An Autumn Sunday

Photo by Nataliya Vaitkevich on

A lazy autumn Sunday afternoon.  I slept rather late. I woke up to the smell of croissants my wife was baking – which is better than any alarm clock. Drank three cups of good coffee. I glanced at the news but it started depressing me, so I worked on one of my short poems about the day because that is like this blog – a bit of escape into words.

It was chilly his morning. Less than 50 degrees. That’s fine sweater weather. I went out to check on the tomato plants that I covered yesterday to try to get a few last cherry tomatoes. The covers were puffing in the wind like Halloween ghosts.

Halloween is my least favorite holiday. – though I seem to write about it here rather often.
Photo by cottonbro on

There were some interesting patterns of fallen leaves in different colors. The acorns and a few pine cones are arranged by serendipity, squirrels, and chipmunks on the deck. Some sticks fell with the wind last night and they almost formed a wreath.

Then I went inside for some lunch and scrolling through my tumblr feed I saw a post about “land art.”

I wrote a bit about this in the past – art made from the materials nature offers and made in nature and allowed to dissolve, decompose or disintegrate naturally. Some names associated with this form are Andy Goldsworthy, Ludovic Fesson, Jeremy Underwood, Lizzie Buckmaster Dove and Emily Blincoe.

I suppose you could look at this day as a wasted one. I didn’t accomplish anything “significant” so far today. Still, I feel like I am one point in a very large circle of Sunday afternoon people looking at autumn all over this top half of our world. It is a good feeling. That is an accomplisgment.

By Evie Shaffer on

Tilt-Shift Photography

toy cars
looking down on some toy cars

Doesn’t the photo above look like some little set with little toy cars? It’s called “tilt-shift” and it’s a photographic technique. Photographers use a type of camera lens that can be moved (shifted) and pointed at different angles (tilted).

Tilt-shift miniature photos are photos of real-life scenes that are made to look like miniature scale models. Though it was originally done using those special lenses, these days a lot of people are doing it using apps. I suppose that if you use the software for the simulated depth-of-field trickery, it’s fake tilt-shift, but since most of us amateurs don’t have these special lenses, it may be your only shot at it.

Using the software, you are distorting the focus of the photo, to simulate the shallow depth of field of a macro (closeup) lens. That gives the illusion that the scene is much smaller than it actually is.

It seems to work better if your shot is from a high angle to get that illusion that you are looking down on a set. Horizontal objects also seem to work better than vertical objects that would cross the in-focus & blurry areas.

I actually discovered this years ago via a website called TiltShiftMaker that lets you transform your photos into one of these “miniatures.”  It’s free and easy to use. There is also an inexpensive premium version and probably other apps that can do it too. The hardest part is getting an appropriate starting image.

You can also get this effect using software like Photoshop with its image blur and layering functionality and it would probably be better (if you really know how to use that complicated piece of software) but the online tool is a good way to try out tilt-shift photos. 

knights and horses
In a museum – but it reminds me of my toy knights and horses.

Samples and more information

Photoshop tutorial

My Photographic Memory


You can take “photographic memory” two ways.

First, there is the photographic memory that people study and still question whether it exists. That is properly called “eidetic memory.” It is also referred to as “total recall” and it is the unusual ability to recall images, sounds, or objects in your memory with extreme accuracy.

It has been studied in children and adults and certainly exists to some degree, but many people who claim to have it, just have some irregular occurrences of that ability or just a plain old “good memory.” I had students of all ages who told me that they could study 20 minutes before a test and remember it all – and then would get a 70% grade.

True eidetikers will say that after having seen something – a list, a painting, a face – they can later still “see” the information when it is gone as if it were still there. I have read that some people with autism or Asperger syndrome seem to have this ability.

The chances are that if you or I think we have a good memory of something, we have associated it with certain details or used (consciously or not)  mnemonic devices to retain the information. Real eidetikers would remember very specific details.

For example, I might recall that we met at a party last Christmas at Bob’s house. I recognize your face, your name, and a story you told about taking a cruise to Alaska. Someone with total recall would remember what you wore, where you were standing, the color of your eyes, what you were drinking, the names of your children and wife, what you ate, the car that I saw you get into when you left, etc.

But there’s another type of photographic memory that I don’t think gets as much study.


When my two sons were 10 and 8, we had a conversation about a trip to Disneyworld that we took when they were 4 and 6. I was amazed at how little they remembered about the vacation. I remembered much more of the details of the trip. What really surprised me was that they were already losing their memories. Sure, I couldn’t remember much of anything from when I was 4 or 6, but I’m old! When they told me what they did remember from that vacation, I realized what they could recall were almost exclusively the things that we had photographs of in our albums and what I had captured on video.

They had photographic memories – memories of photographs.

I’m glad that I have filled albums and tapes and disks with memories of their childhood. I wish I had more from my own. I realize that many, luckily not all, of my childhood memories, do come from photos.

