April to May on Flagstaff Mountain

So, the spring snow storm continues here in Colorado. In the Foothills now, it looks more like mid-winter than it does May Day, so there were lots of folks out capturing images with whatever camera they had handy–iPhone, point-and-shoots, DSLRs, even GoPros held out the window of a slow cruising car.

This kind of meteorological instability is really not unusual, though, as March and April can actually be very heavy months for precip in these parts.

The snow line must have been right at 5,430 feet above mean sea level today as the flakes turned to wet rain the minute they hit the streets here in town–but, just a few hundred feet higher, the snow accumulated heavily in the trees, bending their boughs under a very wet, thick, blanket of white.

April snow showers bring May sun and flowers??? We’ll see!

Here are a few images from Flagstaff Mountain this afternoon as we move from April into May…ever closer to summer.

 

Can you spot the raptor soaring between the Second and Third Flatiron?

Lone Eagle in the Storm. Chautauqua Park, Boulder, Colorado, 2016
Lone Eagle in the Storm. Chautauqua Park, Boulder, Colorado, 2016

 

Here is a closer view of the raptor, or…? Let me know, ornithologists, if you have a positive I.D. on this gal or guy:


20160430-3144aBW eRiding the Storm

 

The weight of these spring snows can break tree limbs and down power lines:

A Heavy Spring Snow. Flagstaff, Mountain, Colorado, 2016
A Heavy Spring Snow. Flagstaff, Mountain, Colorado, 2016

 

One of the many switchbacks that climb the hill, a route popular with local cyclists and rock climbers who specialize in bouldering:

Mountain Curve. Flagstaff Mountain, Boulder, Colorado, 2016
Mountain Curve. Flagstaff Mountain, Boulder, Colorado, 2016

The jagged north profile of the First Flatiron was occasionally visible as the cloud base moved and wreathed up and down:

First Flatiron Window, Spring Storm. Flagstaff Mountain, Boulder, Colorado, 2016
First Flatiron Window, Spring Storm. Flagstaff Mountain, Boulder, Colorado, 2016

The Grapes of El Valle del Pedernal (San Juan, Argentina)

Harvest Time, Valle del Pedernal. San Juan, Argentina, 2016
Harvest Time, El Valle del Pedernal. San Juan, Argentina, 2016

 

Given the snowy, rainy, slushy-sloppy conditions here in Colorado USA right now, I thought it comforting to revisit some images I had not processed–until now–from a recent trip down to warmer and drier climes in Argentina.

So, this is sort of a short photo-documentary of a journey with the brand new “yerno” (son-in-law), Martín Montané, from the City of Mendoza up to San Juan Province to load up a small truck with crates of juicy Malbec grapes.

The harvest was destined for the Montané family’s home wine-making operation (their artisanal label Facebook page: Tierra Adentro).

 

 

El Valle del Pedernal sits at about 4,600 feet above sea level, on the eastern, more arid, slope of the Andes Mountains. It has only recently been developed as a major grape-growing area, but will likely eventually rival Valle de Uco (Mendoza) as a quality growing region:

The Vineyards. Valle del Pedernal, San Juan, Argentina, 2016
The Vineyards. El Valle del Pedernal, San Juan, Argentina, 2016

 

Some of the grapes are harvested by machine, others by hand. It all depends on what the final wine product will be. The machine isn’t quite as neat as the hand of a real human bean (sic) in harvesting, though, so it is the manually-picked grapes that will likely go into making the better wines. The small bins to the right are ours for the Montané Tierra Adentro artisanal winery. Normally, during the harvest, much, much larger crates are filled, then loaded by tractor onto big semi-trucks–as you can just barely see in the background on the far left. Our 30-bin “take” was a pretty puny job by the standards of this huge finca (farm):

Grape Harvester. Valle del Pedernal, San Juan, Argentina, 2016
Grape Harvester. El Valle del Pedernal, San Juan, Argentina, 2016

 

As the workers filled our bins, Martín went through each and did an initial, cursory, cleaning of leaves, loose stems, and any potentially rotten grapes that could affect the batch. From what he said, the harvest looked to be of excellent quality overall–and they did taste nice and juicy!

