Archive for the ‘artist’ category

SNOWFALL IN SEATTLE: Oh, the Humanity!

January 23, 2012

Pike Place Market, nearly deserted during a rare snowstorm

I was standing in the middle of the street, intently looking through the viewfinder at a neon sign on the roof of the Pike Place Market, when I heard a shout from inside the market and a fishmonger pointing at me:

“Look out!”

My first thought was: “hey, you talkin’ to me?”

Then my brain kicked in and I turned around to face the threat–a dark sedan sliding somewhat sideways down the hill directly toward me. Adrenalin pumping, I backed off the street as the car managed to slide into the turn successfully at the bottom of the hill. Death averted.

Seattle and snow blend about as well as slugs and salt. It just isn’t something that people here deal with very often, so Seattlites don’t have the infrastructure or the driving ability to deal with these snowstorms that happen every few years.

Seattle is so full of kindly liberals that people knit sweaters for the city’s trees (actually, this is part of Suzanne Tidwell’s wonderful exhibit of knitted trees in Occidental Park)

This storm brought perhaps 5″ of snow to downtown Seattle. If you come from a part of the country that experiences macho snowfalls (as I did, coming from Syracuse two decades ago), 5″ will seem puny–hardly worth dragging out the snowblower for. But Seattle has hills … really steep hills right downtown that cause your calves to scream with rage as you hike upslope. And there are few snowplows. During a big storm in the 1990s that took many days to clean up, I remember the mayor saying pitifully that “we only have seven snowplows!”

Cross-country skier commuting to work on 1st Avenue

There is also a Seattle aversion to salting the roads. In the last big snowstorm, several years ago, the city government expressed a horror about the environmental impact of salt and the salty runoff trickling down into Puget Sound. My first reaction was incredulity, as in: “Puget Sound is already … SALTWATER!” Fortunately, the old salts prevailed and the city now uses salt, though not really enough.

Snow affects Seattle politics. In December 2008, then Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels was the guy who refused to use salt on the roads, so they were icy from December 13-27, causing traffic problems and accidents for the whole two weeks. I remember barely making it to the airport that year for our Christmas flight, after getting ensnared in a traffic jam on back roads that were so completely coated with ice that they looked like skating rinks.

Cyclamens and ferns enduring the snowy day in Waterfall Garden Park

Seattle’s mayor had a second PR problem in the snows that year. I recall a media report that the city’s road maintenance department took it upon themselves to plow a road directly from the mayor’s home to city hall, rather than plowing out major streets first. Of course, citizens were outraged, even after the mayor exclaimed that he had nothing to do with that decision.  Largely as a result of the snowstorm problems, the mayor didn’t even make it through the primary elections the next year.

Hammering Man, a sculpture by Jonathan Borofsky to celebrate workers, works 24/7 through the storm

On the morning of the heavy snowfall this year, Karen and I trudged from our Bremerton apartment to the ferry bound for Seattle, wearing waterproof L.L. Bean boots, the parkas we wore on an Antarctic trip a decade ago, heavy mittens, and woolen hats from Kathmandu. Karen was heading to her job in the marble corridors of a law office, and I was going to spend the day documenting the Seattle snowfall. It was a cold and wet day, with constant light snowfall, but I was able to get the selection of photographs you see here.

Seattle was virtually deserted that morning, save for a few hardy office workers who were able to take transit of some sort, since ferries, light rail, heavy rail, and some buses were operational. The buses wore chains, as did most delivery vehicles. That night, when returning home, Karen had trouble descending the steep hills on foot, as the colder evening temperatures turned slush to ice. The problem?  Not enough salt to keep the sidewalks safe. So she telecommuted the next day.

The Smith Tower, once the tallest skyscraper west of the Mississippi, rises above one of the old brick buildings of Pioneer Square. The brick building has a faded ad for the Washington State Ferries that says “Have Lunch Over Seas,” which is a playful thing to do when crossing Puget Sound.

The homeless were still on the streets during the storm; after all, where else would they be? I asked one homeless man if I could take his picture; he was wearing a gray snowflake-covered blanket draped over his head, and he was smoking a hand-rolled cigarette, exhaling a cloud of blue smoke that hung in the air in front of his dark face. Alas, he said “No, I don’t think so.” I offered him money, and he said he didn’t need any. So, that one great picture will just have to stay forever etched in my mind.

