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Posts from the ‘Nature and Science Education’ Category

Northern Valley Art League Show

I wanted to let folks know that I was fortunate enough to have one of my images selected by the Northern Valley Art League in Redding, California for their upcoming International Juried Photography Show.  The juror was Jack Fulton of the San Francisco Art Institute.  Northern Valley Art League is a significant supporter of the arts in northern California.  I’m very grateful for their support.  The image chosen was of the Spillway at the Quabbin Reservoir.

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Happy New Year

Hopefully a better one….

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Tower Hill Botanic Gardens, December 2015.

Photoessay: Searching for a Mood Under the Highway

I hope you had a Happy Thanksgiving.  We did, it was great spending time with family as always.  I had much to be thankful for this year, including a more experimental attitude.  Why not?

I’ve been exploring the Blackstone River area in Massachusetts over the last few months.  It is striking just how much psychological as well as environmental territory the River covers.  Though it remains quite polluted from centuries of exploitation, stretches of the River are quite beautiful and natural.  Other stretches are, more complex.  No stretch of the River though, at least that I have traveled, requires more effort to understand than the Blackstone Valley Bike Trail in Worcester, Massachusetts, where the River originates.  Along this two mile or so stretch you will see the River, a super highway (Route 146), an active freight train yard and line, as well as legacy tracks, a Walmart and Sam’s Club, trees being cut by a beaver, beautiful small falls and rapids, trash and signs that say stay away from the water for health reasons.  It’s all right there.  Nature and civilization crash into one another at top speed in places and this is one of those locations.

I have photographed there for months, searching for the right way to capture the feel of such a complex place.  I’d used most every technological trick I could think of, but ultimately wasn’t satisfied.  I decided to go back and try again, this time with black and white film.  Digital is just capable of making pictures that are too perfect for this location it seemed to me.  Nothing about this location says “perfection.”  This work, like this location, is incomplete and some of the images you see here may not survive the next cut.  This is where things stand though at the moment.

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Shooting on film is interesting of course.  I realize that the look can be replicated in software using a digital means of capture.  But that somehow doesn’t seem quite right at times.  What is really different about shooting on film is the process.  You do indeed slow down.  You have to for economic reasons if nothing else.  For a time, you have to step away from the technological (rat) race.  It’s quite refreshing.

Tech Notes:  Shot on Kodak TMax and Ilford Delta films using a Nikon F6.  The later, for my money, remains the finest 35 mm camera ever made.  Negatives scanned on a Nikon 5000 film scanner and finalized in Lightroom/Photoshop (You can’t really escape the technology can you.)

The Middle Branch of the Swift River and the Hazards of Nature Photography

As readers of this blog know by now, one of my main concerns about how we think about our environment is, actually, how little we think about it.  We take for granted so much without questioning what supports our lives.  The food shows up at the grocery story, the water in the faucet and the oxygen that sustains us in the atmosphere.  I live in central Massachusetts and work in eastern Massachusetts.  Most people in eastern Massachusetts don’t know where their water comes from, the Quabbin Reservoir.  So my mission is in part educational.  As such, I’ve been working more with video as a media for engaging with people about the source of their water.  This has involved creating short videos that hopefully take the viewer to the source of their water and at least help them connect a few dots.

With that as background, here is a short two minute trip along two sections of the Middle Branch of the Swift River, one of the most important sources of water that goes into the Quabbin Reservoir. I’m shooting from two locations, one the Bear’s Den and the second, where the Middle Branch cuts through the Quabbin Reservation, closer to the Reservoir itself.  You can reach both in New Salem.  Both are rather tame walks (but see my warning below).  I find both of these locations compelling and have posted still imagery from there many times.  I hadn’t been back in a year or two, much had changed, though much remained the same.

A word of warning and a request.  Posting video online is not as satisfying as you might think given that every one seems to be doing it these days.  Most services compress the video severely and if you’re used to good photography, you notice this immediately.  Second and more seriously for me, most of you read my blog as subscribers.  You have it e-mailed to you and WordPress does not always embed the video properly, meaning you may not see it.  This happened a few months ago, to my chagrin.