A Cursory Cleaning. El Valle del Pedernal, San Juan, Argentina, 2016
A Cursory Cleaning. El Valle del Pedernal, San Juan, Argentina, 2016

 

The foreman directs the crew to divert their attention temporarily from the big industrial-sized crates and to fill up our small plastic bins. The work is done in just a few minutes. The man at the left holds a device which records the number of bins harvested by each worker–that’s how they are paid. If I understood and converted correctly, they get about a dollar a bin–and those things weigh in at about 40-45 pounds per bin. Definitely hard work!

Filling the Bins, #3. El Valle del Pedernal, San Juan, Argentina, 2016
Filling the Bins, #3. El Valle del Pedernal, San Juan, Argentina, 2016

 

The man in the round hat with the device is registering another bin load from a worker. Note the huge crate of grapes that will eventually be loaded onto the semi-trailer truck. As a guess, each one must weigh in at 500 to 1,000 pounds when full. That’s Marcelo Bernal walking toward us down the road, the in-charge day-to-day manager of the whole 600-plus acre operation:

Counting Bins, #2. El Valle del Pedernal, San Juan, Argentina, 2016
Counting Bins, #2. El Valle del Pedernal, San Juan, Argentina, 2016

 

One of the hard-working guys on the harvest crew, probably a local Sanjuanino. If you are in to soccer at all, you’ll notice he is a fan of the famous Boca Juniors team, based in Buenos Aires. Those are scissors in his right hand for cutting the grapes from the vine. He is assigned a bin with a number and earns cash for each one he fills. It is hot, hard, sticky work:

Picking Grapes. El Valle del Pedernal, San Juan, Argentina, 2016
Picking Grapes. El Valle del Pedernal, San Juan, Argentina, 2016

 

The final bins are filled. That’s our little truck on the left that will soon be stuffed with 30 of them, or about 1,000 pounds of Malbec grapes:

Filling the Bins, #7. El Valle del pedernal, San Juan, Argentina, 2016
Filling the Bins, #7. El Valle del Pedernal, San Juan, Argentina, 2016

 

Martín does some light, organic, disinfecting of each bin prior to loading:

Disinfecting. El Valle del Pedernal, San Juan, Argentina, 2016
Disinfecting. El Valle del Pedernal, San Juan, Argentina, 2016

 

Exactly thirty of those plastic bins will fit inside–not one more. We barely wedged the spare tire on top of it all when we were finally packed up! The tarp will be used to cover and seal the load. Why? Because we are transporting between the Province of San Juan and the Province of Mendoza and there are strict import-export ag controls between the two regions. Neither Province wants to spread pests–like the Mediterranean fruit fly, for example–into the other. Before leaving San Juan, the load will be inspected and sealed with a special, tamper-proof, metal tie. The load will be inspected again when we cross into Mendoza, and a third time once we arrive at the Montané bodega (their garage, actually) in Mendoza to make sure the the cargo has stayed sealed and the grapes are pest-free:

Packing the Truck. El Valle del Pedernal, San Juan, Argentina, 2016
Packing the Truck. El Valle del Pedernal, San Juan, Argentina, 2016

 

Martín Montané waits while the finca boss, Marcelo Bernal  completes the paperwork on the sale of the grapes. All of this paperwork must be in order for us to transport everything back to Mendoza City, a three-hour journey to the south:

Doing the Paperwork. El Valle del Pedernal, San Juan, Argentina, 2016
Doing the Paperwork. El Valle del Pedernal, San Juan, Argentina, 2016

 

This map of the grape types grown on the finca was on the wall at the farm headquarters. I was impressed by how neat and orderly everything was–the buildings, the machinery, the harvesting process, and the perfect, perfect rows of all the different grape varieties, which included Malbec, Syrah, Cabernet, Chardonnay, Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, and Merlot. They also have a huge walnut grove (Chandler variety) at the farm (in yellow on the map):

Plano de Variedades. El Valle del Pedernal, San Juan, Argentina, 2016
Plano de Variedades. El Valle del Pedernal, San Juan, Argentina, 2016

 

Once back in Mendoza City and at the home bodega of the Montané family, the grapes went immediately into a machine to de-stem and crush the fruity rounds. In another century, this might have been done by many bare (and very stained!) feet, but the machine makes it a simple and quick task. Below, Facundo Montané, Martín’s brother and family jefe of the whole operation, skims off the stems that somehow make it through into the “must” (say, moost) bucket. The stripped stems fall into the left-hand bucket:

De-Stemming and Crushing. Mendoza, Argentina, 2016
De-Stemming and Crushing. Mendoza, Argentina, 2016

 

A top view of the machine. Martín tries to pull out any obvious loose leaves or stems just to make things even cleaner. Watch your hands!

