{profile} through the glass

Naomi Vanderkindren makes photographs that are a fascinating combination of the past and the present.

She uses a unique adaptation of the dry plate photographic process that was developed in the late 19th century to infuse her pictures of abandoned buildings and old mining towns with an added layer of memory.

Making a photograph with a dry plate process involves coating glass with a light-sensitive emulsion, and then printing from the “negative” that forms on the glass after it has been exposed to light. One of the characteristics that distinguishes Vanderkindren’s work is that she uses glass that has been salvaged from windows and other sources, so that the artifacts that show up in the final print carry the history of the glass itself, as well as the history that is being recorded in the scene.

The photographs that she exhibited at an open house on Sunday at the Headlands were made from negatives that she captured on a four-week trip along Route 50 from California to Colorado. She brought along about 600 glass plates that she stowed in boxes that she built herself for the purpose. She used a 4×5 camera to make the exposures.

There’s both irony and poignancy in the results. The large and beautifully toned gelatin prints look like they might have been taken at the time the buildings were new; the lush black and white photos are beautifully, and uniquely, flawed. The vignetting and spotting comes not from shortcomings in the lens or from from photoshop tricks, but rather from variations in the glass plates themselves. The glass has already had a life of its own, and applying the emulsion by hand results in interestingly uneven coverage. The resulting prints are one-of-a-kind, incapable of being repeated.

Vanderkindren, a graduate of Stanford who had a recent fellowship at the at the Headlands Center for the Arts, says she regards her photographs “as autobiographical fictions: Interpretations of the world that stem from and contribute to distortions of memory.”

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why coyotes laugh at you

We headed up to Mount Diablo on Friday evening, part of an ongoing search for the perfect oak tree. (And there are some beautiful examples up there.) But we were sidetracked by a glorious sunset and the presence of a couple of coyotes, one of which was kind enough to strike a pose while silhouetted by the setting sun.

Native American legends say the coyote is a trickster, often causing trouble for the sheer malicious fun of it. Kinder interpretations say that the coyote’s mischief is meant to make you laugh at yourself, and thus you acquire wisdom in the process.

Flickr pal Diane Dobson sent along something from Mark Twain on the topic, from his short story, “The Mysterious Stranger.” In the story, she says, young Satan (the older Satan’s earnest angel nephew) says to the main “human” character:

“The ten thousand high-grade comicalities which exist in
the world are sealed from [your] dull vision. Will a day
come when the race will detect the funniness of these
juvenilities and laugh at them? For your race (human), in
its poverty, has unquestionably one really effective weapon
—- laughter. Power, money, persuasion, supplication,
persecution —these can lift at a colossal humbug — push
it a little — weaken it a little, century by century; but
only laughter can blow it to rags and atoms at a blast.
Against the assault of laughter, nothing can stand.”

So, the next time your out and about and come across a coyote, have a laugh. At yourself and the world.

Oh, and if you have your camera with you, it’d help to have a long lens, too. For this shot, I was using a moderately long, but fast, Canon 135mm 2.0. It’s a fine fixed-length lens with beautiful color rendition. It doesn’t have the reach of the more popular 70-200mm zoom, but there are ways of making it longer. You can maintain all the autofocus and exposure controls with either the Canon 1.4x extender, or you can double your reach with the 2x extender. (You pay a price for the reach, though: The 2x reduces light by 2 stops. But with the 135mm 2.0, you’ll still have a pretty fast 4.0 maximum aperture available with the 2x extender attached.)

I wanted to maintain detail in the sunset, so I took a reading off the sky, then lowered the exposure a couple of stops. That let the light in the photo look very natural, and it put the coyote in silhouette.

why coyotes laugh at you

We headed up to Mount Diablo on Friday evening, part of an ongoing search for the perfect oak tree. (And there are some beautiful examples up there.) But we were sidetracked by a glorious sunset and the presence of a couple of coyotes, one of which was kind enough to strike a pose while silhouetted by the setting sun.

