The Secret Life of Waterbirds

I knew before I opened my eyes. The peculiar quiet and darkness told me: fog.

Sitting up from under warm covers I stretched in the darkness. The air was quiet in that way that fog brings to the coast, muffling the distant thunder of breaking waves. Squirrel steps on the roof melting like smoke in a breeze.  

A brief drive through the village to the waterfront, then a serpentine walk between boats in cradles, shuttered sheds, racked masts, overgrown keels, sloops, a schooner, skiffs and nets. Then the rocking motion of the dock floats under my feet. The dense fog brushed my face like bed sheets on a clothesline. The closer to the water’s edge I walked, the heavier the air became, and the quieter the harbor became. Visibility decreased to near zero.

Perfect.

I slowed as I neared the end of the dock. I had walked this way countless times and been surprised often enough by untethered floats or the presence of sea birds hidden in the fog, startled by my intrusion on their perch. Finally, I glimpsed the ghostlike silhouette of the last section and the piling to which it was anchored. With legs spread and feet planted securely on the slick planks, I raised my camera and peered north.    

My goal was to catch a glimpse of what North Cove’s waterbirds did when they were invisible. The cove and much of the sound beyond were shrouded in a heavy fog. Most villagers had remained indoors. It was early, the fog would take time to lift, and another cup of hot coffee was preferable to the damp conditions on the water. Songbirds were silent, waiting in the boughs for sunlight. In this interval of blindness, what did the land and water birds do in the absence of we humans?  Did they know that we were blinded, too? 

Sailors were uninterested in venturing out in this heavy soup air, so there were no wakes from passing boats to destabilize my floating patch of wood.  A large white swan materialized out of nowhere and glided silently by, taking note of me briefly as she passed.  

As I waited, I thought about the mystery of different lives – the birds and us – living on the shore in parallel existences. Do we live the same reality, or do we experience this foggy morning differently, from different perspectives? One hundred seventy years ago, Schopenhauer observed that man takes the limits of his field of vision for the boundaries of the world. It would be reasonable to think that the birds’ perspective of their world this morning was narrowed by the fog, too.

This thought is what motivated me out of my warm bed and into the sodden fog reaches of the harbor to stand and wait silently for the sun to evaporate the fog. Part of me wondered if the birds’ existence expanded in man’s absence for a few hours of freedom from our intrusion into their world. Were their lives better in our absence? Or just different? My hoped-for insight into their behavior during those fleeting moments as the veil lifted was coming. I could see two lengths of dock sections -- about forty feet. It wouldn’t be long now.

My targets were the floats and mooring lines about eight hundred feet from my perch on the northernmost dock in the harbor. Gradually, as the fog loosened its grip on me and the middle distance of open water, faint outlines emerged.  First the floats, then two large dark silhouettes perched on spring rods, which themselves were not yet discernible. Then the pilings and the sign on one that read “NO WAKE.” Then a green heron and two black-crowned herons standing stoically in the gloom came into view. An osprey glided into the scene and displaced one of the silhouettes. A few alert gulls shifted their stance, waiting like commuters on a train platform. An egret stood still as white marble on the third and last float. They were all quiet in the morning stillness, competitors apparently content to wait as a group for daylight. I shot selectively, bracketed and captured multiples of each setting to compensate for the rising bird activity as the scene brightened. My camera’s shutter was muted, yet its sound surely carried across the water to their alert senses.  

No Wake by Mark Roger Bailey ©2018

No Wake by Mark Roger Bailey ©2018

Several dozen exposures and 20 minutes later, I had captured a few images that glimpse the ephemeral nature of wildlife in retreating fog. Months later, one of those images won the Lyme Land Trust Juried Photo Contest.

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View my Shoreline Collection and please stop by my Gallery Shop to consider a special series of signed and numbered limited-edition prints for the collector. A miniature print of a tall ship would make a wonderful gift for yourself or a thoughtful surprise for a friend. 

The Interactive Power of Minimal Art

Sometimes, we find our way not with a compass and map, but by selectively perceiving critical elements of a scene.  Here, I strive for ‘minimal’ in the art and aesthetic sense yet with enough information points to guide our thoughts forward. As we engage the scene, our senses awaken. Then our experiences, memories and imagination connect the dots. 

I'm excited to share the inaugural collection of images in my Shoreline Series, featuring familiar elements of shore living captured in the haunting stillness of morning fog. 

Essex Dock in September Fog  by Mark Roger Bailey

Essex Dock in September Fog by Mark Roger Bailey

A dock in morning fog creates a compelling challenge to tell a story with limited information or detail.  The viewer’s vision and experience fill in missing information and complete the artwork.

