About an hour from Mazar-e-Sharif on a desolate, dusty dirt road lies the village of Dast-e-Shor home to refugees repatriated from Iran. The scenery reminded me of southern Saskatchewan, without the benefit of field after field of wheat.
We were visiting a vocational education site where men learn carpentry and welding, while women learn tailoring and clothing manufacture.
It was a beautiful day in the Panjshir Valley. I thought I'd work with a duotone treatment. I did the lighter areas in a yellow-brown, sepia-ish color and the shadows in a blue. I think the brown conveys some of the sense of the heat of the day and brings out the dustiness of the hillside, while the blue helps out the sky and river.
I've heard that Panjshir Province is working on developing some sort of tourism industry...if you ever have a chance, go there. It's probably the safest place in Afghanistan, maybe the world, and one of the most beautiful places on earth.
On a flight to the Panjshir Valley, we passed over the southern edge of the Hindu Kush. That rectangle on the left is someone's homestead or field, rather dramatically disrupted by the formation of a new gully. I would guess the road in the upper right will have to be rebuilt after the spring floods...assuming we get enough snow this winter for there to be spring floods.
And have you heard about my sale at http://www.bpsphoto.com/store/25sale/index.html? It's 25% Off and Free Shipping (to addresses in the United States), and runs through the end of December 2010.
One of my favorite landscapes on the planet is the volcanic perlite that formed these cliffs about 90,000 years ago. This photo is from a sunrise shoot that I did with both my Hasselblad 501CM and my Nikon D200. It was pure joy to be out on the beach before anyone else and to be able to study the cliffs while I was shooting. This was one of the film shots, if it matters to you. It was Ilford PanF, developed in Microphen.
I don't know if you know this about me, but I love to drive on winding dirt roads going into the mountains. I particularly love it when the roads are in terrible shape and demand a 4WD. So living in a place where I can't go driving off by myself is a little painful. But I do get to take helicopter rides over those roads occasionally.
My father-in-law works part time at South Hills. This gives me a lot of opportunity to ride around the course, taking pictures. I've always liked the symmetry of this set of bunkers as they move up the slope of the 3rd? hole on the West? course. The hot, hot summer has scorched sections of the fairway and many of the greens on the course.
It's also one of my favorite holes to play, because there are few trees for me to tag and no water hazard between the tee and the hole. The sand trap in front of the green doesn't bother me, because, as Pops says, "You have no idea how difficult it is to get out of a bunker." Yeah, the one club I can hit consistently, and moderately well, is the wedge.
There's a willow on an island in a pond on the course that I'm thinking about doing a small photo essay about.
I had a chance to get out the other day. Driving (well, passengering) through the streets I had three observations. A) I need a point & shoot...specifically Sigma's DP2...so I don't have to wave a giant camera around in the car. B) The traffic, though chaotic, is much friendlier than it was in Almaty. C) I am so glad I don't have to drive here.
Updates will be sporadic, though once my hard drives arrive, I'll be able to work on art projects and post those. Thanks for your patience.
It was a chilly, misty April day in Prague. I was full of garlic soup and Pilsener Urquell (which is an outstanding meal for such a day). The repetition of imbricated tiles grabbed my attention. I shot several versions, and this is the one I like best. The rooftops all look like they're from the 18th C or so, making for an idyllic scene.
One variation I might try with it would be to crop out the rather flat sky, make it an 8x10 format with a greater amount of contrast between the white buildings and the dark hills.
So after last night's post, I worked a bit on this shot, and decided that I like it better.
Today's story? When we were leaving the petroglyph site, a family was setting up a picnic at the edge of the bone-dry grass. They hadn't brought cooked food, because you cook your shashlik (kebabs) at the picnic. Pre-cooked shashlik are just wrong.
Now, when I said, "at the edge of the bone-dry grass," I meant with the 4-foot-tall grass waving over top of them as they set up the stones for their fire. And look at these thistles. Do they look like they've seen water recently? So the family takes up some of the dry grass they flattened out for their picnic area and uses it as tinder.
Dry grass, once it becomes embers, floats upward. Where it impacts other dry grass. Which ignites. Which drops embers to the base of the grass. Which ignites. The wind blows a bit. And you have a prairie fire before you can say, "Crap, get the fire extinguisher."
As the family beat at the trailing edges of a rapidly growing fire, we took self-preservation in hand, hopped into our truck and sped off.
At Tamgali, there are petroglyphs showing continuous human usage of the area for at least 3000 years. Many of the symbols are very similar to those found elsewhere in the world - sun gods, antelope, man, earth mothers and so on.
