Thursday, June 30, 2016

Photo Challenge Entry #30 Epilogue: Still Life With Death

So this is the final shot in the June 2016 Photo Challenge series.  I hope you have enjoyed it, or at least found it interesting.  I have to admit, it was every bit as challenging as I had thought it would be.  I can see why these "one-a-day" challenges are so popular.  If you are a photographer, or thinking about becoming one, I would encourage you to try it, even if it is just for yourself. 

For those of you who missed it, my closing remarks on the series were made in yesterday's post.

Starting tomorrow I will be returning to my regular "once a month" posting schedule, sans theme.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Photo Challenge Entry #29 Biker Hand

I have a friend who emailed me upon seeing this photo series, and his only comment was that "skulls are for motorcycles".  While it is true that the history of skull imagery has been very popular with those commonly seen to be on the "societal fringe" (bikers, and pirates before them), this has not been out of a sense of "evil" as much as it has been out of a sense of recognizing and embracing one's own mortality.  That was, I believe, the message of Michaelangelo (a noted Hell's Angel) when he painted an enormous and incredibly creative skull on the wall of the altar in the Sistine Chapel.  (Focus on the blue sky sections, and you will see it.)  Many pirates, at least the ones we have historical records for, were men of religious faith.  And many bikers today are as well.  As the example of Michaelangelo illustrates, there is yet another group of individuals often seen as being on the "societal fringe", who have also very commonly integrated skull imagery into their daily activities. Artists.

Whether Michaelangelo, Cezanne, DaVinci or O'Keefe, the history of art is jammed with skulls.  These works too, commonly explore the concept and emotions surrounding mortality.  But they also explore the aesthetic properties of the skull as well.  The fact is that while the emotional and psychological attachments that you possess are what draw your attention to a work of art centering around a skull, it is the aesthetic properties of the skull which keep you looking at it, and which allow you to form a connection to the work.  The curvature, the shadows, the fissures, the angles, the texture...all of these things are unique to skulls and all of these things make them therefore uniquely interesting and enjoyable visual objects in and of themselves.

That has really been the goal of this series, for me.  To illustrate the unique and diverse aesthetic properties of skulls apart from the traditional psychological constructs which our society imparts upon them.  To show that from an artistic standpoint skulls can be seen in exactly the same way as we see flowers.  That is why throughout this series I have used many of the same traditional framing, composition, and/or lighting styles typically used to photograph or paint flowers.  I invite you to revisit all the photos in this series and try imagining them as flowers of various sorts, either singly, in bunches, or in close-up, as the images dictate.  I think you will find it very easy to do so.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Photo Challenge Entry #28 Embroidery

This one pretty much speaks for itself, but do make sure you click on it to enlarge it so that you can see some of the detailed work on this.  It is very pretty!

Monday, June 27, 2016

Photo Challenge Entry #27 Brass Rubbing

This is a detail shot from a brass rubbing that my mother did in England many years ago.  She is a very talented artist in her own right, and is especially gifted in the area of watercolor painting.  I fell in love with the rubbing the minute I saw it, and several years ago she graced me with it.

Originally from an anonymous c1530 tomb in Cambridgeshire, the brass this was done from is at St. Martin-in-the-Fields in Westminster.  

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Photo Challenge Entry #26 Earring

Another tiny skull, this one a quarter of an inch long glazed stone earring.  I have no idea of its manufacturing origins, but it is certainly unique and has always been one of my favorites.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Photo Challenge Entry #25 Opossum

Opossum skulls are very much like raccoon skuls except they have a pronounced crested ridge going down the full length of the top of the head.  It is almost fin-like.  Since these skeletal ridges are usually muscle attachment points, I suspect that the opossum has a very strong bite. 

Friday, June 24, 2016

Photo Challenge Entry #24 The Green Goblet

Time for another bit of fun.  This is a cheap plastic Halloween goblet.  I took a highlighter to a white post-it note, and put it inside the goblet.  Then I killed all the ambient lights and lit it solely with a focused blacklight.  I love working with the blacklight, as it has some really unique properties.  It can be hard though, because one of those properties is that every little particle of dust shines like a beacon under it. 

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Photo Challenge Entry #23 The Jonderson Command Vehicle

I have always had a skull of some sort on or in all of my vehicles (with the exception of the few that I have not had long enough to so adorn).  It is a sort of tradition that began in my twenties when I painted the hood of my car with a skull and crossbones, Jolly Roger-style.  I have subtled with age, apparently.  :)

Rob, if you read this and can put your hands on a photo of that old "Death Car" without too much trouble, please post it in the comments.  Thanks!

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Photo Challenge Entry #22 Roadrunner and Coyote

Ok, not really.  It isn't a roadrunner, it is a turkey.  But as a fan of the old Roadrunner cartoons I couldn't resist. :)


Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Photo Challenge Entry #21 Hard Head

Well last night was a full moon as well as the beginning of summer.  So to mark the occasion I thought I would do this very moon-like shot of another one of Curt Warmbier's concrete sculptures.  This is a life-sized skull, designed as a garden decoration.  I haven't had the heart to put it outside though, as it is just too attractive.  So it sits in my office on a shelf there where I can see it every day, even in the winter.

