If you have found your way to this site because you’re looking for the ‘Portals of Stone’ photo series that was exhibited as part of the Franklin Jazz and Arts Festival this weekend at The Factory in Franklin, follow this link to view the other photos in the collection and order online.
Category - photography
I’ve been in Scotland for a week. I haven’t spent nearly as much time sorting and editing as I have shooting, but some of what I’ve got to show for my presence you can see here.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
Photographers live for about four hours every day: the two hours on either side of sunrise and sunset. That’s the best natural light of the day. The rest of the day is for location scouting (or so I’ve been told).
Somebody asked me once, “which do you prefer, sunrise or sunset?” To which I replied, “well, I’m usually awake by sunset…”
And that has been the case so far on this expedition. Despite my best intentions, I’ve slept through every sunrise. That might have something to do with fact that the sun sets at this latitude at about 9:30 PM, and the twilight lingers until nearly 11. And I’ve been out every evening photographing something at sunset, though the actual sun has been mostly obscured by clouds.
After that, you get back to your room, download the memory card, sort the photos and edit a few, and by the time you start nodding out it’s 1:30 AM. Not exactly conducive to starting again at 3:30 (since the sunrises at about 4:30…).
Yesterday I made the short – and lovely – drive from Melrose to Rosslyn, which is my whole reason for being here in the first place. And last night I went out again at sunset and looked for something to shoot at the end of the first completely sunny day I’ve had all week. After that, same drill… fell asleep at the keyboard about 1AM…
But this morning something very different happened: I woke up and saw the moon setting in a perfectly clear sky outside my window. I looked at the time on my iPhone: 4:24. Like an idiot I tried to go back to sleep.
But whatever higher power brought me here intervened.
Despite my best efforts to go back to sleep, that was not gonna happen.
In the absence of sleep I opened Google Earth on my iPad (there was just enough signal to get a view) and entered the coordinates for Rosslyn Chapel, which is about 2-1/2 miles from the b&b where I’m staying. From the map I could see there is a road that goes past the chapel to the edge of a field on the eastern side. From paintings and photos I’ve seen from that angle, I knew there was some kind of meadow on that side of the chapel.
I threw on some clothes and was there by 5:30, just as the sun was peaking over the hills.
Medieval churches, chapels, and abbeys were typically laid out so that the altar – and the grand windows above it – face east, so that the rising sun can remind worshipers of the Resurrection (note to fundamentalist Christians: you do know that Muslims face east for their prayers, too, right?).
The combination clear sky and the rising sun meant that the best natural light I’ve seen all week was shining down on the nearly 600-year-old of east facade of the Rosslyn Chapel just as I was getting my tripod set up.
Left to my own devices, I might have slept right through it. But I swear, some power better than myself hauled me out of bed, threw clothes on me, and steered my rent-a-car through the pre-dawn light to get these photos.
Now, behold the majesty of 15th Century architecture:
I’ve had good moments and bad moments on this trip. The good ones are usually after I’ve been shooting for several hours, and I’ve taken the time to marvel at the fact that I am even here, doing this extraordinary thing. The bad ones are after I’ve sat at the computer with the results from the day and thought “oh crap, I missed that… shoulda framed that differently… oh, look at THAT… that I didn’t quite get in the frame…” etc. etc. All common photographers’ laments.
But today, I can take some solace in the knowledge that however else the rest of the day goes, I got this part right:
But only because that Higher Power would not leave me to my own devices and let me sleep through the dawn.
I wish I could remember now who was it who said, “you do the work… and the inspiration takes care of itself…”
Listen to John Doan’s harp guitar while reading this post:
Now, where was I? Oh yeah….
One of the most stunning places we visited in Scotland last October is a small church several miles outside of Edinburgh called the Rosslyn Chapel.
If you’ve read “The DaVinci Code” or seen the movie, you might recognize the name. Dan Brown wrote the last scene of that story at the Rosslyn Chapel. The bones of Mary Magdalen – the real “Holy Grail” as portrayed in the novel – supposedly having been hidden there, in a a secret crypt concealed under the foundation of the chapel when it was built during 15th century.