Space needle with satellite dishes pointed toward space

Alaskan Way, nearly deserted of traffic on this snowy morning

Photograph I was taking while a car silently slid toward me down a hill

Snowboarders hoping to find a steep hill with enough snow downtown

The homeless have it especially tough in this weather; yes, there are warm shelters, but some people choose to sleep in doorways

A woman making her way through the sidewalk slush of Pioneer Square

People out and about in Pioneer Square, enjoying the rare snowy day

Suzanne Tidwell’s exhibit of knitted trees in Occidental Park, looking especially festive against the simple backdrop of snow

Tsonqua sculpture by Chinook Tribe artist Duane Pasco in Seattle’s Occidental Park, with a gull surveying the scene at the top of the totem

To fulfill their delivery mission, UPS trucks wear tire chains on these slippery and hilly streets

Cabs were a good way to get around the city, though it would have been a challenging job to be a taxi driver on a day like this

Cross-country skier on a pier, with container cranes in the distance

Snowman with pansy corsage I observed along the waterfront

Home of The Jetsons–actually, it is the monorail from the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair passing through Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen’s addition to the city–the EMP Museum (think Jimi Hendrix and Nirvana), designed by Frank Gehry

A sign preserved from the Skid Road era of Seattle

Witch Hazel blooming in January, in Waterfall Garden Park

Alley in Pioneer Square

By the way, here are a couple of not-to-be-missed videos of a skier launching off a high park in Seattle:

http://blog.seattlepi.com/thebigblog/2012/01/20/watch-skiers-somersault-off-cliff-at-seattles-kerry-park/

To see my web site, which includes photographic prints for sale, please go to LeeRentz.com (Just ask if you see a particular photograph you like; my website is not up to date) 

To see thousands of my photographs in large file sizes for use in magazines or other printed materials or electronic media, go to my PhotoShelter Website

OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK: Crab Chaos and Human Creativity

July 28, 2011

The coil

Nature is rarely orderly and tidy–and to a naturalist, that is part of its charm. On the other hand, an artist can sometimes use natural materials to bring order to that chaos, with marvelous results.

As we walked down sandy Shi Shi Beach among the beached seaweed, swarming sand fleas, a dead and stinking sea lion, and a zillion crab carcasses, two National Park Service rangers greeted us.

Crab parts on the Shi Shi Beach, with the dramatic sea stacks of Point of Arches in the distance

One said “Everyone is asking about all the crabs along the beach. They aren’t actually dead bodies; they are the molted shells of crabs that have outgrown their old bodies and discarded them.”

Dungeness Crab parts rolling in and out with the waves 

So it wasn’t mass suicide or a toxic oil spill or global warming that killed a million crabs. In fact, it was just an ordinary yearly molt that we were privileged to see, and the crabs of the deep were still alive and enjoying a growth spurt as they muscled their way out of their old exoskeletons and ate their way into new and larger clothes. Meanwhile, the discarded crab parts moved gently in and out with the waves in a spectacular jumble that left every beach visitor wondering–until they learned the truth,

I had thought about putting a few of these crab carapaces into an arrangement to photograph, but someone with grander ambitions and more time beat me to the punch. On our way back up the beach, we encountered a spiral of crab backs (known as “carapaces”) that looked at first like a giant ship’s rope that someone had neatly coiled. When I walked up to it, I stared in utter amazement and surprise at the fleeting work of art that someone had created. Executed with technical perfection and a fine artistic vision, the crab spiral celebrated nature, yet it did so within the very human needs for order and art. Line, texture, and repetition of forms were among the artistic elements employed. The crab spiral was an ephemeral masterpiece by an unknown artist!

The crab spiral as we found it, left by an unknown artist

Detail of the arrangement of crab carapaces

It would have taken the artist hours and hours of exacting work to create this ephemeral work; notice how uniform the crab backs are in size and shape

The setting, with Point of Arches distant

Karen Rentz repeated this backpacking trip two weeks later, and found that the Crab Spiral was no more. High tides had claimed it. Nature’s love of chaos beat back the human need for order, but I got the photographs that illustrate what the human imagination is capable of, even on a remote wilderness beach.

