Monday, March 25, 2013

Week 12 of the 365 Day Challenge

Day 77 - John Dunn Bridge

One of my photographer buddies and I hit the Rio Grande Gorge area in search of big horn sheep as I mentioned several places on the ethernet. And some of the photos in this weekly review of my 365 day challenge have been featured in other blogs as this area is to be given National Monument status today by President Obama. So rather than duplicating all that I want to focus on a conversation Jessica Duke and I had about photography.

Jessica entered her first official photography show and was one of the accepted photographers. Her photos are three of 500 to be featured. Nothing new for me because I also get beat out constantly by my sister, Deborah Binford Baker. But I digress. She was asked to come up with 50 to 150 words about her photography. BTW for those that have never done this 150 is easier than 50. And I have done it a lot for my painting but not often for photography.

Day 78 - Water under the bridge

There are a lot of levels of photography. At one time I was heavily into photo journalism. I was doing freelance writing and supplying at first just background photos for the stories so the paper would know where to send a photographer. They quickly told me not to worry about the directions of how to get to the locations of the photos. Just take the pictures. I just as quickly started looking at photography differently. Even if it was for a travel article I wanted my photographs to be artistic and to capture a moment in time. The top photo catches the early morning light coming down the Arroyo Hondo Canyon to the John Dunn or low bridge over the Rio Grande. Both photos are also about the quiet mirror surface of the water at this point on the river. Just below comes the first little rapid as the river winds down rapidly to the Taos Box.

Day 79 - Looking Down River

I live in an area where the purpose of photographers is often the capturing of the beauty of the land. There is in fact so much beauty so often recorded that the competition begins to become about getting a special or elusive moment; a special light and shadow, etc.

Day 80 - further down the river

And sometimes it is just about aiming your camera and recording your own personal journey: I have been here. Most of the photos posted in week 12 were in that category. I might submit them as accompaniment to a travel article or use them as basis for a painting. Day 80 was that sort of reference photograph. I like the shape of the river and the bluff behind it; the red willow stalks on the edge. It needs a house or a cross or something more. Day 81 below was taken in that same vein. 

Day 81 - Balancing act

Day 82 - Yucca Seed Pod Husk

Day 82 is more where I think I am heading with photography. It is my newest discovery in a hobby I took up  as a child with a simple Brownie camera. No, not necessarily macro photography but capturing the beauty others may not see in objects that are all around us. This simple seed pod devoid of seeds was the one image out of more than 500 I took on this day outing which I explored beyond just simple post processing. 

Beyond day 82

Growing as an artist be it in photography or painting or sculpture or writing requires exploration. And it is one reason I left the art fair circuit. Fairs seemed to require that you find your signature and stay there. Entering exhibits and contests with art asks for me to stretch beyond my comfort zone. Yes, I could paint or photograph 500 variations of poppies or churches. Piece of cake. But be it in pixels or paint I want to capture what I have not captured before and what the viewer probably missed on the same path.

Once they announced that the Rio Grande del Norte was to become an National Monument I felt obligated to spend week twelve with the photos I had just taken of that area. Sometimes the photo journalist just takes over. And why not. I can do both or three things if you count reference photos for paintings. One more day remained and I think I would have been remiss if this week of the challenge did not include at least one Big Horned Sheep photo.

Day 83 - Big Horned Ewe
Those who have been to Binfords Back Country Photography or to my other blog Sidetracked Charley linked in the right column have seen all the more spectacular photos including the big horned rams but I like this photo because it is a ewe quietly watch us strange people with the big black objects. She seems almost Zen like in her contemplation. And she is so one with her universe. May there always be Big Horns on the basalt cliffs of the Rio Grande.

So what would be my 150 words about my photography? I will let you know when I figure it out.

Sunday, March 24, 2013


Not to be Reproduced, 1937 by the Belgian surrealist RenĂ© Magritte


The constant
a sense of being watched

a shadow moving

in the empty halls of marble
where he stood.

Approaching the mirror
expecting to see his own image
and the tireless stalker
 he saw his back
into the infinite

J. Binford-Bell
March 2013

A tip of the hat to Tess Kincaid for this visual prompt
for more interpretations by very talented people see The Mag

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Rio Grande Del Norte National Monument

Rio Grande by Arroyo Hondo

Some 240,000 acres of land along the upper Rio Grande in New Mexico will be designated as a National Monument today by President Obama. It is an area I am very familiar with and much love. In fact I was just there on Monday showing parts of it to my friend and fellow photographer, Jessica Duke. We were looking for Desert Big Horn Sheep that have been re-established in the Rio Grande Gorge. And we found them.

I have been posting photographs of the wild river and the Big Horn Sheep all week but it seemed appropriate today to post a blog here about our newest gift to ourselves.