We almost didn’t go to Rosslyn. When it was first suggested to us, I looked it up on the web and the first thing I noticed on the website was
Please note that there is no photography or video allowed inside Rosslyn Chapel.
And when I read that I thought to myself, “well, that’s a deal breaker….”
But I talked it over with Ann and we agreed that it would be worth seeing even we couldn’t take pictures inside. We figured it in to the itinerary for the last full day of our trip, when we would be back in Edinburgh for two nights and still have the rental car at our disposal.
So on morning of the last day of our tour of Scotland, we ventured out of Edinburgh about 7 miles south to the village of Rosslyn.
And yes, the interior of Rosslyn Chapel is truly extraordinary. Nearly every surface is adorned with detailed masonry carvings depicting the history of the area, the chapel’s founders and builders, or a passage from the Bible, all rendered by the most skilled stone masons of the 15th century.
In the centuries since its construction, the tiny Chapel as been through all kinds of depredations, from serving as stable for Cromwell’s cavalry in the 17th century to an ill conceived conservation effort in the mid-20th century that coated all the carvings with an impermeable layer of magnesium fluoride that trapped moisture inside the stone. Just about the time that The DaVinci Code was released, the Sinclair family that owns the chapel and surrounding estate embarked on a more enlightened course of preservation, and now, in the wake of the novel and the movie, the Rosslyn Chapel is among the most popular tourist destinations in all of Great Britain.
Ann and I spent most of the morning of our last full day in Scotland there. We made a lot of photographs of the exterior, and spent enough time inside to come out pretty well awed at what we’d seen. But, per the rules, no photos of the interior.
– – – – – – – –
Fast forward now to January 28th, when I received an e-mail from a musician named John Doan. John is is primarily a harp guitarist; his home base is Salem, Oregon.
If you’re not familiar with it, the harp guitar is an instrument that starts as a guitar, but is embellished with an extension of the body of the guitar that supports some number of open, unfretted strings, usually bass notes, that are plucked separately in the same manner that the strings of a harp are plucked. John Doan typically plays a variation of the harp guitar that includes a further set of “super treble” notes that are strung musically above (physically below) the 6 guitar strings.
I can’t recall now when I first discovered John Doan’s recordings, most of which I purchased via iTunes during the period when I was still paying for downloads (which I rarely do now, with the advent of streaming subscription services like Spotify). But since I first discovered him I have been an avid fan of his Celtic-infused, sonically rich recordings that evoke the spirit of the islands with which I am so enamored. I met John briefly once, at an annual event called “The Harp Guitar Gathering” when it was held in Indianapolis in the fall of 2010. That’s probably when I put myself on his mailing list.
So I get this e-mail from John Doan in late January. And after the usual “this is what I’m up to…” stuff, I scanned his tour itinerary at the bottom of the message. And that’s where I saw:
May 26: Rosslyn Chapel, Scotland
Whoa. Did I read that right? A concert inside the Rosslyn Chapel??
I quickly fired an e-mail back to John.
Can you use a roadie/photographer on these gigs?
I need an excuse to go back to Britain this spring…
Where “back to Britain” was a link to the site were I was gathering and displaying our photos from the trip in October.
John’s reply to that was pretty non-committal, but the more I thought about it, the more intrigued I became about the proposition, so I sent another message:
Please forgive the quick “need a roadie?” message that I sent earlier
This time… I think I’m serious….
..after which wheels started turning…
Long story short: I’m leaving tomorrow afternoon, and will meet up with John and his entourage of wandering minstrels a week from today at Rosslyn. And I will have permission to photograph his concert inside the Rosslyn Chapel.
Two weeks ago Ann and I encountered a Scottish photographer a the TACA Arts & Crafts fair here in Nashville. We got to talking, and I told him that I would be going to Scotland soon, and that I’d be photographing inside the Rosslyn Chapel.
“That’s forbidden!” he said.
Yes, it is. But I’ve got special dispensation.
And that’s why I’m going back to Scotland tomorrow.
– – – – – – – – – – – –
I’m still working on another post (or two) about how my trip to Britain next week came about, and will perhaps get the story finished before I leave on Sunday. For now, I want to get something else out there.