For those interested in the intersection of nature and art, the acknowledged master is artist Andy Goldsworthy. You can see an excellent selection of his work at Andy Goldsworthy.

With the careful placement of these barnacles growing naturally on a molted crab shell, nature looks to be playing the trickster!

Shi Shi Beach is a wilderness beach within Olympic National Park. It stretches over two miles in a gentle, sandy crescent, ending at the dramatic rocky sea stacks and arches of Point of Arches. We backpacked along the beach, and on this Fourth of July weekend we guess that there were 60 tents sharing the beach and the adjacent forest. Hikers need to be aware of the tides, which can have an amplitude of over ten feet and can affect hiking and tide pool exploration schedules at Point of Arches. Hard-sided food containers are required for backpackers (to keep away marauding Raccoons), as is a wilderness permit from the National Park Service and a recreational permit from the Makah Indian Reservation. Parking for backpackers is $10 per day at a private residence near the trailhead.For more information about Shi Shi Beach and Point of Arches, go to Olympic National Park: Shi Shi Beach.

To see my web site, which includes photographic prints for sale, please go to LeeRentz.com

To see thousands of my photographs in large file sizes for use in magazines or other printed materials or electronic media, go to my PhotoShelter Website

February 11, 2009: Jogging at 175 Photos Per Hour; Part 1

February 17, 2009

I occasionally jog along the Clear Creek Trail in Silverdale, Washington. Although I am a poor jogger with knee and muscle problems, it has been my primary form of exercise for 35 years and I still enjoy each outing.  Sometimes I take a small digital camera with me and grab some photographs along the way.  This day was special, in that I took 295 photographs along my 4 1/2 mile route, stopping every time a potential photograph grabbed me.

These impressionistic photographs were not created by using filters or Adobe Photoshop tricks.  They all look pretty much as they came from the camera, with just a few tweaks of contrast and brightness and color to make them look a bit better on the internet.  They are experimental, and I intend to experiment with this technique in the future, since it gives such a transformative look to an everyday scene.  I will discuss my technique here in the future, but for now you can just enjoy the view.

To see my web site, which includes photographic prints for sale, please go to LeeRentz.com

NEW: To see thousands of my photographs in large file sizes for use in magazines or other printed materials or electronic media, go to my PhotoShelter Website

 

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LEWIS AND CLARK: Our Maya Lin Weekend

February 7, 2009

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When the Lewis and Clark Expedition crossed the continent in the years 1804 to 1806, they initiated a new adventure for the young American country that would knit together the coasts and Great Plains and Rocky Mountains, giving the nation a vast new identity.  Migration and settlement and displacement and wars and environmental changes on a vast scale were soon to follow.  Two centuries have now passed, and there has been a quiet reassessment of the changes that have occurred during that time.  The bicentennial of Lewis and Clark’s big adventure has now come and gone, leaving a series of new “big box” interpretive centers in Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Montana as remnants of the historical celebration that cross-country travellers can visit.  My understanding is that the Lewis and Clark tourism boom never occurred on the scale that planners hoped, so these expensive centers have not been particularly successful.

Along the west end of the Columbia River, a smaller project took hold among Native American tribes and civic groups of the region.  They had the insight in 2000 to enlist Maya Lin, a great American artist and architect, to reimagine a thoughtful celebration of Lewis and Clark’s visit to what would become Oregon and Washington. 2008_or_1592 Maya Lin is best known for her design of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C.; she created the concept for that emotionally resonant granite wall when she was a 21-year-old Yale undergraduate.  Since then she has designed a variety of memorials and parks. Maya Lin is also a creative artist.  I saw a wonderful installation and exhibit of her work at the Henry Art Gallery in Seattle, in which she abstractly created maps using old books and wires and 2x4s.  You can see graphics of this exhibit at this link: Systematic Landscapes.  It was at this exhibit that I first saw her plans for The Confluence Project, and was determined to see the finished installations when I could.

