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Posts Tagged ‘Washington D.C.’

I spent some of my favorite moments during my recent trip to Paris exploring again the Rodin Museum and its wonderful outdoor sculpture garden. There is something really special about seeing sculptures outdoors, where the time of day, the season, and the weather can make them come alive in new ways that are not possible in the controlled confines of an indoor museum.

When I travelled to Washington D.C. on Saturday, one of my goals was to see some of the Rodin sculptures that I recalled were in the Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden. The garden is sunken slightly below ground level and as I descended I immediately spotted the large sculpture known as The Burghers of Calais (Les Bourgeois de Calais). This multi-person sculpture is very well-known and I had seen another casting of it recently in Paris. (According to French law, there can be only 12 original castings of a Rodin sculpture, and both the one that I saw in Paris and this one are original castings.)

I couldn’t remember the story behind the sculpture, so I turned to Wikipedia. From a factual perspective, the sculpture commemorates an event during the Hundred Years’ War, when Calais, a French port on the English Channel, was under siege by the English for about eleven months. As you study the faces and the postures of the men in the sculpture, you realize that it is much more than a monument to a historical event.

According to Wikipedia, “Edward, the king of England, offered to spare the people of the city if six of its leaders would surrender themselves to him, presumably to be executed. Edward demanded that they walk out wearing nooses around their necks, and carrying the keys to the city and the castle. One of the wealthiest of the town leaders, Eustache de Saint Pierre, volunteered first and five other burghers joined with him. Saint Pierre led this envoy of volunteers to the city gates. It was this moment, and the poignant mix of defeat, heroic self-sacrifice, and willingness to face imminent death that Rodin captured in his sculpture.”

The sculpture in the second image is known simply as The Walking Man (L’homme qui marche). I am amazed at Rodin’s skill in capturing a sense of movement in such an incomplete figure. For me, it’s like a three-dimensional sketch that has come to life.

The final Rodin sculpture that I wanted to highlight is known as the Crouching Woman (also known as Lust). I find the pose of the woman to be intriguing and the Rodin Museum, which has a terracotta version of the sculpture, asserts that it “looks like a compact block with limbs gathered together and pressed tightly against the torso. This block-like sculpture reflects Rodin’s aesthetic analysis of Michelangelo’s sculpture: it is a work that, to quote the great Italian artist, could roll down a hill without breaking.”

These Rodin sculptures remind me of Paris, but in a greater sense, they highlight my heightened appreciation for the work of artists. Sometimes artists capture beauty and other times they create beauty (and often they do both at the same time). What is beauty? That will have to be the subject of a separate blog someday.

 

Burghers of Calais

The Walking Man

Crouching Woman

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I have lived in the Virginia suburbs of Washington D.C. for over 25 years. Like most people who live in the region, I rarely travel into the city except when I have guests. We tend to look a bit negatively at tourists, who impede our paths and generally get in the way as we rush about trying to get important things—primarily work—accomplished. It is a bit of a stereotype, but it does seem to be that most people in this area are very focused and driven.

As I continued to struggle to readapt to “normal” life after my glorious three weeks in Paris, I started to wonder how things would look differently if I approached Washington D.C. with the same sense of awe and enthusiasm that I felt for Paris. What if I stopped taking for granted all of the treasures our nation’s capital has to offer and looked at them with fresh eyes?

Saturday, I grabbed the camera gear and the raincoat that I used in Paris and rode into the city on the Metro system. I had a relaxing time visiting several of the Smithsonian museums, which all have no admission fee, so you don’t have to exhaust yourself trying to get your money’s worth. I may cover my museum experience in another posting.

What struck me the most during the day, however, was the view that greeted me when I walked out of the National Gallery of Art at closing time. It was starting to get dark and lights had come on, gently illuminating some of the buildings. As I looked to the left, I could see the U.S. Capitol Building, home of Congress, and to the right in the distance was the Washington Monument, with a part of the Lincoln Memorial visible behind it. Wow!

Now I realize that most people don’t have Washington D.C. in their backyard, but I encourage you to look afresh at the area in which you live. Imagine that you have traveled thousands of miles to see its unique beauties. For me, that change in attitude helped me to look beyond the familiar and better appreciate the beauty that was always there. I had always used that approach in my wildlife photography and only now realize how it can be broadened into so many other areas of my life.

U.S. Capitol

Washington Monument

U.S. Capitol

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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A few days ago I made a trip to the National Zoo in Washington D.C. and one of my highlights was visiting the massive Amazonia exhibit. While walking through the indoor rain forest, I could hear activity high in the trees and caught sight of some brightly colored small bird. I think there are also several varieties of monkeys that I did not spot and all kinds of amphibians and fish.

