Critters Photography

Sucking clay and beaver tracks

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

I went for what was a three mile hike yesterday and ended up going six miles, primarily because I followed an animal track rather than the trail meant for humans. In the Spring here in Missouri when the marsh grasses are fresh and tall, and haven’t been beaten down by other hikers, you can mistake a natural path used by animals for one used by humans — until you reach that moment when you go, “Way a sec. This can’t be right.”

My moment yesterday was when I drew close to the river and realized that much of the trail was under water, and what was above was very wet clay. If you have not walked on wet clay before, you may think that walking on something like ice is difficult. However, ice just sits there, being hard and shiny and fairly dependable–you know if you step just right, your foot on the ice will go a certain way. Wet clay, on the other hand, is devious. It will seem to be hard and stable one moment, and just when you think you can walk at a normal pace, it liquifies beneath you in a brown goo that slides out from under your foot even if you’re not moving. Worse, it sucks at your shoe so that each step is accompanied by faintly obscene and definitely undignified sounds.

th-OP th-OP th-OP

Thankfully I had my walking stick with me and was able to use it to hold myself relatively upright, as well as test for shallow pockets of muck, as compared to ones that will eat you alive. It didn’t help that I wasn’t wearing my hiking boots, but was, instead wearing my relatively new, though bought at a lovely discount, white tennis shoes.

At one point, the trail, what there was of it, split in two directions but neither was marked. I picked the wrong one, which is how I ended up walking through hip high green on a narrow trail that never did stabilize. Being pigheaded, I was determined to follow it until I reached the regular trail, but the path ended up going into the river. Not, however, before coming face to face with a nicely sized beaver, who I can tell you, was more than a little miffed that I was tromping through his territory.

(Some would say that bears are the most ill tempered mammals, but no creature can get meaner than a beaver — just ask people whose dogs have been drowned by the critters.)

April Flowers

Beaver are hard to photograph and here I was, faced with a golden opportunity to get a nice picture. I reached — ever so gently — to get my camera from its case, but even with the care I took, the beaver took alarm at my actions and vanished into the tall grass; moments later I heard a splash as it headed into the river. All I was left with was the opportunity to capture his tracks. In all the lovely muck.

beaver tracks

I returned to where the trail split and this time headed in the right direction. Along the way I passed fields full of wild flowers–amazing flowers– and birds and dragonflies and other colorful insects. I used my walking stick to wave in front of my face when going through dense greenery, to break any webs across the trail — it’s not particularly pleasant to walk into a web on a trail and then end up with a harmless but intimidating spider crawling on your face. Even if you’re not frightened of spiders, and let me assure you, I am, the experience is not edifying.

During all of this, I met no other hikers, which was unusual. The day was beautiful and the area usually has people about, even during the week. Finally, I met up with an older woman and asked her if I was heading in the right direction to make it back to the main trail. She assured me I was and warned me not to head in the western direction, because much of the area was flooded and impassable. I told her I had just come from that direction.

“Oh, but you don’t look that…”, and then she looked at my feet and lower legs, my hands, and my face, “…muddy.”

When I got back to my car, I was exhausted, and dirty…but satisfied. It felt good.



Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

My media setup in my bedroom/office/living room is relatively complete. I have a nice sound system, a television with cable, and when I want to watch DVDs, I can watch them on my TiBook.

However, I have an extensive library of old VHS tapes and the only VHS player was downstairs in the living room. I chatted with my roommate and asked if he ever used it. He said the only time it’s been used is to watch the tapes I check out from the library, and he isn’t all that interested in most of them (we have different tastes). I asked would he mind if I grabbed it, and he not only didn’t mind, he set it up for me. (I have a great roommate.)

The last couple of nights I’ve been watching some of my old, old friends. I do prefer DVD movies, but I bought these old movies a long time ago and can’t afford to replace them, or they haven’t come out on DVD (and most likely won’t). Among them are some classic old black & white sci-fi films that would be put to shame by today’s modern special effects, but I love them anyway.

Today’s movies just aren’t the same as the oldies. Somehow, they don’t allow for the watcher’s imagination to fill in the the blanks, or to stretch far enough to ignore that the bug is mechanical. Though many are excellent, they don’t have something that the old sci-fi movies had. I’m not sure what it is, but I do know that every time I watch one of these old movies, I feel as if I were a kid again in the movie theater in town, with my big rootbeer and popcorn; or at home Saturday night when Mom would let us stay up, or on a rainy afternoon–about to be scared, but that good kind of scared. It was a nice break from duck and cover.

I watched the original Thing (or, more properly, “The Thing from Another World”), and I still think this was an extremely well done movie. It had one of the most natural dialogues I’ve ever seen in a movie, with characters talking over each other at times, something that does happen in real life when people are stressed. (Forget the guy having hysterics before getting a glass of water splashed in his face.)

