Sunday, July 27, 2014

little green leafhopper

little green leafhopper
perched on the curving style 
of a yellow daylily,
sucking the lily's sweet sap,
eyes shining bright red

On the stem of this asparagus fern, spaced about a hand's width apart, three tiny leafhoppers are so busy sucking sap that none of them budge when I take a close-up.

This leaf-shaped insect is not a leafhopper, but a long-horned grasshopper or katydid. The long horns refer to its long antenna and it's called a katydid from the sound of the male's mating call, made by rubbing a scraper on one foreleg against the toothed edge of the other foreleg. It feels rather than hears with its antenna, and its hearing organs or tympana are actually located on its forelegs. That must sound really loud to its own "ears"!
          It's a much bigger insect than the minute leafhopper and the katydid chews plants rather than sucks sapLike other grasshoppers, it prefers to hop rather than use its wings to fly. Katydids can also climb up (or down) walls, as this one is doing. It's leaf camouflage doesn't work very well on the white siding, so maybe that's why it's heading for the tip of a Sansevieria leaf. 
          We used to call this pointy-leafed plant "mother-in-law's tongue," because its leaves look like sharp tongues. Now that I am a mother-in-law, I prefer to call it a sword plant. But when I was a child, we had a potted mother-in-law's tongue sitting in the upstairs hallway. This leathery-leaved plant survived in the dim light and dry indoor air. 
          To me it was a miniature forest and I was a kind of Walt Disney version of Johnny Appleseed, planting the seeds I saved from my school lunch apple in the dry soil. My mother only watered the plant once a month, so naturally the seeds never sprouted. And even if they had, I didn't know that they would not grow up to produce the same kind of sweet apple that the seed came from.  Now I have an orchard with heirloom apple trees that have been grafted to run "true," but like the historical John Chapman I still plant a few of the seeds and nurse any that sprout. Who knows? Maybe one day I'll discover a tasty new apple species.

Friday, July 25, 2014

portrait of a young girl

portrait of a young girl
wreathed in white, her double
hovering outside

One of the highlights of our travel photography trip is a visit to VanArts, the Vancouver Institute of Media Arts. We enter the building that houses the institute and take the elevator to the fifth floor. On the way up, I can't resist taking a photo of Samantha, wearing dark glasses and a trench coat, standing in the corner where the mirrored walls reflect her image like a pair of identical twins. This, as it turns out, will not be the first time I see her "double."

When we step out of the elevator, we're in a small reception area. On one wall there's a poster that describes what VanArts offers: acting, animation, broadcasting, game art, photography, visual effects and web development. Large posters along the hallway exhibit student projects.

On another wall, next to a replica of a Chinese clay warrior, I especially like the part in the institute's mission statement about supporting the realization of the student's dreams.

We meet our host, Ian McGuffie, Head of Digital Photography, who leads us on a tour of the facilities.

The hallways are filled with student artwork, like this animation storyboard.

In one classroom, students are working on digital photography in Photoshop.

Photos of famous actors line another wall. This guy looks like he's being pierced by light.

In the broadcasting studio, a woman who could be a model herself sits behind a mike.

I get a chuckle out of one of the instructors standing between a model skeleton, haloed in soft light, and the image of a nude man on the bright white screen of a computer monitor.

Chairs for artists and nude models arranged in a circle, with soft natural lighting from the clerestory windows.

In another hallway, the linear lines of a bank of red lockers and a silver stepladder contrast with a round blue trash can, while the one open locker draws the eye into the dark, private space within.

After our tour, Ian takes us to an auditorium for a wonderful visual lesson on the history of photography, especially emphasizing the rule of thirds, as in this famous black and white photograph by Henri Cartier-Bresson. I'm trying to imagine the skill required to capture a moving subject, not knowing until you've developed the film whether you got the man at all, let alone in the "sweet spot" that makes this photograph so appealing.

He does show us how many contact prints and how much cropping it took to come up with this famous portrait of Igor Stravinsky by Arnold Newman.

Meanwhile, I am taking a photo of Hiyan, who looks like a little elf in her brown hood, raptly listening.

And then sitting with her big yellow purse like a life bouy in a sea of blue chairs.

At the end of the day, Ian accompanies us on the elevator down, and I discover that he has a triple! When he sees me focusing on him, he says, "Ah, yes, favorite spot for photos."

The next day we meet with Mauricio Orozco, an advertising and commercial photographer, for a hands-on workshop in portrait photography. Mauricio, who was born in Mexico City, and Gabe, our instructor, who is also from Mexico, hit it off right away, We all really love the way Mauricio takes us through the details of studio lighting, reflectors, backdrops, props, fans, stills and motion shots.

This is what the fan is for, blowing hair or clothing. And oh my, what a red backdrop and just the right lighting can do to create drama.