I was shocked and thrilled when a Roseate Spoonbill (Platalea ajaja) flew over and perched a few feet away from me when I was observing an exotic duck. I had previously marveled at the photos of Roseate Spoonbills posted by photographers in Florida and other southern US states, but had never seen one before. The spoonbill seemed to be a bit curious about my presence and willingly posed for me.

It was nice that the Roseate Spoonbill was so cooperative, because I had only a single lens with me, a Canon 24-105mm zoom lens. Initially I was worried that most subjects would be too far away for me to capture with the modest telephoto reach of the lens, but it proved to be perfect when taking portraits of the spoonbill who was less than three feet (one meter) away from me.

My wonderful experience with this beautiful bird increases my desire to see a spoonbill in the wild. I really enjoy visiting zoos, particularly ones like the National Zoo that, I believe, make special efforts to care for the animals. The zoo gives me a chance to observe animal behavior, including animals that I am not likely to see in the wild, but it can never be a replacement for the overall experience of observing animals, birds, and other wondrous creatures in their natural environment.

Roseate Spoonbill

Roseate Spoonbill

Roseate Spoonbill

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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How long a lens do you need to photograph birds? Conventional wisdom dictates that you need a lens with a focal length of at least 300mm and ideally much longer than that. I generally use my Tamron 150-600mm lens when I anticipate shooting birds, especially small ones. If I want to get even closer, the zoom lens of my Canon SX50 has a field of view equivalent to 1200mm.

On Friday, I traveled into Washington D.C. to visit some friends using the Metro subway. I planned to walk a lot and I didn’t want to weigh myself down with all kinds of gear, so I put a 24-105mm lens on my DSLR. For those of you who are not technically oriented, this lens goes from mildly wide angle to mildly telephoto.

The camera and lens combination is less than ideal for photographing birds. I couldn’t help myself, however, when I spotted some birds in an urban park and decided to attempt to get some shots. My first attempt was with a Carolina Wren and it was a disaster—it was small and fast and so skittish that I could not get a decent shot.

Then I spied a Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos) perched on a bush in the distance. I took some initial shots and then slowly began to move forward. Eventually I was able to get to within about three feet (one meter) of the mockingbird and captured this image.

This incident served as a reminder not to limit myself to following conventional wisdom. It is definitely possible to take a good bird photo without a long telephoto lens. Why not take landscape photos with a long telephoto lens instead of a wide angle lens?

No matter what lens I have on my camera (or what camera I am using), I try to keep my eyes open for possible subjects. I will then try to capture those subjects as well as I can within whatever equipment I happen to have with me. It turns out that gear is often not the most critical element in making good images—simply being there is half the battle.

Northern Mockingbird

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As I look out my window today, piles of snow from the snowstorm earlier this week remind me that winter is not yet over. I discovered, however, that some plants are already in bloom (or almost in bloom) yesterday during a visit to Dumbarton Oaks, a historic museum, research center, and garden in Washington DC.

I am definitely not an expert when it comes to flowers, but if I had to guess, I’d say that the flower in the first image is a crocus, those in the second image are snowdrops, and those in the final image are forsythias. Even in I am incorrect in my identification, it was a real joy to see some colors and signs of life after so many long gray days this winter.

I can’t wait for spring to arrive.

crocus

snowdrops

forsythia

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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As I was walking across the Key Bridge from Georgetown on Wednesday night, I glanced down at the Potomac River and saw that the Kennedy Center was aglow with rainbow colors. I believe that the colors were part of the celebration of the Kennedy Center Honors, an annual honor given to those in the performing arts for their lifetime of contributions to American culture. Honorees receive a medallion that hangs from a rainbow colored ribbon.

Most of the landmarks shown here will be familiar only to locals, but some of you may recognize the Washington Monument in the middle left in the photo. In case you are curious, I took this shot with a Canon A620 camera, an old 7.1 megapixel point-and-shoot camera that I carry with me sometimes because it fits easily into my pocket. I leaned against the railing of the bridge to take this shot in what turned out to be a one second exposure.

Although I know what the subject matter of the image is, I enjoy it equally as a kind of abstract, man-made landscape, a beautiful combination of lines and shapes and colors, with some of them reflected in the dark waters of the river.

Kennedy Center Honors

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I just love the vibrant colors of the tropical water lilies at Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens, like this one that I photographed on Sunday during a brief trip there. These gardens, located in a part of Washington D.C.,  are run by the National Park Service and have acres of ponds with all kinds of lotuses and water lilies. The tropical water lilies are in small cement ponds behind the visitor center and are one of my favorite spots to visit.

tropical water lily

tropical water lily

tropical water lily

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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