I also liked the female lead, and the humor, and James Arness as a big, malevolent brocolli.

Another favorite is Behemoth, the Sea Monster, which I’ll watch tonight. It’s not as highly rated, or as well acted, but I’ve always liked the Big Creature from the Deep flicks.

Of course, the best and baddest of the old creature flicks was Them!. This was my favorite old sci-fi flick, and one of the first I bought. Unfortunately, it was also in the storage unit whose contents I sold, in bulk, so I no longer have the film. However, I’ve watched it so many times, I don’t know if I do need it. I remember every scene.

For instance, one of my favorite scenes is of the young girl in the hospital in a state of shock, and the old scientist passing a beaker of formic acid under her nose. She blinks her eyes, as if coming out of a deep sleep, and then she scrunches all inwards, screaming at the top of her lungs:

Arggghhhh! Them! Them!

This scene does an excellent job of setting the suspense for the movie (that and the deputy watching the old cafe at night); and the kid did a great job with the phrase. It’s such a useful phrase, too–one that never goes out of style.

Yesterday was tax day in the States and I spent the day surrounded by tax papers.

Arggghhhh! Them! Them!

Yesterday was also bill day.

Arggghhhh! Them! Them!

More social software tools have been released this week.

Arggghhhh! Them! Them!


Grammar God

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

Today it got close to 80 degrees (it’s still 70, at 9pm at night), and this is only the beginning of April. So many plants blooming that the air is perpetually perfumed.

I took the grammar test. I hate to break it to the neighborhood but…

You are a GRAMMAR GOD!

If your mission in life is not already to
preserve the English tongue, it should be.
Congratulations and thank you!

How grammatically sound are you?
brought to you by Quizilla

Me smart. Me talk good. Me rite gould, two.


Area 44

Today was a beautiful day, warm and sunny, and I headed to Area 44 to see if the dogwood were in bloom yet.

Found plenty of blooms, but no dogwood.


I won’t go to Area 44 in the summer because the ticks are so thick there, but I wanted to catch the dogwoods this year. I walked along the trail, facing into the sun, but couldn’t see any blooms. When I turned around, silhouetted against the dark blue sky, I could see hundreds of trees with new barely new buds. I couldn’t see the dogwood because the light was in my eyes. Next week, though, the area is going to be thick with blooms.

On the way back, I was amused to see the remains of an old property sign in the stream that cuts through the conservation area. It’s not unusual to find all sorts of things in the waters of Missouri because of flooding.

Anyone want some prime Missouri flatland? Near the water.


I’m still taking photos. I’m just not particularly worried if they’re ‘commercially’ viable. Which means I don’t have to lug around 20 pounds of camera equipment, and take photos other people want.

Just me and my digital, looking for neat opportunities.


People Photography

Walker Evans: Objective purist

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

I recently finished a wonderful biography on Walker Evans: Walker Evans: A Biography by Belinda Rathbone. Some critics have said that the book reads a little too matter of fact to be interesting, but that’s a perfect type of biography for a man like Walker Evans–an objective biography for an objective man.

In the book I discovered that Evans was born in St. Louis, though he didn’t live here long, moving to Chicago, and eventually ending up in New York. He came from a dysfunctional family, was himself married twice, had numerous affairs, almost always with married women, and preferred rooms decorated in black, white, and gray. Additionally, I found out that he was not a particularly good student, kept flunking Latin, and always saw himself as a writer. Even after his photographic career was established, he saw himself as a writer, an interesting fact which I’ll get into in more detail in a later essay.

From the start, Evans rejected much of the contemporary style of photography that was prevalent in his time (and to some extent, still in vogue today). One style of photography popular with art photographers at the time was called pictorialism and rather than utilizing the power of the camera to capture images as is, featured created images that were contrived rather than found. You still see these types of photos today when a woman or man is posed holding an apple, looking pensively off into shadows, staged next to a carefully undecorated and plain white wall.

The second style popular at that time was modernistic photography, subjects of which are best described by a quote from M. F. Agha, art director of Conde Nast:

Eggs (any style). Twenty shoes, standing in a row. A skyscaper , taken from a modernist angle. Ten tea cups standing in a row. A factory chimney seen through the ironwork of a railroad bridge (modernistic angle). The eye of a fly enlarged 2000 times. The eye of an elephant (same size). The interior of a watch. Three different heads of one lady superimposed. The interior of a garbage can. More eggs…

One can see why Evans rejected both pictorialism and the modernistic photographic styles, but he drifted about for a time, trying to establish what type of photography he wanted to do.

