Friday, February 26, 2010

Trees. Eden.

My Trees multimedia installation is about dormancy, death and decay. Two days of unremitting rain have kept me from taking my beloved imaging devices (uh, cameras) outside and risking their sensitive electronics. Too bad. The light during rainstorms is beguiling. 

All the more reason why I greet this morning's sunshine with an excited shout. Suiting up with tripod, HDSLR and digital audio recorder, I'm a quarter mile away before I look up and notice the sun is gone and the clouds look a little pregnant. 

Stifling a curse, I abort the mission to walk to Auburndale Park and detour to nearby Eden Avenue, a short street with an evocative name.

At the end of the block, the provocative image of TwistedSister beckons to me. Improbably positioned at the edge of a field behind an old school where my daughter and I used to play catch, this slender lady stands there, locked forever in a Ginger Rogers foxtrot dip. I'm too short to dance with you, my dear. But I sure would like to spin you around.

Closer in, this alternate image of Ginger's soeurWormHole, reveals yet another example of the repetition of forms in nature. I'll leave this interpretation to your imagination.

Just before the turn to Eden (avenue,)  brilliantly engineered terraces on a stout trunk, almost 90 degrees to the vertical, sing to my eye. 

BarnAcle attempts to capture this architectural tour-de-force, complete with fancy painted trim worthy of the 19th century Victorians sprinkled throughout the neighborhood.

Glancing again at the sky, I turn home with regret. I'm hoping to get another crack at some fallen oaks Jane Sender and Eric Olson have spotted for me in Flowed Meadow. Note: If you've seen some extraordinary dormant, dead or decaying trees, please let me know. Feel free to use the comments section of this blog. Cheers. ###

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Trees. A Cemetery.

My Trees multimedia installation is about dormancy, death and decay. What better place to visit than a cemetery? 

Today I have chosen to walk in a westerly direction from the house. Every one of my Trees photographic excursions until now has been east of my street. 

As I step out onto the porch, the sharp, acrid odor of Carnivora Mephitidae assails my nostrils. I gasp with delight. This awful skunk stench may be a shout of "I'M WALKIN' HERE" by some feisty four-footed local denizen. Dustin Hoffman in Midnight Cowboy couldn't have said it any better. 

There happens to be a cemetery in the neighborhood. The West Parish Burying Ground, seen here in the aptly titled "PlaQue" is about 220 years old.

That would make the lonely birch tree there, shown in "MirrorImage," a very young resident, indeed. I was struck by the almost mirror image of the "twin" trees behind the birch. Really, I don't make any of this stuff up. I take care not to move, reposition or set up anything to make the picture "better." I just create portraits of what's there when I arrive on the scene. 

The interplay of light and dark on this gray, about-to-snowstorm morning was perfect for imaging the luminance contrast between the birch and the trees behind it.

F11. F9.5. F6.7...neutral density...ISO...wide angle...telephoto...all these technical considerations, so important to me when I was a young photographer, drain away and become automatic as I just try to capture the subtly awesome song of the air, moisture, light and dense growth scratched against the vault of sky above me. All my efforts seem tone deaf before this music of nature.

There are relatively few birch trees in the area. Does a birch tree make you think of native americans and birch bark canoes? I wonder if birches get sick of that stereotype. 

After the cemetery, I trudge on, weighted down by my enormous tripod, a high-definition filmmaker's camera, the DSLR, coat, sweater, two shirts, long johns, scarf, gloves, headphones, spare batteries...and my expectations.

I am trying to find a particular place. It is the small park, hidden in the grid of local streets, where I taught my daughter how to ride a bike over ten years ago. 

The memory of her pigtail flying and her triumphant shout as I let go of the bike for the first time makes my heart swell.

I'm taking her to look at colleges next month, and I realize with a start that every site where I have photographed trees for this series is a place I used to take her when she was in a backpack, then in a stroller, then on foot, then on her bike. So, I'm mapping the past.

