Well, it seems like the weather in Milwaukee has been a tad chilly lately.
I’ve always been mildly interested in the occasional news item about “cryonics,” preserving people in a deep freeze. But I wasn’t planning on participating, just yet, which I nearly did, digging my car out of the polar vortex.
But warmer weather is on the way, and I’ve been looking forward to one of the great pleasures of walking in the winter – – admiring the countless shapes and shades of ice.
Some days, it’s as if an artistic glass-maker had set up an outdoor gallery.
As the weather changes, the artworks change, too.
Growing, adding layers, shrinking…and for the final act, dissolving.
Imagine some museum curator, carefully mounting a show, only to find that the artworks, like leprechaun gold, had dissolved away in the morning light.
Or that the artists had crept back into the galleries, to recast and refashion their artworks, with some torchwork or extra crystals, adding brushstrokes, melting their statues, or erasing figures from their paintings.
We’ve all seen artworks that change over time, of course, or disappear.
For people in more temperate climates, their first experiences of transitory art probably involved sand, not ice. Sand castles at the beach – a great way to learn how impermanent our creations are. “And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and the tide came in, and the Frisbee players trod upon it, and beat upon that house; and it fell…”
You can sometimes stop by the college library in Geneva, NY, and watch a Tibetan Lama and his class creating a sand mandala. We’ve probably all done simple sand paintings and mosaics in school, but the mandala is huge and much more elaborate, and takes weeks to complete. When the class was gone, you can examine it closely – and concentrate on not sneezing.
And when this colorful and complex creation is complete…it is liquidated. The monk sweeps it into jars, and pours the sand into the lake.
The ice and snow sculptures around northern cities, of course, aren’t permanent. Milwaukee has signs posted, warning that in preparation for the 4th of July festivities, any un-melted snowmen will be cleared from public areas. Cavemen and woolly mammoths, relics from an ice age that must have seemed eternal to our Cro-Magnon ancestors, are emerging from the melting glaciers, and ancient microbes wake up and resume their decomposition chores, as if they’d just taken a winter’s nap.
Even metal statues aren’t really frozen in time. Bronzed faces in the park turn green with verdigris, and white with pigeon droppings – that’s the pensioners on their bench, but it happens to statues, too. Feet of clay are revealed, shiny reputations corrode, and the statues are disappeared.
But the idea of an art gallery that evolves over time, could be kind of fun.
Slender icicles grow into huge stalactites, and Giacometti statues turn Rubenesque.
The Mona Lisa is intrigued by a frozen-faced, enigmatic pair, and visits the frost-bitten folks in “American Gothic.”
This year, I want to learn a bit about editing and altering pictures in Photoshop and Lightroom. I’ve only invested a few hours so far, and in my easily-distracted way, have just played with the cheap-tricks-and-shiny-objects, like the funhouse reflections from a frozen window. Did you notice? the folks in Grant Wood’s painting are edited to be a bit less grim, less icy-looking, and Lisa is a bit sadder and thinner. The ease with which you can edit and manipulate images sends a chill down your spine.
Sometimes the ice, and digital editing, create fantastic shapes, or transmogrifies ordinary objects into something magical…and sometimes, it’s just ice, and meretricious trickery. Lumps of gray, and grotesque distortions from freezing & thawing – – like the distorted clods of propaganda bombarding us online, or the swollen factoids and skewed images on the news, showing no visible seams, but plenty of bias.
Some days I just want to go out with a camera, and see what shots I can get, straight out of the box, freeze-frame. And some days, digital editing is fascinating, and fun, and might even be a useful job skill sometime.
But often, the constant refashioning, remodeling, fiddling of images gets on the nerves. So many photos look too jazzed, and our ideal of human beauty becomes freeze-dried, as every portrait is botoxed & photoshopped into an icy, blank flawlessness. So…I blow hot and cold on this, and I guess I’ll do both, just work on taking decent photos, maybe tackle RAW format, and think of Photoshop, etc. as a separate hobby. Some of the shots on today’s post were taken with an agèd iPhone, and it’s interesting to see what you can get with a tiny lens.