The First Step. Mendoza, Argentina, 2016
The First Step. Mendoza, Argentina, 2016

 

Then the must gets poured into the fermentation tank:

Fermentation Tank. Mendoza, Argentina, 2016
Fermentation Tank. Mendoza, Argentina, 2016

 

Facundo checks the sugar content of the batch. It sits right at 22-23, so it looks good!

Checking the Sugar. Mendoza, Argentina, 2016
Checking the Sugar. Mendoza, Argentina, 2016

 

The next steps in the wine-making process, after the fermentation, will be “clarification” (separating the clear fluid from the chunky stuff), then aging and bottling. At the Montané bodega, they hope to produce somewhere in excess of 4,000-5,000 bottles of several different wine varieties–as they have in years past. What they do is exactly what the big bodega’s do, but at Tierra Adentro, it is obviously on a smaller scale, much more artesanal, and very hands-on.

Being essentially a non-drinker (I just don’t like the taste of alcohol, more than for any other reason), this was all quite an education for me. A big thanks to Martín, Facundo, and the whole Montané family, as well as to jefe Marcelo Bernal for the wonderful sunrise tour of the Pedernales finca!

So, keep your eyes on the wine list at your local restaurant here in the States…lets see if any from El Valle del Pedernal, Argentina, start showing up. I am betting they will very soon!

 

For some color landscapes of the finca at El Valle del Pedernal (previously posted on Facebook)… CLICK HERE!!!

Back to Sugarloaf

It has been awhile since my last visit to my favorite local area sunrise perch, Sugarloaf Mountain…but the unstable weather conditions were calling.

In Boulder, the previous day there were lots of low clouds with a small cold front moving through, with this particular morning (27 April) forecast as clearing. The possibility of some nice cloud layers below the Sugarloaf summit was there–and so it was. And so was I (despite the 4a.m. wakeup!)

A handful of images…

 

The pre-sunrise light up here always seems very blue, a color that also communicates the cold temps of this particular morning. That’s Denver off to the right in the distance and probably Louisville on the left. Boulder is buried under cloud. From left to right you can also see the profiles of the First Flatiron, Green Mountain, and Bear Peak. The lights from a couple of mountain homes can also be seen between Green and Bear, and in the very near foreground:

Pre-Dawn Above Boulder, #1. Sugarloaf Mountain, Colorado, 2016
Pre-Dawn Above Boulder, #1. Sugarloaf Mountain, Colorado, 2016

 

Moving from a telephoto shot (above), I switched to the 24-70 and tried to work with the sculpted summit stump. The elephant-shaped cloud helped fill in all that negative space in the sky. It snowed about an inch up here last night:

Pre-Dawn Above Boulder, #2. Sugarloaf Mountain, Colorado, 2016
Pre-Dawn Above Boulder, #2. Sugarloaf Mountain, Colorado, 2016

 

Back to the 70-200 telephoto for a closer view of the cloud layers and the mountain profiles. I liked the line of cloudlets marching across the sky and, in the foreground, the silhouettes of the trees, some burned in the last fire a few years ago:

Pre-Dawn Above Boulder, #6. Sugarloaf Mountain, Colorado, 2016
Pre-Dawn Above Boulder, #6. Sugarloaf Mountain, Colorado, 2016

 

For sunrise, I changed perspectives radically, going for a 14mm view of the giant, scorched, tree I call “Old Grandpappy”, along with his forest fire-veteran companions.

