A tradition of work

Other photobloggers are to be able to amass queues of great images. I’m not sure why, but if I’m out with the camera, it seems to be my habit to arrive home with a single image in mind to process and post. I ignore nearly everything else taken. Because I am without a queue, and because I struck out over the weekend, I have gone back to take a look at the images I took last week. I decided that I liked this one very much. I had stepped into Wayne’s barn to photograph a wheel rake. As I prepared to leave, I noticed this single wheel. I forgot to ask about its significance but I do not doubt its authenticity. Something about the paint suggests that it hasn’t been fixed to an axle for some time, but I could be wrong. We were in Amish country this past weekend and I had the camera along. I was thinking about this image and was keen to capture a view of one of the smaller roads leading to an Amish farm for these accommodate lots of buggy traffic. In the heat of a summer day the asphalt can soften and record the passage of buggies and steel rims can do something similar at almost any time of year. A dry road can reveal the acute, gently criss-crossed, tangle of marks but, alas, the roads were wet and hid them from view. I respect and admire Amish tradition. I have written elsewhere that … my assumption had always been that farming (or traveling the roads, in this case) without modern convenience was somehow a way of life which brought the Amish closer to God and was more strongly adherent to Scriptural practice. I was wrong. Two key concepts for understanding Amish practices are their rejection of pride and arrogance and the value they place on humility and composure which may also be understood as a reluctance to assert oneself. The willingness of the Amish to submit to the Will of Jesus, expressed through group norms, is at odds with the sense of individualism which is so central to American culture. This anti-individualist position is the motive for rejecting labor-saving technologies that might make one less dependent on community. So there you have it, motivation which is reasonable. Laudable. I do not know the history of this wheel. Because I know it is genuine, however, I know that it worked hard and I know that the folks who worked it hard, worked hard themselves. And, they did so at a time when hard work was a way of life, for everyone. It had to be. The times were different, but the people were surely the same. They worked to ensure shelter, warmth, and food for their families. So do we. But, in ways which are so very, very, different.

Wheel2

30 thoughts on “A tradition of work

  1. Beautiful photograph. The colour and clarity is wonderful. Of course, the wooden wheel is a great focal point. But is that an old exercise bike beside it? What other treasures lay in that barn? We sometimes watch those picking shows that come from the US. The US has great barns.

    • Yes it is an exercise bike. This big-old-barn had a little bit of everything inside. I always feel like the proverbial kid-in-a-candy-store when allowed to look around a barn. It’s like being on a safari or a treasure hunt. And, yes, there are lots of old barns around and many that aren’t in great shape. Entropy seems to disproportionately influence barns … sad but true. Keeping a barn in good shape, especially an old one, is lots of work … but well worth the investment. D

  2. The question that popped into my head as soon as I saw the wheel was: who decided to divide the wheel into 14 parts, as opposed to 12 or 26, say? And with each spoke attaching to the hub individually, an odd number of spokes is would be as reasonable as an even number, so why not 13 or 15 spokes? I’m guessing the wheelwright was trying to strike a balance between necessary support and unnecessary expense.

    • Leave it to a mathematician! But, you know, when writing the accompanying text I did do a bit of research to find out more about wheel construction and also wondered about the number of spokes. There are some pretty snazzy wheel designs for racing bikes out there … most made of carbon fiber … 3,5, and 6 spokes. And then, of course, there is the solid wheel design which is really crazy. But, as far as design of the traditional spoked wagon wheel, I think you are correct in that the wheelwright was concerned with both economy and the ability of the wheel to support a load. I wonder, with regard to the latter capacity, whether the trick to supporting heavy loads was to increase the number of spokes or to increase the diameter of the individual elements? I would guess the latter. I’m not enough of an engineer to know. What do you think? D

  3. I really like the image you have here, David. So many shapes and colors to enjoy and study. The side lighting that fades into the inner darkness of the barn is captivating as well. Up above, you and Jenny talk about interesting narrative to accompany images. I think you offer that in your posts. To my dismay, I feel I offer little of true interest to mine. I hope the majority of pictures provide some pleasure to the viewers, but as far as philosophy or something of interest I fall short. It is something I think about. So that is an Amish wheel? I would not have expected it to be so colorful, but I am not well informed on Amish culture. I hope that you are far removed from the violence that happened in PA the other day. It appears it was family-related, but the guy is on the loose with a weapon or two and probably more interested in his survival than the well-being of whomever he encounters.