It’s not a winter scene, but I’m thinking about an exhibition I saw recently — seven versions of the same scene, by the same artist. Monet stood on a balcony at the Savoy Hotel, peering through the smog day after day, until he’d painted “Waterloo Bridge” over forty times.
Looking at the paintings, almost immediately, you get past their familiarity (a false sense of bland prettiness, after years of seeing them on posters & greeting cards, umbrellas & iPad cases), you realize what amazing and complex works they are.
Streams, rivers, and bridges, of course, are symbols of change and transition. And Monet was manipulating people’s visual systems, in his wonderful way, re-working and layering colors, over and over, while keeping an impression of spontaneity. Some paintings change, as you continue to look at them.
But as far as I know, Monet never ducked into a gallery, armed with a hairdryer, to shrink his canvases, or make the paint melt into something Dalí-esque.
Another painting that to me, refers to change – – iconic, unforgettable, and one of my favorites – – Dalí’s “Persistence of Memory,” with its melting clocks. It reminds me of times when I return somewhere, and am told, nothing’s changed, nothing has been altered. But the place is so different than in my memory, that the details seem to have melted and run.
And we know, that even in the seemingly frozen world of an art museum, those UV-screened, climate-controlled sanctums, things are happening beneath the surface of the oil paintings. Even when the temperature and humidity levels are almost constant, the fibers of the canvas expand and contract, sawing against each other. No matter how much we try to freeze time, and preserve the paintings, there are proteins bonding, and chemical reactions continuing.
Beneath the skin, all of us keep changing. Stillness and lack of reaction, can be an active statement, indicating a lack of interest, or giving someone the Big Freeze, or just inner tranquility. But when people sit there expressionless, a lot of the time, we know, or sense, there’s movement under the skin. They could be unmoving, and appear unmoveable, and all the time, they’re silently and happily humming a tune in their head.
Just like walking alongside an iced-over, snow-covered stream, in the depth of winter, and it’s a picture of stillness. But there’s that subtle, wonderful musical sound from the stream flowing underneath, almost like underwater chimes.
Walking over a frozen pond, it will look solid and static, but by early March, you usually hear grinding noises far beneath you. I’ve stood next to someone, who’s still as a statue, and then become aware somehow of their inner tension and friction, and even noises under the frozen face, like ice breaking up. (They might be grinding their teeth in frustration, or, as in my case, trying to do sums in their head.)
We’re Americans, and therefore, we love Change. Most of us love to travel, see new sights, try new foods, hear new bands, watch new movies. But, if you love history, you also enjoy listening to music repeatedly,and re-watching movies, to discover nuances and feelings, that escaped you, the first time around.
And sometimes, you experience a warmth when revisiting places, and finding them unchanged.
There’s the pleasure of the new (novelty, stimulation, sometimes the humor in the unexpected). We enjoy going to see new works of art, and new shows, but for me, there’s an equally keen pleasure in returning to a place, that I’ve been many times before, and seeing things I’ve seen many times before. I walk down a familiar street, looking forward to seeing a beautiful old oak, a fountain, or a handsome building that’s survived the years. Re-watching Bogart or Hepburn movies. Or spending a day wandering through an art museum, especially when it’s twenty below outside, to look at paintings you’ve seen many times, without growing one bit bored.
It’s one of the ways that you know it’s the good stuff – – you enjoy experiencing it over and over. And, I think, there’s also the separate pleasure, and relief, of returning to see something you like, and finding it, like a friend, unchanged, not looking a day older.
It’s not exactly exciting, but there’s a pleasant satisfaction in walking by the dioramas in old museums, often relegated to some dusty, dimly-lit back corridors. During a visit home in December, I went to a couple of museums that I’ve visited since I was a kid. I enjoyed the new exhibitions, fresh is nice, but also enjoyed seeing the old stuff, still frozen in time.
OK, we’re on thin ice, skating awfully close to a digression, so I’ll end it here, on a note of warm nostalgia!
Sometimes, of course, ice isn’t fun, and is kind of treacherous. Glittering snow crystals descend on us in a fantastical, dreamlike shower, too delicate to be real…and overnight, all that fairy stuff coalesces into ugly gray stumbling blocks, or a lethal concrete of black ice on the roadway, a slippery slope to the body shops and chiropractors. The ice can destroy roads, and shatter rocks – – I’ve read that many times, about ice cracking the hardest stone.
