Hope Springs Eternal in the Columbia Gorge

WPA Stairs, Bonniville # 2
WPA Stairs, Bonneville, Oregon # 2

Driving through the Columbia Gorge, as I do back and forth to work every weekday could have a tendency to make the spectacular into the mundane.  I think about this sometimes when the light isn’t quite right, and I decline to get out a camera because because the stunning vista before me looks a little gray.  I wonder at these times how someone from somewhere less dramatic would see it, and at that point I get out the camera.

My commute is fairly long:  About an hour each way.  I live in Hood River (a fact that I’ve mentioned a few times on this here blog).  I best describe it as the place closest to the concept of paradise to be found in the northern hemisphere.  I work in a place called Gresham, which is akin to where Dante’ ended up after leaving paradise (with apologies to Gresham residents).  Fortunately, It’s only the First Circle.  Work is about 52 miles from Hood River as the crow flies, unless it finds some delectable squirrel jerky on the way.

Always, to my mind in the last 27 years since moving to Oregon, the Columbia Gorge was the Columbia Gorge:  Timeless beauty with lush greenery, waterfalls, and monumental cliffs.  I wonder what it would be like to soar like an eagle off of a high ledge, and be held aloft be the wind, and to see that landscape under me (and to not be looking solely for rodents, and other fauna that goes “squeak!”).  I’m certain I would want to have a camera.  This “always”, and “timeless” was put though a test late last year.

It was called the Eagle Creek Fire.

The Summer Solstice was long gone, as were the short nights.  Darkness was creeping back into my commute.  Labor day came, and the trails were filled to the gills with hikers.  One of them was packing fireworks.

Some climatological notes: Unless you live east of the Mississippi, you should understand that the Dog Days of Summer in the west leave parched bones in the desert.  In the Pacific Northwest, fall, winter, and spring are wet (Portlanders joke about having webbed feet), but toward the end of June, the weather changes.  The dry time begins.  Lawns die, rivers run low, and trees with shallow root systems struggle to make it into fall.  Everyone who lives in the Great American West should understand that during the dog-eared, tongue-hanging-out days of late summer, YOU DON’T TAKE FIREWORKS TO THE COLUMBIA GORGE!

Ahem.  Now, where was I?

Oh, I remember.  This is about hope springing eternal.

Spring is indeed here.  During my weekday excursion up and down the Columbia river, I watch the trees.  I am fascinated by the way they change throughout the year.  In the spring, they bud, blossom, and burst out in brilliant greens, pinks, whites, and yellows.  The wreckage that is the Cottonwood trees, which always seem to be a month or so away from death in the winter, gather their sap, and join the world of the living for another season.  The spruces, and various pines stand resolute against the howling winds and driving rain, and well, they don’t change very much.  This year, it’s a bit different.  I have been watching the burned areas to see where the green is coming back. I keep an eye on the soils to see if plants are growing.  I look at the pines to see if they are putting on new needles where the fire stripped them.  I am reminded that life is tenacious.  I’m seeing green where I did not expect it.  The hills, especially around Cascade Locks, did not fare very well.  But, could it be possible that green is sprouting up on the hills, below the burned trees?  I will know it when the Forest Service allows me to hike the trails again.

The Columbia Gorge I knew until September 2017 will not return in my lifetime.  But, I can watch it come back.  Little by little, hope returns, life goes on, and the challenge is to reflect that in the way we live our lives.  Be the life you want to bring.  Be the change that you want to see.  As Ram Das said, be here now.

About the photograph:  I captured it with a Sinar Alpina 4×5 camera on Ilford Ortho Plus film, which I developed in PMK Pyro.  I stumbled upon this combination by accident, but it’s a match made in heaven.  The stairs are located just east of the Bonneville Dam, and were built by the Franklin Roosevelt’s WPA.

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The Eastern Columbia Gorge.  

Windmills, Maryhill Loop Road


I’ve been falling in love with the eastern Columbia Gorge for about a decade, so one would think that the falling would be done by now.  I grew up in the deciduous forests of central Pennsylvania, where summers were lush, and the thunderstorms rolled in at the end of the hottest days, and the grass there stayed green until the cold of December made the landscape white.  The great, arid expanses of the American west, specifically Oregon for me, are like an alien planet.  I’m fascinated by the undulating hills, devoid of trees, and teeming with grasses that turn golden in mid June.  There’s a stark beauty that dryness creates.  It’s alien to me because I’m an an east coast boy, but it’s familiar and evocative as a “Roadrunner and Coyote” cartoon (yes, it’s in my blood because of Looney Toons).  The old west beckons from the 19th century in the American Psyche via western movies, but the windmills are ushering in the 21st century.  I’ll take both centuries.  I’ll take the landscape.  I’ll take the dry grasses and White Oak trees.  Throw in Google, wind power, and a camera from 1946, and I’m in heaven.   

