23 March 2016

Facts and Fotography

Nota Bene: this is a post with nothing to do with Stratheden Farms but a rant/whine about the current state of photography. You may wish to return to your regular channel now.

Brother of another mother and my photographic mentor, Tillman Crane, passed through Stratheden Farms recently and, as always, there was some amount of lamentation regarding what passes for fine art photography these days, both what hangs on art institution's walls and what is published in magazines and books. My thinking was further sharpened & stimulated that same day by a brief visit from Bill Moretz, Virginia photographer extraordinaire and repository of encyclopedic knowledge about photographic equipment. Their presence reminded me that although learning from the internet is viable alternative, it is a poor substitute for learning from a live expert with decades of priceless experience. Reading a few web sites may impart some facts but not wisdom.

With this in mind, your humble author begs leave to bring your attention to two texts viewed on the internet this week.

On an old student's (who is now a major photo-editor) Facebook page, one of his contacts wrote: "_____, do you know where I can take a photoshop class. I may start teaching a digital photography class with photoshop. All I know is from playing. I think a real class will help me. Thanks." About 35 years ago, my  friend Ted Rice neatly labelled this the "take a class - teach a class" syndrome (in reference to a student who had taken Ted's platinum printing classes and was now advertising his own "Master Class" workshops in Texas a few months later). The temerity of people to believe that taking one class on a complex technology will enable them to know the subject well enough to teach it is far beyond my comprehension but it is a common approach. Further, the gullible nature of their students who believe they are receiving quality instruction for their large outlays of money to charlatans.

From a photographic equipment blog with 19,500 followers, a writer noted his qualifications, "I got into photography because of a camera [duh]. In late 2012, I saw a Yashica Electro 35 ME on a Swiss auction-website and just wanted it. I didn’t know much about cameras, photography or film... Over the next year I bought about ten different cameras." He aspired to someday have a darkroom and learn to develop film & make his own prints. Three years later, he was an expert on cameras made about the time he was born... obviously a much faster learner than your current author. Get real, kid, other people read the same blogs that 'informed' your posts. Exposing a couple of dozen rolls of film makes you a rank amateur with aspirations, not an expert. Talk to me after you shoot three or four hundred rolls or have worn out a camera or two - then I may find your blether worthy of notice.

You are far too many to enumerate but this is the proper place to acknowledge those who, over my 50 years in photography, have freely imparted their hard-won knowledge to a not-always-worthy student. It all began with industrial photographer Charlie Manion, 17 November 1966 [more on that on 17 November 2016's post]. Thank you for your devotion to the art of photography, my friends, and your dedication to perpetuating it.

P.S.: It is edifying to learn that the object formerly termed "film camera" when I used one, is now "analog hardware."

made with a c. 1958 Mamiya Six Automat camera

16 March 2016


The toasty temperatures have continued. The table below, from the Blacksburg office of the National Weather Service, illustrates how extraordinary this trend has been. Alas, over the coming weekend, a cold front will overrun the land and perhaps snow will fall on Sunday. Today it hit 75F on the farm under a brilliant, unimpaired sun.

"and in other news..."
Sleep cycles get stranger and stranger as you age and sound, deep sleep seems a bygone concept, at least on a regular basis. Out here in the country, sounds such as coyotes celebrating a kill only 75 yards from the window is scarcely a lullaby. Worse, when the dogs go screaming yellow zonkers at 2;10 a.m., and although you expected to find Freddie Krueger at the door, no cause could be detected. The adrenaline burns off in an hour or so and perhaps a fitful sleep returns. Now, imagine if you will, this happening three consecutive nights. Ghosts? Boggles? A trail camera mounted on a porch post the fourth night revealed the answer:

And other causes of insomnia:
The following night Rufus the Dogge woke me up about 2:00 a.m. (what is it about 2:00?), a little distressed by something, clearly not needing to go to the bathroom... then I heard it, that piercing electronic BEEEEEP from downstairs. Oh crap, the carbon monoxide alarm! Opened a couple of bedroom windows, took a deep breath, skittered down the stairs, threw open two doors then looked at the detector, which has a readout of ppm of CO. But instead of a number, it showed ERR. Error? Alright, punch the reset. ERR. Off to the internet for the solution... or, if my bleary eyes had been more able to focus, the words on the back of the detector: "Seven years after the initial power up, this unit will 'chirp' every 30 seconds to indicate that it is time to replace the alarm."
Kidde KN-COPP-3 Nighthawk Plug-In Carbon Monoxide Alarm with Battery Backup and Digital Display

It is my most earnest hope, dear reader, that your nights are spent in deep and restful sleep. I have a vague recollection of that state.

12 March 2016

When you're hot, you're hot!

Here are the official high minimum temperatures for the cities in the local national weather service's area.  Roanoke broke the prior record high by 11 degrees, unreal. This surely has an end but not in the next week. The normal last frost on Stratheden Farm has proven to be in mid-May, eight weeks hence, so some restraint must be applied to budding horticultural ambitions. Despite the odds, however, in a burst of unsupportable optimism, a few zinnia seeds were scattered in a large planter on the patio; when seasonal temperatures return, the large pot may be rolled into the solarium until the cold snap has passed - with any luck, there will be flowers beatifying the deck weeks earlier than any prior year.


The effects of these prolonged unnaturally warm & sunny days (and nights) are easily seen on the farm. Some forsythia are in bloom, the daffodils are just blooming their little heads off, the clematis are showing new leaves, the tulips are rocketing skyward, all but a couple of the day lilies are soaring toward the sun.