In November 2008 my wife Karen and I took a Maya Lin–themed weekend trip to see the first three completed sites of the Confluence Project.  These are small and quiet installations,with nothing on the scale of the Vietnam Memorial.  But they are effective at making you think about the changes to the landscape that have occurred since Lewis and Clark made their monumental journey.

First, we visited the Sandy River Delta, where Maya Lin’s concept of a bird blind has nearly been completed.  We walked a 1.2 mile trail on U.S. Forest Service land to a site near the confluence of the Columbia and Sandy Rivers, where the blind has been built in a riverfront forest.  2008_or_1614Most of the people on the trail were out simply walking their dogs (which got me to thinking that most Americans would get no exercise at all if they didn’t have dogs!).  A gentle ramp leads up to the small cantilevered blind, where we looked out through Black Locust slats to the forest beyond. This is nominally a bird blind, but in reality it is a memorial to the wildlife that Lewis and Clark wrote about in their journals, along with the date they first observed each species and the modern name for that creature.  For example, on August 20, 1805, they observed a Moonax.  What is a Moonax?  I had no idea, but it turned out that the Moonax is now known as a Yellow-bellied Marmot. The Black Locust wood used in construction of the blind is an alien to the region planted by early settlers, but it is wonderfully weather-resistant and is sustainable, so it was a good choice for construction. My only wish was that we were visiting in spring and we could observe colorful warblers in the trees beyond the blind.

Late in the day, we drove to our second Maya Lin location.  The Vancouver Land Bridge is in Fort Vancouver National Historic Site, located in Vancouver, Washington and run by the National Park Service. The bridge is a pedestrian bridge over Washington Highway 14,

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connecting the historic fort with the Columbia River. This site has a long history: it was a Hudson’s Bay Company trading post, a campsite for Lewis and Clark, and an army fort for approximately a century. The bridge, designed by Seattle architect Johnpaul Jones, curves gracefully over the highway, and has several kiosks that interpret the history and native peoples of this confluence of the Columbia River and the Klickitat Trail. 2008_wa_1652I especially liked the artwork along the bridge. At the Columbia River end of the structure, there is a Welcome Gate designed by Native American artist Lillian Pitt. The gate consists of two crossed wooden canoe paddles, each featuring a stylized cast glass face of a woman from the Chinook Tribe. It is simply an elegant piece! There are also some wonderful metal interpretations of petroglyphs from the Columbia River corridor.  Maya Lin served as a consultant for this project.

It was getting dark, so we left Fort Vancouver and headed west along the Columbia, finally reaching our third destination, Cape Disappointment State Park, in the evening.  We set up camp in a campground filled with about 120 Rvs and travel trailers on this November night; in fact, virtually every campsite was full and we had the only tent.  Through the tent walls we listened to the crashing surf of the Pacific Ocean; the advantage of a tent is that we are more closely linked to the natural world than if we were in a hard-sided vehicle. The downside is that bears might eat us!

Cape Disappointment was named by an English seagoing captain, John Meares, who somehow couldn’t find the mouth of the Columbia River and was disappointed by his failure.

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It is miles wide here–how could he possibly have missed it?  When Lewis and Clark came to Cape Disappointment, Indians told them of ship captains who had wooden legs and eye patches. They sound just like the pirates in books of my youth!

The next morning we explored the state park, visiting several Maya Lin–designed sites.  First, we took a boardwalk to Waikiki Beach, a beautiful beach with a morning 2008_wa_1357mist hanging over the Pacific Ocean seascape and salt spray fragrance in the air.  The boardwalk itself is inscribed with places and dates from Lewis and Clark’s journals, and it represents the place where the Corps of Discovery reached its Pacific destination.  Next, we walked along a pathway studded with fragments of oyster shells to a cedar grove.  Here there are five driftwood logs sunk into the ground, each inlaid with a wide metal strip.  The logs surround an old cedar stump.  It is a place for contemplation of the forest and of the repeated refrain along the path from the Chinook Tribe praise song “Teach us, and show us the way.”  2008_wa_1344Finally, we visited a trail and boat ramp along Baker Bay, where there is an immense column of basalt that has been sculpted into a fish-cleaning station.  This Maya Lin–designed feature goes beyond its obvious functionality; inscribed on its surface is a Chinook origin legend that celebrates their interdependence with Columbia River salmon.  We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Cape Disappointment, but wish that Washington State Parks would provide better signs to these Confluence Project features.  I talked to one woman who said she had wandered around for a whole day and couldn’t find the trail (which, by the way, she was standing on when I pointed out its location to her).  Of course, she could have asked at the park office.