But you can't go back. I finally reach Wellington Park, but it is so well maintained that there are no dead trees there I want to photograph. My streak has been broken. Sorrowfully, I turn to go home. 

As I return, I see many fabulous dead and decaying specimens in people's back yards. It takes all the willpower I can muster not to raise my DSLR and image them. But according to the code I've set up for this project, it's cheating to make portraits in back yards, even with a long lens from the sidewalk. That's private space, pardner. 

Mercifully, however, I am thrown a metaphorical bone. I turn a corner and the image of   SibLings presents itself. I see them as big brother in the foreground and little brother in the background. The bark pattern on these trees takes my breath away, as does their massive majesty. Their quiet dignity dwarves the postwar houses around them.  

My late older brother, Pedro, used to take me on walks around our neighborhood when I was little. He'd point out birds, plants, stars, turtles, frogs, fish and everything else natural. So, that's Pedro in the foreground and me in the background. Except Pedro's in the ground, with our Mother. And I'm still here, with my daughter. ###

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Trees. Listening to Trees.

My Trees series is about dormancy, death and decay. 

On my walk this morning, my feet turn toward Dolan Pond, an eight-acre wetlands conservation area twenty minutes from my home. 

I've been listening to trees all this week, developing plans for the digital audio surround sound component of the gallery installation for my Trees project. 

What sounds do trees make? What sounds do trees hear? Some sounds that are made with trees are easy to hear, such as the percussive rat-a-tat-tat of woodpeckers.  

Other sounds require an impossible amount of work on the part of the listener - like the sounds that tree-boring worms make. How could I possibly record that? Very difficult, indeed.

How does a squirrel -- whom I see as an aboriginal population now co-dependent with us suburban humans -- discern which tree-reflected sounds are benign, and which signal danger? 

All week I've come back again and again to listen to a particular tree on Randlett Park, a nearby street -- because if one is very, very still, you can hear the sound of an electrical cable rubbing against it. It sounds mournful.

Along with my DSLR camera, I've brought my digital audio field recorder with me today. The results are breathtaking. More on that later....

I used to take my little girl here in warm weather to observe the ducks and marvel at the astonishing variety of flora and fauna. Coyotes, fishers, muskrats, green heron and other cool creatures dwell within. No, we never saw any of those beasts, but we have it on good authority that this small swamp is teeming with them.

For my purposes, coming to this four-pond wonderland in winter, when the ground is drier and easier to traverse, provides an excellent opportunity to get up close and personal with dormant, dead and decaying trees. Aah. Heaven.

BeSame (pronounced "BESS-a-may") is the spanish word for "kiss me." The v-shaped lovers in this image appear to be inclining their faces together for a smooch. I imagine that they perished this way, locked in amorous embrace to the end. And beyond.

PapiLlon catches my eye as I study the ground. These fungal growths look like butterflies that are only momentarily alighting on this rotting limb.

ShiProw immediately brings to mind the prow of a Viking ship. Can you see the ghostly oarsmen just outside the left of the frame?

After roaming the dried, frozen swamp for some time making photographic portraits, I take out the digital audio field recorder and set it up, donning my bulky studio headphones.  

I turn the microphone audio up to its highest level, since I am after the faint sounds of the trees. Holding my breath and trying not to move at all, I hit "record." 

My ears are immediately bathed in a sensuous swamp cacophony. Trees rubbing against each other. Dry leaves tumbling across the ground. Squirrel feet racing in the canopy above me. Distant snapping of twigs and branches as some beast (canine? lupine? feline? unicorn?) crashes through the cover. The steady drone of airplanes tens of thousands of feet above. 

Awesome. Freakin' awesome. I'll post excerpts from these recordings in the days to come.

PueBlo brings to mind the ancient Anaszi cliff dwellings of New Mexico. This downed trunk is no less an apartment building than those ancient housing developments. Rather than homo sapiens inhabitants, its tenants are of the six-legged variety. Do they pay their rent on time?