For those of you who do photography, single-source lighting in the studio kind of breaks the rules, but for skulls it can work really well.  Besides, it is photography...they are really more like what you'd call guidelines than actual rules. :)

Monday, June 20, 2016

Photo Challenge Entry #20 Three on the Tree

Some people use fences to mark the boundaries of their property.
But if history has taught us one lesson about fences it is that someone who really wants to be on the other side of one will always be able to find a way to get there.  Whether it is Alcatraz, the Great Wall of China, or the Alps themselves, ultimately fences are only visual boundaries and can be crossed at will.  They can provide a measure of difficulty to be sure, but they can not actually prevent anyone from crossing from one side to the other if that person really wants to do so.

I find things like this decorative tree hanging to work just as well as a fence.  Like a fence, it is a visual reminder that you are at a boundary, in this case between public and private property...between a place where you are welcome, and a place where you are not.  It requires no maintenance and was pretty much free to install.  Plus, it looks less out of place in the woods than any manufactured fence would.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Photo Challenge Entry #19 Father's Day

This is a life-sized skull bookend that my late father bought from the famous Herend Porcelain Works in Budapest.  It is quite rare, and old.  Like most Herend works, it is exquisitely crafted. 

Miss you, Pop!

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Photo Challenge Entry #18 Moss and Squirrel

I don't have a moose skull, otherwise this entry would have been a lot funnier.  This isn't a flying squirrel skull anyway, it is just a regular old orange, poofy-tailed fox squirrel that you might see in any backyard or city park.  I did used to have a flying squirrel skull, but it must have either broken or been misplaced at some point, I do not remember which.

Scheduling note:  I will be out of town until tomorrow afternoon, so tomorrow's entry will not be posted until early evening (Eastern US time). 

Friday, June 17, 2016

Photo Challenge Entry #17 Horse Figurine

This horse always makes me smile.  The best part about it is that it glows in the dark!  I have always been a sucker for stuff that glows in the dark, I don't know why. 

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Photo Challenge Entry #16 Fox and Hare

"What are you staring at?"  :)

Technically this is not a hare, it is a rabbit.  Close enough for Aesop.  If not, I am sure I will get a strongly worded email about it.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Photo Challenge Entry #15 Profile of a Raccoon

Raccoons have forty teeth, and it is some of the most remarkable dentition of any North American mammal, in my opinion.  Not only are most of them multiply pointed, but they fit together like pinking shears.  Even the large canines ("fangs") have sharpened ridges on the back.  It is a good thing raccoons are mostly docile and reclusive creatures because if they were not it would make going outside at night a very different experience.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Photo Challenge Entry #14 Stapler

A nice benefit to collecting skulls is that you become easy to shop for.

"Happy birthday, Jonderson! Here is some roadkill I found!"
(That is not really what I meant.)

This is my desk stapler, which I received as a gift several years ago.  It has some very pretty knotwork on it, and I enjoy looking at it very much.  Unadorned staplers tend to be some of the ugliest objects around.  It is always fun to use as well, and it is next to impossible to keep from making "Nom-nom-nom" sounds whenever I staple something.  

Monday, June 13, 2016

Photo Challenge Entry #13 Caveman and Beaver

Perhaps one of the more interesting skulls I have is this beaver.  It certainly is the most sturdily built.  Very heavy, very solid.  Like most rodents, beavers have an orange layer of extra-hard enamel on the front of their teeth.  This causes the front of the tooth to wear more slowly than the back, which serves to keep the teeth constantly sharp.

As I was setting this shot up, I was struck by how cavern-like the skull looked close up.  So I added the caveman and adjusted the lighting to more closely resemble a stony landscape. 

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Photo Challenge Entry #12 I Smell An Abstract

What appears to be some sort of lacy coral reef here, is in fact the delicate structure of a rabbit's nasal sinus cavity.  Like the earler image of cranial fissures mimicking the flow of a river, the math and physics behind the formation of these structures is very similar to that which governs the formation of coral.  It makes sense, if you think about it, because at a fundamental level both structures serve very similar physical purposes.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Photo Challenge Entry #11 The Mailbox

Yesterday I made a lot of you cringe, so today we are going to make a lot of you laugh.
Unless you are a postal worker, in which case you will not find this photo even the least bit amusing.

That is a bull mastiff skull, in case you were wondering.  Big dog.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Photo Challenge Entry #10 Little Brown Bat

This is one of my smallest skulls, although not the smallest.  It is the skull of a Little Brown Bat.  How small is it?  Well, the long lower fangs are a whopping 1mm from tip to jaw.  It took me a couple hours just to place and secure the teeth when I was preparing this skull, with a powerful magnifier and a tweezer-like tool that I had constructed out of sharpened toothpicks.

