Reflecting on 2014

Winter has finally arrived in southeastern Pennsylvania.  The cold weather coupled with turning the page to a new calendar year caused me to take pause and reflect on the previous twelve months.  That reflection has many dimensions, not the least of which has been embarking upon my journey to explore photography.  And, like all reflections about which I'm honest with myself, I recognize both positive and negative points.

I launched this web site as a vehicle to motivate me to attempt to critically review the images I made.  I surmised if I was going to publish a set of images, I wanted them, at minimum, to be somewhat interesting and draw the viewer to imagine the story behind the image.  As the weeks unfolded through the year, I realized I was becoming more critical and rejecting images I may not have rejected previously.  That was a good development for me, as it also spilled over to what I do when making images.

When making images, I realized early on that I was making a lot more images than I needed to make.  I justified doing so to learn my camera and practice basic technical things.  The only incremental cost was my time.  I didn't consider, though, that to really learn, I needed to be exceedingly more intentional about what I was doing.  I had read and heard the advice many, many times, but didn't internalize it until I stepped back and took stock of what I was doing.  I've concluded I will certainly make fewer images - I've seen that change a bit already - and will think a lot more about the components of the images I make.

I knew when I began this endeavor a bit more than a year ago that I wanted to explore different genres of photography.  My reflection on 2014 did not reveal anything surprising, as the images I most prefer from the year are widely dispersed across genres.  But I can also relate that diversity to my realization that I haven't been very intentional with respect to the images I've made.  I hope adopting the mindset to be more intentional will lead to discovering the genres in which I want to direct my time and energy.

I'm encouraged by the realizations I've had and look forward to the next leg of the journey.  I learned I really do like making images.  That's important, as if I were discouraged or disinterested in taking the next steps, I would undoubtedly abandon the quest and look for something I would find more fulfilling.  I want to discover if I can succeed at it - and need to define what succeed means for me.

The next leg of my journey will impact how I work with my blog and web site.  I'm working to define those changes and will have an update in the near future.  As I consider changes, I'm also reflecting on those of you spending your time to follow my journey and provide feedback.  I very much appreciate that you're there.

For this update, I decided to select a set of images from the many dozens I posted over the past year.  I looked to find those that made some special connection with me, and are, hopefully, interesting images.

I hope to make new discoveries on my journey this year - and that you'll be willing to step on board to join me for the next leg.

Although it wasn't early in a new year, this man at a café in Paris appears to be reflecting upon something, as well.

Although it wasn't early in a new year, this man at a café in Paris appears to be reflecting upon something, as well.

December

December this year was mostly gloomy, with mild weather and quite a bit of rain.  I let the gloominess impact me, as I wasn't really very inspired to make images.  To push myself a bit to get out of the rut, I decided to rent a couple lenses I don't own.  I've found renting to be a great way to try equipment for a small fraction of the purchase price, learning whether or not I like it.

One of my venues was outdoors around our house on one of the many rainy days.  While indoors, I noticed water droplets on several of the plants.  I wondered if I could create anything interesting, so headed out when the rainfall rate eased to see what evolved.  I was glad I made the attempt, as I was pushed to think about the scenes I encounter every day in a different way.

Living as close as I do to Longwood Gardens, it has become a default location for me when I want to get out and use my camera.  The holiday display is installed from Thanksgiving through early in the new year and is always spectacular.  This year, it seems a bit understated to me with its theme of birds, but many elements did not disappoint.  Its variety of expansive spaces and opportunities for close-ups make an ideal location to try equipment on gloomy days.

A rainy December day helped create inspiration to make images.

A rainy December day helped create inspiration to make images.

Graffiti Underground

From my earliest memories, I've liked the intrigue of large cities.  With my parents and siblings, we would make excursions from our home in southern Wisconsin to Chicago to visit some of its wonderful museums.  Each time, I remember noticing the seemingly endless buildings as we approached our destination.  I wondered what so many people in one area could be doing, and was fascinated by what I didn't know or understand.  Since then, I have chosen to live away from dense, urban areas, but usually have been within a reasonable driving distance.  For more than a couple decades, Philadelphia has been a short drive from where I live.