Our mission to see and learn from the Maya Lin sites was successful; we enjoyed all three sites and are eager to see the remaining four as they are completed in coming years. For more information about the outstanding Confluence Project go to the website for the Confluence Project.

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To see my web site, which includes photographic prints for sale, please go to LeeRentz.com

NEW: To see thousands of my photographs in large file sizes for use in magazines or other printed materials or electronic media, go to my PhotoShelter Website

Click on the photographs in the gallery below for versions with captions.

OLYMPIC NATIONAL FOREST: Startling Clarity in the Buckhorn Wilderness

August 21, 2008

When people think of Seattle’s weather, they shudder at the dark overcast and constant drizzle.  Actually, that perception of western Washington is largely true from late October through April, and during some entire weeks during May and June.  But after Independence Day, the maritime clouds are held at bay by offshore high pressure zones, and the atmosphere becomes washed with brilliant light.  This light has a clarity more sharp-edged than any location I’ve ever been, and for a few days in summer, it is stunning.

We had two such days of clarity this past weekend during a backpack trip into Olympic National Forest, located on the Olympic Peninsula.  The peninsula, which is visible across Puget Sound looking west from Seattle, is isolated by geography and is sparsely populated.  Olympic National Park forms the heart of the peninsula, and is my favorite national park in the nation because of its blend of high mountains with glaciers, enormous conifers, a temperate rain forest, abundant wildlife, and over 70 miles of wilderness coastline along the Pacific Ocean.  The Buckhorn Wilderness lies just outside the national park and is part of Olympic National Forest.

But enough geography lessons.  My wife, Karen, and I arrived at the trailhead at 9:30 a.m., then hefted our backpacks and began hiking through ten-foot-tall native rhododendrons, still blooming on this mid-July weekend.  At the trailhead, one trail leads to Gold Creek; we followed a trail crossing Silver Creek with the idea of camping along Copper Creek and then heading into the alpine for a view of Iron Mountain.  All these metallic names are there for a reason:  this was mining country a hundred or so years ago.  We planned to camp just below the Tubal Cain Mine, the site of an old copper mine and a one-time ghost town.  The mine still exists in the form of a deep shaft and a steep slope of mine tailings, though the old town succumbed to dynamite and mountain weather decades ago.  The Tubal Cain Mine shaft penetrates the mountain for 2,800 feet, with 1,500 feet of side shafts.  We entered the mine, but it is a wet journey within, as a stream gushes through the tunnel from deep within the mountain.  One young man we talked to had explored much of the mine shaft, and he said there was a waterfall deep inside that he had to climb up and over.  Old and rusted mine machinery is scattered in the woods where there used to be miner’s shacks.*

After setting up camp among volcanic boulders that originated on the ocean floor millions of years ago, we crossed Copper Creek and headed up a series of gradual switchbacks leading to Buckhorn Pass.  Shortly after the creek, the forest faded away and we began hiking through a stunning subalpine meadow that was at its peak of summer blooms.  Incredible blue larkspurs and sky pilots and lupines.  Vivid red columbines and Indian paintbrush.  Saturated yellows of arnica and wallflower.  Peaks of naked rock surrounding us, above them the deep blue sky found only in high country.

We spent the afternoon and evening happily absorbing the sweeping meadows and patches of coniferous forest along the way.  When we reached Buckhorn Pass at about 5:30 p.m., the sun was lower and the light on Buckhorn Mountain and Iron Mountain was warm and shadowed.  The moon began rising between the two peaks.  At the top, we enjoyed the views and Karen found one of the wildflowers we had especially hoped to photograph.  Flett’s Violet (Viola flettii) is endemic to the Olympic Mountains–that is, it is found nowhere else on earth.  Karen found the beautiful plant blooming in crevices along the west-facing rock faces at Buckhorn Pass.  We also saw a second Olympic endemic, Piper’s Harebell, growing on talus slopes farther down the trail.  We photographed these special wildflowers in the brilliant sunshine of this summer afternoon.