Little Brown Bats eat mosquitoes primarily.  Lots of them.  500-1000 per hour, until they have consumed at least half their own body weight...every single day.  Nursing females will eat twice that.  They also eat moths and midges, and other flying insects.  So they are really nice to have around...outside at least.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Photo Challenge Entry #9 Blue Skull

A glass bottle, backlit with a dense bundle of tiny blue LEDs wired up to an old phone battery. Ta-daaah!

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Photo Challenge Entry #8 The Three Amigas

"The Three Amigas"
That is how my wonderful wife refers to these deer skulls.  That old maple stump sits in the middle of a natural passageway between the house and the garage, so rather than risk running it over with the truck or tripping on it all the time I decided to put something on it to make it more visible.  There is a wild rose bush behind them which looks nice later in the summer, and a shepherd's crook with more bones and a raccoon skull hanging from it above them (that may or may not make an appearance in a later entry).  Over the years the stump has gone soft and has been crumbling pretty aggressively lately, so I don't think it wll be around a whole lot longer and a new location will have to be found for the three amigas.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Photo Challenge Entry #7 Kite

Skulls don't have to be somber or morbid.  They can be cheerful and happy!

When I was a kid one of the greatest summertime joys was flying a kite.  (We didn't have video games or the internet back then, and barely had television. We had bikes and kites.)

This is one of two skull kites that I have, and certainly the most uplifting.  (I used to have a third, but it escaped and has not been seen since.)

While it is true that you don't see many skull kites flying, I have found that the people who notice them when they are seen always seem to have a smile on their faces.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Photo Challenge Entry #6 Coyote and Snail

A lesson in shot composition:  Sometimes you just get lucky, and everything is already set up and just waiting for you when you get there.  And sometimes you get even luckier when it is waiting for you only three steps out your door.  Little things can be easy to overlook, to miss entirely.  But it is the little things that are often the most important in life, as well as in photography.  Take the time to pay attention to them.  Don't be in such a hurry.  Don't focus so intently on the future that you miss the present.  You will live a happier life, and you will make much better photographs.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Photo Challenge Entry #5 Mini Skullpture

This is a 3-inch concrete sculpture done by Curt Warmbier of Warmbier Farms.  (I added the color, using black ink, wax pencil, graphite, and 24 karat gold paint.)  It is supposed to be a garden decoration, but I use it on my desk as a paperweight.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Photo Challenge Entry #4 Cranial Fissures

Cranial fissures and moss on an "outdoor" skull.  I never get tired of looking at the contrast between the asymmetry of the individual twists and turns of the fissures and the overall symmetry of the fissures as a whole.  To me they are some of the most delicately beautiful lines in nature.  Although functionally similar to a dovetail joint in carpentry, cranial fissures are much stronger and more resilient due to the incredibly large surface contact area.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Photo Challenge Entry #3 Horse and Pig and Hens and Chicks...with a side of seafood.

Before we get to the photo, there is a little housekeeping to attend to.  I have been informed that the "Subscribe To" link at the bottom of the page is not working for some people, so for those of you wishing to get updates to this blog in your email, just enter your email address in the form at the bottom of the page.  (I do not have any ad agreements with anyone, nor do I share your email addresses, so you won't get spammed if you sign up.)

With that taken care of, here is today's skull photo!

Like it says on the label...a horse, a pig, hens and chicks, and a little scallop shell that turned up in the dirt one day.   I planted a wall of red and blue morning glories and white moonflowers behind this, but they probably won't be up and blooming before this project is complete.  It would have been nice, but we can save it for another time.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Photo Challenge Entry #2 Broken Key Chain

A broken and severely pocket-worn keychain. 

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

June Photo Challenge, Intro and Entry #1 Cat Skull

Well, you are in for what I am hoping will be a treat this month, as I have decided to undertake a photo challenge.  I will be posting an image on the blog every day this month, and each image must follow a theme.  (Trust me, it is a lot more challenging than it sounds!)

The theme I have chosen is skulls, primarily because it is a theme I have always enjoyed.  Skulls are aesthetically very pleasing to begin with, the shapes and lines, the contrasts, the symmetry which is never entirely symmeterical, all these elements lend themselves very well to the visual arts.  In addition, even within species each one is unique.  No two are exactly alike.  I find a tremendous amount of beauty in them, and hopefully by the end of the month you will too.

While I do have a moderate collection of real skulls, not every image this month will contain or depict one of them.  There are just too many great options available on this broad theme, and real skulls are only part of what I want to do.

In addition, as I am not going to be in town every single day this month, I am going to have to fudge the rules a little bit and do a few ahead of time (or pull one from the archives) to cover the times when I am not here to prepare them.

So don't forget to check back here every day this month, or if you'd rather get the update via email every day so that you don't have to remember, just enter your email address in the form at the bottom of the page.  In addition, the "Subscribe to" link will enable the "live bookmark" feed, but I am told that it does not function for everyone.

And now, without further ado, entry #1 in Jonderson's June Photo Challenge.

This is a domestic cat skull.  His name was Pooh, and he belonged to my friend Steve.  Steve was my first blog subscriber, so his cat gets the honor of the lead-off position in this project.  Cat skulls have great curves!