    • Lots to consider here Steve. First, the family that owns both the barn and the wheel are not Amish but live with Amish all around. I’ll have to ask, next time I’m out there, if the wheel has a story to tell. With regard to the events of yesterday, they occurred outside of Philadelphia and we are nearly four hours of there. In any event the drama is now over and authorities report finding the alleged perpetrator, and that he is no longer alive. An unfortunate series of events, and on so many levels. You have commented on your writing before and your lack of confidence in it. I believe you have sold yourself short. Your words are always of interest and always informative. Now, having said that, if it is you who is not happy with the prose then it should be viewed as something you need to craft, and that’s hard work. You certainly have a good start and that is the subject matter of all those beautiful images. Each is evocative of feelings, memories, or lessons that can be expressed in carefully chosen words … and to the benefit of all of us. Those words must form ideas expressed in your own, unique, voice. That voice can be heard if you simply take the time to let the words flow onto the page (or monitor, I suppose, in this day and age). I don’t profess to be any sort of expert but I can report, in my own experience, that the writing doesn’t always come easily for me and it is something that I have to work at. In closing, I have discussed with others who follow my work the issue of gender roles in our society, and how those may relate to writing in general and to writing about nature in particular. Somehow I’ve always had the feeling that men weren’t supposed to write lyrically, thoughtfully, and with passion for their subject. Perhaps I grew up feeling that it wasn’t manly, or macho. Nonsense I now say. There’s nothing wrong, and everything good, with writing with real feeling, about the objects for which you have true affection – those innumerable objects of the natural world around you. D

      • Thanks for the encouragement, David. To be honest, I never pay much attention to gender roles. I started working where I am now in 1978 for a really nice guy. A number of years back he kind of retired … I think he is more busy now … and handed the business over to his daughter. Never a gender problem as far as I was concerned. And, of course, at home Mary Beth is in charge. 🙂 As far as lyrical writing. if you haven’t read it, I recommend Swampwalker’s Journal (http://www.amazon.com/Swampwalkers-Journal-A-Wetlands-Year/dp/0618127372), one of my favorites. I understand the hard part of writing and the work involved. For me, the biggest problem comes from having an idea. Most of my images are a natural response to what I see. I often read that our art should be an expression of what we wish to say. I guess I am more visual as when I compose the image the only thing in my head is the technical part and few prosy type thought are hatching if any. I’ll work at it … I may surprise you and me even more. 🙂

    • Thanks for asking darwinontherocks … that’s a really good question. The answer really depends, in a general sense, on what you are trying to do with your processing (and to your photos). I have read accounts of folks who claim to have worked on individual images for days. [If you look at a site such as http://www.500px.com … you’ll see what I mean about extensively processed images.] I use Adobe Lightroom and don’t consider the adjustments I make to be ‘major’. Because I shoot in RAW format some processing must be done, but I always try to keep it to a minimum. My usual workflow involves decreasing highlights, opening shadows, adjusting exposure and then perhaps adding a few selective brushes to enhance one or another area to my particular taste. That being said, I would estimate, on average, I process an individual image in 15 – 20 minutes. And, of course, some images require less work while others require more. I am not a fan of what I would consider photo-manipulation and I have never cut clouds from one image and inserted them into another, for example. I have always thought about upgrading to Photoshop (from Lightroom) but have not made the jump for fear of the temptation to do more with my images. I have always thought my processing mirrors what which could be done in an old fashioned darkroom. Shooting RAW requires that you process your images. My ‘art’ images are taken with the ‘big’ camera which is never set to take anything but RAW. For pictures of vacations and of parties and such, I have a point-n-shoot which records in JPEG. So, if I should be out with the ‘big’ camera, and I take 200 shots, maybe 10 or so ever get processed to ‘see the light of day.’ You can do lots and lots with software such as Lightroom. It’s not all that expensive and the learning curve isn’t nearly as steep as that of Photoshop. The bottom line is that if you shoot JPEG you can ‘get by’ with no processing at all … if you shoot in RAW you’ll have to do minimal processing which takes just a minute or two. I hope that helps. If you have any other questions please do get back to me. The teacher in me always appreciates the challenge of an answer. D

      • Your post processing is very gentle to the eyes. It looks so natural, but at the same time, it is better and the colours are fantastic. I think if you post-process a picture for days, you will get an end result quite far away from the original picture and in my opinion, it’s more digital art than photography in that case. I’m still a bit scared to shoot in RAW, because I’m not very good with post-processing techniques other than brightness and contrast 😀 It’s a matter of practice. Did you learn by yourself and try a bit every option? Or did you read a manual?