The city has a rich history in the United States.  It was founded in the late 1600's by William Penn.  It was the meeting place for the men who founded the country, and the city in which the Declaration of Independence was signed.  Historical sites are numerous.  The significance of the arts led to an alternate name of a major city street to Avenue of the Arts.  Philadelphia is the home of several professional sports teams.  The food and restaurant scene is vibrant.

I was introduced to a fascinating part of the city through an excursion with a photography group I recently joined.  The site juts into the Delaware River, and has the concrete structure on which railcars loaded coal to water-going vessels.  It's been abandoned for decades, and evolved to a site at which graffiti artists practice their art.  It's become known as Graffiti Underground.  I visited before dawn.  The soft, early morning light created interesting shadows.  Having never previously been to a place like it, I found it to be fascinating.  The art is unusual.  Interesting scenes came from the shapes and forms of the railroad structure.  It was quiet and peaceful.  It's in a fairly desolate location, so I was surprised when a young woman carrying a skateboard arrived about dawn.  I enjoyed the exploration and know I'll return some day.

A fabulous painting in the Graffiti Underground looks over the Ben Franklin Bridge that links Philadelphia to Camden, New Jersey.

A fabulous painting in the Graffiti Underground looks over the Ben Franklin Bridge that links Philadelphia to Camden, New Jersey.

The National Mall

It had been a few years since my last visit to Washington, D. C.  I was pleased my parents wanted to go there on a sightseeing tour when they visited recently.  I knew I'd find it challenging to attempt to make interesting images of the many iconic landmarks.

The Washington Monument is visible from most places around the National Mall.  I found it particularly challenging, trying to figure out ways to make images of it that are interesting, but also avoid having it included in every image.  It offers a great benefit, as well.  A trip to near the top of the obelisk provided great views of the city, with miles of visibility on the very clear day.

During previous visits, I hadn't walked around the Tidal Basin to visit memorials honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Thomas Jefferson.  The MLK memorial represents passages from his "I Have a Dream" speech.  The FDR memorial is a sprawling space and honors the events that occurred during the Roosevelt administration.

The war memorials always cause me to take pause with their reminder of the sacrifices made by so many.  The grand scale of the National World War II Memorial is fitting for the scale of the conflict.  The ghost-like statues of soldiers in the Korean Veterans War Memorial starkly make the reminder of sacrifice.  And, from the time of my first visit, I have always found the Vietnam Veterans Memorial to be extremely moving.

This visit reinforced something I've long known.  While the monuments and memorials are a spectacular aspect of Washington, D. C., they would have no purpose without the people visiting them.  Trying to make images that captured the spirit of the National Mall caused me to notice a shift I've made in my photography, as I was drawn to scenes with people in them.  I appreciated the time there, and look forward to returning.

The Washington Monument is ever-present when visiting the National Mall in Washington, D. C.

The Washington Monument is ever-present when visiting the National Mall in Washington, D. C.

Thanksgiving

 

Thanksgiving...  The word itself has so many meanings, whether literal or those conjured up from experiences.  I remind myself that it's a holiday with a long history, dedicated to a show of gratitude for the bountiful harvest.  It dates back to the late 1700's, and was made a national holiday in the United States in the mid-1800's.  With the large stack of advertisements that arrived with today's newspaper, the commercial side of the holiday seems to overtake its intent.  Despite that, it's definitely a time when people in the U.S. travel to spend time with friends and family to give thanks.

That aspect of the holiday was my inspiration for today's set of images.  Virtually all of our family members live quite a distance from where we live, so travel is required for us to visit one another.  It changes the dynamic of our interactions.  Unlike when I was growing up, we don't just drop in for visits or make a call to meet to do something together as was the case with my grandparents, aunts, and uncles.  We're less in touch with the trivial details of day to day life, so we need to establish a rhythm to interact with each other when we're guests or hosts, which can be challenging.  In the moment, establishing that rhythm can seem extremely daunting, but in the larger scheme of things it's pretty trivial.

One of the many benefits of retirement is having time to be able to do things that were more difficult while I was working.  We've had the opportunity to visit and host family members on many more occasions than while we were working.  I selected a set of images of my family, made last year during our visit for Thanksgiving to my sister's home in Minnesota.  A few, including the image with this post, are snapshots - quick images I make to remember details.  The others present the members of the families attending - my sister's and mine.  I'm very grateful that everyone is healthy and active, and that I have opportunities to spend time with them.

