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Posts tagged ‘Elm Park’

Ice Out in Elm Park

In spite of the fact that once again we are confronted with a winter weather advisory in mid-April, there is fresh snow on the ground, and driving is likely to be somewhat dangerous, I wanted to post about ice out in Elm Park.  Elm Park has been the subject of many posts here because it is an iconic aspect of Worcester, Massachusetts and one of my favorite places to photograph.  The Park was established in the 1800’s as part of a movement to ease the challenges of urban life, much were, and in some ways still are, considerable.  Elm Park was not designed by Olmsted but his firm did work on it later and the landscape still reflects his wonderful perspective.  The Park flows.  There is a natural circle around two large interconnecting ponds for the walker and park bench resident.  The city is everywhere beyond its borders, clearly visible, but you are not in the city if you cling to the ponds, not really.

These ponds always ice up during the winter as the water isn’t moving and they aren’t that big.  This winter was no exception.  What was different was that the Park was almost hostile to visitors with terrifically high snow banks everywhere.  These then started to give way to ice of course as the temperatures warmed.  We made our way back there first perhaps three weeks ago.  You could hardly walk around the side walks that border the Park without taking your life in your own hands, the ice was so slippery.  One week ago, things were better, but not great.  This week, all was good.  The circle path was clear and the ice, was out.  The ponds could resume their rightful place in creating the contemplative mood that the Park’s creators had envisioned.

There were two kinds of parks established during the late 1800’s.  Many parks of course were created for exercise and recreation.  Some, were created for contemplation.  Elm Park fits in that later group.  No ball fields here.  (Central Park in New York is mostly contemplative, but it is so big it could handle both tasks, though they are largely kept separate.)  In my view, water, and the reflections the water creates, are as essential to the contemplative process as is people watching. Our first view of ice out.


As I said, the city is right there, but psychologically distant.



The Myra Kraft Bridge, under construction.


So ice is out in Elm Park, thankfully.  Actually, we shouldn’t complain about the weather around here.  All that snow has left our Reservoirs full.  Folks from California and Brazil probably would not take kindly to complaints about two much moisture.


When Autumn Leaves…..






Elm and Institute Parks, Worcester, Massachusetts, November 2014

Swipes (and a Blue Heron) Across Elm Park

I’m taking some liberties with the term swipe here.  A swipe, as I was taught, involves slowing down the shutter speed of your camera to as slow as perhaps 1/2 second and moving the camera in order to create a kind of moving blur, one that gives a sense of movement.  It helps if you’ve got a colorful landscape scene with which to deal.  I this case, I inadvertently created a swipe when trying to capture the flight of a blue heron across the pond in Elm Park, Worcester, Massachusetts.  You can deal with motion in a number of different ways.  You can use a high shutter speed to freeze the action.  You can also, however, sacrifice sharpness by slowing your shutter speed to the point at which the movement itself is captured.  This gives you an abstract representation of the subject (i.e., sharp, it ain’t).  Enough with the lecture.  Here’s a slide show of what happened when a blue heron, a common site in Elm Park, decided he’d had enough of the nosey photographer.


Portrait of a Hawk – Another Couple in Elm Park

In my last blog I mentioned being provoked to think about the meaning of my work in the context of the on-going reconstruction of Elm Park, in downtown Worcester, Massachusetts.  I had bumped into a couple who had questioned the value, financially and otherwise, of the Park and its reboot.  We bumped into another couple today, quite a different experience.  These two young folks, sitting on one of the benches at the Park were chatting like, well young couples do, and probably enjoying the more moderate temperatures.  We happened to be passing by, pursuing yet another reflection shot, when we were joined by the individual you see here.  He landed not too high up in a tree, perhaps thirty feet from the four of us, and commenced to screaming at the top of his/her lungs.  In case you are not aware, hawks can really let it loose when they have something to say.  I think the young couple was amused or annoyed (their attitudes may have broken down along gender lines, I’m not sure), but I had the sense that they were thinking that it would be OK if I were to act like an annoying photographer and get the hawk to fly away, leaving them to get on with their business.  The ability to be annoying is of course is a key competency in photography, so I hit the shutter.

