Home to Sedona

Posted in Mixed Nuts on January 21st, 2012 by MadDog
No Gravatar

While in Madang for the last six weeks I finished up thirty years of residency. Though everything went smoothly and I had some happy surprises, there were some very sad moments. I posted here only once while I was gone. I was scrambling to get everything done that I needed to do to make a more or less graceful exit, so it was difficult to think of anything interesting to write about. I also sold my Canon G10 and G11 cameras, so I had nothing with which to make images. I don’t seem to be able to write without them, even if they have little to do with the text.

Today’s menagerie of images has a peculiar genesis. Last night I gave myself five minutes to scan about three thousand images from Madang – Ples Bilong Mi (yes, a title change is coming soon). My choices have little to do with quality and more to do with knee jerk reactions. Since they are seemingly random choices, the text is likely to be disjointed. In some ways I’m still orienting myself in this new life. Everything is in transition. I’m also still wasted from the trip back to Sedona. I had nearly forty hours in the air from the 13th to the 15th and I don’t know how many sitting in a daze in airport lounges. I was amazed when I left Singapore to learn that we were heading for Houston via Moscow! I boarded in Singapore, sat there for eleven hours and thirty minutes, got off the plane in Moscow, went through security again and got back on the same plane in the same seat and rubbed my aching knees for another eleven hours and forty minutes while watching the path of the plan heading for Greenland on the great circle route to Houston.

Here’s the route which brought me home to Gracie:

According to Great Circle Mapper that’s 17,609 miles. The only break I got was a short overnight stay in Brisbane. My sleep schedule is even more disturbed than normal, even after five nights at home.

I’ll start with one of my favorite underwater images, Buddy, an Amphiprion clarkii anemonefish:

I’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of this one. It has appeared in several publications and now adorns many web sites, probably many more than I know about.

We’ll come back to some more UW images after I digress to illustrate a few of the things I’ve sadly left behind. Forget about the house. Though I called it home, after the walls were stripped and the mementos were packed it was just a shell. Home was where Eunie was. It might seem harsh to say that what I may miss most is Sheba, my beautiful, smart and affectionate dog:

I say I’ll miss her most because she doesn’t understand why I’m not going to be there to love her. Maybe dogs don’t think that much about those things. Possibly it is just our anthropomorphization of them which makes us believe that they mourn for such a loss. I do have confidence that she will be well cared for. It is a blessing that she will not be relocated and the people who will be living in my house want her and will see that she lives a happy life.

In another more lingering way I will miss my friends, represented here by Trevor Hattersley and Tony Collins:

Many people come and go in Madang. It’s that kind of place. Tony has already gone. I’ve now left. Trevor will soon follow suit. Some of the dearest will remain. Some I will see again; some never.

I’m not sure why this image demanded to be included:

Maybe it’s because it is so inclusive of thoughts of Madang, the sea, the people, the exotic nature of the place. It’s appropriate that this image departs from photography in the direction of w watercolor painting. It needs to fade from reality into the landscape of dreams.

The sea, the sea . . . How it captured my body and my mind. Here a Blue-Spotted Stingray flees in a panic as I approach:

I reckon that I spent roughly 2,500 hours under water during my twenty five years of diving in Madang. Though I was generally a very careful diver I still had several brushes with the Grim Reaper. Except for the occasional sky-dive, I expect that life will be a mite safer here in the high desert.

Living with the ocean at my front doorstep provided constant opportunities for image making:

This shot of a ship in the early morning light now graces the cover of a catalog for a German marine equipment supply company.

And, in the end, diving was more about friends than anything else. This is one of my very favorites. Karen and her little blue friends.

The world of nature was my playground. I showed a local fellow how to press the button on the camera mounted on a tripod for this shot:

The image appeared in Paradise Magazine, the Airlines PNG in-flight publication as one of the images in Bush Tucker – PNG Style, an article about edibles which can be found in the rainforest. I lost both nails from my big toes within a few days after completing this trek. The “Land of Surprises” they call it. I was certainly surprised.

On any given day, in my garden, I could find gifts of beauty to photograph:

Here the evening rain drips from the underside of a banana leaf. I had about twenty banana trees in my garden. They remain the best tasting bananas I have ever eaten.

My life was blessed with travel around the world, thirteen times at my latest count. Here is the wonderful “Tunnel of Light” at Chicago’s O’Hare airport:

And I will never forget the severe vertigo I felt as I mounted the top of this astoundingly long escalator in Budapest:

I know there are longer ones, but I don’t want to ride them.