Though we saw little wildlife on this trip, there were some memorable bird songs.  The bell-like, spiraling call of the Hermit Thrush and the seemingly never-ending melody of the tiny and drab Winter Wren lent haunting music to the dark forest.  There was the deep, deep, almost imperceptible booming of a Sooty Grouse calling from the trees (and a female Sooty Grouse shepherding her five scattered young).  A Dipper explored Copper Creek, looking for larval insects on the stream bottom.  We saw an American Robin at Buckhorn Pass; robins are virtually everywhere (one time we even saw them–and dandelions–in the Brooks Range of Alaska, above the Arctic Circle).

We stayed at Buckhorn Pass as late as we could, then headed down the trail at our fastest pace, arriving in camp at about 8:30 p.m.  We then took down our bear bag from where we left it hanging in the trees and cooked a quick freeze-dried dinner.  Then into the tent for ten hours of sleep after a long day.  It feels good to know that at age 58, I can still do a 10.5 mile day in the mountains with roughly half-a-mile of vertical gain.  I’m not as strong or as fast on the trail as I once was, but I see more, and my photographic skills along the trail have never been better.

The next day, as we hiked out in early afternoon, I spoke with a man who mentioned how clear the air seemed.  I commented that I had never seen it clearer in the mountains, and he said “I was just telling my wife the same thing.”

*I discovered at a realtor’s web site that 216 acres of land at the Tubal Cain Mine site is for sale for $2 million.  It is surrounded by Olympic National Forest land.  So if you have the money and want to work a mining claim and have a helicopter to get to the remote acreage, this might be just the perfect place for you!

To see a variety of my photographic work, including photos for sale, please go to LeeRentz.com

Click on the photographs below for larger versions with captions.

August 15, 2008 Reading a Photograph

August 16, 2008

Most of my photographs are straightforward views of landscapes, wildlife, small towns, or whatever else catches my eye.  I love taking these pictures; they are part of a long tradition of photographers seeking out the best light and working with finely tuned technical skills.  Sometimes, however, my work takes a step beyond, to where the subject and intent can be “read” by the eye in several ways.  Here are a few examples, using the names I gave each picture.

 

AMERICAN ICON 1: Log Cabin

While photographing an old cemetery in central Pennsylvania, I was first interested in the 200-year-old shale gravestones and took several pictures portraying the fascinating hand-carved shapes of these memorials.  Then I photographed several gravestones with the log cabin as a background. Then the cabin’s windows caught my eye and I took a few detail photographs showing the combination of logs, chinking, and windows.  Then it struck me like a thunderclap:  the flag icon was right there in front of me.  At that point the adrenalin started pumping and I took one of the best pictures of my life.  Your eyes can read it either as a log cabin or as an American flag:  either way, it is a strong and iconic symbol of American life.

 

We Are As Spirits

While visiting the Monterey Bay Aquarium, I carried only a pocket film camera, hoping perhaps to get a few snapshots.  I didn’t use it much, but when I entered the chamber where these people were standing, mesmerized, in front of a giant tank with tuna and sharks and other huge creatures, it cried out for a photograph.  I loved the blue light and the human forms, so I stood back and took a dozen or so pictures, with exposures ranging from about 1/4 second to 1/2 second, hand-held.  For the first picture, I had left the flash on by accident, and it turned out that this picture was the best because of the ambiguous shapes the flash reflection added to the dark human forms.*  Most people realize that this is an aquarium picture, but when I view it–even knowing exactly what it is–I see spirits living among us.  Others see it as humans lined up during a UFO appearance.  Whatever the interpretation, it is ambiguous enough that it invites repeated viewings.

*So often, mistakes in photography are useful, because they can lead to a whole new interpretation of an image.  Perhaps it says something about my photographic skills, but I make plenty of mistakes–and end up liking some of them.  