Finally: The winter swamp is redolent with faint scents. Scat, dirt, mud, leaves and many other odors become more apparent when you're sitting still. As I emerge from the swamp to a local street, the sharp, artificially sweetened reek of dryer sheets from a nearby house assaults my nose. Do we really require that much volume on an odor in order to feel clean? ###

Friday, February 19, 2010

Trees. Of snakes and clams...

My Trees series is about dormancy, death and decay. Perfect for our New England Winter.

Between Newtonville and the Watertown Dam, the Charles River is narrow, shallow and muddy. I used to take my daughter for walks down here when she was little.

The ducks, geese, turtles, squirrels and other semi-suburban beasts are almost close enough to touch.

The black muck on the southern bank of the river is full of agreeably rotting, moldy and fungal remnants of once living trees. Perfect for a late afternoon photo expedition.

CulEbra laughably presented itself down by the river bank. It looked like a large, long, thick, limp...uh...snake, draped carelessly between the outstretched, upended legs of the tree at the top of the frame. "Culebra" is the spanish word for "snake." It also has other connotations.

CulEbra also reminded me of the geoduck clams I saw at a farmer's market in San Francisco. Pronounced "gooey-duck," Panope generosa is a giant, obscene-looking edible clam. You can tell the tourists at the market, because when they first see the geoducks, they blush, turn on their heels and giggle. I am told they're delicious. The geoducks, not the tourists.

"HighTide" is an example of clear evidence of a recently higher water level. I love glimpsing the submerged roots of this tree through the clear water. Reflections of trees on the other bank are seen at the top of the frame. And the fallen, floating leaf seems perfectly placed (no, I didn't put it there) for this portrait.

There are many other compelling sights here where the river is narrow and light dapples through the naked winter trees.

Soon I must get a pair of waders so I can go out to the middle of the stream and catch the setting sun. ###

©2010 Roberto Mighty


Roberto Mighty has written and produced two musical albums and written 150 original musical compositions for TV, corporate film and video.

He started playing guitar at 13 and and built the first of several professional recording studios at age 17.

Roberto writes lyrics, music and arrangements, sings and plays several instruments, although guitar is his specialty. His instrument collection includes a '57 Reissue Fender Stratocaster; a Brazilian Flamenco guitar; an acoustic/electric hollow body bass guitar; a Spanish classical guitar; an acoustic dreadnought steel-string guitar; a solid-body nylon string electric classical guitar; an upright grand piano; two electric keyboards; myriad percussion instruments and a full multitrack computer-assisted professional recording studio setup.

In 2008, after an eight year hiatus from recording and performing, Roberto released a solo album called "KiTCHEN MuSIC" to rave reviews on iTunes and Amazon:

***** "...terrific, sensitive guitar" *****"I highly recommend KiTCHEN MuSIC to listeners of all levels - jazz lovers and non-jazz lovers" *****"....the rapturous vocals and intricately woven harmonies on "Autumn Leaves" invoke a multi-colored airborne leaf ballet"...*****"brings sophisticated guitar chops and arrangements to these great American lyrical songs"...*****"...sure to enliven any room, from the kitchen to the boudoir"*****...*****"guest artist Walter Beasley's transfixing saxophone solo"..."Bravo and kudos" FULL REVIEWS

Last year he teamed up with Kathryn Howell, a remarkable vocalist. Together they formed a vocal/guitar jazz duo, "Roberto & Kathryn" that has been getting rave reviews.