Happy Thanksgiving!!

The kitschy table favors at our family gathering in 2013 were enjoyed by all!!

The kitschy table favors at our family gathering in 2013 were enjoyed by all!!

More Minneapolis

One of the things I've really grown to like is trying to capture images of people doing ordinary things.  It continues to be challenging to me, as I continue to feel as though I'm being intrusive.  I guess I need to just get over it, as I've observed and written previously that most people don't mind at all having a picture made of them.  Nonetheless, I'm usually apprehensive.  I really admire other photographers skilled at making such images, and love looking at their work.  I've also come to appreciate how much practice is required to make images that are interesting to look at using ordinary scenes.  As has been the case on many other occasions when I've been out with my camera, I've made a lot of images that just aren't very good or interesting.

Bright sunshine can present difficulty in making images.  Colors often wash out.  Subjects squint.  Reflections are stark.  Despite that, there are some wonderful qualities.  Shadows are prominent.  Making silhouettes is simplified.  It's possible to find places where colors are not washed out.  It's great to work on the challenge and see what happens!

A red wall in front of the Guthrie Theater provided a great backdrop to make an image of a woman passing by.

A red wall in front of the Guthrie Theater provided a great backdrop to make an image of a woman passing by.

Minneapolis

The Upper Midwest of the US in autumn is beautiful.  I have great memories of my growing up years in Wisconsin, and many family members now live in Minnesota.  My brother-in-law is a Minnesota native and enjoys photography, as well.  I asked him if he'd be interested in participating in a weekend street photography workshop with Valérie Jardin, the leader of the workshops I joined in France.  I was thrilled when he agreed, and we were set to spend a couple of days making images in Minneapolis.

The weather during the October weekend was beautiful.  We visited many locations perfectly suited to making interesting images.  I hadn't spent time in the city in many years, so really appreciated getting to see what it's like now.  The arts provided great venues, with the scenes from within the Guthrie Theater and the grounds of the Walker Art Center creating opportunities for potentially interesting images.  The walk along the Mississippi to the Mill City Ruins and the farmers market presented more possibilities.  And, although I don't live in Minneapolis, the experience reminded me to seek out and take advantage of what's nearby.  I look forward to doing so around home!

A young woman, participating in the "Feminists Lumberjack Party" at the Walker Art Center, was happy for me to take her picture.

A young woman, participating in the "Feminists Lumberjack Party" at the Walker Art Center, was happy for me to take her picture.

Wrapping up France

During the nearly ten months since I launched this site, I've primarily shared images from the time I spent in France just over a year ago.  Today's post includes an eclectic set of images, the last set I'm posting from that time.  As my journey continues, I look forward to returning to the beautiful and memorable places I visited in France.

The silhouette of Charles de Gaulle reminds me of the great weeks spent in France.

The silhouette of Charles de Gaulle reminds me of the great weeks spent in France.

Revisiting Mont St-Michel

My visit last year to Mont St-Michel presented an amazing set of experiences.  The Mont itself is quite physically isolated.  There are only a few motor vehicles, so sounds were predominantly those of the natural world - wind, water, people talking or going about their work.  The structures are visually stunning.  Built on a promontory rock, very few of the structures follow traditional horizontal and vertical lines.  Staircases are everywhere.

The day we arrived was very overcast, presenting both challenges and opportunities for making images.  Cloud patterns were dramatic.  The weather cleared the following day, with a brilliant sky and colors popping.  With the wildly varied subject matter and changing weather, I ended up making a odd collection of images.  Interesting textures were in many places.  Views from high on the Mont allowed me to capture its isolation.  Architectural elements highlight the uniqueness of the location.  Other than being on or around the Mont, my images didn't come together as a cohesive set.  The experience will impact me as I move further on my journey.

The view of the approach to Mont St-Michel in stormy weather is stunning.

The view of the approach to Mont St-Michel in stormy weather is stunning.

Along the Seine

The Seine fits perfectly into its Parisian environs, taking a serpentine path through the city.  Many iconic landmarks are on its banks or within a very short walking distance from the river.  Walking paths near river level line many sections, with some wide enough to include cafés, recreation areas, and places to rest.  Boats and barges for freight, transportation, sightseeing, and dining travel its waters.  Other boats serve as permanent floating residences.