In this image, is that a boat dock? Is it floating in suspended light? Or is the mirror image simply a reflection in still water? Where does the dock disappear into the water? Where is the background? Hint: It is obscured in fog. If I have composed for the right clues and infused enough passion and vision, the art work will connect us to experiences in our lives and perhaps touch our dreams and imagination. Hopefully, in this way, it speaks to us on a level beyond words or description.

Essex Dock in September Fog is minimal, yet not quite minimalist. To be minimalist would require a distillation of all color to absolute black, absolute white and geometric shapes.  This work includes shades of gray, natural light gradients and perceptible patterns, such as the grain in the wood pilings, details that enrich my experience of the scene and I hope yours, too. 

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View my Shoreline Series and please stop by my Gallery Shop to consider a special series of signed and numbered limited-edition prints for the collector. A miniature print of a tall ship would make a wonderful gift for yourself or a thoughtful surprise for a friend.    

Photojournalism as Art

Art:

High quality of conception or execution, as found in works of beauty; aesthetic value.

- American Heritage Dictionary

In my creation of visual art, I focus on concept, context, execution and intentional aesthetic beauty. Whether the story is suggested in a visual artwork or told overtly in a novel, the medium should matter less than the message. Either way, the creative expression should be an engaging, emotive and moving experience for the viewer.

In reality, the act of creation is rarely beautiful for the creator. Exploring a subject from inspiration to capture to development, color studies, editing, paper and media tests and final form is relentlessly challenging. Inspiration is helpful, yet each of us receives it in often diverse ways. For some, it comes readily to the committed life in which art and the disciplines that accompany it are organizing influences of the smallest daily choices. For others, inspiration comes after a process of exploration, testing and reflection. My curious mindset motivates me to ask, observe and process more or less constantly. This way of being creates more inspiration than I have waking hours to pursue. When I am inspired by a subject, such as a tall ship, there is nothing that can stop me from exploring its design, history, meaning and value to its owner, captain, sailors, shipyard, sailmaker, student, scholar, art lover, citizen of its flag country, its strengths, weaknesses, and the sources of its white oak, live oak and black locust and other woods.

1863 Barque Starboard Quarter New Framing Futtocks -  Restoration Series  by Mark Roger Bailey

1863 Barque Starboard Quarter New Framing Futtocks - Restoration Series by Mark Roger Bailey

The Art of Sail - RESTORATION

For me, the journey is the thing. Five-sensing a subject helps me ensure that my viewer experiences the artwork as if they were with me under the vessel when I photographed it on a cold January afternoon. Realism counts significantly in this regard. If the hair stands up on the back of my neck when I crawl under a 300-ton antique vessel to capture the light on 150-year-old strakes, I’m doing my job. My hope is that my print’s owner will feel something akin to my feelings of vulnerability, awe and, yes, fear that the creaks of the wooden timbers aren’t signaling the ship’s collapse. But most importantly, I hope that he or she experiences the same rush of enthusiasm for the stories of the shipbuilders who shaped those strakes and fitted them into place with such extraordinary care and skill that this massive sailing ship is as seaworthy today as it was more than a century and a half ago. This is a large part of what my RESTORATION series is all about.

If I’ve succeeded, beauty will wash over the senses of the observer. A moment of the tall ship’s past will live on for years to come on the print owner’s wall. Time moves on, and our actions live on in memory, in art and in their effects on the future. In this sense, every winning moment is a lens on all time.

Each glance, each 100th of a second is the fruit of ten million years. We are both the inheritor of an unknown stranger who long ago conceived our moment’s bounty and we are the creator of time’s gift to another whom we will never meet.

Each of us is the sum of all these moments along the flow of time. Art is creative expression of our presence here, now, whether it is words on the page of a book or a fine print in a picture frame.  

Collectible limited edition art by Mark Roger Bailey

Collectible limited edition art by Mark Roger Bailey

View my Tall Ships collection and please stop by my Gallery Shop to consider a special series of signed and numbered limited-edition prints for the collector. A miniature print of a tall ship would make a wonderful gift for yourself or a thoughtful surprise for a friend. 

Navigating Choices

Art - Like Literature - Captures Essential Truths

Much of the art that moves me explores our experience at the intersection of one world and another. Sea and land. Man and woman. City and country. Feeling and intellect. Offense and defense. Generosity and greed. Benign and evil. Past and future. Trust and mistrust. Life and death.

A practical, real-life example is the boat. A boat floats on a membrane separating two universes: fathomless reaches below and infinite space above. Sailors who live in that narrow in-between are a metaphor for each of us who live between now and then, yesterday and tomorrow, right and wrong, left or right, risk and reward, failure and success. We all float, sink or fly by the choices we make.