 

LAYERS 3: A Parallel World

While photographing the interior of a ghost town building in Bannack State Park, Montana, I found some of the small details fascinating–such as these crackled paint layers on a wall.  It wasn’t until I looked at the slide on the light table that I realized that this photograph looked like a map, but not a map of any world that we know.  It could well be a parallel world, and it reminds me for all the world of the colored maps on the classroom walls of my youth.

 

When Rocks Dream

While visiting Joshua Tree National Park, I took lots of beautiful pictures of the Biblical-looking Joshua Trees, lizards, desert tortoises, and granite cliffs dangling climbers.  But when I came upon this formation, I actually laughed out loud at the Mojave Desert’s dry humor.  The rock was about life-sized and the lighting was “just right” for my formal portrait.

At a recent art show I found myself seriously explaining to a nine-year-old boy about how some pictures could be understood in several different ways at the same time.  I pointed out the log cabin and aquarium pictures and how they could simultaneously mean different things.  I’m not a teacher, and I wasn’t sure if I was getting through to him.  But then he smiled and pointed at my rock photograph and said “like that picture.”  Yes, he indeed got it!

 

For more examples of my work, visit my web site at LeeRentz.com

June 27, 2008 Straight-line Winds Rip Omaha Artists

June 28, 2008

For the past decade I have traveled extensively across America, selling my photography at art shows and photographing details of the landscape between shows.  During this time it has been the Great Plains that have made me the most nervous because the weather can be so intense.  During one show in Fort Worth, Texas, I remember seeing a skyscraper that had all of its windows blown out by a tornado, leaving small shards of glass in every garden downtown.  That storm didn’t occur on an art show weekend, but the cars around Texas deeply dented by grapefruit-sized hail were a reminder of what could happen.  So it was with some trepidation that I came to Omaha for the Omaha Summer Arts Festival in the stormy early summer of 2008, and set up my booth with about 130 other artists.

The first day of the show started nicely, with warm temperatures and mild gusts, but there were just a few clouds in the sky.  Then, in late afternoon when the weather was still pleasant, a tornado siren started blaring continuously nearby.  Soon a staff member came to each booth and said that 70 mph winds were about 25 miles out and were headed our way–and to get ready for the storm.  I didn’t hesitate; I hauled all my boxes and other gear inside the tent and “battened down the hatches” (I had been hit by straight line winds in Omaha several years ago, and knew what they could do).  Then the staff person said to take refuge in the Landmark Building immediately, so I headed that way, snapping a few cell phone pictures of the oncoming storm.  The dark clouds were ominous.

Inside, we were herded (or as much as artists can be herded!) down into the basement of the building, where we waited, and waited, for the storm to pass overhead.  We heard reports of 90 mph winds and golf ball-sized hail nearby, then someone said the huge beer tent outside had toppled.  One artist said he had gone up and looked out and his booth had been destroyed.  I called my wife on my iPhone and told her the situation, and virtually everyone else was chatting with family and friends on their cell phones.  

Finally, after about an hour, and rumors of another storm approaching, we trooped outside to assess the damage.  It was extensive in some areas of the show, with a great many artists losing weeks or months of work.  Tent poles were twisted and display panels collapsed and tents torn up and artwork soggy and broken.  It was so sad.  Most of the artists have insurance that will cover the broken display structures, but generally it only covers the cost of art materials rather than the retail price of the works of art, so the cost of labor is not compensated.  For those artists who lost nearly everything at the show, it means a major loss of income.  Those of us in this profession live on the edge, often unable to afford some of the benefits that most workers are accustomed to, so a storm like this can be devastating.

By the way, I was lucky; my booth survived, mostly because the location was perhaps a bit less windy.  The straight-line winds from the thunderstorm were clocked at 80 mph.

The staff and administration and volunteers at this art show did an excellent job of warning people of the incoming storm.  They had plans in place for bad weather and executed those plans well.  After the storm they had a meeting with the artists and laid out the plan for the night and the next day.  They handled it well, and I thank them.  Nobody at the show was hurt, thank God.

This is part of a weblog documenting my travels and photography. I am primarily a nature photographer and you can see more of my work at http://www.leerentz.com

Click on the photographs below to see a larger version with captions.