Winter’s Exquisite Palette

We are but one week from the bottom of the trough, less than a week, actually from this year’s longest night. And though the momentum of these shortening days slows perceptibly while many of nature’s colors continue to bleed and fade, there is still enough beauty and texture, even within the rumpled ruins of these last few days of the year to settle a fretful mind and inspire wonder. What the heart hungers for is out there. Trust this. You will not find it in stores or on the web. And it will not fit within the production schedule of a network or the pixels of a television screen. But it is there just as surely as the stars are there, even when you cannot see them.

This morning, coffee in hand, I toured the raggedy perimeter of my garden simply to see and smell the damp, chill, outdoor world. I did not feel compelled to carry a fancy camera or trundle with a tripod. I did’t even bother to put a fresh battery in my point-and-shoot. I wanted to travel light, to pose a simple question and let the day answer as it would. “What have you got for me?” I asked.

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Turns out this day offered me the exquisite beauty of death; fallen soldiers, once green and upright, untouched and unappreciated since slumping ever so gracefully to Earth in my shade garden a few months back. Seeing them this morning quieted some much too busy part of me that has been scurrying and fretting in that crafty way the manufacturers and marketers want us all to scurry and fret this time of year as we try desperately to keep up, to measure up, to open our wallets up and buy, buy, buy that, ‘NEW’, ‘AMAZING,’ perfect ‘thing’ they want to sell us.

Having been practicing for decades now, a bumbling student learning to call my soul back toward center from the frayed edges of obsession and feelings that I am utterly lost, this humble jumble of decaying leaves was a faint beacon on the horizon helping me to navigate toward safety. I might easily have missed it looking for something much grander. A wet mat of decaying leaves? Seriously? Big whoop. What possible salve or redemption could they offer?

But here’s something you might not have guessed. Seeing those leaves and even recognizing them would have achieved little or nothing had I not stopped, pulled out my little iPhone camera and paid them the honor of my time and attention. It could have been any camera. Or a sketch pad. Or a the whispered first line of a poem. I could easily have kept moving, could easily have said “No. You’re just not that beautiful. You’re not that important. I’m gonna keep looking. I want something better than you. Prettier, maybe. More impressive.” Think how often we do just that. To decaying leaves, certainly and to myriad other minor miracles. And also to people, which really, are profoundly major miracles. Often, even to the very planet that is our mother and every manor of her children. We have been taught to think that there will be something better just ahead, so we foolishly try to live in that next moment rather than the one we have now. And the chase never ends. And we often feel lost. And in our mercurial, grasping wakes we leave trails of rejection and destruction. The world doesn’t need to be this lonely, but it is, because we are always, habitually looking for the next, even better thing.

In some delicious way, it was stopping and acknowledging them that transformed these leaves into something more. Into something magical. It was saying “You are enough. Your beauty is enough to get me to release my hold on all the petty little things I’ve been fretting over, and on those much grander things I often hope for. In these next few minutes, I am yours. You are what I choose to see, what I choose to bend deeply over, despite my achey back. You are what I will frame up ever so carefully in my little camera, what I honor with my attention in this moment and the one that follows.”

I give lectures and teach classes and workshops about such things. Some sense this essential, transformational secret before they ever enroll, hoping to become better practitioners while for others the light bulb comes on in some newly triggered ‘aha’ moment along the way. And there will always be some who listen to each lesson and complete each assignment, and still leave certain that the secret must be in the particular camera or iPhone app I am using. When a chef’s food is delicious do you credit the knife?

If you would like to find a family to practice your seeing with, if you’re achey for reminders of just how to find your own soulful north star, perhaps a class is just the ticket to help you define and explore your own visual path, or perhaps it would be a perfect gift for someone you love. My next class offering will be through Bellevue College, beginning on January 27 on their north campus. I also love to work with students individually either through coaching and reviews, or in guided shoots. Feel free to contact me if you have questions.

In the mean time, try grabbing something as simple as the camera within your phone (the less complicated the camera, the better), go outside and give your attention to something none of your friends could possibly be jealous of (see photo above). Showy, exotic, far-off locales and pictures of swankadoo foods in swankadoo restaurants that most of your friends will never have a chance to visit are fine, as far as they go, but these are not the subjects that will help you find your inner quiet. To accomplish that, begin by looking for the simplest, least impressive subjects. Give your eye and your attention permission to become fascinated with whatever little thing captures its fancy, not worrying for a minute what others will think. Do this just for you, considering only your contented sigh in that one moment you stand within. This may feel awkward at first, and that is as it should be. You’ll get better at it. Just as you get better at finding your breath when you practice yoga. Just as you get better at hearing the chords and the harmonies when you give yourself to music. You’ll learn that you can trust yourself. If you’re not there yet then trust me, for now. Budget ten minutes. No more. Now, deep cleansing breath. Quiet your mind by stepping out of it. Search for a pattern, an intersection, a texture, a color that pleases you, that intrigues you. It need not be much.  Matter of fact, less is generally better than more. A  wash of sky, a few faded leaves. The visual equivalent of a whisper. A single word. A sigh.