When I was in grade school, there was a great old history book, with pictures of Hannibal and a whole army of elephants, trying get through the Alps, to attack Italy. Babar-ians sacking Rome, I gathered.
I had no idea what it was all about, or how the Romans had ticked off the elephants. I guessed it was a lack of peanuts at the Circus Maximus, or maybe something to do with the hippodromes.
But the book mentioned the Carthaginian soldiers using vinegar, not ice, to split the giant boulders blocking a path through the mountains.
I didn’t understand that part, either.
I asked my father, who explained that, like so many things in the old days, vinegar was explosive back then. The Colosseum is in ruins, because someone dropped a Caesar salad, and it went off.
I’d learned by the age of six to ignore my father. Thinking about it, I guessed that they’d poured liquid into the cracks, and waited for it to freeze, using ice to split the rocks. But I looked it up, and apparently, ancient people used heat up the biggest boulders with wood fires, and then pour vinegar into the cracks, to make it shatter. I’m still not clear on why it has to be vinegar, and not, say, elephant pee, since you had all those elephants, but I’m no engineer.
48 thoughts on “Walks Around The Finger Lakes. Watkins Glen, December.”
It looks like the waterfall in the first picture is ready to freeze an indication how cold it must be in your corner of the world. Fantastic photos of nature’s art work with ice, Robert!
Thank you, Peter, yes, it’s a real cold snap, even the Post Office isn’t delivering!
Hey man, you’ve filled the icy air with a ton of interesting insights and points. 👍👍
Speaking of Monet: Have you been to the Orangerie museum in Paris? There are several rooms there with large, amazing water lily paintings by Monet. I saw them a few years ago. They totally floored me.
Thanks, Neil. 🙂 Nope, I’ve never been to Paris. I did see one of his water lily paintings at the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh, and it’s nice to park in front of for a while, and soak it up.
The ones in Orangerie are enormous. 15 or 20 feet long. If you go to Paris, don’t miss them. See ya —
Wow, such stunning pictures !!!
Thank you, so glad you liked them!
Wonderful writing. Great photos. I especially like … all of them! Okay, maybe 12, 13, 16, 19, and 20 appeal to me the most.
On shooting RAW … you may read a lot of stuff on the web about why to do it and how. I’ve read a lot of that over the years, but none of it really convinced me until I shot some RAW and JPGs side-by-side (the camera set to produce both types simultaneously), imported them all into Lightroom, and tried to make the same adjustments to both the RAW and JPG versions of each image. The benefit of RAW was most apparent to me when adjusting sharpness, removing noise, and cropping. Cropping a RAW photo was a big surprise, actually; I could crop out half of an image and enlarge the rest without losing any visible sharpness or detail. Not so with JPGs. Lightroom will also give you some additional white balance options for RAW files; and, to my eye, adjustments to color, saturation, contrast, and luminance seem more robust with a RAW image. I’ve also seen that I can underexpose a photo by two or three stops with RAW, and then in Lightroom recover all the detail by making basic adjustments or even using Lightroom auto adjustments. This trick works really well with closeups and macros where the light may not be optimal and you need a faster shutter speed to get decent focus.
Anyway, probably too much information, but since you know I’ve been experimenting with this stuff for the past year, I thought I’d chime in. Next shoot, try setting your camera to take RAW+JPGs and run them all into Lightroom; I think you’ll find the differences very interesting.
Thank you, Dale, it’s not TMI at all, I appreciate it. I’ve been promising myself I’d tackle this, and learn something new this year. There’s a lot of times the subject, I mean the thing I want to photograph, is really interesting, and I haven’t had the expertise to get a good shot. So it will be a good project for 2019. 🙂
Ditto everything Dale said about the advantages of RAW. Even if you don’t do anything with your RAW files now, you can always retrieve them in the future when you’re ready to. In recent years the software for dealing with RAW files has kept improving, and we’ll most likely be able to take better and better advantage of them in the years to come.
I appreciate your Babar-ian, the wordplay between seams and bias, still-frozen museum exhibits, and also skating close to a digression.