REVIEWS for Roberto & Kathryn's debut CD
"If "A Foggy Day" is on Roberto & Kathryn's set list, the fog will clear for miles... The vocals and guitar duo of Kathryn Howell and Roberto Mighty recorded their debut album live in WGBH's studios. "Don't Explain" is a tribute to the Great American Songbook with heaping servings of sensuality and romance, particularly "Lover Man," a nice warm up for Valentine's Day. George Gershwin and Duke Ellington would be proud." - The Boston Globe

Roberto & Kathryn are a vocal jazz/guitar duo featuring Kathryn Howell, Vocals and Roberto Mighty, Guitar and Vocals. Their debut album, "Don't Explain," consists of covers from the Great American Songbook (Gershwin, Ellington, Mercer, Holliday, etc.) recorded live at WGBH studios in Boston.

Roberto & Kathryn are most often compared to Tuck & Patti, Les Paul & Mary Ford, Joe Pass & Ella Fitzgerald; but this duo is unique for their romantic, intimate, sensuous interpretations.

"Roberto and Kathryn are a dynamic duo that is bringing back the current trends for male/female vocal teams... They do a laudable portrayal of Jazz song classics written by such gre
ats as Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, George Gershwin, Billy Strayhorn, Richard Rogers, George Shearing, Johnny Mercer and more. They have chosen an array of songs that span the moods of love, life, positive energy and inspiration. This CD is magnetic! Roberto & Kathryn invite you into their world, which is universal, touching and artfully presented. "Don't Explain" is perfect for Valentines Day all year!" - By Eric Frazier, Jazz Journalist

© 2010 Roberto Mighty

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Trees Series. Stills, 2010...continued

My Trees series is about dormancy, death and decay.

On my walk today I peeked through a hedge and saw this incredible sight -- the rotted, decapitated stump of the once-mighty guardian of the estate partially hidden behind it.

My wide-angle lensing choice exaggerates the distance from the stump to the manor house. I did this in order to accentuate the idea that this sentry (hence "SenTree") is now discarded, forgotten, literally marginalized, robbed of its role and left to decay.

On the way back to my house,  I saw a man and his son tapping a giant sugar maple in their front yard. My interest caught the guy's attention. He motioned for me to come over, and we proceeded to have a delightful conversation about tapping, invasive species, the symbiotic relationship of root fungi to trees, and many other arboresque topics. So, hello there Eric and Eli Olsen...

The light was fading fast, so I started heading home -- hoping perhaps to capture one or two more images before I'd have to hold the shutter open too long to make it feasible to get  an image without a tripod.

Of course, that's when I came across this spectacular, ridged fungal growth on the limb seen here in SymBiosis.  I took several exposures in the darkening light, holding the shutter open longer and longer each time, holding my breath so I didn't shake my trusty camera. After about nine tries, I finally got it in focus with the shallow depth of field you see here. Bingo. ###

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Trees Series. Blue Heron Bridge.

Continuing with my Trees series themes of dormancy, death and decay, I visited the Charles River area around Blue Heron Bridge. A cold wind wound around my gloves, making each decision to remove them to capture an image costly.

The river is very narrow and shallow at this location -- perfect for dead and rotting trees.

On the way, I noticed the spectacularly lit scene captured in TradHem. The title is a contraction of two Swedish words -- "Trad" for tree and "Hem" for home. I chose the title because this tree is in front of the Scandinavian Living Center in West Newton. I love how this mighty specimen dwarfs the "living center." Pshaw. Mature trees of this size, which provide an ecosystem for thousands of plant and animal species, have forgotten more than we'll ever know about "living."

Down by the river, the scene of LimbDown presented itself. We think of trees as aerial structures, part of our skyscape. This limb, felled so ignominiously in the water and subsurface muck, struck me as poignant.

This image has many other elements -- the shadow of the living limb on the right is the Derridian "trace" of a tree, and perhaps mocks or sympathizes with the downed limb. Their two shadows meet in the water, where they are equals. The ice sheets indicate that the water level was recently higher; and other trees are reflected in the water near the top of the frame, like a Monet canvas. I emphasized the interplay of light and dark by partially desaturating the image. Taking this image nearly brought tears to my eyes. I understand that seeing a downed limb as sad is an all-too-anthropomorphizing take on what is part of nature's cycle of life. But I can't help it. So there...