John Dunn or Low Bridge

The high bridge spanning the gorge some 600 feet above the surface of the Rio Grande gets all the headlines these days. But before that engineering feet in the 1960's there was the low bridge built by Long John Dunn of Taos. He was a bronc rider, stage coach driver, gambler and a legend in northern New Mexico.

The Denver and Rio Grande Railroad built a narrow gauge line from Alamosa, Colorado to Espanola, New Mexico on the wrong side of the Rio Grande Gorge and missed the town of Taos by going through Tres Piedras. John Dunn, who left Victoria, Texas to hide from the law in Taos, built a bridge where the Arroyo Hondo meets the Rio Grande and ran stage coaches out to pick up passengers off the Chili Line. It is easy to get down to the John Dunn bridge from the Taos direction but the switch backs up the opposite canyon wall must have given passengers a few nervous moments.

Big Horn Ram on the Canyon Wall

The high basalt walls of the Rio Grande Gorge does not seem to bother the Big Horn Sheep. Visitors going across the high bridge in the mornings report seeing them on the rim and the mesa beyond. We went down south further and caught them on the walls by Pillar.

Rio Grande before Embudo

Checking us out

That location, however, didn't get us that much closer to the sheep. It did put us in awe of the ability of these agile animals to climb. They seem very much home in Rio Grande Del Norte National Monument. And hopefully this designation will keep them and one of America's last wild rivers safe.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Week 11 of the 365 Day Challenge

Day 70

Took a break this week from lessons as it were and just played around with my camera, taking a picture of whatever I wanted. The above urn has been a frequent focus but I have always been trying to delete the railing in my photographs. This time I embraced it. Really like the result.

Day 71

There is what we think the week is about and what it turns out to be about. I thought I was giving myself free rein but in fact I ended up revisiting subjects of stopping to take pictures of familiar views or objects I had driven by so many times; always saying I should stop. The above mining car fits into the latter category. It is on the lawn of the Raton Visitor's Center. I stopped finally.

Day 73

And another picture taken on the day I stopped. I love the abstract nature of this photo. I used to diligently post process a whole upload of photos (or ignore them because of my schedule), but what is working for me now is rating the photos on the first pass through and then going back and post processing one or a few at a time. Yesterday I took over 500 photos of Big Horn Sheep. (See Binford-Bell Studio/Big Horn Sheep on the Rio Grande). Just one pass to delete the obvious and rate the others was exhausting enough. By picking at my food as it were, what I do with one photo does not influence what I do with its neighbors in the file. You can begin to see an image as too precious to play with.

Day 72

This French door on a greenhouse I visit often is a frequent subject of my photos. Most images are taken from the outside. And I like it especially when the humidity in the green house causes the condensation on the panes of glass. Works best when it is a grey day outside. The sun was shining weakly on this day and the light it cast across the sandstone caused me to change my perspective from outside to inside. The image required the cloning out of several annoying distractions on the floor but I needed the practice and the final result seemed worth it. Next grey day I want to put some dead leafs from the plants on the floor under the bench. A week of still life images has made me think about setting up a photo.

Day 74

I love the placement of this picnic table. And like the French doors I have taken so many pictures of it. Mostly all from a different perspective; downhill looking up. The shadows on the snow caught my attention this day as I was walking down the hill toward the pond.

Day 75

The above picture was just because it was there. I like the bud, the flower and the died dead blossom all in the same frame. I usually try to tone down geraniums. Their colors are too showy for me. But in this photo I upped that showiness. I used an enamel effect because it also turned the plain stucco wall into a bloom to rival the geranium. The same post processing program effect was used on the photograph below but this time to add color to dry twigs and their shadows against a stucco wall.

Day 76

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Midnight Tango

Faun, Horse, and Bird, 1936
Pablo Picasso

Midnight Tango

In the blue hour
long before the light
comes the dance
of creatures
in my troubled mind.

Darkly they dance
off beat with each other
out of time and place
counter point
To the tune I hum.

La blu heure
holds tight the night
as the reel and squeal
out of my mind
I must

J. Binford-Bell
March 2013

For more poems and snippets of prose inspired by the same visual prompt see the Mag.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Week Ten of 365 Day Challenge - Landscapes

Day 63 - The Heart of the Sangre de Christos

I live in New Mexico so of course I know how to take landscapes. But when I read that portion of a digital photography book I was surprised to find tips I had never considered consciously, so I figured maybe a week of conscious taking of landscapes was in order.

Rule One -- wait, there are no rules in photography or art -- merely guidelines. One guideline, therefore, would be foreground. Really easy with the long lens on to zero in on just the snow capped mountain above. But per this book on photography foreground is critical to the composition. Ergo I did not walk forward and photograph over the fence. The fence and highland mesa vegetation provides context and depth. 

Not day 64 - Blowing snow

This is using the long lens to zero in. I really like this one but very little foreground, if any.