When I reviewed the images I made on and around the Seine, I was struck by the inconsistency in the subjects of my images.  I was fascinated by the love locks on several bridges, a practice by which people declare their love for one another by hanging a lock on a bridge and throwing the key into the water, symbolizing it will be everlasting.  I wondered about the symbolism of people using combination locks!  The bridges interested me, especially when learning the age of some of them.  Pont Neuf is remarkable at over four hundred years old.  Gardens occupied some parts of the banks.  Recreation areas included massive slate walls where people scribbled messages and created beautiful drawings with chalk, all to be washed away by rain or another scribbler or artist with a sponge.  An installation of PHOTOQUAI presented spectacular large images by emerging photographers from around the world.  Students in art classes focused on the wide variety of subjects at their disposal for drawing and painting.  Walking along its banks and traveling by boat were wonderful ways to see another dimension of the beautiful city.

Sightseers cruise the Seine.

Sightseers cruise the Seine.

The Italian Market

There are many good things about living in the area in which I do.  One of them is the proximity to so many intriguing places, places that offer history, art, music, culture, and many other dimensions.  Philadelphia is a short drive, less than forty miles (about sixty-four kilometers).  It's obviously well-known for its history, but also has a very rich cultural heritage.  The Italian Market represents a significant dimension of that heritage, as the largest and oldest continuously operating outdoor market in the United States.

The market dates back to the mid-1880's, when businesses were established to serve a growing community of Italian immigrants.  It stretches about eight blocks, with one side of the street predominantly housing food stalls - fish, meat, fruit, vegetables - and cheese, charcuterie, bakeries, restaurants, and a variety of shops on the other.  The two merge, at times, like when a shop selling record albums uses perfectly sized produce containers to display is offerings.  Pat's and Geno's, the best-known Philadelphia cheesesteak purveyors, operate across the street from one another at one end of the Market.  The Market's other end is just a few blocks away from South Street, a vibrant section of the city with many shops, bars, and restaurants.  While the Market was established to serve the community of Italian immigrants, it has diversified over the years and serves immigrant communities from other parts of the world, including Mexico, Korea, and Viet Nam.  The City of Philadelphia's Mural Arts Program is represented in various places in the market, the largest of which is a mural of notable former mayor Frank Rizzo.  Another features "Sounds of Philadelphia", honoring musical artists from years back, including Fabian, Bobby Rydell, Frankie Avalon, Chuck Berry, Eddie Fisher, Al Martino, and Jerry Blavat (a DJ known for his Doo Wop shows who is still active today).

I visited the Italian Market on a bright Saturday.  Until that day, I hadn't ventured out much through this year to make images due to my recovery from Achilles tendon reconstruction I underwent earlier in the year.  I found myself experiencing some of the reluctance I felt when I initially was making photographs along the streets in France last year.  Like then, that feeling dissipated after a few big smiles and thank yous from the people who were generous enough to allow me to make images of them.

There's always activity surrounding the many vendors at Philadelphia's Italian Market.

There's always activity surrounding the many vendors at Philadelphia's Italian Market.

Montmartre

Montmartre is the highest point in Paris and the site of the Basilica Sacré-Cœur.  It's also an area in which many artists lived and worked, including Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Pablo Picasso, and Amedeo Modigliani.  Today, artists abound on Place du Tetre, a vibrant area with cafés and shops.  Residential housing climbs up various sections of Montmartre.  The view of the city is stunning.

 The day we visited was overcast, windy, and rainy.  I was battling an injury to my Achilles tendon,  so didn't experience the ascent on foot to Montmartre and the Basilica, about three hundred steps from the lowest point.  The Basilica Sacré-Cœur is relatively young by French standards, completed in 1914 and consecrated in 1919.  It's an imposing structure and with architecture that's very unique among cathedrals in France.  Photography is prohibited within the Basilica, understandable for a place of worship but regrettable as the interior is very beautiful.

The day presented many challenges for making images.  I was prepared for rain, but having done little photography in the rain, I had much to learn about keeping my camera dry, pointing it at a scene, and making an image that might be interesting to look at or tell a story.  When reflecting on the day, the weather made it feel very monochromatic, so I ended up making most of the images black and white.  There were, however, times when color presented itself vibrantly or in more subtle ways, even now eliciting a smile when I view the images and think of  the things surrounding the scene.  The portrait artists were fascinating to watch and faced many of the same challenges as I.