Unfortunately, they wouldn't let me take my camera onto the site. Not even with the offer of paying a little extra for my entrance fee (that shocked me). So I took pictures of the dry thistles along the road.
On the road between Taneytown, MD and Littlestown, PA, there's an abandoned house that nestles in a little forest next to a stream. I found it irresistible and stopped in for about an hour of shooting one morning. Unlike most abandoned houses, it didn't have any No Trespassing signs, so I didn't worry too much about frightening the former owners or the bank.
I ended up not liking too many of my frames from that shoot, but this is one that I've been wanting to work with for some time. I'll probably play with it a lot, experimenting with burning and dodging and masking layers and some duotone colors to get just the right feel.
The litter of dead leaves and the blur from branches waving in a long exposure give the feeling of a forest where all the nymphs and dryads have died. Maybe there's a gateway to a bizarre land just behind that dark bunch on the left. No, I don't believe in supernatural entities, but myths and legends grab us and hold on, because otherwise, this is just a copse waiting for spring, and dying spirits or paths to the land of Narnia are a lot more interesting sometimes.
There are so many things to say about this photo. There's a cow in the middle of the road. Or there's a road across the prairie. Or the prairie is at 10,000 ft, and that line of hills in the distance are 16-18,000 feet high. The mountain prairies (or jailoos) of central Kyrgyzstan are among my favorite places on the planet. Although I'd go out of my mind with boredom (or perhaps not) I would love to live with the shepherds for a year and see life from their perspective.
We were about 2 weeks early for the huge party that's about to descend on the jailoo. Every summer the shepherd clans gather here for festivals, marrying off their children, trading, seeing the children they've married off and games of buzkashi (goat polo - see pictures at siananjim's travel blog). I love the idea of something like a giant Boy Scout jamboree taking over this vast grassy plain.
When we lived in Almaty, I had a job that started at 7 am, so I'd walk through the parks of the city before anyone else was awake. And this being not Greece, most parties were finished and the people home by 5 or 6 am, so I had the place all to myself. It was beautiful and peaceful...
Until I started to realize that every morning Almaty looked abandoned. It was as though every resident of the city had been taken up and dropped whatever they were doing. So I set out to be the crying Indian, in the hopes that if people saw what they were doing, they'd stop.
I began work on an exhibition called Almaty: The Abandoned City. I went out every Saturday and Sunday for a month, shooting from about 5:30 until 7:30 am, taking pictures like this one. It got pretty depressing, because it was so easy to find junk and garbage, and I distinctly remember the moment when I had shot enough when I got excited over finding a huge pile of garbage.
Unfortunately, we were leaving in November, and I wanted to wait until I was sure I could put together an exhibit, so I didn't start looking for a venue until August. And I missed the fall exhibition season. So I may have been crying, but nobody knew about it.
Lest my Kazakhstani friends be offended, know that I remember American cities looking like this, and that what got us to start using garbage cans was a long series of advertising campaigns and exhibitions showing just how much garbage we were throwing out the windows of our cars and dropping in our parks.
It's 6:30 am, on July 4. At sunset the night before, a shepherd with a Kamaz truck pulled my beautiful 4x4 out of the swamp that I had driven it into. Along with a small army of shepherds I had spent the day trying to dig and coax it out of the greasy clay. We spent hours pulling with man power and with horse power to no avail. Now, though, in the peace of early morning, it's resting quietly next to the yurt we rented for the night. We slept in the milk-curing yurt owned by one of the shepherds who'd helped, so we had butter and sour cream and yogurt and kymiz (fermented horse milk) to inform our dreams. Cattle rubbed on the walls of the yurt and on the truck all night. I loved that truck. I miss that truck. I recently learned that it still lives in Kazakhstan, and that the gas cap I lost was finally replaced.
Shot with a Hasselblad 501CM on Bergger 200 film, probably developed in Agfa Rodinal.
I like this one a little better than yesterday's. I think the repeating angles that cross each other make it a stronger image, much closer to what I had in mind.
It was a beautiful day in the forest. Obviously a nearly clear, blue sky, and a temperature that made jeans, hiking shoes and a long-sleeved t-shirt the perfect clothes. I didn't end up hiking as far as I had thought I might, but then, I hadn't expected to get such great views straight out of the parking lot.
After being traumatized by about 10 gazillion people at the Cherry Blossom Festival, I decided I needed a day with very few people. So the following morning I went out to Skyline Drive, and saw very few people.