It begins with a passage that came to mind in the midst of some breath work with my therapist on Wednesday:
The heart seeks
and only the heart can find
that which we do not know
that we know
Now, as much as I am loathe to even mention the name – much as Harry Potter referred to Voldemort as “he who cannot be named” – the thought above is a corollary to something Donald Rumsfeld famously (infamously?) said during one of his Pentagon press conferences when he was trying to explain whathefuck had gone wrong in Iraq:
There are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say there are things that we now know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we do not know we don’t know.
I’ve always thought that Rumsfeld’s assessment of the realms of knowledge and ignorance stops just short of what might be the most import insight of all, that…
There are things that we do not know… that we know.
Basic, fundamental, truths of existence that live on a subsurface, spiritual level that where we do not spend nearly enough time.
Perhaps I am going to the ancient ruins of Britain to spend time in places where long ago mystics and monks did just that.
As good a reason as any…
And, now that I think about it, I realize that right after I had the “breath work revelation” I’ve shared above, I may have had a clear illustration of the principal – and an affirmation of why I have to go on this trip alone.
After I saw Kenneth on Wednesday, I went downtown to the Shelby Street bridge to photograph the Nashville skyline and see what sort of results I would get shooting for HDR with my new Nikon D600.
The results at sunset were pretty satisfactory if uninspiring, except perhaps for this one shot where I got everything to line up: the sun hitting the tops of the building, the f/16 aperture that produces the cool star effect:
But after I got that shot I stood around and waited for over an hour for the sky to darken and the lights of the city to come on. And about 8:30PM I got this shot, which I think is downright spectacular:
… because I WAITED FOR IT (and trust me on this, the small rendering here doesn’t do the image justice; click here to see the whole frame a bit larger).
And that, sadly, is what I can’t seem to do when I’m with Ann. At least, not that day we stopped at the Beauly Priory on the Black Isle near Edinburgh. And I’ll say again, I think Ann got better photos in less time than I did. But I wasn’t done yet…
That’s why I drove away thinking, “I have to come back here by myself.”
And now, it appears, I am doing just that.
In two days.
Because when the heart is patient.. only then.. can it find what it does not know that it knows.
– – – – – – – – –
And now, the rest of the story...
Ann and I did a photo shoot last Saturday evening with the lovely and talented Sally Barris, aka “Sister Waymore” (when she travels with Pops and Willy). The light was perfect, and all we needed to get great portraits was one strategically placed reflector.
Here are some of the shots that we all think are among the best:
Not familiar with Sally Barris? Then please, avail yourself to her latest album via Spotify:
So titled because in ten days I will be returning to Scotland. I hope I will have adequate time and motivation to write consistently about the trip. I am starting now.
– – – – – – – –
It seems the intervals between my visits to the United Kingdom… Great Britain… the British Isles — whatever you want to call that archipelago with the common language and complicated history — are getting shorter. From 24 years to 6 years to… 6 months.
My first trip to England was in the spring of 1976. My then future ex-wife and I went to England for a total of five weeks. We both worked in the TeeVee industry in Hollywood and could take that much time off because it was during the “hiatus” season when all the shows we were working on were shut down, between production seasons. We had plenty of time – and enough money – so off we went, across the continent and across “the pond.” Five weeks was enough time to tour almost the entire country, from the Channel Islands to Cornwall to the Lake District and Wales, and with a brief, abortive foray into Scotland (another story for another time).
There’s another whole long story here about how we went to England to get married. Georja carried her custom silk-and-lace wedding dress all over the country with us, but we couldn’t quite pull it off because of a two-week residency requirement before a foreigner could get married. We could have established residency in one place and returned two weeks later, but we had no set itinerary and didn’t want to be obligated to be anywhere at any particular time. We were also informed that it would not be possible to stage a ceremony as we’d imagined — on the ramparts of an ancient castle ruin. Somebody told us we’d have to be married in the office of a justice of the peace, or a chapel or something. Not exactly what we’d flown halfway around the world for.
So we just wandered around the country, pulling the dress out from time to time and shooting photos in romantic locales, and then packing up and moving to the next destination. We even rented the honeymoon suite at Ruthin Castle in Wales. There are photos somewhere of Georja dancing about the honeymoon suite in her flowing white gown. Dunno if I’ll be able to find them, they are probably rotting in a closet in Hawaii, where we moved to and finally got married in 1980 (we divorced in 1994 after I moved – alone – to Nashville).