Domestic travels were less wearisome. Here I enjoy a ride on Honey near Boise, Idaho, captured in this image by my friend Carol Beth:

Honey was the same age as I, in horse years. We got along well. We were polite with each other. I seem to have a natural ability with horses and dogs. Maybe it’s because I’m sympathetic to their lowly place in life. It must take a lot of humility to be a good riding horse or a fine, well mannered dog. Humility is a good thing. It can take you places where pride is met by a burly bouncer.

Peculiar, unique images always catch my eye and I strive to create them. This is one that I really enjoy, partly because of the experience which led to its creation:

Special permission was required from the scary, suspicious guys in the gun shop to enter with a camera. I’m sure I was one of the stranger characters to visit that day. They didn’t know what to make of me as I set up my shot on a large piece of white paper on the counter top. It was a bit of an adventure for all of us.

I’ll wrap this up with what is, sadly, probably the only image I have of Eunie and Grace together:

I shot this during the only visit to Sedona which Eunie and I enjoyed together. How little I could imagine how much my life was to change in the course of a very few years.

This post will serve as a sort of whimpy farewell to Madang. I don’t want to dwell on it. It is but a passage in life – one of many.

Tags: , , , , ,

Faking It – or Pretending to Be What You Are Not

Posted in Mixed Nuts, Under the Sea on February 11th, 2011 by MadDog
No Gravatar

I’ll do something a bit different today. This post is actually a magazine article which has not yet been published. I submitted it nearly a year ago, so I don’t think it will find ink. So that it doesn’t go to waste, I’ll use it to bore you today.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Sea people are adventurers and poets. Sea people are those who paint their lives boldly and joyously stroke by stroke on the vast canvas of Earth’s oceans and fresh waters. Fishermen, sailors, divers and snorkelers, surfers, sailors, merchantmen and marine warriors are all of a breed. They are bound by their love of and respect for the sea. How much great literature and visual art has been born of the relationship between humans and the sea? How can those who share this love of the sea not be inspired to and desirous of expressing their sentiments by the creative work of their minds and hands?

This is all very well and good, providing that one possesses the tiniest quantity of artistic talent. Being able to write a complete sentence and snap a decent photograph are largely demonstrations of technical skills. True artistry, however, mystifies the untalented. One might be capable of drawing water, but little else. Therefore we, the great ungifted masses, have forever been awed by those who are competent to pick up a pencil or brush and create from their mind’s eye a unique vision of the world. It’s a gift which few of us possess.

Therefore, out of sheer jealousy, we are inclined to mimic it. Since the arrival of the digital age, wretches such as us can aspire to play monkey-see-monkey-do and create images which, though utterly bogus, are pretty in a chintzy sort of manner.

Most folk today are familiar with basic image manipulation software. Nearly everybody can download pictures from their camera and play with them. Some of the software which comes with cameras even allows a bit of expression in the way of filters which apply special effects to the images. These are worth playing with to get one’s feet wet.

However, if one is serious about faking it, one must be prepared to step out a bit and trudge up a slight learning curve. I use Photoshop CS4 for all of my work. This is primarily because I work for someone else who wields enough financial clout to purchase it. It is absurdly expensive. One might liken it to the Rolls Royce of photo software. Adobe, the producer of Photoshop clearly states, “If you have to ask how much it costs, then you can’t afford it.” I’m absolutely certain that there must be ten pirate copies of Photoshop running on computers around the world for every copy which has been purchased.

Fortunately, there is an alternative. The GNU Image Manipulation Program, cutely nicknamed GIMP, is very capable and free software which strives to provide much the same power as Photoshop.

No matter which program one is using, the process details will be similar. We won’t go into details here, because our purpose is to show what one can learn to do in a couple of evenings. There are thousands of excellent tutorials available on the World Wide Web without payment which provides step by step instructions for the use of the tools in the software. Much of is learned feels very intuitive and quickly becomes habitual so that one can concentrate on the creative experience instead of the technical details.

Aside from the familiar controls with which most of us are familiar when working with our snapshots; brightness, contrast, colour saturation, hue, there are very many filters available to create effects which provide an almost endless range of possibilities for artistic interpretation of an image. A filter is a bit of software which examines the pixels of an image and then applies a complex mathematical formula to it to modify its appearance. Fortunately, one needs to know absolutely nothing concerning what is going on inside the complexity. There are simple slider controls which provide a way to adjust the actions of each filter. Simple filters can deal with elementary things such as noise (unwanted “static” in the image making it appear as if it were a miss-tuned TV), sharpening edges to make an image appear more focused, and corrections of distortions, such as correcting camera tilt by making the horizon level or correcting the apparent tilt or leaning of buildings.