It’s there, I promise. And it wants you to find it.

 

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I’d love to hear from you if this simple practice helps you. Send me a note or leave a message here. Include a picture, but just one. Choosing is part of the assignment.

Exploring the Garden of His Imagination

A first encounter with Eric Swenson’s very personal garden.

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I spent an afternoon recently in one of the strangest and most personal gardens I’ve ever visited, a collection of sacred spaces and garden rooms fully envisioned and slowly being born from endless hours of meditative toil and the soaring depths of Eric Swenson’s yet-childlike imagination. And though many finished aspects of it still exist only within the poetic psyche of its creator, when you are in his presence listening to him lovingly describe each completed vision I swear you begin to see it in its completed form, too.

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My visit grew out of telephone conversations between Eric and myself as we sorted out the particulars of a garden photo workshop I will be offering and a related garden photo contest I’ll be judging at the Kruckeberg Garden in early September. Somehow we began comparing life notes and garden notes, and soon he had inivited me to visit his very private wonderland, a surreal landscape of pure imagination that defies description and, to this observer’s mind, requires a sort of complete surrender in order to really even begin to appreciate it. His descriptions over the phone intrigued me and I immediately said yes.

Below: Eric is standing in the pit he has carved into the ground, and within which he intends to create on one side, a ten to fifteen foot waterfall that his adoring grandchildren will be able to stand behind and on the other, believe it or not, a subterranean sweat-lodge. That magical rabbit hole Alice tumbled into had nothing on this unfolding wonder.

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As rough as certain aspects of Eric’s wondrous imagination garden still seem around their edges, I was still utterly delighted, again and again by the many unexpected, whimsical, meditative surprises his collection of botanical and spatial koans offered.

Following his introductory nickel tour (which was worth far, far more), and a bit of time then wandering this garden’s corners by myself, it dawned on me that for perhaps the first time in any garden, many of the pictures I was seeing really wouldn’t make much sense without Eric’s vital presence within them, for in this garden it is the picture of ‘what might be‘ emanating so effusively from his very being that makes the garden work as it does, and that gives it much of its magic.

I have never quite experienced a garden like this and at first was a baffled, trying to sort out a way to communicate something of its essential ‘story’ simply by picturing the spaces and the plants within them. Then it dawned on me to just ask him, which I did, tentatively, if he’d walk with me and let me picture him in a handful of his sacred places within the garden as a way to try to begin explaining a few of those essential threads of it to others who have never visited and might never get the chance. His answer to my request is self-evident, and now I ask you as viewers to try to imagine any of these images without the man in them. They just wouldn’t quite make sense, would they? Or is it just me?

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Above: Eric sits beside an arching footbridge he has built atop his immense excavation and backed by a forest of different types of bamboo. From my vantage standing on a narrow ledge within that carved ravine where the waterfall will someday flow, listening to him explain his grand vision felt strangely like sitting at the feet of a great teacher or wizard in an enchanted wood. Below: This is just one of perhaps twenty meditation spots within Eric’s garden that contain a rustic bench, chair, stump, stool or seat of some other imagining from which to sit and contemplate, and watch the birds which are numerous, everywhere and very curious.

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For this first visit, I just had a few hours to begin to get acquainted and begin to find the story of the place, but those hours were a surreal treat. Somehow, I thought you might enjoy a peek at this lush garden of Eric’s imagination and yet another attempt on my part to find that elusive path to telling better stories…

Namasté 

Welcome new subscribers… Thank you for visiting.

A rainy, cold Saturday morning outside but obviously people want to learn and play more than they want to stay cozy and dry at home.
It was a chill, rainy Saturday morning outside, but obviously people wanted to learn and play more than they wanted to stay cozy and dry at home. My kind of people, indeed. You’ll find you’re among family here.

This is a quick welcome and shout out to those of you who have visited for the first time recently, having decided to subscribe following a lecture and/or workshop appearance. It is also a quick tease to remind all those interested in such things that I will be presenting once again at the Northwest Flower & Garden Show. This year my seminar is entitled, Left on the Cutting Room Floor: Gorgeous Photos that Didn’t Make the Book.