Even with the wind and rain, there was such energy among the people around Montmartre.  Like so many other places, I look forward to visiting again.

An artist at Place du Tetre drawing a portrait of a visitor.

An artist at Place du Tetre drawing a portrait of a visitor.

Further Along the Street

As time progressed, I began to really enjoy trying to find scenes that include people who look interesting.  Some times, it's the determination they showed as they walk.  Others, it is the engagement shown between individuals.  Now and then, I encounter a scene in which there are people, but other details draw my attention.

I'm finding I like viewing certain scenes in black and white.  I think it's encouraging me to think of the story of the scene rather than focusing on its colors.

A couple ambles along the cobblestones at Mont St-Michel.

A couple ambles along the cobblestones at Mont St-Michel.

Scenes from Bayeux

Bayeux is a picturesque town in northwest France, situated about four miles (seven kilometers) from the English Channel.  During our visit, we stayed in a beautiful hotel, Château de Bellefontaine, situated very near the town center.  It was a perfect location from which to walk to the town as well as venture out for a day trip to World War II sites.  Bayeux suffered very little damage during World War II, so much of its architecture is many hundreds of years old.  Its beautiful Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Bayeux dates to the fifteenth century, four hundred years after its consecration, having been rebuilt at that time after suffering damage in the twelfth century.  Bayeux is the home of the Bayeux Tapestry, a remarkable artwork measuring about 230 feet (about 70 meters).  The Tapestry is an embroidered cloth that tells the story of the Norman conquest of England.  It's magnificent, and is on display in a museum in the town.

The day we spent the most time in the town was somewhat overcast, a fortunate circumstance to capture the vibrance of scenes dotted with flower boxes, displays in front of places of business, and the interesting architecture.  After making an image of the Cathédrale, I reminded myself that using a lens set at a bit of a wide angle on a large structure from a close distance makes the structure look terribly distorted and strange.  There weren't a lot of people out and about, but some of those who were  generously allowed me to photograph them.  It was a typical day for me, attempting to capture the scene I was viewing and its interesting aspects to share with others.  As I review the mixed results, I'm remind myself that my pursuit of photography is a journey, one on which I'm very happy to be even with its ups and downs.

A corner café and market with window boxes adorned with brightly colored flowers was typical of scenes in Bayeux.

A corner café and market with window boxes adorned with brightly colored flowers was typical of scenes in Bayeux.

Around the Louvre

When visiting a place as famous, enormous, and iconic as the Louvre, I had a difficult time determining what to photograph.  Its pyramids are instantly recognizable.  People fill the courtyards.  Fountains add dimensions of sight and sound.  I found I was drawn to the architecture, with stone edifices punctuated with ornate carving and statuary.  The arched passageways not only provided the way in and out, but also framed views of people and buildings.  Occasionally, a view from the interior would catch part of the Louvre's architecture and present a scenic view of the city.  It's an amazing, beautiful place.  I look forward to returning to continue my exploration.

The wildflower garden near one of the entrances to the Louvre presented a pleasing palette of colors.

The wildflower garden near one of the entrances to the Louvre presented a pleasing palette of colors.

More Details

I know it's obvious, but walking around with a camera presents many opportunities to make images in order to record what I've seen.  When doing so over the years, I've created thousands of images, most of which I don't view very often.  I've found that when I look deeper into the scene to try to find its details - the things that makes the scene special - not only do I usually capture an image that's more interesting to look at, but when I do look at it I remember the many other aspects of the scene.  I also hope it's more interesting to others viewing the images.  Although they may not have been with me when the image was created, they can conjure up their own story to accompany the scene the image presents.

The fence along the beach in Deauville, France has many intriguing details that conjure up my memories of the day.  I wish I had changed my angle so the pole wasn't visible, and to have waited until the woman wasn't peeking over the fence!  My learning continues...

The fence along the beach in Deauville, France has many intriguing details that conjure up my memories of the day.  I wish I had changed my angle so the pole wasn't visible, and to have waited until the woman wasn't peeking over the fence!  My learning continues...