CathEdral continues an element of the Trees series -- the squirrel's eye view. My daughter and I have been fascinated by the seemingly endless population of squirrels in our town. My Trees series attempts to see them not as quaint and curious creatures underfoot but as an incredibly successful aboriginal population. The exposed natural flying buttresses in this image remind me of our trip to Notre Dame. I angled the camera so as to reveal the stratospheric height of this tree -- a connection to the divine, perhaps. The various holes, rot, damage and other incursions to this tree serve only to reveal to us its true nature -- as a giant ecosystem.

Large holes in trees are darkly intriguing. PanTree is an example. In that deep, dank, odiferous and slimy maw, what (hopefully) sharp-toothed, exotic creature might be in there, zealously guarding its nest? My inner 13-year old was dying to whip off my glove and plunge my camera in shoulder deep and take a flash photo. My outer adult vetoed this idea in no uncertain terms. Visions of rabies, lockjaw and Old Yeller being put down danced in my head.

Instead, I shot this one from the rim of the hole. After looking at the image at home, I realized that if turned upside down, it made a perfect pair of tree pants. Hence, PanTree. A word that also evokes what trees are to many creatures -- a source of food.

Again, squirrels live in a three-dimensional world unlike our own squashed two dimensions. Squirrels move not only left, right, back and front, as we do -- but also up and down, with what seems to us to be preternatural speed. "Up" and "down" may be concepts that are quite different for them...if they even have such expressions in squirrel-speak.

Holes like this one are stunning in their almost furniture-like smoothness, especially when juxtaposed against the rough bark outside. Wow. ###

Monday, February 15, 2010

Trees series. Stills, 2010 Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day, morning. The air was cold, crisp and so dry that I felt my lens could see all the way through to the stratosphere.

At magic hour, on my way to get flowers for my sweetheart, I noticed these four amazing sights as the sun hung low in the sky, angling through the upper branches.

These mature deciduous trees are near my home. Two of these pieces form a diptych: "CoExist" illustrates a peaceful relationship of the tree to the wires -- a rapprochement of the built environment and the natural world.

"AmpuTree" shows that human/natural relationship in a different light. This tree has had a limb amputated in order to make way for our crude network in the sky.

"TriAngle" combines elements of tree, wires and jet contrail in a compositionally stark portrayal.

"GangLion" reprises a theme that fascinates me: the repetition in nature of certain physical forms. I first noticed this while looking at a common garden bush after a windstorm. Its limbs had twisted into the characteristic nautilus shape of the mathematical representation known as the fibonacci series -- much like our Milky Way galaxy. In this image, the de-leaved tree shows its underlying structure to be similar to neuronal networks. I shot it backlit in order to reduce it visually to two dimensions.

Artists' statement: Trees Series, Still Photography. Roberto Mighty, 2010.

Death. Decay. Desiccation. My thoughts these days have turned to the ends of things. Our northeastern linden, elm, maple and oak trees, previously robust and fecund, appear in February to be mort. "Los arboles mueren de pie" -- the trees die on their feet.

But they are not dead. Only dormant. In this state, their stark beauty can be appreciated by those who truly love them for what they are. Keepers of life and resurrection. Superstructures for whole communities. Architecturally perfect eco-urban monoliths.

What is a tree to a squirrel? Would we even have words for that experience? These images seek to imagine that. Among other things. ###

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Walkers Series: Manhattan samples

Walkers Series. Animation/Live Action/Line Art. Winter 2010

My "Walkers" series continues to evolve. So far, I am filming in High-Definition on the streets of New York and Massachusetts, mapping immigrant, youth, LGBT and other subcultures to a video-embedded GPS map.

My plan is to film walkers in many cities and towns domestically and overseas.

Walkers considers gait, social position, class, ethnicity, religion and age -- among other factors -- in an effort to map social settlement patterns (geographic and chronological,) chance juxtapositions, and other urban moments.