        • I too was quite scared to switch to RAW and to keep it there! Really scared! I thought, Oh my, I’ll never take another picture that I can actually see. Once I finally made the move I’ve yet to take another JPEG image. [That’s not entirely true … because RAW files are much larger than JPEGs, it is unlikely that your camera will be able to attain its maximum frame rate because the camera’s storage buffer will be exceeded by the rapid flow of information. I discovered that the only way to reach that maximum frame rate (something like 6 frames per second on the D600) is to switch to JPEG which drives smaller files onto your card and one never comes anywhere near exceeding the capacity of the buffer to hold files.] RAW really opens the door to your ability to process because there’s so much more information there. I’d have to go back into my files to provide all of the technical details (easily available on the WEB) but there’s lots of data lost when your camera makes the conversion to JPEG from RAW … and that information can be the difference between a nice image and a really nice image. I did not read a manual and I did not, however, learn all on my own. Although I’m not usually one for online tutorials there are lots out there, especially on YouTube, that are quite helpful. After watching lots of these I developed what is called a ‘Work Flow,’ those things that you learn to adjust for all images. After application of the typical Work Flow, you turn your attention to manipulations required by the unique nature of each image – and these manipulations are highly individualistic – as I’m sure you can imagine. I can highly recommend the videos of french photographer Serge Ramelli. There are lots of his tutorials at his Youtube channel (https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLJ6FIlZVNbQOYg4WXQN7ZpYK3FEH1GVco) and he also has a website with lots of stuff that you can purchase (http://www.photoserge.com/tutorials/lightroom). Serge himself has said that many folks don’t much approve of his techniques but I can tell you that you can watch his tutorials and learn lots about Lightroom (or Photoshop) that will help you with the basics – he’s a very good teacher and his style lends itself well to the medium. Once you learn a few techniques you can then be free to develop your own processing style that will allow you to tease the best out of your photographs. There isn’t a single video that tells you everything you need to know. Ramelli’s pieces are pretty short though and you can watch a bunch and pick little, useful, bits of information out of each one and compile you knowledge-base that way. The best of luck … and do please let me know of your progress. D

  4. Interesting. I had noticed that the majority of your posts were based on one or maybe two images but figured you started out doing it that way and found it worked for you. I hadn’t thought of the broader perspective.
    I think that one major thing that separates you from some of the so-called serious photographers is the fact that you lead an interesting and varied life. Many of those others do just one thing and one thing only. That probably means they are also single minded, arrogant, even egotistical and certainly no fun to be around since it’s all ME-ME-ME with people like that. I like complex, understanding and introspective Dave much better.

    • I’m not sure how this was caught up in my Spam folder … but there it was! I’ve now recovered it and am grateful that you thought highly enough of this image to say so. In appreciation … D.

  5. Again an interesting contrast – the curved wheel versus those straight ‘lines of light’!

    It is very interesting to learn about the Amish (whom I only know from clichéd Hollywood movies) – in particular as I am myself thinking about independence and individuality a lot … in relation to renewable energy of course, but also in a broad sense. It is in a sense ironic that the American culture is associated with individuality: In Europe, we seem to import ‘American culture’ or perhaps a distorted version of it, and it is rather associated with a one-size-fits-all, less individual, ‘follow-the-crowd’ approach … based on typical corporate culture (think Google) with open space offices – all looking similar, like in a sci-fi movie, marketing bullshit buzzwords and strong competition – it is scary to see how the same mentality and management style got prevalent in every global company. In private life you need to be a consumer buying the latest gadgets and other things you don’t really need from that corporations, no matter if you are constantly in debt … as ‘the economy needs to grow’ as now politicians also say here now. If anything limits your choices as an individual it is debt and financial dependence – I come from a culture that abhors any sort of debt, and I cringe when I hear people buy TV sets, cars, and vacations from money they don’t have yet. Definitely a modern trend here. An emigrated American once told he that he had to learn from his European wife that it is not ‘normal’ to be in debt all the time.

    I feel that people actually believe they gain some individuality by say, using a smart phone on the road, but you trade-off that freedom to ‘work where ever you are’ or ‘connect with people worldwide’ for being constantly spied on by Google and Facebook and by being exposed to their ads, trying to speak to the consumer in you. Working with a simple manual tool makes you more dependent on your own health and some other helping hands – but you are less dependent on electrical power. And all those products and services seem to converge: Energy, cars, social network, telco services … one day, as a farmer you will have an iPad-style console to control the tractor and see ads based on what you do. This is only half-joking: I have accidentally just read a newspaper article on a (US) farmer praising all the technology he uses and explaining how he monitors his livestock and vegetables and how he is more of a technology manager than a farmer.