I suppose the memories are still “in there” and the photos just trigger some neuron to fire at the right time.  They say that if photographic memory does exist, it would be in the hippocampus. In the book, Society of Mind, Marvin Minsky says that he was unable to verify claims of eidetic memory, so he considered it an “unfounded myth.” I don’t agree – but it depends on your definition.

Photography and Memory

The almanac told me that on August 19, 1829, French painter and physicist Louis Daguerre presented his photographic process to the French Academy of Sciences. He had not taken the first photograph. Joseph Nicéphore Niépce did that a few years before, but the quality of those earliest ones was quite poor. It took an 8-hour exposure to capture an image.

Daguerre worked with Niépce to improve the process. The newer method only needed a copper plate coated with silver iodide to be exposed to light in the camera for 20 to 30 minutes. It was then fumed with mercury vapor to bring out the image and then fixed with a salt solution to make it permanent. Daguerre called the finished product a “daguerreotype.”

Daguerre’s photo of Boulevard du Temple, Paris

In Daguerre’s image of Boulevard du Temple in Paris from 1839, you don’t see any traffic or pedestrians because the long exposure (10-30 minutes) didn’t capture moving things. However, if you look closely, there is a man getting his shoes polished (bottom left corner) and the pair must have been there long enough to be captured on the photo plate. There might be third person to the right of the two men sitting on a bench and reading a paper. The three are praobly the first people ever captured in a photo.

It was a dangerous process and photographers became ill or died from mercury poisoning. And the daguerreotype was best suited for still objects. Still, people wanted their portraits even if it meant sitting in bright sunlight as perfectly still as possible for a half hour, and so early daguerreotype portraits have some stern-looking faces.

memory and now video Simply put, a photo is information about past light that we can perceive in present time. Similarly, memories are the affects of our past experiences on our present self. A picture can trigger a buried memory and recall a precise moment in time much more rapidly than words. But why exactly? Neuroscientists have known for many years that humans have an extraordinary ability to encode pictures Photographs can serve as memory storage and, when viewed, can activate memory recall. Imagery an effective way to enhance memory, reduce false memories, study finds. Summary: Using imagery is an effective way to improve memory and decrease certain types of false memories, according to researchers

An NPR story last year counterintuitively suggested that “To Remember The Moment, Try Taking Fewer Photos.” The process of “offloading” our memory using photos is aptly called the photo-taking impairment effect. That is when we use technology to remember something, you are outsourcing their memory. Unconsciously, if we knows that a camera is preserving a moment, you don’t pay the same kind of full attention to it that would create a strong memory.

The technology doesn’t need to be “high tech” for thisind of effect. Write down a phone number or list of things to get at a store and you are offloading memory. But research shows that a picture can trigger a buried memory or recall a precise moment in time much more rapidly than words.

So, then photos are bad for our mental health. According to some research, photography is a highly cognitive activity and participants in a study who engaged in digital photography showed benefits to their episodic memory and reasoning skills.

We know that memories are not exact digital copies of the events we witnessed. Digital photos are and video is an expanded version of that. Every time we recall a memory, we may accidentally alter it or diminish its accuracy.

In 2015, psychology researchers published a paper titled “The Brain in Your Pocket” that found that people are using computers as a cognitive crutch. We take photos, leave ousrselves notes, ask it to find answers on the Internet for us. I’ll admit that I really know very few phone numbers of my contacts because the phone does it for me. I ask Siri or Alexa if it will rain today, who directed Casablanca (Michael Curtiz) or what is the current price of a Bitcoin (about $21,000). One of those questions is about memory; two are about the future. All three shape cognitive functions, such as attention, memory, processing speed, reasoning, planning, problem solving, and multitasking.

Should we fear photography? An early professional daguerreotype photographer said concerning people’s reaction to their portraits that they were afraid at first to look at the photos. They were embarrassed by the clarity of detail in a way that looking in a mirror didn’t cause the same reaction.

The painters that became known as the Impressionists were at least partly reacting to photography. Why try to capture every detail realisticlly on canvas when a camera could do a far superior reproduction? They needed to do something the camera could not do. There are also things about memories that a camera can not record. Those things may be the most important elements of memories.

Memories, Photographs, and the Human Brain


Verona, New Jersey. Sewing the edge of an American flag at the Annin Flag Company. Photographer: Marjory Collins, 1943

Photogrammar is a web-based platform (via Yale University) for organizing, searching, and visualizing 170,000 photographs from 1935 to 1945 created by the United States Farm Security Administration and Office of War Information. Today housed at the Library of Congress, the archive primarily depicts life in America during the Great Depression and World War II.

An interactive map puts about 90,000 of those photographs that have geographical information online for you to find. You can search photographer or date, but I imagine most of us will search by location.

I started by looking at Essex County in New Jersey where I grew up.