Markets

So much has changed in the way fresh food is provided to consumers in the U.S.  Global supply chains provide fresh food year round, regardless of whether or not it's the appropriate growing time in the locale in which the food is sold.  Efforts are underway to encourage people to not only buy fresh food, but to buy local food.  Seasonal farmers markets can be found most places.

In the parts of France I visited, the scene was somewhat different.  Although I found supermarkets selling a breadth of products, they weren't very large - definitely not the "mega" stores we have in the U.S. that sell everything from lettuce to automobile tires.  Most interesting and inviting to me, however, were the small, local markets - the bakeries; butcher, vegetable, cheese, wine, and other shops; markets set up along the streets on certain weekdays.  I was captivated by not only the variety and freshness of the offerings, but also the displays and the pride of the vendors.

The Raspail Market (le marché Raspail) is several blocks long and open Tuesdays, Fridays, and Sundays, with organic products offered Sundays.  The day of my visit, I chose to primarily photograph the fruits, vegetables, seafood, and such.  It was a sensory adventure.  The products looked and smelled delicious.  The displays were beautiful.  I didn't have access to cooking facilities during my visit, so only purchased a few things I could enjoy in my hotel.  I look forward to returning some day when I'll be able to take advantage of the bounty of the markets.

The roasted chicken with potatoes and other vegetables looked and smelled amazing.

The roasted chicken with potatoes and other vegetables looked and smelled amazing.

Shakespeare and Company

There's a fascinating bookstore in the Latin Quarter of Paris, Shakespeare and Company.  It has a long, interesting history.

Sylvia Beach founded the original Shakespeare and Company in 1919, a lending library and bookstore, beginning in a small location then moving to larger space in 1922.  It was a place at which writers gathered, including Ernest Hemingway, Ezra Pound, F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Joyce, Man Ray, and others, and was famously mentioned in Hemingway's A Moveable Feast.  Beach was noted for making controversial books available, such as Lady Chatterly's Lover, and publishing James Joyce's Ulysses, both banned in the United States and Britain.  The original bookstore closed in mid-1940 during the German occupation of Paris and did not reopen.

Fast forward eleven years to 1951, when George Whitman, an American living in Paris, was encouraged by a friend to open a bookstore.  He founded Le Mistral on rue de la Bûcherie, a small apartment across the Seine from Notre Dame de Paris, the front of which he converted to his bookstore.  He changed the name to Shakespeare and Company in 1964, having been inspired by his encounters with Sylvia Beach and in honor of the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare's birth.  Beach died that year.  Inspiration from Beach along with Whitman's personal travels led him to create a place that welcomes writers and artists, often inviting them into his home.  Among the many of Whitman's era are Henry Miller, Anäis Nin, Lawrence Durrell, and Allen Ginsburg.  He lived in his apartment above the bookstore until his death in 2011.  His daughter, Sylvia Beach Whitman (obviously named in honor of Sylvia Beach!) assumed responsibility for Shakespeare and Company in 2004 and continues to operate it today.

Not only is it a destination for writers and artists, Shakespeare and Company is a destination for visitors to Paris.  It's a fairly small, multi-story space, with virtually every spot crammed with books.  They request that no photos are taken inside of the store, so it was challenging to capture the essence of the place from the exterior.  Benches and tables outside of the store serve as places for reading, reflection, or meeting.  Visitors gaze at the storefront, often awestruck at what they're seeing.  New and old books line the windows, and occasionally cases with books for sale are moved to the sidewalk.  It's the kind of place at which I could spend hours - even days - poring through the stacks.  I captured a small set of images that conjure up the memories I have and make me look forward to returning.  With the quotation displayed in the store, "Be not inhospitable to strangers lest they be angels in disguise," I know I'll be welcome!

The facade of Shakespeare and Company invites people to explore the thousands of books inside.

The facade of Shakespeare and Company invites people to explore the thousands of books inside.