I didn’t get back to that part of the world for two-and-a-half decades. Moving to Hawaii for 14 years might have had something to do with that….
Fast forward to my second marriage. After our wedding in Nashville, Ann and I spent a week in England and a week in Bavaria. The England portion included 4 days in the Cotwsolds, near the town of Oswestry in Shropshire at a small hotel that stood literally across a stream from Wales. The stately ruin of Ludlow Castle was nearby, and Harlech Castle was the midpoint of day’s drive through Wales.
We spent three days in London and then flew off to Munich — and more castles. We spent two or three nights in the village of Hohenschwangau, a village that had served the royal seat of Bavaria when it was its own little kingdom. From the bed in our room at a B&B near the center of the village we could look out the window directly up at the ramparts and spires of Neuschwanstein, the fairy-tale castle built in the 19th century by Ludwig II, the Mad King of Bavaria who squandered the nation’s treasure building the sort of edifice that Walt Disney would use as the model for his theme parks a century later.
Notice the recurring theme yet? I’ll give you a clue: it starts with “castles.”
It was only six years before Ann and I returned to that part of the world, only this time we went to Ireland. As alluded to earlier, it’s difficult to know how exactly to include Ireland in a discussion of “that part of the world,” because, while Ireland may be, geographically one of the “British Isles,” if there is one thing the Irish struggled mightily for seven centuries NOT to be, it was “British.” Ireland and England may have shared a common language, but the English domination of Ireland was hardly a welcome reality for the entirety of its duration. The Irish still consider the English culpable for the famine that ravaged their island 150 years ago. Some grudges die hard.
We spent two fabulous weeks in Ireland, during which time I was reminded again of this odd affinity that I have for Great Stone Structures – particularly if they lie in some state of ruin.
I will state for the record here and now that I do not fully grasp the source of this attraction. I know only that it is a strong, recurring presence in my life. And, it would appear, providence is finally acting in such a way as to explore it.
Nevertheless, it was another six years before we returned to that part of the world. I tried a couple of times. I have several musician friends who conduct tours of Ireland every summer. I signed us up for one of those several years ago, but for whatever reason the prospect fell through.
Then, last summer, Ann and I started making plans for a trip the following fall (2012). I’d suggested at first a return to Ireland, to visit some of the counties like northern Donegal and Sligo that we didn’t quite get to the last time, when we managed to go through only six of the island’s thirty-two counties. Perhaps we’d go to Northern Ireland – the part of the island that the British refused to let go of, the part that still belongs to “The United Kingdom” and is thus separated politically from the Republic that comprises the rest of the island. Perhaps we’d get to see the amazing natural formation called “The Giants Causeway” that somebody told us about the first night that we were there in 2006. “It’s the one thing in Ireland you must see,” he said, but I knew at the time we were not going to make it there on that trip. So we started to think about including that in the itinerary if we went back…
But somewhere in the midst of ruminating about a trip in the fall of 2012, the destination changed. As much as we both wanted to return to Ireland, Ann wanted to go someplace where she’d never been. I think she really wanted to go to Greece, and we may yet make it there someday. It seems a bit odd in retrospect, but we somehow compromised on Scotland.
I have already documented our trip and posted the best of the more than 10,000 photo/files we shot with the nifty little cameras that we took with us. As a friend predicted, amid the other vagaries of life it took almost six months to make it through all those files.
And now I’m going back for more. My flight leaves on Sunday May 19, arriving in Edinburgh in the afternoon of Monday, May 20. I will be there for 2-1/2 weeks.
T-minus 10 days and counting…
– – – – – – –
The seed for this upcoming trip was planted during the last one. It was late in the day on October 6, the day we drove from Inverness as far as we would go into the rugged outer reaches the Scottish Highlands known as Wester Ross (not to be confused with Westeros, the fictional world where “Game of Thrones” transpires, but maybe that’s where he got the name…?).
