cut and carefully arranged a few stalks on my light box, and used LAB inversion to add a black background.

Before I had left for my Camino, I started photographing grasses and “weeds”—I think this has become a whole, interesting sub-genre for me. After all, it is the wise botanical artist who knows the distinction between flower and weed is somewhat arbitrary, and in the eye of the beholder. The less-well regarded weed can often surpass in structural interest the hoity-toity flower.

Summer Grass © Harold Davis

More images of grasses and such: Oxalis; Street Grasses; Decorative Grass; Blades of Grass; no real flowers need apply!

Also posted in Photograms, Photography

Geometry

This is the ancient and magnificent Pont Valentre in Cahors, France and its reflections in the Lot River on a clear day with still water.

Geometry © Harold Davis

Also posted in France

Above the Gran Via

The grand hotels and stately buildings in Madrid have to be seen to be believed, and they are often best seen from above the ground floor. This image of the decorative balconies along Madrid’s Gran Via is a composite of eight images—to manage the extremes of the dynamic range—and was made on the fourth floor. Actually, the fifth floor by US designation (here in Europe what we’d call the first floor is floor zero, and one-off discrepancy between the continents).

Above the Gran Via © Harold Davis