Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Ultra violet

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the adoption of the violet as the state flower of Illinois. In 1907, schoolchildren across the state cast their votes among a list of native flowers. The violet beat the second place flower, the wild rose, by 3,855 votes. The state legislature made it official the following year.

The violet also performs state flower duty in Wisconsin, Rhode Island and New Jersey.

While the blue violet is the officially designated flower, Illinois is also home to more than 30 other species of violet, including this white/purple/yellow fellah I shot in my backyard.

Now you know.

Click on picture to enlarge. Photograph © 2008 James Jordan.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

At night

Here in the Chicago suburbs, we don’t often get to see night as it really is. Street lights, house lights, and other decorative lighting produce a pinkish glow of ambient light all night long.

Our youngest daughter was in high school before she saw what night was really like. Our family was driving home from rural Wisconsin one evening. We traveled a road with no lights, save the headlights from our car. A black sky thick with stars followed us as we headed south toward suburbia.

“Look at all the stars!” she said.

“That’s what the sky looks like when you get away from the city lights,” I replied. “You see more stuff.”

I grew up in a small town where I saw more stuff in the night sky. As a young boy, I would sit outside at night, look up at the stars, and dream. About giant balls of burning gases that appeared as bright pinpoints. About the pictures and stories that my ancestors saw in those points of light. About where I would be in 20, 30, 50 years.

I now live in a place where I can only view a handful of stars that outshine the ambient pinkness of the night sky. I occasionally escape to places where the full intensity of the night can envelop me and I become a small boy all over again.

In between those times, I take in the ambient lights below.

Photo: Outlet mall tulip display, Huntley, Illinois. Click on picture to enlarge. Photograph © 2008 James Jordan.

Monday, April 28, 2008

For a Monday: It could be worse …

… you could have feet that look like this.

Have a good one.

Photo: Goose feet. Click on picture to enlarge. Photograph © 2008 James Jordan.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Rollin' off

It's the weekend. Gonna let my troubles roll of me like water off a duck's back.

Have a good one.

Click on picture to enlarge. Photograph © 2008 James Jordan.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The gathering

This photograph was taken from just off a service road between a suburban strip mall and a medical services building. What you can't see is the busy highway and shopping center just beyond the reeds. I shot from a low angle to hide them.

The soundtrack for this shot was the call of the red-winged blackbirds flittering among the reeds and the drone of traffic just beyond them. Behind me, bicyclists pedaled past this scene, traveling on a concrete sidewalk that passed by a Holiday Inn and a restaurant.

Suburbia has created these mini-ecosystems, small places where what's left of displaced species can gather for yet another day. The suburbs are filled with these little islands of nature surrounded by a sea of commerce. They can be found along roadways, near parking lots and in other places otherwise deemed unsuitable for building.

The dark clouds and setting sun speak a warning to other open areas that lay on the edges of the suburban sprawl. Your time is coming.

Click on picture to enlarge. Photograph © 2008 James Jordan.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Ethereal storm

Ducks on the Fox River in St. Charles, Illinois. I framed the ducks high in the frame to catch the reflections in the water. It wasn’t until later while at the computer, that I noticed the intensity of the clouds in the reflection. I turned the photo upside down to see what would happen and was struck by the surrealism of the image.

So I kept it that way.

Click on picture to enlarge. Photograph © 2008 James Jordan.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Happy Earth Day to you

If everyone on earth jumped up in the air at the same exact moment, would the planet be knocked out of its orbit? If half a billion people threw away one plastic beverage bottle today, what would happen? While the first question is entirely theoretical, the second one is a daily reality. While each of us consumes and disposes without suffering much in the way of consequences, what is the cumulative effect of all our actions? Does it even make a difference?

Chris Jordan (no relation) is a photographer in Seattle who has taken on the mantle of exposing the breadth and depth of America’s consumerism. In his series entitled Running the Numbers, Chris created massive photographic murals to illuminate the scale of our country’s consumption. One million plastic cups are arranged to illustrate the number of such items used on commercial airline flights every six hours. Thirty thousand reams of office paper are stacked to show what is used every fifteen minutes. From Chris Jordan’s artist statement:

The pervasiveness of our consumerism holds a seductive kind of mob mentality. Collectively we are committing a vast and unsustainable act of taking, but we each are anonymous and no one is in charge or accountable for the consequences. I fear that in this process we are doing irreparable harm to our planet and to our individual spirits.

Whether you agree with Chris' sentiment or not, his work does impress by its sheer size. And it provides food for thought.

Chris Jordan's Web site and gallery.

Click on picture to enlarge. Photograph © 2008 James Jordan.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Moon shadow

A little PhotoShop work combined two photos into the composite, above. Moon shadow just seemed like an appropriate title. Of course, I’ve had that song stuck in my head since I posted this.