Last spring in New York we went to the Whitney and took in a big Grant Wood show, where of course “American Gothic” was the star. (Mona Lisa didn’t put in an appearance.) Two years earlier we’d seen “American Gothic” in its customary home at the Art Institute of Chicago, which I’d encourage you to visit; we spent a day there from morning opening to late afternoon closing.
A part of the ice formations that photographs 4 and 6 share reminds me of a spread-out cabbage leaf. Call it cold slaw. Photo 12 strikes me as the moodiest (in a good way) of the many ice pictures you’ve shown. What fun you had playing in so many ways with all that ice.
Good for you for spelling Dalí with the accent. Honduras has a town called Danlí but I don’t think Dalí ever spent any time there. Dalí was Catalan, and as it happens the first place I ever heard Catalan was in New York’s Museum of Modern Art, which houses “The Persistence of Memory.” I was walking up a staircase and the two men in front of me were speaking a foreign language. I was surprised to find I could understand bits and pieces of what they were saying. When I asked them what language it was they said Catalan.
You’ve chosen a good way to say goodbye to January.
Thank you, Steve, appreciate the comments and interesting anecdote, too. And “cold slaw” 🙂 🙂 I hadn’t thought of cabbage leaves but now I see it.
I’ve never seen a Grant Wood show, I’d like to, that’s a very interesting artist.
My Spanish was never great, and getting a little rusty, but there’s 100k Hispanics/Latinos around Milwaukee, so I’m going to brush up. I’ve heard a bit of Galician, which I couldn’t understand, but don’t think I’ve ever run across a Catalan speaker.
Don’t know that I can take credit for “cold slaw.” Surprisingly many people actually say that, for two reasons: cole slaw is served cold, and cole isn’t an English word that appears as such anywhere else (though kale is etymologically the same word, as is the kohl in kohlrabi. A Google search just now turned up 121,000 hits for “cold slaw.”
A good way to hear some Catalan is to head for the wonderful cosmopolis of Barcelona. I recommend putting it on your cubeta (i.e. bucket) list. You’re also now one word up on your Spanish because cubeta is the same in Catalan and Spanish. It also means ‘tray.’ Have you thought of enrolling in a Spanish class, whether formal or informal?
I love the ice photos, Robert. They are, as you say, really artistic. And I’ve seen a sand mandala before, and the amount of skill and patience that goes into making them is remarkable. And then, as you say, they sweep them away (this is intended as a reminder of the impermanence of all things).
Thanks, Mick. The teacher who creates them is a lama “on loan” from the Dalai Lama’s monastery. I hear they have to turn people away from his classes, very popular.
I’m not surprised. I’ve been to that monastery in McCleod Ganj in India, and it’s a remarkable place.
Thank you for this wonderful meandering post. The photos throughout were like a quiet counter melody accompanying the lively tune of your thoughts.
I read somewhere that back in the day, the major art gallery of France did indeed have a day set aside for the artists to come in and amend their works that had just been hung. I can’t remember what it was called. Some of the artists were notorious for making sweeping changes in paintings, causing consternation among the judges who felt they’d accepted one painting and were now stuck exhibiting an entirely different one.
Thank you, Melissa, what a nice compliment. And that’s wild about the Second Thoughts Day at the French gallery. Do you have an “editor” or trusted critic, that you allow to advise when your paintings are done, and time to step away? Or is it entirely your call
That is a great question. My ex husband is my best critic. Of course, the few times he didn’t like a painting I got mad at him so maybe he just finds nice things to say in self defense! I have artist friends who I can count on to tell me I’m doing everything wrong, up to and including subject matter. I’ve learned not to ask them. And my daughter usually wants me to add red to whatever I’m painting. She’s often right. 🙂
That’s a humdinger Robert! Love the mandala reference and how you tied all these together, quite a prism…
Thank you, Bill, and thanks for humdinger, that always gets a smile! 🙂 Believe it or not, this was, by my standards, severely self-edited. I’m not working on epitaphs just yet, if I was, maybe “But I digress…”
Hi Robert. On top of these wonderfully, strangely poetic and philosophical wanderings of all manner of slippery subjects you’re going to delve deeper into a study of the photographic arts and imaging and I think that’s great. Will be more than a little curious to see how the thoughtfulness and sense of humor in your writing translates in these experiments. Really enjoyed the photos taken by you in this essay. During this awful cold snap have you had any opportunities (or insane desire) to pilgrimage to Lake Michigan? Does Milwaukee have popular or iconic piers on the water for admiring and visiting? Do you live right in the city?