Trying something different this time, I’ve actually uploaded this version to WordPress itself rather than embed it from Vimeo. However, If you can’t see it, click here and you’ll go right to the video as posted on Vimeo. Regardless, make sure you’re watching the HD version by clicking on HD in the lower right hand corner of your video screen.  You’ll know to do that if the quality of the video is particularly annoying.  If the preview version I can see is any indication, you will need to click HD to get the higher quality view.

On the hazards of nature photography.  When we go out into the field, we are actually quite careful.  Tics are everywhere and they are particularly dangerous in New England.  So we are fully covered regardless of the temperature.  No sandals, short sleeves, etc.  Never, even when it’s really hot.  But that isn’t always enough to protect you it seems.  I’d been to this location many times but evidently this is where I contracted poison ivy, or something like that.  Even though I didn’t think I was excessively allergic to poison ivy, I have never been cavalier about it.  Your reaction can change over time with aging.  This time something went wrong and the poison ivy mixed with something else and left me severely ill.  The treatment, prednisone was just as bad as the disease as some of you know.  It finally seems to be working now thankfully.  I got some good medical care along the way, including from an excellent Dermatologist.  Just as I was leaving his office, he shared a rather bone chilling observation that he said all his dermatology friends had been pondering over the past few years.  Poison ivy is getting much more virulent. They don’t know why.  I have no expertise in this area other than what I’ve learned over the past month so I can’t verify his statement, but he’s a good doc and very well trained.  So why am I saying all this?  If you’re old enough you may remember a pretty good police show, Hill Street Blues.  The desk sergeant at the precinct had a way of closing his start of shift meetings that came to mind recently:  And hey…..be careful out there.

Along the Blackstone River – Worcester to River Bend Farm

The Blackstone River project continues though I have no idea where it will lead.  Researching an idea and then getting out in the field is definitely an exciting experience.  The more I find out about the River then more intriguing it becomes.  It makes up in Worcester, the industrial heartland that it helped to create.  This view of Beaver Brook is less than half a mile from my home.

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The white object in the upper left is a mattress.  Fairly random I know.  Beaver Brook joins forces with Middle River about two miles away, to give genesis to the Blackstone itself.  As you can see, there isn’t terribly much left that is natural about Beaver Brook.  Where we’re standing is where the Brook comes out from below ground.  It is tunneled in for around a mile, reappears in Beaver Brook Park off Chandler Street in Worcester and then disappears again.  It would seem that civilization has trumped nature, in this case.  That is the story here I think, the tension and synergy between nature and civilization writ large.

As I said in the previous post, the Blackstone is one of the most polluted Rivers in the U.S., which is saying something.  It was indeed the home of the industrial revolution and it’s 400 plus foot drop from Worcester, Massachusetts to Pawtucket, Rhode Island meant water power.  At Pawtucket, a Mr. Slater founded the first Cotton Mill in the United States, the very first one.  The impact of that bit of industrialization on the entire country cannot be over-stated.  More on that to come.

Nature has reasserted herself though along the way.  Just a bit of research pointed us toward River Bend Farm in Uxbridge, Massachusetts, less than twenty-miles away.  River Bend is actually a state park, managed by the Massachusetts Division of Conservation and Recreation, though it is affiliated with the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor which is  under the management of the National Park Service.  It is perhaps ten to fifteen miles long.  It runs along a stretch of the Blackstone River and the Blackstone Canal itself, parts of which at this location are still clearly visible.  This is an image of the Canal from new the Visitor Center there.

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The Canal Barges were propelled, or rather pulled along, by horses that trod along the tow path you can see to the right. In places, the Canal and River intermingle, as seems to be the case here at the Arch Bridge approximately half mile north.

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But what about that 400 foot drop from Worcester to Providence?  The Canal required a series of locks to make the journey possible.  Here is the Goat Hill Lock, one of the few remaining that is still largely visible.

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A barge would enter the lock and a door shut behind it.  There was also a door shut in front.   Water would be pumped out or in to the lock depending upon the direction the barge was heading.  The water level would reach that of the next leg of the journey and the door in front would open, allowing the barge to carry on.  This lock is ten feet wide.  That is not the pathway for flowing water, that is the entire lock, meaning that the barges were all less than ten feet wide.  All that, and it was still cheaper than sending goods over land, evidently considerably cheaper.  The barge then moved ahead into an area of the Canal or River such as this.

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Obviously, no passing in the lock.  However, on the good side, very little need for a GPS.  More to come.