Experimenting with Close-ups

In addition to photography, one of the things I've more actively pursued since retiring from my day job is horticulture.  My interest goes back many years, but other than taking classes here and there, I'd never really done much with it.  I mentioned previously that I live near Longwood Gardens, a spectacular display garden in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania.  The property encompasses nearly eleven hundred acres (about four hundred forty-five hectares), includes a large conservatory, myriad water displays, a recently opened natural meadow, and a variety of gardens throughout.  Among the gardens are a long, narrow flower garden walk; a natural woods with predominantly native plants; a topiary garden; a rose garden; and an Idea Garden which contains separate, large gardens for herbs, plant trials, vegetables, annuals (both herbaceous and flowering plants), children's exploration, and perennials.  Longwood employs a couple hundred full-time gardeners and other supporting staff, another few hundred part-time / seasonal staff, and creates opportunities for nearly eight hundred volunteers.

I signed on as a volunteer in 2013 and received an assignment in the area of the Idea Garden dedicated to perennials.  My four hours per week of work is guided by the terrific gardener with whom I work, and includes whatever needs to be done.  I pull and dig weeds, deadhead plants after the bloom is complete, plant new items when needed, and cut back plants at appropriate times.  Part of my work time occurs before the Garden opens to guests, and I quickly learned that once guests arrive, questions abound.  Therein lies the connection to my interest in horticulture - and confirmation of how much I have to learn!  Early during my tenure, I was fortunate to usually be working with a Longwood employee whose knowledge was extensive, so could engage him or her to respond to the guests' questions.  This year, the staff is more spread out, so I'm less frequently around Longwood employees when guests are around.  So, learning more about what I'm dealing with has been valuable, as I'm now often able to respond to the questions I receive during my time working.  I still have to rely on the employee gardeners from time to time, but can see I'm making progress.  I also thoroughly enjoy watching the evolution of the garden through the growing season, and anticipate the flushes of color and texture that will appear in a few weeks.

One of the benefits available to me as a volunteer is access to the Gardens in the early hours of the morning, a time when the quality of light is typically good for making photographs.  I've been able to marry two things I love - making photographs and horticulture.  Recently, I set out to try to capture the beauty of the garden in which I work.  I made some images of the garden containing many plants, showing off the colors, textures, and sizes.  I also experimented with close-up shots of plants in the garden.  During my initial experimentation visit, I made images holding my camera, something that ended up being fairly challenging, as the light was pretty low.  I had a lot of fuzzy images.  I returned a few days later with a tripod - no surprise, a great aid to get images in focus.  I also experimented with different lenses to see if the effects were different.  A few results were good, some were okay, and a lot were just not good at all.  I look forward to continuing my experiments.

The beautiful flowers and interesting buds of the small Stokes-Aster ( Stokesia laevis  'Blue Danube') create a pleasant scene.

The beautiful flowers and interesting buds of the small Stokes-Aster (Stokesia laevis 'Blue Danube') create a pleasant scene.

The Eiffel Tower

Ah, La Tour Eiffel, the ubiquitous image of Paris.  When I saw it in the distance en route from the airport to the train station during my first visit to the city, it confirmed I was really there.  My visit to the Tower site would not occur for many days, but its view was indelibly etched in my mind.

The Tower is visible from much of Paris, not surprising for a structure that's nearly 1,000 feet (300 meters) tall in a city with topography that's relatively flat.  Occasionally, the view is obstructed by buildings or trees, but one is never more than a few blocks away from a view of the Tower.

On the site, I was most intrigued by the architecture and engineering of the structure itself, especially since it was constructed over 125 years ago.  Details were fascinating, at times amusing, and other times odd.  From a distance, the scrolls on the arches aren't readily visible.  The conductor mannequin on one of the lifts was pretty funny.  And, while honoring Gustav Eiffel, the engineer for whom the Tower is named, the bright gold bust near one of the base pedestals is a bit odd.  I was disappointed renovation and construction were underway during my visit to the Tower.  Perhaps regrettably, I'd become a bit accustomed to the condition, as construction and / or renovation were underway at many of the places I visited while in France.  It ended up being a minor distraction, as given the enormity of the structure scaffolding here and there ended up not being an issue.

When making images, one of our challenges was to "think outside the postcard", something fairly challenging at a place so well known.  So, I tended to focus on details and different perspectives.  I couldn't help myself, though, and had to grab at least one "postcard" image of the Tower.  It's a spectacular site.

There are many different ways to view the stunning beauty of the Eiffel Tower.

There are many different ways to view the stunning beauty of the Eiffel Tower.