Native American legends say the coyote is a trickster, often causing trouble for the sheer malicious fun of it. Kinder interpretations say that the coyote’s mischief is meant to make you laugh at yourself, and thus you acquire wisdom in the process.

Flickr pal Diane Dobson sent along something from Mark Twain on the topic, from his short story, “The Mysterious Stranger.” In the story, she says, young Satan (the older Satan’s earnest angel nephew) says to the main “human” character:

“The ten thousand high-grade comicalities which exist in
the world are sealed from [your] dull vision. Will a day
come when the race will detect the funniness of these
juvenilities and laugh at them? For your race (human), in
its poverty, has unquestionably one really effective weapon
—- laughter. Power, money, persuasion, supplication,
persecution —these can lift at a colossal humbug — push
it a little — weaken it a little, century by century; but
only laughter can blow it to rags and atoms at a blast.
Against the assault of laughter, nothing can stand.”

So, the next time your out and about and come across a coyote, have a laugh. At yourself and the world.

Oh, and if you have your camera with you, it’d help to have a long lens, too. For this shot, I was using a moderately long, but fast, Canon 135mm 2.0. It’s a fine fixed-length lens with beautiful color rendition. It doesn’t have the reach of the more popular 70-200mm zoom, but there are ways of making it longer. You can maintain all the autofocus and exposure controls with either the Canon 1.4x extender, or you can double your reach with the 2x extender. (You pay a price for the reach, though: The 2x reduces light by 2 stops. But with the 135mm 2.0, you’ll still have a pretty fast 4.0 maximum aperture available with the 2x extender attached.)

I wanted to maintain detail in the sunset, so I took a reading off the sky, then lowered the exposure a couple of stops. That let the light in the photo look very natural, and it put the coyote in silhouette.

Did you know that the botanic community is split on the issue of butterflies? We didn’t either, until we visited the UC Berkeley Botanical Gardens on a field trip.

We were there for a screening of a documentary about the life cycle of butterflies called “In the Company of Wild Butterflies.” The film was presented by Sally Levinson, a docent for the gardens who’s also known as “The Caterpillar Lady.”

Different kinds of butterflies need specific kinds of chemicals to survive, and they find them in specific kinds of plants. Swallowtail butterflies , for example, thrive on yampah. But there isn’t much yampah around anymore, because marshes have been drained and houses have been built and development has wiped out its natural habitat.

The swallowtail found a replacement for yampah in fennel, but therein lies the problem. Fennel is a non-native, invasive weed, the kind of plant botanists are not at all fond of. So while the butterfly people would love it if you let that fennel stay in your garden, the botanists know that it threatens native plants.

What to do? Andy Liu, a landscape engineer who also volunteers at the botanic gardens, says that you can control fennel without eliminating it entirely. You just have to make sure that it doesn’t spread. So if you’d like more butterflies in your garden, let a few weeds join the party.

Bring your macro lens with you. And go for details; zoom in on a little piece of the action for more drama.

Did you know that the botanic community is split on the issue of butterflies? We didn’t either, until we visited the UC Berkeley Botanical Gardens on a field trip.

We were there for a screening of a documentary about the life cycle of butterflies called “In the Company of Wild Butterflies.” The film was presented by Sally Levinson, a docent for the gardens who’s also known as “The Caterpillar Lady.”

Different kinds of butterflies need specific kinds of chemicals to survive, and they find them in specific kinds of plants. Swallowtail butterflies , for example, thrive on yampah. But there isn’t much yampah around anymore, because marshes have been drained and houses have been built and development has wiped out its natural habitat.

The swallowtail found a replacement for yampah in fennel, but therein lies the problem. Fennel is a non-native, invasive weed, the kind of plant botanists are not at all fond of. So while the butterfly people would love it if you let that fennel stay in your garden, the botanists know that it threatens native plants.

What to do? Andy Liu, a landscape engineer who also volunteers at the botanic gardens, says that you can control fennel without eliminating it entirely. You just have to make sure that it doesn’t spread. So if you’d like more butterflies in your garden, let a few weeds join the party.

Bring your macro lens with you. And go for details; zoom in on a little piece of the action for more drama.