Americans of various racial groups contribute to the war effort. One worker adjusts the blade in a vise while another reads the angle in a large Eastern plant producing propellers for military aircraft. Curtiss-Wright Propeller Division. Caldwell, New Jersey. Photographer: Howard Liberman, May 1942

I did a search for “Union Station,” that grand train station in Washington, DC, and it came up with 60 photos.

The Roosevelt administration wanted to build support for programs like the New Deal, so they sent photographers all over the United States to document the state of the country.

It is another way to view history.

What We Leave Behind, What We Bring With Us

Me on my fifth birthday.
I share the day with Mickey Mantle.

I have been thinking this week about what we leave behind and what we try to bring with us. I scribbled notes on a number of things that have been running through my mind during the week, and I realized that although they are different kinds of things, there was a theme running through them

I picked up Homesickness: An American History by Susan Matt in the library because of the title. Did you ever think about homesickness having a history?  This is American history, so it goes back to those colonists in Jamestown who were homesick for England. All those immigrants who came to America – probably your ancestors as well as mine – were homesick for some things from their homeland. Soldiers away at war.  College students away from home.

Is it nostalgia? Is it a factor of time? Is it true that “you can’t go home again?”

Even if you took every “thing” with you, what is it that you leave behind that causes homesickness?

The term homesick is in origin a loan translation of nostalgia, a learned term coined in Baroque period medicine. The Oxford English Dictionary describes homesickness as a feeling one has when missing home. Feelings of longing are often accompanied by anxiety and depression.

I tried not to leave my mother’s flowers behind when she moved out of my childhood home. I dug up irises, peonies, mountain pinks, roses, mints and herbs, lilies of the valley, and others and took them to my own home. I still play the annuals she planted, especially pansies with their face and snapdragons that I would squeeze so they would open their “jaws.”

As the perennials come back and bloom each year they carry me briefly back home. They remind me of my mother. My mom died last September, so when her flowers came back this past spring, it was a nice reminder.

But sometimes I look at those plants and what I feel is more of a sadness.  Can I call the melancholy I felt “homesickness?”

Here’s a poem by Debra Wierenga that I read this past week that reminded me of those flowers.

Chiller Pansies

Your pansies died again today.
All June I’ve watched them scorch and fall
by noon, their faces folding down
to tissue-paper triangles.
I bring them back with water, words,
a pinch, but they are sick to death
of resurrection. You planted them
last fall, these “Chillers” guaranteed
to come again in spring. They returned
in April—you did not. You who said
pick all you want, it just makes more!
one day in 1963,
and I, a daughter raised on love
and miracles, believed it.

The title for this post makes me think of Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, a book that has become a modern classic. It is about war and also about memory. It is about the physical objects a group of American soldiers in Vietnam carried with them and also the memories that the soldiers carried during the war. Are they homesick? Yes. Was it what they left behind? Yes. Does what they took along with them help? Yes, but it doesn’t eliminate the longing. It might even make it more so.

Take the story of Lieutenant Jimmy Cross, who tried to carry his love for Martha with him. That girl from his college in New Jersey isn’t really his girlfriend. They had one date and it went nowhere. Jimmy carries her letters in his pack and her good-luck pebble in his mouth. She is an English major who writes letters full of poetry quotes that are far away from the war. Like many of us, his memories are connected to photographs, which do bring something, but we leave more behind.

Photographs are the focus of another book that I read about this past week. The Last Pictures by Trevor Paglen will be published in September. Paglen thinks that the communications satellites that circle Earth and carry TV signals, our phone calls and our credit card transactions experience are also going to drift around Earth carrying things from our time, and they will outlast anything humans have made.

Paglen put together a collection of 100 images that will be etched onto an ultra-archival, golden silicon disc that will be sent into orbit on the Echostar XVI satellite in September 2012, as both a time capsule and a message to the future. It’s a case of leaving things behind for future generations.

The book is not just the images but also “questions of the human experience, provoking discourse about communication, deep time, and the economic, environmental, and social uncertainties that define our historical moment.” Pretty ambitious.

And then we have our own photo albums, journals, diaries, and such. We have blogs. I put words down online in order to carry them forward. Most of my experiences, thoughts, and memories are left behind. Many of them will disappear. Some were not good memories, so I don’t mind losing them. Still, the picture is incomplete.

My sons, now in their late 20s, always tell me that their “memories” of most of their early childhood are strongly tied to photographs and especially to videos I took at the time. They maintain that they are not even sure they actually remember some events; they only remember the images and what we have told them about that event.

Nostalgia means a sentimental longing for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations. It is a Greek compound word, consisting of nóstos, meaning “homecoming”, a Homeric word, and álgos, meaning “pain or ache”.

It was one seen as a medical condition, a form of melancholy, and figured importantly in Romanticism. In common usage, nostalgia seems to be the interest we have in past eras and their personalities and events.

Time has a way of turning the past into the “good old days” and it may take only an image, sound, or connection to our childhood to fire that part of our brain.