If you’ve ever wondered how books like The 50 Mile Bouquet come together, how the pictures are selected and/or rejected for a picture-rich project, this sixty minute slide lecture is for you. Check out the seminar synopsis below and mark Friday, February 22 on your calendar as a perfect day to attend the Flower & Garden Show. There are so many great, free seminars to choose from. In fact, just a bit after my presentation, Amy Stewart, the wonderful author of Flower Confidential, who helped inspire and then generously wrote the introduction to The 50 Mile Bouquet for Debra Prinzing and me, will be lecturing in the Rainier Room on the subject of her brand new book, The Drunken Botanist. And following her, my dear friend Paul Zimmerman of Paul Zimmerman Roses will be lecturing in that same venue on the topic, Roses are Plants, Too. Here’s a link to more info on his new book: Everyday Roses: The Casual Gardener’s Guide To Growing Knockout and Other Easy-Care Modern Roses

(Paul and I are currently building a joint workshop which we’ll be presenting around the country, entitled Roses Old and New, covering both common sense rose care and approachable rose and garden photography. Look for more news on this exciting, full-day workshop here soon.)
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You were such an enthusiastic room full of iPhone and iPad wielding travelers. You made my first presentation for the Rick Steves organization a real treat.

 

Here’s what I’m working on next: Northwest Flower & Garden Show

Left on the Cutting Room Floor: Gorgeous Photos that Didn’t Make the Book

Fri, Feb 22 at 2:45 pm / Hood Room (mark your calendars)
The process of (garden) bookmaking is considered by many who practice it to be one of the darkest of the arts, requiring an iron will, a subtle hand and ferociously focused multi-tasking skills. Fresh from his multiple roles as co-creator, photographer, photo editor and image colorist in producingThe 50 Mile Bouquet in collaboration with garden author, Debra Prinzing, for St. Lynn’s Press, David Perry invites you behind the curtain to see and understand better how the essential visual elements of a picture-rich book actually come together, and how he edited a collection of more than 40,000 photos down to a mere 176. Join David as he shares fascinating glimpses of this complex dance, from selecting just the right pictures that will help the author’s words come to life, to collaborating with the graphic designer in sizing, image placement and cropping, and finally, to the truly mysterious art of enhancing each file individually so it will sing in harmony with the others and stun on the printed page.

Book Signing immediately follows this seminar.

Here’s a little bonus, a glimpse at the cover image for the rose workshop I’m currently developing with rosarian, Paul Zimmerman. Stay tuned…

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Wait, you did that with an iPhone?

OK, I shot it with an iPhone but finished the look on an iPad with a few inexpensive apps.

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Every few weeks someone feels the need to reiterate, to me and to any others within yelling distance that he or she “IS NOT IMPRESSED” with all the damned hullabaloo surrounding the wonders of photography now possible via iPhones and iPads. A few have even had the nuts to tell me I should get back to making ‘real’ photographs with ‘real’ cameras. Foolishly, I tried to argue with an early smattering of these temperamental souls, but as it turned out this proved only an exercise in breath control and utter futility. Once the direction of that path became clear I surrendered it happily; surrendered any need to try to change their minds or talk them into something that they adamantly didn’t want to be talked into. Instead, I went back to playing, making pictures for myself and not for them, exploring the world much as I have since early childhood, letting discovery and wonder lead me where it would.

I’m happier this way.

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The sun-bleached remains of a coyote, pictured with my iPhone 4 late last October. I came upon this scene while fly fishing on the Yakima river, walking the railroad track that traces the western edge of the river, scanning the waters below for rising trout.

 

The picture, as shot (above), was really just a record of what was, of what my eyes had seen when I paused that day to study the bones of a convoluted story abandoned to the elements and an unfolding string of days. It was not an image that would stop anyone in their tracks or pull them magnetically into a story, or really, leave them curious to know more. But it did seem there was potential for something far more evocative if  played with a bit. So I shot several variations, then picked up my fly rod and worked my way back down to the water to fish.

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Later, back in camp, I began to explore it with an app called Alt Photo to see if I could transform the simple photo I’d taken into an altered state more closely echoing the sun-bleached feel of the bones, skull and rocks. Then I called upon yet another app, this one an iPad app called Vintage HD which allowed me to colorize and subtly border the image, leaving it with the feel of an old, creased and tinted black-and-white print. Finally, my eyes liked what they were seeing.