Old Grandpappy. Sugarloaf Mountain, Colorado, 2016
Old Grandpappy. Sugarloaf Mountain, Colorado, 2016

 

On the descent, Sugarloaf’s shadow led the way with a three-quarter Moon looking on. The clouds were layered, with low, fast-moving cumulus blowing by in the cold wind and a massive lenticular starting to form at high altitude, and some light cirrus up even higher:

Sugarloaf Shadow. Sugarloaf Mountain, Colorado, 2016
Sugarloaf Shadow. Sugarloaf Mountain, Colorado, 2016

On The Benefit of Photo Walks

Fractured Self-Portrait. Ft. Collins, Colorado, 2016
Fractured Self-Portrait. Ft. Collins, Colorado, 2016

 

A photo walk, and the images you gather whilst oot and aboot, may not contribute directly to your current photographic project, or your portfolio of portraits, or your birds and wildlife collection, or your waterfall series, but…

…these outings will very likely make an indirect contribution.

Grabbing your camera and just strolling about some random local area can be an excellent exercise in “seeing”. You will be forced to look very closely at the scenes around you (many not very interesting at first glance) as you try to come up with interesting compositions. You are exercising your eyeballs, your technical prowess with your photo machine, and the right half of your cerebral melon–all good things to strengthen.

You will then likely find yourself just a tad more “fit” when you do return to your favorite subject matter. So give it a try!

Last Friday, we drove up to Ft. Collins to drop off a photograph at the Center for Fine Art Photography, then took a late afternoon photo walk through the downtown area. Here I offer up the handful of images I came up with that I liked. The tool used was the very small Sony RX100iv

Urban Alley Still Life. Ft. Collins, Colorado, 2016
Urban Alley Still Life. Ft. Collins, Colorado, 2016

 

Circle, Lines, and Squares. Ft. Collins, Colorado, 2016
Circle, Lines, and Squares. Ft. Collins, Colorado, 2016

 

The Old Chrysler. Ft. Collins, Colorado, 2016
The Old Chrysler. Ft. Collins, Colorado, 2016

 

Right Angle. Ft. Collins, Colorado, 2016
Right Angle. Ft. Collins, Colorado, 2016

 

Circle Path. Ft. Collins, Colorado, 2016
Circle Path. Ft. Collins, Colorado, 2016

 

Barber Shop, #2. Ft. Collins, Colorado, 2016
Barber Shop, #2. Ft. Collins, Colorado, 2016

 

Changing Out the Posters. Ft. Collins, Colorado, 2016
Changing Out the Posters. Ft. Collins, Colorado, 2016

 

Circle Game. Ft. Collins, Colorado, 2016
Circle Game. Ft. Collins, Colorado, 2016

 

Want A Beer? Ft. Collins, Colorado, 2016
Want A Beer? Ft. Collins, Colorado, 2016

 

Ft. Collins Community Center. Ft. Collins, Colorado, 2016
Ft. Collins Community Center. Ft. Collins, Colorado, 2016

The Army of the Plains

The Army at Rest. Highway 287, near Berthoud, Colorado, 2016
The Army at Rest. Highway 287, near Berthoud, Colorado, 2016

 

Another for the Neo-Topographic portfolio, seen and captured from Highway 287 near Berthoud, Colorado.

I liked the contrast between the high mountains and Longs Peak (Nature), versus the line of powerful machines at rest (Man). Chipping away at yet another piece of real estate, shrinking yet another ecosystem…

Ultimately, who will win this conflict? Or, will we someday, before it is too late, learn to live in sustainable harmony?

A Criticism (and Defense) of Steve McCurry

Women, #16. Mendoza, Argentina, 2016
Women, #16 (“Dreams in a Box” from my On Women series). Mendoza, Argentina, 2016

 

You may think you don’t know this renowned photographer, but I am betting you do. Remember that famous National Geographic cover of the Afghan girl with the stunning eyes? Well, that was his image.

McCurry is quite famous for these kinds of portraits, as well as his landscape, travel, and documentary photography, often published in Nat’l Geo, books, and other top magazines.

He is quite admired for his work–but the admiration apparently is not unanimous.

Enter a recent article published in the New York Times Magazine (“A Too Perfect Picture”, March 30, 2016), by noted author, photographer, and critic, Teju Cole. He takes McCurry to task for what might be called formulaic eye candy, possibly even posed or set up, that only serves to perpetuate foreign stereotypes (this last phrase, my summary of Cole’s point). Cole even goes so far as to call McCurry’s pictures “boring”.