Thanks very much T-Fir (is that ok to call you, or you prefer Jason), kind of hooked on studying every frozen lump now. I do live in the city, but northside, not downtown. The very northern edge of Riverwest neighborhood, right near the river. Kind of gritty in my immediate area, but in good weather, I can walk to work from here. Yeah, I’ve been wanting to see the shoreline, especially when the surf was up recently, but my fingers/toes got a little bit frosted a few days ago, and now kind of smart when they get cold, so waiting for temps to go up a bit. The city has a working harbor, a riverwalk, and some parks along the shore. Some cool old lighthouses.
If you just so happen to see me in the grocery store or library, “Jason” will work better!
On WP there’s Tugster: A waterblog, by Will Van Dorp, who grew up just a couple of towns from mine in NY, and, as you might guess, is on tugboats in NYC and inland, and he sometimes has pictures of ships at Milwaukee. That lake has a temper, the most wrecks of any of the Great Lakes, I learned that at one of the lighthouses, the bottom must just be littered with ships.
Beauty amidst the Big Freeze. Hope you are keeping healthy and relatively warm!
Thank you, Denzil. Healthy so far, except a few frost-nipped fingertips. We were allowed to work from home for a couple of days. I’m used to snowy winters, but this cold snap was something else entirely! 🙂
Hi Robert. I was highly entertained by this well written post of yours. I can understand why you long for cold weather. When ice sculptures inspire as much as they have inspired you, then the explanation is obvious.
It is beautiful imaginative images and a wonderful story.
I came across a story about Hannibal’s trip across the Alps and how it went with the vinegar: https://sites.psu.edu/hannibal/crossing-the-alps/
Hope you are okay – I read your answer to Denzil!
Thank you for the nice compliments, Hanna, very kind. And I appreciate the Hannibal article, much more detailed than what I’d read before. The weather has moderated now and we’re fine, just got a touch of ice on fingertips & toes, had to dig out my car and that was one of the coldest days of my life. Now 4 C this week will feel positively balmy! 🙂
This is well written. It reminded me that art is everywhere around us, although I believe nature still does the best job 🙂 I will be more observant now! Nice article.
Your ice looks fairly familiar. 🙂 I am on my out this morning (Sunday) in hopes of finding more but I think our low last night of 31 degrees might have taken the edge off.
Very interesting and entertaining post. As amazing as the work of artists can be, you just can’t beat Nature for variety and creativity. Even repetitives like pendants are always just a little bit different.
Thanks, Steve, it’s a great season for ice collectors, we’ll probably have some to enjoy until Memorial Day!
So many paths you wander down…it’s delightful, and you string it all together in a most entertaining way. Many of the ice photos are excellent, (the 1st & 2nd-to-last, just to name two that really appeal to me) you clearly – very clearly! – had fun with the ice formations. I’ve seen Tibetan monks making sand mandalas and what a privilege it is to watch. That was a nice memory, thanks. Your American Gothic/Mona Lisa mashup is very funny. Personally, i don’t worry about fresh-out-of-the -box vs. processed. Every photo I take goes into Lightroom, and has to at least be sharpened. Some images change radically, others hardly at all. It just depends on what the image wants, or where it might go, given how I feel at the time. And that’s fine. Which isn’t to say that I don’t agree that there is loads of ugly, overdone stuff out there, but I ignore it. Speaking of fresh, I love #14 too, and I suspect that one – the one with your phone, right? – wasn’t processed. It looks very good just the way it is. You never know. Oh, I love #13, #18 & #24, too. And yes, the sounds you hear in quiet places, how wonderful they are. Have a good week! I’m glad you made it through the onslaught of sub-subzero weather, and lived to illustrate the tale, beautifully, and without using elephant pee. 🙂
Hi Lynn – thanks very much, I always look forward to reading your comments. Yes, I was keeping a jar of pickle juice in reserve, in case we had to clear any boulders from the roadway, but the cold spell is over for a bit, thank heavens!