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With these stacked effects saved and locked-in atop one another the photo definitely had a more vivid sense of story than the original but something was still missing. Maybe it needed to appear as if matted, I thought, the way my grandfather would have matted one of his ‘salon’ prints before submitting it for exhibition back in the good old days. And maybe too, the image needed a few stylized ‘identifiers’ to sweeten its contract with the viewer, a credit line and an image title doubling as typographic elements to provide both pertinent information and one more layer of aesthetic interest.

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A screen capture taken on my iPad from within the Vintage HD app, showing the digitally added border and age effect selected which helps complete the illusion of a creased, time-worn print.

Once I had saved this ‘aged print’ file to my ‘camera roll’ I then imported it into a relatively new, iPad/touch-screen version of Photoshop called PS Touch. Here’s the app’s splash screen so you’ll know what you’re looking for, should you decide you need it.

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One of the real beauties of PS Touch is that you can create individual layers for different elements which can then be moved, brightened, resized, or dialed back in opacity relative to everything else. Look at the next image, below and you can see that the now-matted image exists in the app as three layers. See the thumbnails of those three layers on the lower right side of the image? The copyright/photo credit and the word ‘COYOTE’ both float as individual see-through layers above the tinted, matted base image. I have positioned and slanted and tinted the type, and dialed back the opacity of these layers to place their elements visually, ‘just so’, allowing them to work toward an overall ‘old timey’ effect. Some with better design and typographic sensibilities than mine may form strong opinions about what I’ve done ‘wrong’ here and what I might have done better, but the basic principle of being able to take a humble, iPhone-captured image of a coyote skull and playfully transform it, thus, with nothing more than a few inexpensive apps, well that seems fairly universal in its appeal for any who would enlarge their ideas about the sorts of pictures they and their iPhones are capable of.

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Below, a screen capture of the two typographic layers, viewed alone, with the background/image layer turned off. This may help those who aren’t well acquainted with the notion of layers to see better how they work. By clicking each layer on or off, one can try out several variations to see what works and then save only those layers that do work, or save all the layers, while leaving only certain ones visible. Seriously, being able to work with layers has always been cool, but layers on a finger-driven touch screen simply rocks!

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Here’s the final matted version (below), and just beneath that, a very different effect, made from a vertical shot of the same skull, which I processed first in a weird and delicious app called MangaCamera and then a few more apps, including Camera+ and Over, to get to the poster image you see. Can you see how such play could become addictive?

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If you’d like more information about booking an iPhone/iPad photo seminar/workshop for your group, or if you would like to discuss personal photo coaching, either in-person coaching or through distance learning, please contact me via email, Facebook message, etc. Here’s all the info you should need to reach me.

About Me: David Perry

 

Mon Coeur En Hiver

My Heart In Winter

Meet the “Piglet” of roses in my garden, (as opposed to Tigger, Eeyore or Pooh.)

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Rosa ‘White Meidiland’ is one of the least showy roses in my garden, and yet one of the most reliable. Certainly that is true this time of year when the calendar is ready to start its cycle anew, for this virtually trouble-free rose somehow manages to hunker down during our damp, dark Seattle winters and find a way to do a few small things beautifully.

The picture above was taken just yesterday, three weeks to the day after the flowering stems you see were first cut from my winter-humbled plant and brought to my kitchen windowsill. Just below is the photo I made the morning I cut them, December 9th.

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Seriously, do you know of any other rose that will continue to push new blooms so generously for three full weeks or more after having been cut from the garden and put in water? (Two years ago, a few stems I cut for Mary’s kitchen windowsill kept blooming, quite contentedly for nearly six weeks.) I’m not just asking, rhetorically if you know. I’m asking because I’d really like to know and perhaps get a cutting.

Somehow, White Meidiland manages this sort of magic again and again, and just at that time of year when garden blooms for my kitchen windowsill are so very scarce and so much appreciated. Like little Piglet of Winnie the Pooh lore, White Meidiland does not let it’s diminutive physical size limit the size of its heart, its efforts, or its charm, which has led me to that grateful place where I think of this little rose as Mon Coeur En Hiver, My Heart In Winter.

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Think of roses as fussy? Not this one. Not by any measure. Absolutely my most reliable rose this time of year.

Rose and Workshop related news: Renowned rosarian, Paul Zimmerman and I are going to be offering some full day workshops together in the coming year (dates and locations to be announced). Paul will bring his storyteller’s charm and his immense knowledge base of roses and rose care, and I will bring my understanding of the art of seeing, storytelling and photography in a garden setting. Our current plan is to divide the class into two groups, one spending the morning learning all about roses from Paul and the afternoon learning how to make more magical photographs of them from me, while the other group begins their day learning to tell better stories through photographs with me and then, following lunch, spends the second half of their workshop under Paul’s wise tutelage. Stay tuned for more info, or subscribe to the blog so I can add you to my mailing list, which by the way I promise never to sell. (BTW, the photography part of these full-day workshops will include, but not be limited to capturing amazing pics with iPhones/iPads > learning to finess those pics with some of the grooviest of apps and then quickly and easily getting them out there into your social media stream, looking like a million bucks.)