I stumbled onto a forum that discussed the meaning behind Cat Steven’s song Moonshadow. Some ideas were hilarious. They include:

1. The effects of post-traumatic stress (losings eyes, hands and legs can do that to you I guess).

2. Moonshadow was the name of a military helicopter in Vietnam (if you were the enemy, you wouldn’t want to be followed by Moonshadow)

3. A cancerous x-ray and the devastating effects of the disease.

4. Being tailed by members of the Unification church (shadowed by Moonies) looking for handouts and converts.

I think it was just a simple, silly song that Cat made up to keep us guessing.

Click on picture to enlarge. Photograph © 2008 James Jordan.

Friday, April 18, 2008


On a walk along the Fox River the other day, I saw last year's signs of spring.

Photo blogging: If you want to make a career in photography, the conventional wisdom is to find a niche. French photographer Cedric Delsaux found his … superimposing Star Wars characters on modern day urban landscapes. You don’t think this sounds like a compelling theme? “I find your lack of faith disturbing.” *performs the Sith death pinch*

Check out Cedric Delsaux’s urban Star Wars images.

Stop in the name of ... Thank goodness I concentrate on photographing landscapes. Thus far, no park rangers have approached me demanding to know what I was doing outdoors with a camera. But I have been approached by security guards and police officers while photographing public places. Only one time (so far) have I been unable to talk my way into going about my business. I need to learn how to do that Jedi mind trick thing. *waves hand* “I am not the criminal you’re looking for … taking photos in public is a stupid way to go about being a terrorist, they tend to keep things more secret … you may go about your business.”

Photographers in the UK are having a time from overzealous Barney Fife types of officers (excuse me … it’s Great Britain … Bernard Fifes). There is a groundswell of support building to get Parliament involved in securing photographers’ rights to go about their business. We’ll see how it goes.

Click on picture to enlarge. Photograph © 2008 James Jordan.

Shakin' in Illinois

I've been involved in three earthquakes in my lifetime. I didn't notice the first one and I slept through the other two. Early this morning, a magnitude-5.2 earthquake hit central Illinois. Slight damage was reported near the quake's epicenter. People reported feeling the earth move as far away as Chicago and Milwaukee.

I may have experienced some ripples in the waterbed in which I sleep, but I slept through it, just as I did an early morning quake that struck Michigan three decades ago. Another quake rippled Michigan in the 1980s during the day. Co-workers at my place of employment came into my office describing the tremor they felt as it passed through the building. I hadn't noticed anything.

Guess I'm not a seismic kind of guy. And I was born in Japan. Go figure.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Plying the waters

This is the time of year that residents along the Fox River in northern Illinois keep a wary eye on the rushing waters. Heavy snows over the course of the winter and heavy rains within the past several weeks have swollen the Fox to near-flood levels. The situation is manageable at present, but residents know what the river is capable of doing at a moment’s notice. In Aurora, a temporary dam built to allow study of soil samples gave way last weekend.

There is a decided lack of waterfowl along the river when it rises and rushes. It takes too much work on the part of ducks and geese to try to stay in one place for any length of time. This overworked mallard was treading upstream in Dundee, Illinois. Taking a break from paddling would shoot the duck rapidly downstream. He eventually decided that flight would be a more efficient use of his energy.

Click on picture to enlarge. Photograph © 2008 James Jordan.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Little daffydowndilly

“Diligence is not a whit more toilsome than sport or idleness.”

Nathaniel Hawthorne, Little Daffydowndilly

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Grand Marais

Early morning in Grand Marais, Minnesota. Located about 30 miles south of the U.S./Canada border. There's nothing like heading out along the shore of Lake Superior on a crisp morning (in Grand Marais, there's no other kind - it rarely gets above 70 degrees there in the summer - the lake sees to that). All is quiet except for the lapping of the water against the volcanic rock on the shore and the occasional laughter of a loon.

Orton processing applied to match my memories of the place.

Click on picture to enlarge. Photograph © 2008 James Jordan.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Things change

Ever see or hear something that shoots you back ten, twenty or even thirty years into the past? That happened to me this weekend, when I saw my wife playing with a toddler. Our kids are grown and in various stages of making a life for themselves. But seeing her make that little boy laugh out loud shot me back to the days when she did that for our oldest son. "Man, things sure change," I told myself.

Steve Wick captured that feeling for me in a musical composition entitled Things Change. I rounded up some photographs of the ever-changing face of the moon and combined them into a video slideshow.

The video is hosted on Flickr, which launched video uploading capabilities last week. My early tests have led me to conclude that the quality level of their video blows a couple of well-known video-hosting sites completely out of the water.

Give it a couple of seconds to buffer up, then let it rip. Enjoy.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Along the path

Take time to discover and enjoy the small bits of beauty along the path.

Have a great weekend.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Cat encounters a wrinkle in the time-space continuum

Fun with PhotoShop on a real slow day.