It was after seeing a photograph by Paul Strand, of a blind woman with a hand lettered sign reading “Blind” hung around her neck that served as Evan’s inspiration. As Rathbone wrote:

The picture implied an encroaching crisis of the American dream of prosperity, but it showed no obvious emotion. The fact that the photographer had stolen his photograph was pointedly expressed by the stark sign hanging around the woman’s neck, as if the subject had come with her own caption. Was the portrait cruel or sympathetic? It was the fact that it was neither, that it appeared not to reveal the photographer’s feelings at all, that intrigued Evans.

…that it appeared not to reveal the photographer’s feeling at all. If there is any key to Evans, it is contained in that one sentence. In all of his photos, not once does he impose his view, his thoughts and feelings, between the subject and the audience. He disdained photos that deliberately attempted to manipulate the viewers emotions; particularly those that used sentiment, which he considered contrived.

The distinguishing component of all Evans’ work, was his objectivity.


But Evans wasn’t just known for his objectivity and his excellent eye for an image — he was also known, or should I say, not known for his grasp of the mechanics of photography. He would ruin several images by his somewhat haphazard lab skills, and lose other images because of under or over exposure. It was not through knowing the mechanics of photography that Evans achieved his work; it was through his exceptional ability to see an extraordinary image from every day things; and then to patiently stalk that image, returning day after day, if needed, to capture it on film. He would never change the scene, or add or subtract elements from it. This, to him, would be completely dishonest. The most he would do would wait for a different light, or if he were taking photographs of people, wait until they were either unaware of the camera, or had relaxed from being in front of the camera.

Needless to say, Evans was almost always late in delivering on his assignments, and drove more than one person to distraction by his exacting nature. Lucky for us, he was not a conciliatory person.


In fact, one of my favorite Evans photograph (another one I can’t locate to reproduce here) was a somewhat blurry photo of Evans’ second wife, Isabelle Boeschenstein, wearing evening dress, hair in her face, lighting a cigarette at what looks to be some kind of gathering. It was not the photographic quality of the image that caught my eye; it was how much information about the woman was captured in that one simple photo. It is astonishing.

Evans did not rely on photographic tricks to make his images, and rarely did more in the darkroom then crop shots. But he was obsessed with how they were presented at shows, usually asking to hang his works himself, with no one else present. For the first edition of Now Let Us Praise Famous Men he was determined that the images for the book be perfect, and worked almost daily with the engraver to make minor adjustments to correct an engraving until it reflected the image he had of it in his mind. From Rathbone:

The wrinkles on the Burroughses’ bedsheets did not show up clearly enough; could he make them sharper? Could he show more clearly the tear in the pillowcase? Could he bring out the texture of the wooden wall and the objects around the fireplace? Could he soften the lines on Allie Mae’s face, sharpen the creases on Bud Fields’ overalls? Under Evans’ scrupulous direction, several of the plates had to be made over again entirely, while small imperfections in others were painstakingly corrected.

The engraver was too helpful at one point, and removed dead bugs from a photo of a bed, and Evans refused to allow the image be used as it was, and the fleas had to be added back in.

This reminds me of earlier discussions about the purists view of photography. Despite the care taken with the engravings for the book, Evans did very little with the actual images himself. Because of this, and his belief in photographs reflecting the image as taken–the true image–we would consider Evans a purist. I’m not sure what he would make of today’s digital cameras and Photoshop, though I have a feeling he would like the camera. So much easier to take those unexpected, hidden photos.


Earlier I published a link to a baby squirrel image that had been rescued from a mediocre photograph through the use of Photoshop. I have no doubts that this is not something that Evans would do.

No, if Walker Evans wanted a photo of a baby squirrel, it would be because he discovered the baby squirrel by accident one day and was struck by the image for some reason*. He would then get someone to hire him to take photographs of Native American wildlife, and would use the money to purchase new camera requirement, and probably to take other images in the neighborhood–the broken fence, the lost cat notices on the telephone poles, the old woman buying tomatoes at the market. He would then set up his camera by the baby squirrel’s hole, and if the baby didn’t oblige with the proper image one day, he would return the next. If a week goes by without the image, and by then the squirrel was too old, Evans would return the next year, much to the consternation of his employer (who he would still charm, even while irritating).

But by the time he was done, you’d have a rich, fascinating image of a squirrel, sitting in a hole of a tree, the grain of which would stand out in the image, almost as if the image was three-dimensional. The light wouldn’t be the proper light, it would be the perfect light, and the squirrel wouldn’t be enticed to pose–it would be acting as a baby squirrel acts, normally.

And it wouldn’t be a photo of an adorable baby squirrel, eliciting cries of, “How cute!” It would be a photo of a rodent.

*I doubt Evans would be interested in a photo of a baby squirrel.