Seen in this way, the art of sail becomes a bridge between the creative process and the secret explorer in each of us.

Three-masted Topsail Schooner  Oosterschelde  NL   (2018) by Mark Roger Bailey

Three-masted Topsail Schooner Oosterschelde NL (2018) by Mark Roger Bailey

Lovers desperately seek perfect union yet are distinct beings. Prisoners of their bodies, they are separated by heart or mind, love or lust, soul or body, past or future. They are so close yet so far away.  

Day and night are rich with potential meaning between bright color and blackness, light and shadow, openness and mystery, work and sleep.

The fact is that I am thinking about storytelling puzzles constantly, making notes about whether this story renders better through this lens or on that page. For too long, the New England Yankee in me always said, go slow in revealing what you're up to. You'll confuse readers if they think you're passionate about art, and you might confuse art collectors if they know you've published novels and optioned them for the movies. The Californian in me says relax, don't second guess yourself, trust the flow. It's way bigger than you and will show the way. The traveler in me asks what are you doing? Whatever it is, is it more important than experiencing the stories that are happening right now in the Hebrides, Antarctica and the Aegean? Who will I listen to today - the Yankee, the Californian or the traveler?   

What are we to do with all the potential of these intersections between universes? We must choose. Art is born in the choices we make, where we sometimes find ways to express the beauty and meaning of this existence between opposites.

Collectible limited edition art by Mark Roger Bailey

Collectible limited edition art by Mark Roger Bailey

View my Tall Ships collection and please stop by my Gallery Shop to consider a special series of signed and numbered limited-edition prints for the collector. A miniature print of a tall ship would make a wonderful gift for yourself or a thoughtful surprise for a friend. 

The Art of Sail | Tall Ships

Why Maritime?

My artistic interest in sailing vessels goes back to my earliest memories on the shores of Lake Champlain in Northern Vermont. The mystery of wooden rowboats caught my imagination at first. Rowboats. How was it that humans figured out how to build wooden crafts that could both float and leak simultaneously? Every harbor had dinghies filling with water while waiting for their owner to return, who would bail them out with a coffee can or bucket, then row off to the deep water mooring where a more substantial boat waited patiently for its master. Being around these workboats was powerful stuff for the curiosity, intellect and ambition awakening in my seven-year-old self.

Then I noticed that the larger boats were also bailing water from their bilges, fighting the intrusion of the lake on which they floated. The mystery and majesty of vessels large and small fighting the same good fight shaped my early attempts at ordering and understanding the facts of life on the water.

Then one day while out in an uncharacteristically stiff wind braving breakers on the beach, I saw an even larger vessel, a three-masted fully-rigged ship (full rig means that all masts and yards carry square sails) beating north through the robust winds and high waves. It was an honest-to-goodness blue water tall ship on Lake Champlain! THAT caught my attention. That extraordinary vision seared its way deep into the folds of my brain and took root in my soul. That afternoon is as much an influence on the man I have become as anything else I have experienced.

Later, I tested myself on sailboats on Lake Michigan, the Pacific Ocean off southern and northern California, Chesapeake Bay, Mamala Bay south of Oahu, Gage Roads off Fremantle, Western Australia, and the North Sea. These experiences sharpened my skills and bound me to the waterman’s ways. Increasingly, occasional encounters with tall ships drew me closer like Ulysses’ sirens. Increasingly, I organized my life around getting to the tall ships and photographing them, finding their elemental selves afloat and ashore. Tall ships are in a class of their own where natural and human mysteries are expressed in wood, iron, canvas, and hemp. Each vessel reflects human passions, aspirations, and purposes that are as distinctive as the sailors who master the winds that power them across the sea.

Tall Ships Series

Artistic inspiration is an unconscious burst of creativity in a literary, musical, or other artistic endeavour. For me, curiosity is a foundational component of the process. It starts with a question such as what is that? Why is it doing that? How does it work? In the process of solving any one of those questions, inspiration sparks creativity, which results in art as an expression of my experience of the subject.

Readers, clients and buyers are people with multiple interests of their own, also. Curiosity is a hallmark human characteristic, after all. Inspiration is all about being open to all possible answers to a given question and finding a connection with truth, however fleeting. Creativity, then, is about being human and curious and disciplined simultaneously… intentionally.

Sailing vessels are floating manifestations of centuries of sailors’ curiosity. Their curiosity was inspired by necessity to create something functional, to solve a problem. In my view, along the way they created art.

As an artist, my process is to observe a vessel and its rig at various times of day, paying particular attention during early and late daylight hours for maximum angles of slanted light. I also prefer to study vessels and rigs during the midday hour or two to see how the rig shadows cascade onto deck and water. This strategy is not always practical, so I adapt to circumstances and stay flexible, yet with my ultimate vision still in mind.