The real beauty begins to glow when one begins to apply the artistic filters. There are dozens of them with names such as watercolour, poster edges, dry brush, fresco, paint daubs and palette knife. One can even apply filters upon filters to achieve genuinely wild effects. The trick is to learn when the fiddling has gone too far. Both programs mentioned above allow one get in the time machine and go back to an earlier stage of the process if sudden nausea occurs while examining the resulting image.

Though we concentrate on the sea and especially on creatures under the sea, there is no limit to the type of image with which one might begin. It can be anything. A carrot, if it seems particularly handsome.

One might ask of what use are these creations? Are they really art? My response is that neither question is pertinent. Unless one is obliged to make a living from artistic endeavours, then the exercise need only be purely for enjoyment.

Personally, I find such pursuits a pleasant alternative to sitting in front of the TV absorbing what currently passes for entertainment. This seems to me to be entirely passive. If you seek to create instead of consume, try your hand at Faking It. You might be amazed by what you can do.

You’ll find a variety of images here, some of them fishy and some not.

Scratch the last sentence. All of them are fishy.

Tags: , , , , , ,

Crab Bites Man

Posted in Under the Sea on March 21st, 2010 by MadDog
No Gravatar

When crusty middle-aged reporters sat around in the smoke-filled newspaper office and sent out cub reporters like Jimmy Olsen in the days of Superman to cover stories that were not worth scraping shoe leather on the pavement, there was a phrase that comically described the frustration of a slow-news day. The headline would read: Man Bites Dog.

This feels like a slow-news day to me. Being Sunday, I was preparing myself for a day of relative rest. I counted on my new wireless Internet connection to allow me to sit in the comfort of my office/bedroom and annoy you. Sometime I feel like The Cheap Detective. If I had a proper desk, there would be a bottle of rot-gut whiskey in bottom drawer. A black fedora would sit rakishly on my head and I’d have a Smith & Wesson .38 Police Special tucked under my arm in a well-worn shoulder holster. The door would open and a gorgeous dame would saunter in on four inch stilettos wearing a fire-engine red dress. She’d give the the once-over and purr, “I need a man with steel in his backbone.” I’d say, “Have a seat, beautiful.” . . .

Well, see, that’s what happens when your best plans run awry. Of course,  PNG Power cut the power. Of course,  the generator at the office failed to start automatically. Of course,  that meant that I couldn’t get on line and, of course,  that meant that I had to drive into town to start the generator and fire up the network again. That’s half of the day shot. There will be no nap. Having eliminated TELIKOM from my life, PNG Power is my new enemy. They are now collecting their money up-front with the new Isi Pe  (That’s Easy-Pay” in English) meters and they still can’t get it in mind that one of the functions of a power supplier is to supply more-or-less continuous  power. They should call those meters Easy-Rip-Off.

No wonder my mind is wandering.

On Saturday I had a boat load of friends, but I was the only diver. Never mind. I like solo dives. I can spend as long as I want fiddling with my camera to get The Perfect Shot without worrying that somebody else is urgently wanting to move on.

Okay, let’s get to the crab. There’s got to be a crab in here somewhere. I was diving off the beach at Wongat Island  trying to get shots in the surging, sand-filled water. That means getting close to the subject. I was going for a shot of a scorpionfish and I had my hand loosely draped over a little knob of coral. Something tickled my thumb. Then something bit my thumb. Hard!Look at the evil grin on the face of this little crab. “Nyyaaaa, think you’re a big tough guy, eh?  I’ll make you cry like a little girl!” You wouldn’t think that that tiny little pincer could sting so much.

Here is the little bommie where the gritty little guy lives. You can see Faded Glory’s  anchor in the distance on the sloping sandy bottom:Stay clear if you value your skin.

At the south end of the beach there is a field strewn with Mushroom Coral, sometimes called Solitary Coral (Fungia fungites):This was in only about eight metres of water.

At about the same depth I ran across this charming family scene:

The big one is probably a male. I can guarantee that he was once a female. That’s just the way it is with these anemonefish.

I also found Nemo hiding out in an anemone. (Amphiprion percula):Okay, I can feel the nap coming on now. I gotta get through this.