Some of my favorite portraits are the ones that are not posed, like Hiyan delicately texting on her beloved pink cell phone.

Alena cradling her camera and looking thoughtful. And the one of Samantha sitting in the window with her double floating outside.

Of course, when I'm not shooting live models, I start seeing charming images everywhere, like the curves and complementary colors of a blue umbrella and textured silver reflector on the blue and white floor.

Or the same reflector like a gold portal to a long green and blue exterior walkway.

The same walkway, with some little plant growing through a crack in the moss green tiles and the white splotch of a bird dropping, both reflected in the glass panes.

And all the blue and white verticals and horizontals of the architecture and the reflection of brick buildings across the way.

When I look out one window, I spot two white eggs nestled in moss growing on the flat rooftop of the building next door, and I am happy to see nature adapting and thriving even in the midst of a big city.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

twin galaxies

twin galaxies --
iconic clock tower cobbled 
out of pinball cards

As I'm leaving ICON Art Gallery after my painting lesson, I pass two pinball machines and two young men inside the display window, plastering the walls with hundreds of cards for the upcoming Twin Galaxies exhibit. Then I do a double take. Our iconic clock tower, reflected in the window, looks like a giant jigsaw puzzle made of pinball cards. How cool is that?

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

blue and all blue

blue and all blue --
low lying spatula of hills,
curving ruffled wake

We're all reluctant to leave the magic of Salt Spring Island, but we have to get to Vancouver, so we line up at the ferry, four cars wide. I wander down to the water's edge. Under an arbutus tree, a couple patiently sits, reading while they wait to board with their bikes. Nice to see people still reading paper books!

On board, I roam around the boat, happily taking photos of seascapes, marine paraphernalia and people.

As we near the port, the Coastal Mountain Range rises like white-cap waves on the blue horizon.

The ferry that was behind us docks just before we do, so we get to watch vehicles disgorging while others wait to enter the twin parking decks.

When it's time to disembark, I can't find the car I came in. Walking up and down the rows of parked cars, starting to get a little panicked, until I remember that I got switched from the white car to the black car back on the island. So easy to get confused when you're traveling and things keep changing!

Monday, July 14, 2014

tiny green tree frog

tiny green tree frog
nestled inside a day lily,
when I come too close -- pop!

Early on an unusually cool July morning, I am out picking flowers when I spot an emerald green spot in the mouth of a yellow day lily. On closer inspection, the spot turns out to be a tiny tree frog with a smooth, sparkling green back ending in a hood over its snout, a pale patch under its eyes, gray sides and legs, and bulbous toe pads.

Like a wary Robin Hood, the minuscule amphibian stares from under its green hood at this immense apparition. When I get close enough to see the vertical black slit in the gold-flecked iris of its eyes . . . pop! It plunges off the petal to the ground.

According to, my little frog is a Cope's gray tree frog. Gray? Yes, Hyla versicolor is a Color-Shifter, able to change from bright green to gray, almost brown, in seconds -- depending on temperature or sometimes their surroundings. 
          Male gray tree frogs are accomplished Bagpipers. They create a loud chirring sound on summer evenings by shutting their nostrils and mouth and squeezing their lungs so that air flows into a "bag" on their throat until it blows up like a balloon and resonates their vocal chords. 
          During the day they turn into expert Samurai. It takes them less than a second to throw out their long, sticky tongues to catch insects. And if it's a big insect, they can drop their eyeballs into their mouth to help push the bug down their throat whole.
          Like Spider Man, they can scale tall buildings and cling to glass windows with ease, due to their ability to secrete mucous from those exaggerated toe pads. And then leap from great heights in a single bound.
          In winter they become Cryonic Masters. After crawling under some shelter like a rock or log, they allow most of their bodily fluids to freeze, but convert enough glucose from the liver to protect their vital organs from freezing. Essentially, they stay frozen until spring revives them from their state of suspended animation.
          All that in a body the size of a quarter!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

golden daylily

golden daylily
bursting forth on July Fourth
in a cloud of silk

The Fourth of July fell on a Friday this year. Because it was the first Friday of the month, our monthly Art Walk, our city's fireworks were scheduled for Saturday. This year, 2014, is the 175th anniversary of the founding of Fairfield, and the display was going to be the biggest ever. But on Saturday it rained barrels, so it befell Fairfield that the fireworks display was canceled. The rain date? Labor Day! But on Friday, people turned out in their red, white and blue stars and stripes to enjoy Art Walk, and I enjoyed watching the people. On the way home, I got to see some fireworks set off from the tiny town of Sturbridge south of where we live.

The day ends with a bearded man wearing a brown bowler and PEACE on his back slowly walking away through the long shadows.