Day 64 - Wheeler Peak

Better photograph? Frankly for me the jury is still out. I think the one that breaks the rules - oops, guidelines, has more impact. But if I am entering contests where the judges are stickler for rules?

Day 65 - Taos River

Guideline two - landscape does not have to include the complete scape as it were. Sky and complete trees are not necessary.  Snap takers have a tendency to point their cameras at the horizon and see how much of the landscape they can get into one frame. This was about how little. And movement. Horizons often have a static effect so if the horizon is not key do not include it.

Day 66 - Shadows on the snow

Guideline three - complete trees are not necessary. If you have the bottoms you do not need the tops and if you have the tops you do not need the bottoms. I played around with this a bit on a grove of aspen and found that you do sort of need one of the other. Not done playing with that limit, however. And in this photo the concentration is on bottoms and the shadows the trees cast. But the tree on the far left has neither bottom or top in the frame and I think it works fine.

Day 67 - Wide Open Spaces
Guideline four - this one is mine - what originally prompted you to stop the car and take the picture? I have driven by this particular spot on the road between Cimarron and Raton more times than I want to acknowledge and never stopped but always turned and stared. On this particular day I was racing to get home to avoid the snow storm that was moving in. The clouds in this picture are the precursor to that storm. I stopped. Was it the clouds to give a break to the often endless blue? The cattle pens in the foreground? Or the line of fence and power poles that gave a sense of the distance between where I stood and the bluffs and mountains beyond? Or some combination of all that?

I was in a plein aire class once and was confronted with a beautiful canyon along old route 66 to watercolor. After taking a few reference photographs I found myself painting out the line of power poles that ran through Tijeras Canyon in the middle of my composition. I got home with my masterpiece and when I sat down to do the detail work I put the power poles back in per my photograph.

Day 68 - entering Moreno Valley

Guideline five - this one is also mine. You do not have to live with power poles and lines if they have no purpose in the composition. There were two poles in the foreground of this photograph and more annoying, power lines in stark black across white snow. To crop them out eliminated the foreground detail so I decided to practice my cloning in the dry darkroom. Tip - I find it easier to work down than across with the cloning tool and you can rotate the photograph.

Day 69 - Palisades in Cimarron Canyon

Guideline 6 - Not all landscapes are horizontal. Though it is amazing how often I think of landscapes in that context and I have been to Utah.

Having done a few weeks of intense study on dedicated subjects next week is going to be "What I see is what you get." If you want to see the day by day posts go to Binford-Bell Studio 365 Day Challenge - March. There is also an extended discussion on days 67 and 68 about power poles.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Time and Tide

Meal Beach, Burra Isles, Shetland
by Robin Gosnall

Time and tide wait for no man

Out of time
as the tide rolls out
wanting to follow
but afraid
to go.

Time of man
just a concept of clocks
tides ever eternal
wash away

J. Binford-Bell
March 2013

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Ceremony - The Creative Process

Grand Procession

Grand Procession was one of the first of my large paintings inspired by the canyons of Utah and Arizona. Everyone seemed to want it but nobody bought it though it won prizes as it went from exhibit to exhibit. Then one day it came back from an exhibition with a huge tear in the canvas. I cut the canvas off the stretcher bars, cut off the damaged portion and rolled it up for possible future use in the collage I keep talking about.

When I painted Grand Procession I was working with stock sized pre-stretched canvases and this one was 24 x 36. Since those days I stretch my own canvases in sizes that fit the subject. I pulled out the original sketch one day and decided I might like it better square. A friend had given me a 24 x 24 wooden frame that needed some repair. It seemed perfect to be painted creatively to match a painting.

Black frame in process of sanding and repair

But first it needed sanded and repaired because of nicks it had suffered before it came to me. I rather like working with frames. I have in the past repaired some very ornate and antique frames for clients and small museums.

Frame painted and gesso applied

I wanted to paint the broad flat gutter of the frame and I wanted to use liquid watercolors and inks like I paint with on canvas so I had to apply and sand and reapply several layers of absorbent ground in the gutter.  And paint the edges. I began with the idea of silver or gold and here I am trying out both.

Revised Grand Procession

Next step was to begin the painting. Frame has to match it and not the other way around. I have done paintings where all the figures continue on to the frame but I didn't want to do that this time exactly. I wanted the painting framed in sky and water.

Further progress

But I was not happy with the oranges and Indian Reds. And as a consequence I got sort of stuck here. Fortunately you can lift colors up from the watercolor canvas I use. Decided to paint the frame with the sky and water colors and then see what naturally presented itself for the transition between the two and try them on as it were. Even less happy with the colors in the picture.

First pair up of frame and painting

Ceremony with the color changes

And then I had to lay the frame over the canvas and match colors on t he frame to the end colors on the painting. Paintings with frames that matched was done a lot by artists in the 1950's because they could not afford new frames and were constantly refurbishing older frames. Today a painting from that period with the original painted frame are collector items.