For audio, I am experimenting with both sound design (multi-layered natural sound elements from each location) and "live scoring," recording directly to the video track using acoustic instruments that I have around my studio, such as a kalimba and shakers. 

In "whitePants" (Boston Common) a walker wearing white pants moves across a busy street as many other people pass by.

In "sideWalk" (Downtown Crossing) I briefly experiment with reducing images of walking people to line art.

In "oneSock" (Manhattan) A man with one sock showing crosses the street. A woman with sunglasses, all dressed in black, walks with a turned-in knee. Three workmen approach, in lockstep. A man strides by impassively, a giant sausage -- or perhaps a prayer rug -- gift wrapped in white over his shoulder. 20 seconds is stretched to a minute and a half so we can see details that otherwise may escape us in real time. 

In "coldDay" (Chinatown) the camera walks through pedestrians until discovered by an elderly couple.

War Narratives Series. Cinematic Stills. 2010

The War Narratives series is a collaboration between Performance Artist Kathryn Howell and myself. The character portrayed in this initial diptych is dealing with the realities of war. On the home front. In a there and then when women had fewer options than they do in the here and now.

She does what she has to do. What would you do? What would you not do? Don't answer so quickly.

The War Narratives series addresses not the heroic deeds on the battlefields...but the mundane, unheralded daily struggle for the survival of human dignity.

No machine guns. No foxholes. No territory lost and gained. Instead: Rent. Food. Shoes for children. Medicine for the elderly. Resistance. Submission. Victimization. Predation. Time. Memory. Ritual. Dignity. No less hard-fought. No less glorious.

The War Narratives series is inspired by history, current events and cultural touchstones such as Lina Wertmuller's Italian film "Seven Beauties;"  Edwidge Danticat's book "Brother, I'm Dying;"  and Letyat zhuravli's Russian film, "The Cranes Are Flying."

Our series visually locates these issues in a common western memory, mid 20th century. But it's been happening for millennia, and is taking place throughout the world, right now.

We agreed that we would make no judgements on the character with this series. We would seek only to present her situations as we feel them.

Trees Series.

TREES SERIES, Stills. 2010

Death. Decay. Desiccation. My thoughts these days have turned to the ends of things. Our northeastern linden, elm, maple and oak trees, previously robust and fecund, appear in February to be mort. "Los arboles mueren de pie" -- the trees die on their feet.

But they are not dead. Only dormant. In this state, their stark beauty can be appreciated by those who truly love them for what they are. Keepers of life and resurrection. Superstructures for whole communities. Architecturally perfect eco-urban monoliths.

For "TreeMother," I envisioned a squirrel's-eye-view of what might be a connecting ramp to the suburban superhighway -- the rodentine beltway for the canopy of mature trees in the neighborhood.

For "TreeKnees," the gloriously rough three-dimensional layering of bark in this inverted dual-trunk tree appears to be the mons veneris and knees of an impossibly aged dowager.

For "Self Portrait," I adjusted aperture, ISO and shutter speed to enhance the shadow of the telephone poll, the tree and myself, keeping my arms in so as to hide the silhouette of my camera. Elongated legs and vanishing-point trunk. The pole leans in to the living tree, imagining itself alive again. I stand in the middle, completing a triangular narrative of death and exploitation by human hands. A stiltwalker's trois de deux. 

This project had its start eight years ago, when I photographed mold, lichen and moss on tree bark as my daughter and I X-country skied through nearby woods. I was transfixed by the vibrant blues, greens and aquamarines. A riot of color against bleak snow, brown earth, grey bark and impossibly blue sky. 

On my walk today I spontaneously started imaging lichens again after the 8-year hiatus...and then suddenly stepped back to take in the lines of whole trees.  

What is a tree to a squirrel? Would we even have words for that experience? These images seek to imagine that. Among other things. ###