    • You have brought so many fascinating themes to light here Elke. Where to begin a reply? First, the issue of individual (and corporate and national) debt is a big one. I too do not like it. I have always joked, however, that debt is ‘the American way.’ How sad! Where would this country be if not for debt? It’s what allows the banks to make money and thereby float the rest of us. And, to your observations about technology and farming … the marriage is becoming more and more significant all of the time. I heard a story the other day about a farmer that had been flying drones over his fields. The drones were fitted with cameras that recorded images which, after some fancy sort of manipulation and analysis, could tell him where to apply fertilizers and at what rates. This information was downloaded into GPS units on the tractor and information was communicated to automated pumps on the sprayers. This fellow could sit in his living room while the tractor applied fertilizers at appropriate rates all over his ground. Sort of scary! I often talk to my students about how much more production technology can allow – and, at what cost. It seems that in our personal lives and in agricultural practice … in the long term … less should be more! Do you know what I mean? How can we get that message across? How and where did we go so horribly wrong such that we have taught our kids the alternate view that more is better? Sorry to be so negative, it simply seems overwhelming sometimes. The Amish do, in many ways, have it right. Simpler is better, in my book. Is life without the smartphone and iPad really all that bad? No, I do not think so. D

      • Yes, now that you’re saying it … that farmer I was thinking of also talked about his drones and tuning fertilizer! I fully agree with ‘less is more’ and a minimalist life-style. Thinking about the import of American culture I also wonder why we (Europeans) don’t seem to import what I consider a worthy correction of our over-regulated bureaucracies – your more daring, entrepreneurial spirit (unless this is now a positive cliché). But no, we embrace consumerism and somehow blend it with our regulations. Talking about traditional business and food, an example: since this week restaurants in Austria need to inform their customers about all allergenic substances in their meals in detail. In writing. And otherwise they can be sued! Thanks to a new EU directive. In Germany there was a discussion to even force volunteers in the same way – like people baking cakes for some event in their local communities! This comment is perhaps not even a digression from my rant about over-technologizing as I believe only companies who embrace the latest technology can actually keep up with the latest legal restrictions. You need to track all food you buy closely and electronically to provide such information (nearly as in a manufacturing plant …). Many small and ecologically minded farms cannot get (cannot afford to get) certification as ‘organic farms’ here as they cannot meet all the formal requirements … which in the end come down to accounting and tracking using technology. I conjecture that drones might once be needed simply to fullfil some ridiculous requirement of online tracking whatever ‘indicator’ some governmental agency needs. There was actually a discussion about EU governmental subsidies based on the exact area of the farm land – and it turned out that the data currently were not correct (as it is difficult to determine the area in Alpine areas). I don’t remember how this was settled or if it was resolved at all – but there was a discussion if it was feasible for the farmers to determine the size of those areas themselves more exactly or pay for that services. I am sure if affordable technology would be there (like a GPS-powered iphone app for 2D land measurements) farmers would be forced to used it.

        • Your description of all of the regulation makes me think of the ‘manure management plan’ that we were asked to formulate and then implement. The government is concerned that manure from the farm will runoff into the local watershed and contribute to eutrophication of the surround lakes and streams. What the government doesn’t understand is that we don’t have enough animals to contribute to the problem. Twenty-two sheep aren’t a biological hazard. So, our ‘manure management plan’ has always been to allow the rain to simply dissolve the stuff and return nutrients to our pastures. Reasonable … don’t you think?

    • That’s an interesting response. In many ways the Amish perspective mirrors the traditional one from the smaller fishing villages here in Newfoundland-Labrador. Making a living here has always been difficult owing to the harsh conditions and relative scarcity of some resources. The response has been somewhat similar as that of the Amish – namely band together and work cooperatively. It’s interesting to note, though, that this cooperative spirit did not get itself entangled with a dominant religion … which is not to say that religion has had no part in the traditional way of life. It has. Traditionally the fishing villages were organized along religious lines. It was quite common up until fairly recently to find all of the members in any one community to belong to one particular faith. This left, for example, entire communities that were either Catholic, Church of England and United Church of Canada (Methodist). These days those barriers are mostly gone, but the spirit of cooperation is still pretty strong.

      • To be part of one of those small fishing communities, of which you have written well, must have been something special. Perhaps it’s those Rose-Colored-Glasses of mine! No … I don’t think so. To work hard, especially with a cooperative group of like-minded folks must have been a nice way to spend one’s life. Where has community gone Maurice? I mean true community. It is extinct? There was a time when Joanna and I thought that communal living sounded like a good idea … though we were not flower-children of the 60s … born just a little bit late for that.

  6. I love the way the light is captured here, giving intensity to the colours. Queues of photographs are a myth, I think: years ago, in my publicity life, I worked with several professional photographers, creating still life shots for point of sale stuff and press releases. They would reckon that from an old 36-shot-cassette they might get one or two shots worth working with – so I guess your ratio is about right!

    • That makes me feel better … I was out test-driving a new lens yesterday (results to be posted shortly) and took 87 shots and I only liked two! I used to follow a landscape photographer (PL) who claimed his ratio was around 1:100! I’m glad you liked the image. D

  7. Interesting info about the Amish. Wayne’s barn is certainly full of wonderful photographic fodder. I like how the light outside is filtering in through the slats of the barn. Now-a-days, all these rustic pieces are designer’s delights! Lovely coloring throughout. Is that an old exercise bike I spy in the background?

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