So, I’ll dazzle you with this Divericate Tree Coral (Dendronephthya roxasia):It’s a cheap shot, I know.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Have Some Fish – Catching Up

Posted in Under the Sea on August 7th, 2009 by MadDog
No Gravatar

Since Friday morning, I’ve been working solid until my eyes are blurry on images for two magazine articles. They are both about the East Indies Triangle, the most heavily speciated marine environment on the planet. Madang is in the heart of it. You may have seen some of the images that I’ll be showing you for the next few days, but all of them have been reworked extensively for publishing, so they will all look different, even if you’ve seen them before.

Here’s the Banded Sea Krait, which has appeared a couple of times on Madang – Ples Bilong Mi:

Banded Sea Krait - head detail

This is an egg-laying snake, so it must come onto land to deposit its eggs. I once came across one that had been run over by a car. I took it home and removed the skin. It now hangs in my office. It is missing about 30cm of its original length. You can see that they become quite long as adults:

Banded Sea Krait skin

This is a Bulb Anemone that you have seen before. I reworked the colours to appear more as I saw them with my eyes:

Bulb Anemone

Since I never get tired of seeing bright blue starfish that look like kids’ toys made in Japan, here’s one on which to feast your eyes:

Blue Starfish

It looks silly, doesn’t it?

You’ve seen this shot of a Blue-Spotted Stingray before, but it has been extensively reworked for magazine publication:

Blue Spotted_stingray

It’s one of the best full-length shots of a stingray that I’ve yet managed.

Finally, here’s a spunky Clark’s Anemonefish getting ready to attack me. I was bitten several times by this little fellow. They seldom draw blood, but their tiny little teeth get your attention very quickly:

Curious Anemonefish

It’s time to do some work for pay. I hope to find a few minutes to do another post and post-date it, as I have done with this one, so that my calendar has no holes in it.

Yes, I know that that is called cheating. Sue me.

Tags: , , , ,

The Aquarium in My Front Yard

Posted in Under the Sea on November 29th, 2008 by MadDog
No Gravatar

With my dive count now over two thousand, it’s amazing to me that all but possibly a hundred have been within a ten minute boat ride from our dock. This must surely make me one of the luckiest divers on the planet.
Since I’m feeling so lucky today, let me show you some of the lucky shots that I got this morning with Tris, Tracey and Pascal.

I’ve seen this fish around many times, but have only today been able to get a photo of one. I can identify most local fishes generically, if not specifically, but I haven’t bothered to look this one up yet. I usually don’t bother to learn a lot about a certain species until I have a photo of it that I can label with it’s taxonomic name. I usually go by common names, as do most divers:

Mystery FishFor now, I will call it “The Mystery Fish.”

This toothy little horror is Clark’s Anemonefish. The teeth are real and they do hurt when they bite. What’s more, they like to bite:

Clark's Anemonefish

Here’s another anemonefish that is not so feisty. This is the Pink Anemonefish. The interesting feature of this show is the oral disk of the anemone at the centre of all the tentacles. This is, of course, where the anemone puts its food for digestion. I fed an anemone half a banana once. (Yes, divers get bored.) It seems that they will eat just about anything. It took about fifteen minutes for it to ‘swallow’ the banana. I didn’t wait around to see if it coughed it back up:

Pink Anemonefish and Magnificent Anemone

The other interesting thing about oral disk is that it is where many of the anemonefish sleep.

Here’s some beautiful yellow anthea of some kind frolicking around in the coral:

Anthea

Everybody recognises this mean looking fellow. It is, of course, the giant moray eel:

Giant Moray Eel

This particular fellow was being very uncooperative. Every time I tried to get close enough for a shot, he’d pull his head back into his hidey hole. They are usually not so shy. In fact, the situation is usually the exact opposite – staying far enough away so as not to scare yourself into soiling your wetsuit.

We’ll end up with two cute and harmless cousins – members of the hawkfish family.

This is the Arc-Eyed Hawkfish. Explaining the name would be superfluous:

Arc-Eyed Hawkfish

And, this grumpy but passive little guy is the Freckled Hawkfish:

Freckled Hawkfish

Again, the origin of the common name is obvious.

I’ve sometimes been asked why I capitalize all of the fish names. There’s some controversy over capitalization of fish names. I won’t get into that boring academic fussiness. I will just say that it’s common courtesy to capitalize proper names.

I ask myself if I was a fish, how would I introduce myself – how would it be written as a conversational snippet?

Maybe something like this:

I’d walk up to a table in a fashionable restaurant where seated is a ravishing woman. I’d take her hand, bow slightly, and say, “Hawkfish, Freckled Hawkfish.”

Tags: , , , , , , , ,