Ceremony with frame

Monday, March 4, 2013

Week Nine - 365 Day Challenge

Day 57

It is all about color

The weather took a turn toward spring in the final days of February. Blue skies and no wind are hard for photographers to resist so my friend, and fellow photographer, Jessica Duke and I grabbed cameras and set of on an all day exhibition around the Enchanted Circle with a deviation down the Rio Grande to Embudo Crossing in the hopes of capturing some pictures of Bald Eagles.

I came back with wonderful pictures of the rivers we visited, the birds, the ice in process of melting, and even big horn sheep, more elk, and memories of seeing bald Eagles flying over my head. But the photographic height of the trip for me was just being out of the studio and focusing on things bigger than a creamer. And being able to play in a riot of color.

Day 58

So, you might ask, isn't the back tail gate of an aging truck a still life? But not of my design. Just of my focus as it were. And I image when this truck is rolling (that is a current license plate) nothing in this picture is still. I personally can hear the rattle and clank of gate and chain.

Note to self: Do not get so engrossed with one photo opportunity that you do not turn around and see what else is the neighborhood.

Day 59 - To be a girl

One of the digital photography books I have on my Tablet to read in those moments waiting for the sun to come up or the eagles to appear makes the suggestion to always turn around and look behind you. The photo above was literally right behind me as I was photographing the tail gate of the old truck. And even with the colorful display I almost didn't click the shutter. I spent too many years in film photography and sometimes I worry about the cost of taking bad shots. Why I did not want to waste flash card space was because of the signs. I could not cut down my area of focus with my wide angle or get far enough away with my long lens. I ended up taking multiple pictures because I remembered I could always crop or clone out what I didn't want. In the final analysis on the computer, however, it turned out the signs were a plus.

Note to self: Do not prejudge the photo opportunity.

Day 60

On the day in question I took over 600 pictures. Unless I am desperate for flash card space I do not delete from with the evidence in that tiny screen on the back of my Nikon D90. Here again my years of film experience. I always printed at least a contact sheet and studied the pictures with a magnifying scope before deciding on what to print. Now I get home and upload to my computer and review each photo before post processing begins. There is obvious trash in every batch. And the more photos you take the more trash. You get very ruthless with 600 plus pictures before you. And I confess this one almost got deleted. Spring isn't here yet, the only color is plastic or cloth flowers, the cross is made of rebar, the foreground is messy. I could go on. But in the end I sort of liked what all those things said about the culture that these cruxes exist in. So I decided to make it look like Easter.

Note to Self: Do not always go with your first reaction on your first review.

Day 61

This is that same truck. In the sequence of the photos as they were taken it was after the dress shop and the church that ends this blog (It is the cross that was posted out of sequence from the flash card. I post as I process). I had thought I had digitally recorded everything of worth and turned to walk back to find my photographer friend and saw the part of the truck I had ignored.

Note to self: Completely circle your subject if possible. Be aware this works with trucks but not buffalo.

Day 62

As I previously mentioned I post for the 365 day challenge as I process a photo. This was one of those photos that was rather begrudgingly not deleted. I was playing with focal depth and am ashamed of how many pictures of this one seed pod I took. I deleted all but three on the first pass while I debated that time in memorial argument of all photographers: How much of the photo has to be in focus.

Note to self: Not very much.

Day 63 - The church at Arroyo Seco

Before I began actually printing my photos professionally and entering them in photographic competitions I took a huge amount of pictures of old adobe churches and missions in my area of New Mexico. They were generally toss away shots which I put in a folder on my computer called Art Inspiration because I painted them. I was a painter. Not a photographer. I am still a painter but I do not paint as many churches any more. I photographed this one out of habit mainly and only took a couple shots. I walked forward enough to get the power lines out of way but didn't think it worth walking across the muddy road and through the snow to explore my subject further. I painted it in post processing. I love the shadow of the cross on the roof. A detail I did not notice at the time I took the picture.

Note to self: Go back to Arroyo Seco in the Spring with the sun just a bit lower in the horizon.

I will end this blog with something I am beginning to find quite valuable in my camera bag - my Galaxy Tablet. I started taking it with me because I have two books loaded on it I often want to access - Field Guide to the Nikon D90, and the first of a series of books on digital photography.

I have, however, just begun using it to record important data about a photographic trip. Things like when the sun finally hits the Rio Grande, where we found the Big Horn Sheep, places I want to return to, what time was the cross shadow thrown across the roof, when were the elk in the faraway meadow, what besides Bald Eagles can be found in Embudo Canyon . . . the list is quite long. And unlike my notes taken on paper which get lost in my camera bag these are dated and titled and with me for the next trip.

Happy snaps.