The Mad Achemist Speaks: Fall 2012 in 510 Pyro

Chanticleer Point, November 2012

Chanticleer Point, November 2012

I took this picture on Tuesday, November 14, 2012 from Chanticleer Point in the Columbia Gorge. For once, the clouds were cooperating. So many times here in NW oregon, we have either total overcast, or blank, cloudless skies. Finding the cusp between these two opposites can be a challenge fo people like me who work 6 or 7 days a week at our day jobs so that we can afford to shoot large format film.

I have been experimenting with the developer 510 Pyro. Formulated by Jay DeFehr, it uses Pyrogallolic Acid, Phenidone and TEA (not the Earl Grey kind) as its main ingredients. it seems to be more stable than PMK, and has less of the maddening streaking and mottling. I mixed the developer two weeks ago, and melted my 100 ml graduate (beaker) in the process. It didn’t occur to me that a viscus 150 degree liquid would turn my measuring device into the leaning tower of plastic. Go figure. So far, I like this developer. It doesn’t have as much general pyro stain as PMK, but it has more proportional stain.

A few notes on pyro for the uninitiated. Pyro , which is short for pyrogallolic acid, was formulated, I think, in the 1860’s and enjoyed wide use until more stable developers arrived on the scene around the turn of the century. It’s demise was slow, however, as demand for it from a small, but determined number of photographers persisted. By the 1970’s it was all but forgotten. Then along came Gordon Hutchins. He formulated PMK Pyro in the late 1970’s to work better with modern films, and to reduce pyro’s tendency for uneven development. His success repopularized pyro, and led to a succession of new formulae.

Pyro is what is known as a “staining developer.” It tans, or hardens, the emulsion during development. This has a number of effects. I will mention two. First, the hardening of the emulsion tends to restrain highlights, and compresses the tonal scale of the negative. This can be an advantage in night photography, or for high contrast images when a softer negative is desired, especially when printing on variable contrast papers. Second, the image stain masks film grain, and creates sharper images.

The lens I used for this image was my 8″ Cooke Series IV Anastigmat. Made somewhere in the late 1800’s, it is exquisitely sharp, and the optics are uncoated. I wanted to see how uncoated optics would render the scene. Modern, coated optics are much more contrasty, and have a different feel to the images they create. Now, here’s the kicker: I used a red filter. If I’m trying to see how a lower contrast lens will render a scene, why would a use a red filter? I think that even with a red filter, the gradations of tone are smoother with an uncoated lens. Or, at least, that’s what I wanted to prove to myself. I like the results.

Camera: Camera City View 5×7.
Lens: Cooke Series IV Anastigmat.
Film: Arista.edu 100 developed in 510 Pyro

http://www.foolscape.net

Bonneville Dam at Sunset, October 2012

20121022-001349.jpg

This is from my new (very old) 5×7 Camera City View (by the Seneca Camera Co. of Rochester NY). The camera was made around 1906, but is on remarkably good shape. I will post a picture of the camera soon.

The film is Arista.edu 100.
The lens was a 180mm Caltar II.

The negative was stand developed in Agfa Rodinal 1:100 for 1 hour.

I took this picture on a Columbia Gorge trip with Gaia.  We had stopped at a few of the waterfalls, and ended our trip as the sun was setting at exit 41, just beyond the Bonneville Dam.  I had made an adapter lens board for the camera, and I wanted to see how light tight it was, so shooting directly into the sunset seemed like a good test.  One negative had a little flare on it, but I can’t yet attribute it to the lens board.  This negative turned out just fine.

The wind was blowing so hard that I had to pile equipment up around the tripod to keep it stable. I was left with the choice of whether to keep my shutter speed up, and accept some unwanted bokeh, or to attempt to get the entire image sharp, and add the risk of an entirely blurred negative. I split the difference. I opted for a little motion blur, and a little less Bokeh.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/foolscape_imagery/

October 2012 Exhibit at Anna Bananna’s in North Portland

Greetings,

My photography will be on display at Anna Bananna’s at 8716 N Lombard St in Portland, Oregon.  This will be a themed show consisting of waterfall images.  I can’t think of a better way to usher in the rainy season.  The show will run throughout October.

Showing at Anna Banann’s in October