Loved this guided tour through the art museum of nature–with works both frozen and changing–constantly evolving. I also really enjoyed your interpretation of Dali’s Persistence of Memory–revisiting a familiar place can make it seem like the details are melted together, as you note. Experience, distance, perspective–they all change the view we thought we once knew. Cheers!
Thank you, Cecilia, glad you enjoyed the tour!
Interesting (and photogenic) piece. I guess if you think about it, everything is performance art, although it may be moving in very slow motion. Consider the Grand Canyon.
It’s temperate enough around here that I don’t see much ice, short of driving up to Mt. Hood. Which of course, when the roads are icy, is something that doesn’t appeal to me. Guess I’ll just have to depend on folks in cooler climes for those images. (But even those aren’t worth frostbite. I remember that from my Minnesota years…)
That’s an impressive amount of patience, thinking of the Grand Canyon as performance art. It would also be a great venue for participatory theater, if we’d all gotten involved earlier, we could have prevented all that erosion. It would just be “The Grand Plain”
I love ice sculptures and frost etchings. I also love the idea of the Colosseum being blown up by a random Caesar salad. Ancient terrorism!
It’s interesting that you and Lynn both present your photos the same way: a lot of them, with a lot of digressions and discussion. I have a hard time absorbing posts from you both; it’s like confronting a classy buffet and trying to decide where to start. (Or fending off the temptation to head straight for the desserts.)
Interestingly, my favorite photo from this set are numbers 14 and 24: both have a simplicity which appeals to me. I did have to laugh at your American Gothic revision. One of the funniest ones I’ve ever seen was the pairing of Willy Nelson and Kinky Friedman on the cover of Texas Monthly magazine as the esteemed couple. Kinky was the one in the dress, of course. There’s a great article about it here.
I’ve had Lightroom and Photoshop on my “to-learn” list for a couple of years, now. I still haven’t, but I’ve not devoted the attention to it that’s clearly going to be necessary. My mind doesn’t always deal well with complexity, as noted above, and both of the programs look like a thicket to me.
I’m not so much a fan of the tricks that people do with the various filters that are available on phone apps, and I generally feel cheated if I find a scene has been substantially changed (like a people eliminated from landscapes and such) so it’s more a matter of wanting to create a good correspondence between what my eye saw and what the image conveys. I’m especially not fond of over-saturation of color. I read that phone cameras tend to saturate more strongly, and people are seeing so many deeply saturated photos that they try to imitate it. Whether that’s true, I don’t know, but it’s just one of those interesting side notes to photography today.
I chuckled when I got to this line in Steve G’s comment: “Even repetitives like pendants are always just a little bit different.” I thought to myself, “Yep. Pendants are repetitive,” and then realized I had mis-read the word, with this definition in mind:
“Pedantic means “like a pedant,” someone who’s too concerned with literal accuracy or formality. It’s a negative term that implies someone is showing off book learning or trivia, especially in a tiresome way. You don’t want to go antique-shopping with a pedantic friend, who will use the opportunity to bore you with his in-depth knowledge of Chinese porcelain kitty-litter boxes.”
Despite the abundance of pendants here, you most assuredly aren’t a pendant!
Hi Linda – Thank you, I like this buffet idea very much! I like a big spread with different stuff to sample, and it seems very apt to me, because a couple of times at big formal events, they had ice sculptures on the buffet tables. I’m sorry that those tapas restaurants always seem to be pretty expensive.
I don’t kid myself that I’m in Lynn’s league of photography, but I figured some people go their whole lives without seeing snow or ice, and might find something to visually nosh on from the smorgasbord.
And now I’ve got to go read up on these porcelain kitty-litter boxes, that’s another gap in my education!!
And the best thing about a good buffet is that you can go back again…and again…and again….
As for tapas — if we had a decent tapas bar around here, I’d be there a couple of times a week. When I first made the acquaintance of those in Madrid, I was smitten for life!
Beautiful post, Robert, about things changed and unchanged. The river that flows under all things.
Thank you Julie, and that’s such a nice way of putting it.
Hi, thanks for dropping by. Great set! Love nr12. See you!
Thank you, I was admiring your photographs this morning.