I'm starting to grow fond of the hardwood forests of the Mid-Atlantic. I finally noticed this winter the spare beauty of leafless trees, showing the underlying structure of the woods.
In prepping some landscapes for a group exhibition I'm participating in, I came across this sunset that I hadn't previously posted. We took a cruise-by-ferry last summer of the Cyclades, including Milos, Paros & Mykonos.
Milos was made famous by a farmer in the 19th C who went into a cave that nobody had entered for more than 2000 years and found a gorgeous statue of Aphrodite. The French renamed her Venus (because apparently they liked the Roman names for the gods more than the Greek) and acknowledged the place she was found, thus we have Venus de Milo, the Greek statue with a Roman/French name. She lost her arms on the ship between Milos and Paris.
But clearly, this isn't a photo of a cave. The cave was very unassuming. No, this is the sunset from the Utopia Cafe in Plaka. It was one of the most beautiful sunsets I've ever seen. I hope to see it again someday.
The Blizzard of '10 gave me some incredible chances for photography. With two major storms in a week, I was able to get out while it was snowing, and then later after it had stopped, and find photos like these, just waiting for the intrepid (or stupid).
I've opened a new store at http://store.bpsphoto.com. It currently has 21 photos and 84 product including 30x40" Large Prints, 16x20" Medium Prints, 11x14" Small Prints and Cards in sets of 25. All the prints are on fine-art quality watercolor paper, and the cards are on heavy stock. Take a look, bookmark it, and if you don't see a BH Neely Photograph that you would love to have, let me know and I'll get it in the store. I'm always adding new products.
You know what HDR is? It's digitized Kodak Tech Pan 25. THAT was a film. Black so dark you felt you were really seeing it for the first time. White so pure and clean a bridal veil could be made from the memory of it. Every gray looked like it was choosing sides between the two extremes. The snow on the roof could almost be from a Tech Pan negative.
Kodak discontinued the film several years ago. I was sad. As much as I love Ilford's products and my crazy soft Bergger 200 developed in Rodinal (perfect for soft, delicate nudes), I miss a good 4x5 sheet of Tech Pan.
I'm working on a magazine submission and in revisiting the photos from Sarakiniko, I came across this one. I like the way the shapes of the main cliff and the bit that's across the little channel show the pattern of the water as it spent 10s of thousands or maybe even millions of years separating the two.
More of Sarakiniko (including a color version of this one) in the Geology album at www.facebook.com/bhneely.
For once, I'm soliciting opinions on this one. It's what you might call a hand-crafted HDR project. There's an arbitrary line that I drew when I bought my D200 to start shooting digitally. That line was "things I can do in the darkroom or with film choice will be called photography, all other digital trickery shall be known as digital art." At the time, digital art (in my mind, anyway) included things such as removing poles, wires, trees, etc. from an otherwise pleasing composition. It grew to include changing eye color, excessive skin blending and pimple removal. Photography would include the use of grain effects, vignetting, burning and dodging, color saturation and contrast control.
Over the course of the summer, I began creating digital art portraits by fixing skin problems, removing pimples and the like. Layers and Gaussian blur and the eraser tool and the spot healing brush became my friend. And as with all offers by the Dark One, it was so easy, so sweet...just a tweak here or a bit there. (No, I don't really believe there's a Dark One, but it's a nice metaphor.)
But then, I started to look at HDR. If you don't know, HDR involves combining a few exposures into one to create a look that matches what you saw at the scene, so that a building and the sky can have equal intensity, even if they don't on the base exposure that you shot. Most often, though, you notice it in ridiculously unreal photos. I haven't found a program that's simple for me to use (I'm on my 3rd or 4th program), so I thought I'd make this one by hand in Photoshop Elements.
I combined three exposures shot just after sunset - one to get the sky a nice, rich color, one to make the hills and the fortress well exposed and one to get just the right color in the sea. All the colors you see are as they were...enhanced with a bit of saturation, but less enhanced than if I'd used a tobacco filter with film. In the process of making layer upon layer of parts, erasing some bits, blurring lines so they aren't too sharp, but not blurring them so much that it's obvious, I stepped across my line. Everything that you see in the piece was there...and nothing was removed from the photo...but I have a sick feeling in my heart as I stand up and say, "Hello, my name is Brian N., and I have committed digital art."
Now, if you're still with me, was it worth my soul, my integrity, my moral collapse? (Yes, I do think of it in such dramatic terms.) Do you, my audience, enjoy it? You can validate me or not, complain about the technique, the skills employed. But I do want to hear what others think. I'll tell you what I think...I like it. It's rough around the edges, but for a first serious effort it's not bad. And I can see where, once I get better at the process and work more cleanly, it might be worth my soul, my integrity, my moral compass.