Click on picture to enlarge. Photograph © 2008 James Jordan.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

An exercise in the division of a two-dimensional plane (with a curious onlooker)

Sometimes I walk around with a camera and peer at life through the viewfinder. More often than not, something will appear before me that seems to be worth snapping the shutter.

Such is the case with this photo. The triangular patch of sunlight formed a diagonal division of the picture plane. The cat’s body is perpendicular to the hypotenuse of the triangle. The upturned face, gorgeous green eyes and cute little forepaws are a bonus. Not a bad composition. Not planned. It just happened that way.

A note about the cat: She showed up several years ago as a stray on our doorstep. It was winter and she did not have the thick fur of an outdoor cat – someone just wished her luck and dumped her in our neighborhood. She arrived injured, cold and hungry. We took her in, had her fixed up (in more ways than one) and welcomed her to our home. Our now music-major college-age son named her Poly (short for Polyphonic) because of her distinctive two-toned meow. Her meow registered in perfect fifths in the key of A (I worked it out on a guitar after listening to her meow one day). Think of the first two notes of the song, Feelings.

Poly is at a ripe old age now and is suffering from heart disease. The left side of her heart has enlarged, allowing blood to pool in it and form clots. Occasionally, those clots will escape the heart and lodge in her extremities, cutting off circulation and causing paralysis. This has happened several times since last Christmas. Our vet has given us medication to give her to enlarge her blood vessels and help dissolve the clots when the paralysis occurs. So far so good. But there will come a day when the medicine will no longer work and there will be nothing else we can do for her.

It’s been a good run with this cat. Totally unplanned for and spontaneous. Just like this photo of her.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Shell game

This photo makes me feel a little bit like the guy who sets up a beach chair by the picture window and sits in the sun, pretending he’s at the beach. You see, this setup was done on my dining room table.

I wanted to take some photos of some seashells my wife and I collected on North Carolina’s Outer Banks a few years ago. I remembered a bag of landscaping sand I had bought at Wal-Mart. A photo of a cloudy sky was blurred, then printed on 8 ½ by 11 paper to produce a backdrop with some faux depth of field. The entire setup was about six inches deep. A flash unit bounced off the ceiling provided the light for this shot.

I need to get out more.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Digital camera update

I’m approaching the third anniversary of this photography blog, which I think provides a good record of my development as a photographer. Up until Christmas of last year, nearly every photo on this blog was taken with completely manual film SLRs. No automatic nothin’. Doing so has taught me to be able to very accurately see and evaluate the lighting in a scene prior to setting up for the photo. No letting the camera do my thinking for me.

Since Christmas, nearly every photo on this blog was taken with a digital camera. Going digital has added a new dimension to my picture taking. As an avid filmmaking buff in my teen years, I was fascinated by the concept of shooting “day for night” – where movie makers would film nighttime scenes in broad daylight, and use filters and underexposure to create the impression of night. I tried doing that a few times with my film cameras without much success – since there is a time factor between the press of the shutter and the development of the film, it took time to evaluate how I did, and if I needed to redo a picture, the opportunity had long passed. Digital gives me on the spot feedback and an opportunity to adjust quickly and try again immediately.

All that to say that this photo was shot “day for night.” The crescent moon had risen over the rooftops in my neighborhood and it was about 20 minutes before sunrise – not very dark out at all. In fact, the moon had all but disappeared because of the increasing brightness of the morning sky. I set the digital camera manually for a three-stop underexposure and got the result you see above. The rooftops of the house turned stark black and the sky turned a deep indigo. Actually, the result I got was posted a couple of days ago.

After I had posted that photo, I thought how neat it would be to be able to see a light on in the house as a counterpoint to the moon. I knew that the sky conditions would not be the same the next day, so I took a photo of a window on my house at night from the same angle and added it to the rooftop and moon picture in Photoshop. Oh, well, you can’t do everything in-camera.

Click on picture to enlarge. Photograph © 2008 James Jordan.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Spring moon

This was taken a few days ago just after sunrise. The long night of winter is coming to a close and the earth is stirring to the call of Spring.

Click on picture to enlarge. Photograph © 2007 James Jordan.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Suburban landscape

A slender crescent moon rose over the rooftops of my suburban subdivision this morning.

Some must-see landscape photography. Not the suburban kind. Actual, outdoors nothing-manmade-around photography. Discovered it this morning via a Google alert. Beautiful stuff.

Click on picture to enlarge. Photograph © 2008 James Jordan.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

I know a guy who is a master model and diorama maker. He had created this wonderful model waterfall. It was perfect - rocks, trees, everything. I asked if I could photograph it and he readily agreed.

It took some time to light it correctly. I wanted it to look as real as possible. I finally got the lighting right. As I was about to take the picture, however, this really tiny family of people wandered into the scene. They looked around in awe of the miniature setting and took some pictures of each other standing in front of the faux waterfalls. Then they just wandered off, hopped in a toy car and drove away.

April fools.