That’s so Marfa

When a mutual friend first introduced me to Mary Ann Glass a few years ago, I always remember how when Mary Ann learned I was from Texas the first thing she asked me is if I lived anywhere near Marfa, Texas. I recall thinking, where’s that? It would take a google search for me to find where it was in the state, and the answer to that is summed up in 3 letters: B-F-E.

The closest way to get to it is to fly into either El Paso, Texas or Midland, Texas, and then grab a car and drive a few more hours to get there. It’s in such a remote area of the state, and just on the edge of the Chihuahuan Desert (within a couple of hours of Big Bend National Park), it takes a hardy, and a bit of a unusual sort to want to call it home. In fact the town was created solely as a watering stop for the railroads.

Marfa, Texas is really only famous for three things:

  1. Movie Locations: Giant was filmed in the area with Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson,  Dennis Hopper, and in his final appearance James Dean; more recently the film No Country for Old Men was filmed in the area starring Tommy Lee Jones
  2. The Marfa Lights (atmospheric anomaly, some sort of bio-luminescence, swamp gas, ufos?)
  3. The Arts

The development of the arts was really galvanized in the 1970s when minimalist Donald Judd moved from New York City to Marfa for the express intention of finding a spot to permanently display his works. He would find an old abandoned World War II army base, and with help from New York’s Dia Foundation, he established the Chinati Foundation which displays both huge indoor and outdoor installations and is home to his outdoor Concrete series.

From the creative seed provided by Judd to the area, more artists soon began flocking to the area. Today, Marfa despite having a very small population of fewer than 2,000 according to the 2010 Census, has well over fifteen different art galleries, hosting artists from around the world. Marfa also now hosts a film festival too. The town has become synonymous with the arts, featuring many artisan boutiques and wares in the city, and nary a chain store anywhere to be seen.

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This is best embodied by the “White Shirt Marfa” just as it’s name suggests, it sells nothing but White Shirts, because apparently you can’t own enough of them. It can also be represented in Elmgreen and Dragset’s Prada Marfa, a pop culture land art installation, of a faux Prada store, with a door that isn’t functional. It’s been theorized to be the single most instagrammed location in the entire state. Of course, I couldn’t resist a Selfie either. It had just rained when I showed up, so I decided to take advantage of the mud and puddles, and stormy skies.

The town is so small, that most of the places a tourist might be interested in are closed except on the weekends. For this reason, I had intentionally left my exploring of the galleries and shops to Saturday, when everyone had hours listed as being open. Alas, in practice, over 2/3 of the galleries and shops I went to visit were closed, some permanently, some between installations, some on vacation.

The main reason I was in that part of the state is my cousin had invited me to a special weekend at McDonald Observatory in the nearby Davis Mountains, but when I realized Marfa was a short distance away from where I was staying in the neighboring town of Fort Davis, well I decided I ought to go give it a gander. Afterall, since I was in BFE, I might as well embrace the opportunity, as I have no idea if I’ll ever make it back.

You can look forward to installments of more photos in the near future from my travels to this part of the state.

One man’s junk, is another man’s treasure

As much as my personal preference is towards nature photography, sometimes I do enjoy the freedom of experimentation that comes when I decide to take items that represent manufacturing and engineering, that are gritty from rust, or left abandoned to decay. The freedom to play with them can be fun, as it’s trickier to find lines, and composition that still speaks in the colors, textures, shapes, and found objects.

CARS

 

TRACTORS

 

ABANDONED DECAY

 

 

FLEA MARKET FINDS – ROCKING MY WARHOL

 

SALVAGED

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Antiquated Charm

This year I made Castroville, Texas a must-see destination for my annual wildflower photography road trip. This is colloquially known as the Castroville Poppy House (located at 606 Florence Street) which is a private residence, that during select days and hours in early Spring is open to the public. This labor of love by the homeowners, is a gorgeous spot to visit, and it’s a photographer’s dream as there are so many vignettes. They have some old structures on the property including buildings from the 1800s and 1940s.

Many of the locals go there for family photos with their kids, and others make appointments for shooting: brides, engagement, graduation, prom photos and more! The homeowners ask for nothing in return except donations to the local VFW and American Legion chapters. The homeowners even collect the seeds, and in addition to re-seeding their own property, to distribute to others in Castroville in their attempt to paint the town red. This year they were doing a World War II theme, so they even found an old 48 Star American Flag to fly tacked up to the old barn.

I loved shooting here, and only wish that I was able to hit this location under better lighting conditions. Afternoon sun on a cloudless day in Texas is very harsh and hard to work with, even with a UV filter and lens hood the grass and flowers aren’t quite true to what I saw, and trying to tweak it in post-editing hasn’t been incredibly successful for me without it looking incredibly fake.

*sighs*

Golden hour lighting here would be magical.

 

 

In Flanders Fields

John McCrae, 18721918

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row, 
That mark our place, and in the sky, 
The larks, still bravely singing, fly, 
Scarce heard amid the guns below. 

We are the dead; short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow, 
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields. 

Take up our quarrel with the foe! 
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high! 
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Westminster

While I may not enjoy all the camera gear I pack up with me when I travel, I relish the opportunity to take pictures while I am out and about. I was fortunate enough to be able to spend nearly 2 weeks in London a few winters back (December 2012 – January 2013).