Hawk, Elm Park, Worcester MA James Hunt copyright 2013

I’m not a wildlife photographer.  I would never want to do anything that required that much work; and the hours?  Forget about it.  But this individual’s stare got under my skin a bit.  My wife and I talked about that look, trying to figure out what it means.  What was the screaming about?  There was another hawk in the area that seemed to be working closely with this one.  Hawks scream for a few different reasons and it is a scream.  It is a basic form of communications.  It may have been part of a conversation with its mate.  There may have been another errant hawk in the area, from another family.  I can anthropomorphize almost anything, so I kept thinking about a comment by the famed wildlife photographer Frans Lanting.  I can’t remember the quote, but in effect, he was making the point that animals in the wild routinely live with the experience of desperation.  They struggle every day with the unceasing need to balance the hunt for food with the loss of energy that is required by the hunt.  If they do too little, they starve.  If they do too much, they run out of energy for the hunt and die.  All that, and they have to raise a family.  It’s a tough way to make a living.  This is an image of a hawk on duty and for me, you can see it in his/her eyes.

The hawk flew off to join its partner about 50 yards away.  The mission of the annoying photographer was accomplished. The couple returned to their chat. Another day in the Park.

Technical note for photographers:  This image was taken with a Nikon D600.  The D600 is Nikon’s cheapest and lightest “full frame” DSLR.  I rarely talk about gear in the blog.  I’m far more interested in technique and art making, and most modern cameras are so good, it really doesn’t matter which one you use.  You should use the equipment you like.  In this case though, I have to make an exception for this camera.  This is a good camera that I don’t think gets the respect it deserves.  This image was heavily cropped.  I was only shooting with a 200 mm lens, which may seem like a very long telephoto lens to some, but it is nothing for birders.  The image was not sharpened in post-production.  The level of detail that can be recovered was, for me, stunning.  The autofocus was spot on.  The bird was nearly in silhouette, against a bright sky, but I was able to recover all the detail in this ISO 400 shot, without generating any noise.  This crop has about 5 megapixels left in it.  I bet I could print it at 13 by 19 and it would look great.  The high quality of the image from the sensor, the accuracy of the autofocus and the light weight form factor lead me to recommend this camera highly. There was a notion going around the net that the sensor was always going to be dusty.  I had no such trouble and the camera store where I bought it, E.P. Levine’s in Waltham, said that dust on the sensor was not a problem.  I have no affiliation with Nikon.

Why We Do What We Do

I was doing some photographic work in Elm Park, in downtown Worcester, Massachusetts earlier this week in spite of the heat.  While in pursuit of a particular shot, a couple walked by, disgruntled apparently, and began to complain about the cost of renovating the Park.  I wasn’t quite sure what I did to deserve that, but the experience gave me pause.  As I’ve described in this blog before, the Park, one of America’s oldest, was getting to be quite shabby.  In spite of my love for the shabby, clearly an update was in order.  Updates do cost money.  Addressing that issue first, as a business school professor, I would also add that a major American city without a nice park downtown is going to take a severe commercial hit.  Parks are good for business, believe it or not.  Elm Park is no exception.  But I understand that money is tight for many people and certainly they’re free to question this particular investment.

I’ve been trying to make the case with images like this one that the Park has a value beyond the commercial.  This common ground, open to everyone who cares to go there, represents an experience that matters.

Elm Park, Worcester MA

At the same time, I’ve been reading a book by Lenswork Editor, Brooks Jenson.  In The Creative Life in Photography, he raises a number of good questions about the connection between art and experience.  As he points out, useful art often asks more questions than it answers.  Why did I choose to present the Park in this way?  Why did I choose to use an infrared camera to capture the image instead of doing a typical color shot?  I think one has to choose a media that somehow captures the experience in question and hopefully communicates it to others, but that process is fraught with ambiguity.  Infrared and more generally monochrome, what we used to call black and white, has a particular strength when it comes to capturing design.  It’s good at capturing shape.  The design of a Park, if you will the lines and shapes of the shore, the bridges, the paths, the trees and the few buildings are laid out in fashion that is visually powerful, regardless of the season.  This is not lost on those who design parks, artists themselves.  None of this is done by accident or on a whim.  Compare this scene to an open flat field.  An open flat field may be relatively inexpensive to create and maintain, indeed.  Those are good places for ball games, to be sure.  Of course, the north end of Elm Park includes a playground, but that’s a bit different from the purely open field.  Most of the Park is laid out for something else.   I believe that purpose is in part to help us collect our thoughts.  In a park such as this you’re in the city and not at the same time.  It is a different world, if only for a brief moment.  Is it worth it?  It is to me.  Of course, your mileage may vary.  Stay cool.