Sunday, December 21, 2008

Photography Lessons!

A scientist living in an 'Artists Community' has its benefits and its drawbacks. On the one hand most of the artists are of the opinion that science is the antithesis of art. Their opinion of scientists, needless to say, is not the most favourable. You can almost imagine the conversation 'We are not concerned about what the names of the plants are or how they work or even if they are rare or endangered, we are concerned with colour, interesting shapes, composition of our works and creating 'artistic' renditions of what we see. Needless to say, this is not an imaginary conversation. It has been heard many times in twenty years. On the other hand the artists have no expectation that the scientists who live in the neighbourhood would have any interest in 'Art'. This lack of expectation from the artists is good. It means that we can do what we want without them ever having to take us seriously.

Twenty years is a long time to live in a neighbourhood and not be visited by one group of people. The scientists, the people who appreciate nature for natures sake and the non-artists are regular visitors to the house. We call each other and talk about things we have seen in the forest or the latest bird to visit. The gardeners come to see the weird plants in flower and to get cuttings. I lost track years ago how many kilos of coffee have been put through the espresso machine for my friendly neighbours who drop in. Not one cup of coffee has passed the lips of an artist in this house. Not because they are not welcome but because they feel there is no need to visit someone who is not 'cool' or in the 'in crowd'. This is an interesting viewpoint that they have. These supposed free-thinking and bohemian artists might get a little bit of enlightenment if they realised what was past the threshold to my house or even in the garden!

The house that I live in is a former artists gallery. Famous Australian artists exhibited their work here twenty years ago. There are some odd spaces in the house that are not really usable; too wide to be a hallway, too narrow to be a room. Even the living room is four times as long as it is wide.The lighting was originally gallery lighting, all halogen spot lights on swivels (now for the most part replaced. The shelves at the far end of the living room are lit. Bookshelves with lights? No, they were for displaying small objet d'art. The walls and shelves are still covered in art but art that I like, not art that the artists up here will ever get a chance to see.

Interestingly, I have always had an interest in art. In 4th grade I was designing and drawing cartoons for a anti-littering campaign. This led on to cartoons figures that were not associated with moral rectitude. When my interest in plants developed so did my interest in botanical art. This led to classes in Bot Art using water colours, pen and ink, pencil and charcoal and even wood block printing. I had the technical skill but not the eye for composition. My shading was beautiful and perspective wonderful but they all looked exactly like they did when they were lying shriveling and dying on the drawing table.

I tried photography. My first camera was an Olympus OM1. A fantastic camera with an incompetant photographer. Very occasionally the stars would come together and a stunner would stare back at me from the freshly printed photograph I actually took. Unfortunately, a strike rate of 1 in 500 - 1000 is not all that good. I persisted but didn't improve. Have you heard the story about men? They will play with a gadget but never read the manual? That was me. To be fair, I did read the manual but it was beyond me. I know, why admit incompetance when you can blame the equiptment.

Things changed when there was a reason to take pictures. Being the slightly pedantic (read as scientific) person that I am, there was a need to keep photographic records of what I was recording in writing. The pictures were better but still looked as though they were taken for a plant catalogue. That was until Dr. Sue came along. Sue is actually a university lecturer in biomedical sciences but she should have been a professional photographer. Actually, she doesn't want to be a professional photographer, hers is purely a pursuit of pleasure through the use of photography. Thankfully, we are good friends so when she said my photos were, well, S__t, I didn't take it bad at all. She wasn't that harsh but you would be well aware what it is like to be told something you think is wonderful is not. It hurts even worse when it comes from someone you respect.

Solution to this sorry and depressing situation? Chuck the camera in the river and never take another photograph? Sounded a good idea but the cost of the camera stopped me from doing that. Sell the camera? No, it might still be useful and it was certainly a better quality camera than the one used for 'happy snaps'. The only solution was to give up the male ego thing and get lessons. And yes, lessons from a women. Thankfully, that woman was Sue. She has been training me for about 6 months now. It takes me awhile and sometimes I slip back but my 'teacher' can't get away from me. Her office is next to mine and we have an agreement that I provide the plants for her pictures.

Until now most of my photos have been of orchids or the odd critter in the garden. That was until friday. There was an oxalis sitting on my desk from a picture taking session for a previous blog. I was a little late getting home from work and the sun was low in the sky, shining through the office window. In the few days that the Oxalis had been sitting on the desk it had turned its leaves to the window. Now the sun was shining through the tops of the leaves and all I could see was the bottom side of the leaves. The tops of the leaves were interesting but the bottoms were absolutely fascinating. It jumped out at me as the most startling colour combination. I wasn't hungry for dinner so I took a picture. Then a few more. Twenty-seven photos later there were several that were passable. Download, Crop adjust white balance and hey presto! The picture below.

Oxalis triangularis

The next day after watering the greenhouse I noticed that the seed heads had burst on a pelargonium species just inside the door. What struck me was the near perfect symmetry of the corkscrew like awns with the furry little pointed seeds all poking out. I carefully lifted it into a spot out of the wind with a dark background and after only 6 pics and a little cropping came up with this.

Pelargonium hirtum

The end of the story? My teacher liked the photos and even used the word gorgeous. It helped that purples are her favourite colours. She also likes hairy things. Maybe that is why she has me as a friend.

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