Category Archives: Photography

digital photography: techniques: thoughts: photographs

The Scallop Shell Symbol on the Camino

If you’ve walked the Camino de Santiago, you’ll have followed a route marked with scallop shell symbols. Along with many other pilgrims, I have a scallop shell hanging from my pack to let others know I am walking a Camino. Walking along, I keep my eye out for the scallop shell symbol, and note cafes, albergues, and other services that use the scallop shell as a sign that these places are hospitable and friendly to itinerant pilgrims.

But when you think about it, the scallop shell seems like an odd symbol to represent the path of the Camino, the most traveled pilgrimage route in all of christendom. The scallop shell seems distinctly peculiar as a christian or Catholic symbol when we have come to expect a crucifix, or perhaps the Madonna.

Scallop Shell Symbol on the Side of the Cathedral of Santiago © Harold Davis

So where did the scallop shell symbol come from? If you look at the history of the Catholic church, it is very common for pagan beliefs and symbolism to be absorbed and incorporated into doctrines and practices. The adoption of the scallop shell symbol is a prime example.

Back in the times of the Greeks and Romans, the scallop shell was a symbol of the Goddess Aphrodite, Venus to the Romans (think of the famous Birth of Venus painting by Botticelli). In the Roman era, an important ritual began at the Temple of Venus near the forum in Rome, and continued in some cases with a spiritual journey to the Atlantic coast of Galicia. This ritual journey was indicated and marked with the scallop shell symbol.

This journey encompassed fertility rituals invoking Venus along the way, and was also sacred to the two-faced God, Janus. Janus was the God of beginnings, transitions, transformations, doors, and endings: all highly relevant to pilgrimages and pilgrims.

A gift of walking a Camino is the encounters and conversations with folks from all walks of life and many parts of the world who are looking out for each other. It is astounding to realize as one walks the Camino that one is part of a tradition the predates Christianity, and speaks to the common humanity and ability of all of us to get along together.

Scallop Shell Manhole © Harold Davis

Garden along the Camino

Someone had built this garden beside the trail in the nook beside an old stone wall, with its rose trellis across a small spring. Now, half wild, the garden was reclaiming its heritage—and like the ancient land of the Camino was part way reverted to its natural state.

Garden along the Camino © Harold Davis

Also posted in Spain

Blue Arrow and Yellow Arrow

The algorithm for following one of the pilgrimage trails to Santiago de Compostela is really pretty simple: follow the yellow arrows, or the well-known Camino clamshell trail markers. If you go 100 meters without seeing a yellow arrow or a clamshell, maybe you made a wrong turn. Go back to the last place you saw a marker or arrow, and look around carefully. It can be a little hard to see the symbols when the trail goes through a busy city, but basically if you stick to this process you can’t go wrong.

Blue and Yellow Arrow © Harold Davis

The Camino Portuguese heads north from Portugal to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain. In contrast, the pilgrimage to Our Lady of Fatima heads south to Fatima, which is about 100 KM north of Lisbon in Portugal. So the two pilgrimages go in opposite directions. The Camino Portuguese is marked, as I’ve noted, with yellow arrows. The Fatima pilgrimage is marked with blue arrows. It’s not unusual depending on the time of year to see pilgrims along the routes going in both directions, one group following the yellow arrows, and the other following the blue arrows, each set of pilgrims walking in the exact opposite direction of the other pilgrimage.

Ponte Sampaio

Built on a Roman foundation, the Ponte Sampaio is the site of a decisive battle to liberate Galicia from Napoleon’s French army under Marshal Ney in 1809. For more on the complex history of those times, check out the Wikipedia article that provides an overview of the Peninsular War

Ponte Sampaio © Harold Davis

Last Gas

I found this signage advertising the “latest” bar on the Camino Portuguese shortly before the Spanish border where the great pilgrimage trail crosses the River Minho to Tui, Spain. By “latest” I’m pretty sure that they meant “last”—so this is one of those signs like “last gas in Nevada.” Does one really care? Are the bars in Spain so different from those in Portugal? Experience tells me: not so much.

