Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Early Morning Light, or None At All

Yesterday • Today • Tomorrow
Michael Sedano

Photography really doesn't say its full name. φωτός, photos, light. γράφω, grapho, I draw. I draw with light, I photograph. And there’s time. I draw with light and time. 

"Woman Walking Her Cat," digital photograph by Michael Sedano
f/32 6.0 seconds 300mm ISO800.
This strikingly evocative portrait is an accident born of impulse and negligence. The scene compelled a foto in keeping with my “In Plague-time” daily meditations on the passing world. I grabbed and pressed the button and did not get what I expected.

I stopped going out into town, back in March when California kicked into the Shelter-In-Place phase of the COVID-19 pandemic. Barbara hasn’t been out much since November when she came out of a skilled nursing place. She’d been gone since June. If that bug gets in the house, she won’t survive, and she’s having a hard enough time as it is.

The world passes my front room window so that’s what I write about. Used to be I could go walkabout to photograph then write about the world as I find it. Now the limits of my language are the limits of the vista through my front windows.

Like the woman in blue. I hello’d her one morning across the street from me. That’s when I notice her cat slinking after her. That’s a movie, or a fortuitous moment when cat and woman fill the frame. I abandon the idea. But this morning, the woman’s blue man’s shirt is so much brighter than the dawning gloom of five oh seven she compels my eyes. There’s the cat.

I get freaked out a moment after this distant encounter. A pair of long white legs and a hazy blue move on the sidewalk across the street, but in the same direction as the woman with the cat. Those long white legs disappear in shadowed bare feet and my heart skips, a cucui!

A calmed eye materializes the apparition into the cat-walking woman on the return leg of her walk and the cat is acting up. She stops arms akimbo. Says something to the cat. The cat in shadow I cannot see. The woman strides across the neighbor’s driveway apron and bends to remonstrate the cat. The woman strides off, the cat can damn well just stay there, her posture shouts. That’s the foto I want, that “it’s your fault if you get lost,” pugnaciousness of a cat lover with a royal cat. The woman walks sin mascarilla, that’s Spanish for órale pendeja, not cutting you slack for a cute vignette and a great photograph. Ponte the mask.

That’s one reason I’m not going out—a lot to see but gente don’t give a hoot enough to wear the only garment that can save lives. I’m not alone using a keyboard to straighten out and make sense of plague-time. Thelma Reyna has edited a collection of plague-time writers, "WHEN THE VIRUS CAME CALLING: COVID-19 Strikes America." My contribution is a narrative of the world as I see it crossing la pantalla of my front window. I’ll share publication details as Reyna defines them.

For yesterday, today, tomorrow, in flowers and the world out there, all follow a seemingly inexorable course. Those two flowers will fade, too. But glorious, yes, fill the night girls.

All we have is light and time, gente. And masks.

Yesterday • Today • Tomorrow's Blossoms
fotos ©michael v. sedano

I call her The Rat-tail Cereus. That green vine-like penca bears mean hard espinitas at the nodes she grows along the length all the way to the tip. Ants don't mind, but grasping hands learn a painful lesson every time, no matter--irregardless--of prior endeavors handling the thing that whips around like rat’s tail. Painful as she is to touch, my unwary clumsiness is not the plant's fault. She gives a lovely flower.

Unlike that double-ended candle, the flower doesn’t give a lovely light. She waits until sundown to show herself. Sometime in the morning, she pushes a yellow tip out of the tightly wrapped bud. At sundown she begins unwrapping. By 9 she’s exuding an ethereal perfume, deep penetrating citrus pungency hypnotizes your nose you breathe in until lungs can hold no more volume, still the olfactory senses scream for more more one more inhalation.

Fully open her perfume is a cloud of scent in the air

But no one can photograph that essence. In fact, I cannot photograph the blossom because there’s no light at 9 p.m. There’s a distant porch light, and farther garage light. Those produce thirty second exposures of grainy grey light. A camera’s flash shines harsh precise light and hard shadows. This blossom, I used the iPhone’s flashlight feature to illuminate the blossom in various exposures, lighted from the top, bottom, under, behind. Some work, some work really well. The portrait above is lighted from behind the lens position and below the flower.

In the dark, you can’t see to focus. I set the camera on a tripod, frame the portrait in bright day light. I focus past the outside edge of the flower, reasoning that the calyx will be recessed an inch from that focus spot. Using f/36 assures good focus. 

Look at her, unremarkable assemblage of trailing green ropes. Day-to-day the cactus doesn't need much water. Those pencas have a thick epidermis and spongy woody core that keep what’s inside inside. When she gets regular water—like any epiphytic cactus—she makes flowers.

2020 comes with an extra special opportunity. Twin flowers within a few nodes of each other, on the same penca. They’ll open before the weekend. Framing and focus will be challenging. I’ll break my practice and change lenses and positions. Add light and you can focus. I’ll use the 55mm lens, too, but the 100mm Canon macro lens I prefer is a “portrait” lens, so it’s the right tool for the job. 

I like what the lens says to the flowers.

Yesterday - Overnight
These are all the same flower with variant illumination positions. iPhone light doesn't add its own cast that my eye detects.


An hour after sunrise the magnificent sculpture has collapsed to hang listlessly unil the sun and wind dry her and she falls off and blows away into the ground litter. The plant has not formed fruit, a pitaya. It may be a hybrid, like a mule, it cannot reproduce but only show off its bootless beauty.


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