Day lilies and a few Rudbeckia

 If the desirable plants are all breaking their long slumber, you know that the weeds are as well. Mr. Fuzzy wrestled the 17" Husqvarna tiller down to the small garden after spending two full days clearing the detritus of prior occupation from it (read: chicken wire, baling wire, cut up pasture panels [missed one and wrapped it around the tiller tines], surveyor's stakes, old windows, old screens, 55 gallon drum, all enough for three trips to the dump and a fourth load of nine bundles of white wooden-wired picket fence ready to go). The purpose of this tilling was two fold: first, to work in the winter's fireplace ashes and second, the discourage the sprouting weeds. The weeds, if left to their own devices, would be so well established by May planting time that they would be very difficult to eliminate. Hopefully they are set back significantly after receiving this thorough thrashing!

 Enough talking dirt - until the next time.

09 March 2016

Its Official - Spring has Sprung

"The Spring advances very rapidly and all Nature will soon be cloathed in her gayest Robes. The green Grass, which begins to shew itself, here, and there, revives in my longing Imagination my little Farm, and its dear Inhabitants.." John Adams to his dear wife, Abigail, Philadelphia, 15 March 1777

Harbingers of Spring have arrived at Stratheden Farm. Crocus can never be trusted - their judgement is too oft flawed as they are hopeless optimists. Native plants, however, are more in tune with a specific location and its eccentricities. The coltsfoot, Tussilago farfara, has begun to bloom; a most unusual plant in that is produces flowers before there are any leaves. Most oddly, this year there are a smattering of leaves simultaneous with the blooms. Even the avian world sayeth Spring has  arrived - there were perhaps 15 Robins in a flock on the front of the farm this day scratching for worms and freshly hatched insects.

After an abnormally wet autumn and winter, along with the welcome relief of days in the 60s or 70s, has also been a respite from precipitation. In the parlance of the vernacular, it is 'time to make hay whilst the sun shineth.'

Your humble and aching correspondent has been at labor reducing patches of wild roses, blackberries, wineberries, briars and young locusts, a back bending and shoulder wrenching task. The wild roses are just starting to leaf out - and any attempt to control their wildly invasive natures is predicated on removal - which in turn must be done while the stems are clearly visible, i.e.., before leaves obscure. Mr. Fuzzy awoke so sore and stiff today that the bed cats were making bets as to whether he might rise to serve their needs or not.

A portion of yesterday afternoon was spent engaged with battling the tiller in the small garden. Tillers may be an improvement over the hoe in terms of finely breaking up the soil but they certainly use no less energy on the part of the owner. It is like unto wrestling a small bear who has imbibed too many fermented berries.This preliminary tilling is not so much to prepare the garden for planting in six weeks but to harass the infernal weeds which otherwise would have developed sound root systems by May and be nearly impossible to eradicate as a result.

May your days be filled with the light of the sun, the warmth of the earth and the energy of Spring.

08 March 2016

The Honourable Company of Horners

Clinton Byers, journeyman horner
   Twenty years ago, in a cold, dark museum building in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, the first ever conference on horn work was assembled by Roland Cadle. After the conference officially ended, twelve visionaries, huddled near a window for light,  decided this should not be a one-shot event but an annual meeting of an organization devoted to those who made objects of horn. Your humble correspondent was elected as the first Guildmaster of the Honourable Company of Horners by those eleven charter members. Last weekend at the U. S. Army Heritage & Education Center in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, the Guild held its twentieth annual meeting with nearly a quarter of the national membership present.
   "Band of Brothers" (forgive me, ladies of the Guild) is an apt description of this group. No mater how diverse our interests and political persuasions, there is total unity derived from the strength of the common bond: horn work. This group has achieved tremendous growth and fulfilled every goal it has set, including the publication of a landmark book (and another landmark book on Southern Horns soon to be published). You might want to spend a moment touring their website, www.hornguild.org.
John DeWald delivering his presentation
   One of the prime directives of the Guild is to preserve and further the trade of working horn (almost exclusively bovine horn). Toward that end, there is a hierarchical structure within the Guild of levels of achievement: freeman, journeyman and master. At each step, competency must be demonstrated by showing items that were crafted by the candidate. There are only ten people who have earned the title of Master. The newest is John DeWald, who gave his Master's Talk and submitted his masterpieces for judging at this meeting; those masterpieces have yet again raised the bar for the definition of Masterwork. Congratulations. John.

For two days each year, this meeting becomes the world's greatest museum of horn work. To further the Guild's directive of education, not only are there continual live demonstrations of appropriate skills, but displays of both historic and contemporary horn work. Jay Hopkins, who is about to complete his definitive Southern Horns, Volume One, displayed some of his incredible collection of Southern horns and illuminated us about them.

The Guild embraces horn work in its many forms, although powder horns dominate the production. Here is a quill holder and penner by Master Art DeCamp, to illustrate one of the many other uses of horn.

Not everyone present is a horner; some construct accouterments to horn objects. Here is a photo of leatherworker Jim Dell and amongst his products are straps for carrying a powder horn, and shooting bags, the natural companion of a powder horn in America.

There was much more to the convention than what has been shown here but perhaps it will give you, my dear reader, an inking of what transpired. A great time was had by all and as we left the facility, most minds were already considering next year's meeting.