Wow!

It certainly caused a stir among the photography intellectuals who debate this stuff, including a strong rebuttal from Allen Murabayashi on the PetaPixel site (“In Defense of Steve McCurry”, April 6, 2016).

Let the fireworks on the photography and art forums begin! Time to get the popcorn popping and pull up the recliner…

Actually, among my photographer friends, we often have similar debates and discussions: Why is it that the cliché sunrises and sunsets get mountains of “Likes” among the Facebook masses while an image (as mine above, for example) we might consider much more profound, layered with meaning, subtle, and so on, gets nothing more than the sound of chirping crickets? Why do most viewers gravitate toward the picture-perfect postcard, shying away from work that is more challenging to understand?

Of course, the debate is endless. It depends on your definition of art…your taste in art…the venue where you are viewing the work…what you see as it’s purpose…what makes you feel good…your level of engagement with art and artistic discourse…and myriad other factors.

Me? Well, like many photographers, I would love to have McCurry’s talent, renown, and income! (Although, naturally, my pictures would look nothing like his.) What he does is beautiful and even spectacular and sublime. On the other hand, I also get the notion that these images can also sometimes be seen as idealized, “too perfect”, cultural postcards. So, I am not yet sure where I come down on this debate–somewhere in the middle, I suppose. It is certainly something to ponder.

Check out the links above to the two opposing articles and see what you think.

Postscript: The controversy escalates…There now seems to be a lot of doubt about how Steve McCurry’s images were created, how much staging was involved, how much Photo-shopping occurred after the shot, and so on. This is seen as an important ethical discussion as many if not most of McCurry’s images were published (many in National Geographic) as documentary or photo-journalistic photographs. Obviously, if he were simply a self-declared photographic artist creating creative images, this would be a non-issue–but photojournalism is a different beast with different rules and expectations.

To read an interesting article that shows you some very specific examples of his photo-manipulation as well as a discussion of the issue, see this link: EDITORIAL: Eyes of the Afghan Girl–A Critical Take on the “Steve McCurry Scandal”, by Kshitij Nagar (June 6, 2016).

Another Thought on B&W Photography

Assisted Living Move-In. Tucson, Arizona, 2016
Assisted Living Move-In. Tucson, Arizona, 2015 (iPhone6)

 

“Black-and-white photography, in a way, is much more powerful than looking at color. I don’t care what anyone says. Color tries to take you on a much pleasanter journey. Black and white is bleak and stark and it brings reality into things, whereas color gives you opportunities to go off at different thoughts and places.”

Don McCullin (b.1935), acclaimed British photojournalist and documentary photographer.

I tend to agree. I have always thought that color can sometimes be distracting, pulling the eye and mind away from the intended message of the image. The above photograph for example–would it have the same impact of loneliness, alienation, and finality…if it were in color?

Naturally, this is not always the case. In photography, the rules, the norms, the consensus, the expert opinion, the guidelines–whatever you want to call them–are all there to be bent and broken. The above quote is simply food for thought.

So, boldly go forth and do your own thing.

Humble Street Art by Cees

Humble Mural. Godoy Cruz, Mendoza, Argentina, 2016
Humble Mural. Godoy Cruz, Mendoza, Argentina, 2016

 

Just a reminder that even the most humble neighborhoods can be cheered up with a wee bit of street art in just the right place. In this case, the artist is Cees (Natalio Garcia Barros), another top-notch graffiti-mural artist from Mendoza, Argentina.

I liked this one especially because of its humility and simplicity–a bit of optimism and even some slight crowned happiness rising up out of the ruined earth to cover the rusted, precarious, patchwork of galvanized metal.

Cees often does elaborate, large, works with incredible color and complexity. This one, though, is almost tender.

[NOTE: For an example of one of Cees larger works (in cooperation with Dötz and Zupa), take a look at the southwest corner of Manuel Belgrano and Aristedes Villanueva in Mendoza. This huge mural, which took eight days to complete, is called “Wings of Memory” and was done less than a month ago in honor of the thousands of desaparecidos of the 1970s and 1980s civil conflicts often referred to as The Dirty War. To read a short article in Spanish about “Wings” go HERE. For some of my pictures of this mural, CLICK HERE!