Last Gas © Harold Davis

Also posted in Bemusements

Roman Bridges of Galicia

There are literally hundreds of Roman bridges in Galicia, many used by or adjacent to the Camino Portuguese.

Some of these are more recent constructions on the Roman-engineered foundations, but with other the literal stones of the bridges date back millennia. The Oronelle Bridge, shown below, was built by the Romans, and is still quite usable,

It’s amazing to see the grooves in the stones worn by cart wheels and foot tread over the vast span of years!

Oronelle Bridge © Harold Davis

Also posted in Spain

Giverny Afternoon

Flowers at Giverny © Harold Davis

I visited Monet’s wonderful garden at Giverny with my small group of photographers. In the late afternoon, we had the garden mostly to ourselves and were able to photograph in the golden light.

Giverny Afternoon © Harold Davis

Also posted in Flowers, France

Temple of Mercury

Within Schwetzingen Garden, the Temple of Mercury is an intentional ruin from the late 1700s. Built to romantically fall down, the question today is how to conserve a structure intended from the start to be a ruin.

Photographed as the sun rose with my iPhone, and processed using the Plastic Bullet, Snapseed, ImageBlender, and Photo Lab apps on my iPhone.

Temple of Mercury © Harold Davis

Mercury to the Romans was Hermes to the Greeks. Messenger of the Gods (with winged sandals), God of medicine (hence the caduceus), travelers, thieves, and other assorted magical riff-raff. On good days I regard Hermes as a patron, and hope he helps keep me safe and happy as I wander.

Also posted in Germany, iPhone

Enchanted Castle Garden

My friend’s friend had a key to the side gate into the grand garden of the Schwetzingen Castle. The friend’s friend was prevailed upon to let us into the garden before sunrise with our cameras and tripods. Perhaps a “bribe” of a case of designer beer was involved.

Inside, and alone with the garden, I was reminded of the enchanted garden that was magic and came to life at night in E. Nesbit’s classic work of Edwardian children’s fantasy, The Enchanted Garden.

As the sun came up we explored the vast grounds and photographer. The Japanese Bridge is shown below.

Japanese Bridge, Schwetzingen Garden © Harold Davis

The fantasy mosque (below) is complete with minarets and inscriptions in Arabic and German. Each Arabic inscription has errors of punctuation and vocalization, apparently the fault of the stonemason who was carving the transcriptions.

The mosque was built in the late 1700s, and is the last remaining Garden Mosque of the eighteenth century in Europe, and a testimony to the western fascination with things Arabic of that era.

Schwetzingen Garden Mosque © Harold Davis

Also posted in Germany

Visual Palindrome

A palindrome is a phrase that is the same read backwards and forwards. Some examples are Madam I’m Adam, A man a plan a canal Panama, and of course Napoleon’s plaintive exclamation, Able was I ere I saw Elba.

Reflections in the Untersee isn’t exactly a backwards-and-forwards palindrome (if such a concept exists in the visual world) but it does manifest a related phenomenon: an image that can be read in either vertical direction.

My blog story about Reflections in the Untersee shows the image composed “As Shot,” and as seen in real life by yours truly.

Several people pointed out with varying degrees of asperity that they thought the photo was upside down. There was some suspicion that I had flipped the image as intentional trickery. This was not the case (although I am certainly capable of doing so in the right situation). I really hadn’t seen this until it was pointed out, but the image does work as well (or better) flipped vertically.

In the “correct” version the dark shallows of the lake in the foreground looks a little weird, but when flipped these dark areas make visual sense (but are not authentic) perhaps as deeper water.

The poles, and their reflections, and the duck, and its reflections, seem to work either way.

I think that when I print this image I will do it as a palindromic diptych. The original version as it was in real life will be on the left, and I will flip it horizontally as well as vertically on the right, something like this.

Reflections in the Untersee © Harold Davis

Reflections (Flipped) © Harold Davis


Reflections in the Untersee

Before coming to Lake Konstanz, I didn’t have a very good sense of its geography, other than Lake Konstanz was on the border of Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. My friends had invited me, they are German and know the area well, and I left everything to them.