One of the best things in traveling is staying at a small hotel and getting a recommendation from the owner about where to eat, where to see the very best sunset and so on. Anezina told us about Emporio, so we went.
What you are looking at is the road into and out of Emporio, on Milos. The drive there included a few miles of dirt road that stained our car red for the rest of the trip. As we got out of the car at the taverna, where our table was as close to the water as the car is in this picture, I heard the jangle of goat bells. On the menu they had roasted goat, and it seemed to me that if I couldn't get good goat here, I couldn't get it anywhere. It was, without a doubt, one of the 5 best plates of meat I've ever had. And all I needed to do to get it was drive on the edge of the sea.
Looking down into a valley at Meteora I was struck by the odd shapes and the beautiful shadows the hillocks made on each other. The cliffs throughout Meteora have a look to them that always makes me feel as though I'm the first human to walk over a rise to see them, even though I just stepped out of my car, carrying an electronic camera.
I don't know if you realize this, but star trails photographs take a lot of work. You have to find a compelling foreground subject in a place that doesn't have too much light pollution. Then you have to open your shutter and ignore your camera for a while (in this case 677.0 seconds). I found, taking this photograph, that ouzo and good conversation is a great aid to ignoring your camera. I also discovered that mechanical cameras are far better suited to this sort of thing than electronic ones...two shots and my battery was dead.
It was hazy our entire 5 days on Santorini, but even so, this was the worst sunset while we were there. Not bad, eh?
As a tourist, I recommend a few things. Don't go to Santorini expecting Greece. It's way too American. Don't go to Santorini in high season. We caught the leading edge of high season and it was crowded. By July, when the temps are in the 90's or 100's, there's no place to park and everyone's pissed off from the heat and no parking, it would be no fun at all. If you're on a cruise ship and get two hours of shore time, don't do it. Relax on the boat, drink your cocktail, enjoy the view. It's a half-hour or more wait for the 30-passenger cable car or a half-hour donkey ride or half-hour walk up to the town of Fira, and a half-hour or more wait for the 30-passenger cable car or half-hour donkey ride or half-hour walk back down to the port. So your two hours becomes a one-hour dash through the town trying to find something to buy.
Go to Santorini for the geology. It's an active (though currently asleep) volcano that's been blowing up for thousands, probably millions of years. It destroyed the Minoan civilization in 1640 BCE. In the last 500 years, an island (volcanic cone) has grown out of the sea-filled caldera, created a blasted landscape that only needs a little smoke and some orcs to feel like Mordor. Throughout the island there are cliffs of sandstone studded with igneous rock, cliffs of igneous of several colors and the usual gorgeous marble or limestone hills that you can see all over Greece.
All-in-all, it's a wonderful place to go. Just don't do it when it's busy or expect to feel like you're actually in Greece (dinner time is over by 10 pm - what kind of Greece is that?).
Sometimes you don't get what you're looking for, and it's a good thing. The summer of 2007 was a devastating one for Greece, particularly on the Peloponneses, and especially so around Ancient Olympia. Wild fires raged across the country in two waves, destroying hundreds of square miles of forests, olive groves, farms and grazing land. Around Olympia, there were hills upon hills of wasteland.
This spring, Greece has had crazy amounts of rain, getting whole months worth of rain averages in one or two days. April, for example, averages just over an inch of rain, but we got that much or more at least twice in the month this year. With all this rain, Greece is grassy and green and humid, when usually it's semi-arid, as the eastern halves of Washington and Oregon, or most of Utah.
So when you want to take a photo about devastation, and you're faced with a beautiful, lush, green landscape that happens to have a lot of dead trees in it, you can be forgiven a little disappointment.
This was a multiple exposure shot. I forgot my cable remote, so I couldn't set the shutter to Bulb (ironic that we're several generations removed from a time when shutters were opened with a puff of air, so by squeezing a bulb and holding it, you could leave your shutter open for as long as you wanted, and yet we still have the bulb setting). I tried to balance that with a 5 x 30-second shot. I didn't get what I was looking for, but I like what I found, all the same.
Megalo Papingo (Big Papingo) is a village of about 40-50 buildings, including several inns, tavernas, a church and a school. Mikro Papingo (Small Papingo) is about 2km away and even smaller, though it does have a WWF office.
I realize, given what day it is, you might think I'm pulling your leg. I'm not.