For more info on Paul Zimmerman:

http://paulzimmermanroses.com

http://www.finegardening.com/blog/roses

For more info on unfussy roses:

http://rosesfromatoz.com/sindex.html

http://markofexcellenceroses.com/buy-roses-online/types-roses/Shrb0156.html

Feeding An Ache For Analog

Cherry wood touchstones and a search for meaning…

 

I like to think that I’m pretty well adapted to the fast-paced, whirling world of digital realities  …and yes, digital illusions, too. But I have noticed that at my core I am still very much a child of analog loves.

I love stories, spoken aloud, for the glimpses they offer into the souls that tell them and for the life insights gleaned from those people, objects and events they describe, but also for the sounds of breath being drawn into an intentional body, then passed back into the world over lips and teeth, and tongue, air reshaped into complex and beautiful meanings.

I love things that I can touch, smell, taste, lean against.

That cold wind blowing in my face and down my neck when I stand on a wintery beach, that is analog. There are no ones and zeroes chained together in some particular order to provide me the illusions of cold and motion, and that briny, olfactory soup of life, death and iodine. There is just that moment   …utterly analog and alive.

These wooden plates are as analog as it gets, stories told by the imagination and skilled hands, the carefully trained fingers of a real life magician living in the woods of northern Vermont. David Brown is a man that I am pleased to know as a friend, a calm, intentional intelligence and force for good. He is a photographer, a masterful bread baker, a carpenter, a birder, a gardener, a canoeist, an adventurer, storyteller, woodsman, husband, fly fisherman and good listener. He is an artist.

I have walked parts of David’s Vermont woods, stood beside him while craning our necks and standing on tiptoe, searching for telling glimpses of elusive songbirds high in leafy hardwood trees within the yet dim, early morning cool. I have taken turns casting flies to aggressive smallmouth bass from the front of his canoe while mist floated along the water’s surface and loons inadvertently serenaded us while courting each other.

I have eaten on plates very much like these at his table and learned of the simple and refreshing magic of rhubarb juice while sitting in the shade of the house that he built with his wife and his own weathered hands.

If this sounds like a love story of sorts …perhaps it is.

David’s was the first of many kind faces that greeted me when I arrived a few years back at Sterling College, eager to immerse myself within the hopeful unknown that was that year’s Wildbranch Writers Workshop, a soulful collaboration between Sterling College and Orion Magazine. David, you see, in addition to all of those other things listed above, is also the director of this esteemed workshop, and as soon as he grinned that elvish grin, stepped toward my car and addressed me by name I felt an immediate kinship. He had gone to the trouble to learn about me before actually meeting me. What a wonderful, calming gift.

I’ve called upon too many words already and might just as well have let the artistry of these wooden creations speak for themselves, though I feared that in this rush-rush digital world,  without the ability to actually run your analog fingers along the tactile, analog edges of these cherry wood wonders you might have missed much of the backstory that these plates bring with them, having travelled so recently westward.

I swear you can feel the man’s heart in these beautiful things he makes.

That too is analog. Definitely analog. And big and wise, and generous.

To learn more about David Brown and the wondrous things he makes:

David W. Brown: Woodworking Fine and Fussy. Specializing in wooden bowls, plates and platters of local hardwoods. PO Box 15, Craftsbury Common, VT 05827. He takes custom orders, you know.

Thank you Mary, for listening and seeing so wisely, for seeking out this magician from Vermont to help feed this ache within for an analog table within an ever more digital maze of days.

 

Bling Happens

The artwork for our workshop t-shirt.

Spaces still available for our Sept. 16-17, “TELL BETTER STORIES” workshop at Jello Mold Farm in the fertile, Skagit Valley north of Seattle. Operators are standing by.

Sign up here: Making Pictures That Tell Better Stories

And here (below), is an early morning, mid-September glimpse at just a few of the beauties of Jello Mold Farm. For this workshop we’ll be shooting and exploring in the flower fields until dusk on Sunday and then make our way out amongst the dewdrops and mist again at daybreak on Monday morning, intent on capturing the best light. Be sure to bring your camera, your hungry, storyteller’s eye and your tripod.