What turns out is the Lake Konstanz is about sixty miles long, and, yes, there are three countries along its shores.

The great Rhine River flows into Lake Konstanz, and flows out at its bottom. The lower part of the lake, where we are staying, is called the Untersee, or lower sea. This photo shows sunrise reflections of posts and a duck in the Untersee shortly after sunrise today.

Today, we drove about an hour into Switzerland—not part of the Eurozone, so we had to make sure we had our passports since we’d be crossing the border. We visited the Rhine Falls, the biggest waterfall in Europe, with snowmelt from the Alps feeding Lake Konstanz. The tourist concessions around Rhine Falls are every bit as toxic and annoying as those around Niagara Falls, but it is still a magnificent spot. If my photos come out, I will post one later!

Reflections in the Untersee © Harold Davis

Excited about new upcoming adventures

I’m excited about my upcoming trip to Europe. I’ll be in Germany working with my friend Julian Kopke to make more x-rays and fusions x-rays, then leading a small group of photographers in Paris, and then after Paris walking the Camino Portuguese. For this walk, I’ll be heading north on this pilgrimage trail from Tui at the Spain-Portugal border on the River Minho north to Santiago de Compostela. Like last year’s Camino, I will be photographing and hope to be blogging my adventures as I go.

Paris from Montmartre © Harold Davis

Triple Spiral Stairs (Looking Up) in Santiago © Harold Davis

Wisteria Gate

The wisteria are in bloom around town. Their lush blues and purples, and lavish grape-juice odor, dominate the staid landscape of “the flats.” In the hills, the wisteria are not quite at their peak, with more blossoms to come, but still gorgeous with every ounce of their being.

I photographed the Wisteria Gate image, shown below, yesterday with my iPhone along Gilman Street near San Pablo Ave in West Berkeley, California. I processed the image on my iPhone using the Waterlogue and ImageBlender apps.

Wisteria Gate © Harold Davis

Also posted in iPhone

What are these tulip photos about?

An important question when looking at a photo is, What is this photo about? In the case of an image of a single flower blossom, likely candidates depend where the image is on the documentary straight photo to would-be high-art spectrum. The photo could be intended as an illustration in a horticultural catalog, or it could be about shape, form, and gesture—with nothing to do with the literal subject matter.

Tulip Sun © Harold Davis

The photo above, Tulip Sun, is about a feeling: the bright, warm, and sunny feeling some of us get when looking at a beautiful and colorful flower. Tulip Eye, below, is a double-take narrative. What is inside the flower? Suppose it were peeking out at us?

Tulip Eye © Harold Davis

I like to understand what my photos are about, at least for me, as early as possible in the image-making process. Sometimes I am lucky enough to know this before I press the shutter release, but more often not. It’s good to know what direction the image is going early in post-production (if not sooner). Otherwise, implementing my vision is difficult, because it is hard to implement something one does not understand.

As a coda to this discussion, there’s no reason that my idea of what one of my photos is about should be your idea. It’s not necessarily that I have failed if my vision is not conveyed. As one example, some photographic imagery is intentionally conceived as a projective device, or Rorschach: the viewer reads into the image what they have brought to it. And, of course, a photo can be about more than one thing, just as it can work on several levels—encompassing, for example, formal composition as well as narrative feeling.

Also posted in Flowers

Pale Garden

From our garden I cut clematis, clivia, and iris. The tulips were store-bought. I assembled a composition to echo Flowers of Spring’s Desire and Poppies and Mallows, but using a somewhat different color palette.

Pale Garden © Harold Davis

The LAB color L-channel inversion on black followed (for information on how to do this, see my Creative LAB Color course).

Pale Garden on Black © Harold Davis

To learn about my light box techniques with flowers, see my FAQ Photographing Flowers for Transparency. We also have one place still open in the hands-on workshop on the topic scheduled for June 2019.

Also posted in Flowers