The day before we ventured into Wester Ross, we’d stopped into a bookstore in the town of Nairn, near Inverness, where we spent three nights at an elegant estate called Castle Stuart (seeing the theme yet?). I’d browsed through a book of photos of a peninsula near Inverness called “The Black Isle,” and seen some photos of a ruined abbey there called Beauly Priory. I made a mental note. And when it looked like we had time in the late afternoon after the Wester Ross tour to make it to Beauly before dinner at the castle, I steered the car in that direction.
As time and fate would have it, we reached the village of Beauly about thirty minutes before sunset — “Golden Time,” as the cinematographers in Hollywood like to call it. We found the priory ruins. I pulled out my camera, my cherished 12mm ultra-wide angle lens (the 35mm equivalent of 24mm, which is what I really cherish…) and tripod and started shooting “multi-frame “HDR” photos. Ann put the telephoto lens on her camera and shot close ups of the features.
Looking back at the photos, I’m still inclined to think that Ann got better shots than I did. Maybe we all look at other peoples’ photos that way? In any event, Ann satisfied her inclinations toward the site in fairly short order, while I was still wandering around looking for the definitive angle and moment.
And then there was… this moment (Ann will probably kill me when she reads this – but, then, I think she’s heard this already. If not I’m screwed…). The sun had not entirely set, I was looking for one more set-up for my camera and tripod. And I may be paraphrasing, or my memory may not be precise, but what I recall now was Ann saying something along the lines of, “Are you done yet? Can we go now?”
And whether or not that is exactly what Ann said, I do remember exactly the unspoken reply that went through my head at the time: “I’ve waited six years to get to this spot… and I can’t have 15 minutes??”
In that moment, amid the sun setting behind the ruins of the Beauly Priory on the Black Isle in the Scottish Highlands, the seed for this impending trip was planted. I remember thinking as we drove away… “I need to come back here by myself…”
It seemed like an idle thought at the time. But submerged within that thought there was this undeniable…. longing.
Idle thought or not, that seed took root a few months later when I received an e-mail from another musician friend. At the bottom of the email, his calendar listed a concert at a very special venue near Edinburgh in May. I sent an email back.
I’ll tell the rest of that story next week.
I’ve been observing the results I’m getting with my new Nikon D600 camera, trying to figure out why some of the shots are coming out really fuzzy.
After conducting a series of tests with different lenses at different apertures under otherwise controlled conditions, I think I have come to the conclusion that its not the camera – its the lenses – some of which I’ve had kicking around for more than 10 years. Perhaps they have reached the end of their life expectancy?
Read the full report here, and please come back here to post any comments.
Well, this is fun. File it under “62-year-old acoustic folkie, goes heavy metal.”
Powerglove, the heavy-metal band whose show I caught the last few minutes of at MTAC last Friday, is using one of the photos I shot for their Facebook cover photo: Near as I can tell, Powerglove’s metier is heavy metal versions of your favorite TeeVee and cinema theme songs. Get a gander on their version of “The Fllintstones”:
There’s more where that came from – an album called “Saturday Morning Apocalypse.”
Yeah, I think the kids are having more fun than we did. I just hope their hearing holds up…
If you’re looking for the photos I shot Friday night at the Middle Tennessee Anime Convention in downtown Nashville, you can find them here.
I’ve also compiled a little video slideshow…
Clearly, these kids (?) are having a much better time than I did when I was their age. Which was, umm… like 40 years ago… when we were worried about staying out of a war… Oh, wait…
I managed to get through another batch of the Scotland photos over the weekend.
After our stop at Eilean Donan, we continued on north and west toward the Isle of Skye, which has probably got more dramatic landscape per square mile than any place on earth. Well, at least, any place on earth we’ve ever been to.
We spent two nights at a b&b hear the village of Portree, and spent the day in between roaming up the east coast of the island, around the northern tip of the island, and then back down the west side of the east peninsula around sunset. Along the way we saw myriad sea cliffs, one castle ruin, and the incredible mountainous rock formations called “The Quirang.”
Next morning we packed up once again, and went out toward the western peninsula, stopped at the Talisker Distillery, and then spent the balance of the morning at a picturesque area called ‘The Faerie Pools.” Then it was on to Fort William.
There were a lot of photo opportunities throughout the day. View them all in the video below, or see the individual photos here.