 

One of the challenges is in both trying to capture those items that are seemingly, quintessentially, the local flavor, but also trying to find fresh, new takes on it too. Sometimes I’m just happy to take a shot of the landmark, but then I always try to challenge myself. Sometimes I succeed, sometimes I fail.

 

 

 

These are shots I took in the Westminster Area, I’m particularly proud of my close-up of the Westminster Bridge Lamp, as well as the shot from the bridge that includes both the Westminster Bridge Lamp and the London Eye. While I like the shot I took of the London Eye through the fence and branches, my friend who I was traveling with had opted for a landscape shot here, and it really elevated that shot and won her recognition in a photography contest.

 

 

 

 

New Year’s Fire Works on the Thames, from the back of the Savoy Hotel. I like the odd effect of the long exposure I gave the shot with the silhouette of a man, and some branches, with fireworks reflecting off the Thames behind him.

Appreciating Man-Made Objects in Photography

Nature is what drew me first as the subject I most desired to capture in my viewfinder. The world around us, from it’s unique geologies, to local flora and fauna can just fill you with awe–or at least it does me. But so many times when I would have a picture framed in my viewfinder of seemingly pristine nature there would be some man-made structure popping up and ruining the shot I wanted: power lines, water towers, buildings, or just the detritus of wind-tossed litter.

It would take me many years to begin to see how even man-made objects could have their own beauty. But if Ansel Adams who was known for creating such masterworks of nature in black and white, could also tackle man-made objects with beauty… I suppose it was only a matter of time that my own eye would develop and begin to embrace at least selective moments of such photography myself. Even so, I still usually prefer nature to man-made objects. 🙂

Various Works by Ansel Adams

 

 

 

Some of my own works

Winter Wonderlands

As a Texan, I like to tell people that in my part of the state we have three seasons: Baking Drought, Torrential Downpour, and Wind Chill. It is a very rare site indeed for snow to fall in the Dallas / Fort Worth area. We tend to have ice storms, more than snow storms, and even those storms are a rare occurrence. This year in particular we’ve had a very mild winter, even the days around Christmas this year I was wearing summer clothes when the temperature reached into the 80s.

So while I did not get to enjoy a winter in my area this year, one of my guilty pleasures is traveling abroad to the Hudson River Valley and enjoying the sights of winter there. Some of these photos are from a recent trip January 2017, and others are from several years ago.

 

Texas Wildflowers – Part 5

It’s so amazing how in a period of 4-6 weeks the wildflowers can change so drastically in the Texas Hill Country. Bluebonnets and Indian Paintbrushes have faded, and now up comes other flowers like Indian Blankets (aka Firewheels), thistles, Horsemint (aka Bee Balm) and Mexican Hats (a type of coneflower) . I found this field June 8, 2016 along 71 just west of Spicewood and Cypress Creek. I stopped off and from the fence was taking pictures of the field, when I heard an engine idling behind me, the owner had come home from one of his other fields they farmed. The farm has been in the family since the 1800s, and the farmer couldn’t remember a year where the field was so overtaken by the horsemint. He even insisted my friends and I go home with some.

 

 

Texas Wildflowers – Part 1

Texas has more than 5,000 flowering plants native to the Lone Star State, across a vast multitude of environs, and elevations. And every Spring the display most Texans wait for is when the treasure trove of Bluebonnets come out to play, sometimes offering spectacular fields of Bluebonnets that are more than a mile long.

I’m anxiously following the wildflower reports from well regarded institutions like the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin and other obsessed outlets so I can plan this year’s photographic expedition throughout the state. Last year I ranged across the Texas Hill Country finding displays from Ennis, the Brenham/Independence area, Fredericksburg,  Pontotoc and other areas in the Llano/Mason area.

Bluebonnets while typically blue, also have a couple of other (albeit it rarer) varieties. Typically they grow to about a foot in height, but the variety found only in Big Bend National park can grow to nearly 3 feet tall. Here are just a few of the bluebonnets I captured in 2016.

 

Exploring Palmer

I may have come for the Bluebells, but I was struck also by the American Basketflower that had gone to seed, catching it with the late day sun, everything was this golden glow with touches of tawny, and pale sunshine. All too often we think about the beauty of flowers in bloom, but there is beauty to be found even when they go to seed. When people were entirely dependent on flowers grown in season we saw these types of seeded flowers used in arrangements, it’s far less common today due to the abundance of greenhouse florists, or imported flowers.

The Bluebells were just past peak and some of them had already gone to seed, and others were beginning to do so, but still there were some lovely specimens. I found the color of the flower petals changed dramatically based on lighting, how open or closed the flowers were in their bloom cycle. Some of the flowers clearly had blue tones, with some violet, and others looked almost entirely purple.

But while I came for the flowers, I decided while I still had some light to go exploring, and chose to randomly turn down streets where I thought I might find something of interest. It was past dinner time on the weekend, so the main street area was deserted. I managed to grab shots of the water tower, and of the main street area. These shots while not nearly as glorious as the ones I managed to capture with the flowers, were evocative of yesteryear, and life far outside the city. So in it’s own way, it felt like a moment in time.

 

The Specifics

Off Interstate-45 around Palmer, Texas
Photos taken on Sunday, July 31, 2016

Texas Bluebell
American Basketflower gone to seed