Foremost to me is finding that unguarded instant where the ship and her rig reveal themselves to the appreciative eye, a pivotal moment where art supersedes science. Like every relationship, there is a give and take; an exchange in which individual priorities must bend to mutual recognition, appreciation, and need.

I then pare down the composition, light, and shadow to allow the ship’s rig to speak for the vessel and the sailors who sail her. To me, these studies convey a palpable sense of quiet strength and particular respect for these vessels. Each image strives for one essential, elemental truth that is absolute and immutable. If I ever achieve that single moment of artistic representation of pure reality, I’ll let you know!

Spars Above the Treeline  (2018) by Mark Roger Bailey - Barque  Charles W. Morgan

Spars Above the Treeline (2018) by Mark Roger Bailey - Barque Charles W. Morgan

In the meantime, I invite you to view my Tall Ships collection and please stop by my Gallery Shop to consider a special series of signed and numbered limited-edition prints for the collector. A miniature print of a magnificent tall ship would make a thoughtful surprise for the love of your life. 

Creativity Squared

Writing + Art Photography

Writing and photography are competing and complementary pursuits for me. Until now, their competing aspects kept my workspaces separate and distinct; writing here, developing photographs and printing there. Two sides of the same creative force divided into two creative spaces. Until today.

Writing is impossibly difficult and immensely rewarding. While it costs far more in time and effort than anything I have ever done, it compensates with learning, discovery, and understanding.

Photography is also difficult, yet opens me up to the world, other lives and remarkable stories in a journey of discovery that makes me a better person and, hopefully, a better artist. Always has. Blotched and imperfect daguerreotype images from 1838 France, then England, and later from the U.S. Civil War captured my imagination during rainy afternoons among the stacks in the village public library. Large format impressed me with the mystery of glass, solution and light. Then medium format seemed to perfect the beauty and authentic documentary truth within the confined borders of a print. The spectacular advances of 35mm, Polaroid, film to digital, and DSLR photography seemed essential and worthy. If I could learn enough, I might just be able to translate my innate curiosity and empathy for certain subjects into meaningful works that support others’ interests. This is how we discover the truth, by gathering fragments, piecing together theories of reality. Evolving.

The world is large and diverse, yet most of us live within walking or commuting distance of our day jobs. Most of us grow up thinking small, grateful for a paycheck, fearful of the loss of that paycheck, amazed when we find friendship, humbled when we discover love. Decades fly by as we prepare for our life’s great aspiration. Time passes, and we find out that as we made plans our life spent itself. We were focused on job, family, house, and taxes while time focused on… time.

Today, I break through the wall that separates my writing and my visual art. Writing and Photography. A new beginning for both.

I am pleased to present a series of my images of tall ships, each of which captures a sense of story that I strive for in everything I do. And each of which inspires new stories in my imagination.

Debut: Tall Ships

I have been photographing boats for longer than Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours required to become world-class. Yet I still feel I am only beginning to understand the truths to be found at the intersection of time, skill, and insight.

Flying Jibs and Euterpe - The Star of India

Flying Jibs and Euterpe - The Star of India

Discovery is a fundamental quality of the sailing experience. No two moments afloat are alike. Every ocean, season, and transit is a one-off. Each tack, reach and run is unique. And the human skills that developed over thousands of hours learning and eventually mastering the ability to navigate all this newness are fragile and fleeting, for we are here for only a blink of an eye in the scheme of time. Yet the more one discovers, learns and masters, the more opportunities present themselves to challenge us. In this way, we find out the soul of nature, weather, seas and the vessels we build to walk on water and take flight on ever-changing winds.

Whether writing or shooting, telling a story about the history in a 2,000-year-old tibia or documenting time’s stresses in a 178-year-old whaling ship’s arthritic rib, my goal is the same: to capture meaning itself, inspire the viewer’s imagination and touch the timeless in everyone who looks upon them.   

I invite you to visit my gallery and view my new Tall Ships collection at markrogerbailey.com, and while you’re there, please stop by my Gallery Shop.

Until next time,

Mark



Full Moon Silhouettes

I invite you to pause for a moment to view this video by Mark Gee of Wellington, New Zealand

Shot on a Canon ID MkIV in video mode with a Canon EF 500mm f/4L and a Canon 2x extender II, giving the equivalent focal length of 1300mm.

Music – Tenderness by Dan Phillipson : premiumbeat.com/royalty_free_music/songs/tenderness

markg.com.au
facebook.com/markgphoto

Mark Gee – Wellington, New Zealand

"Shallows At Dusk" Wins Mitchell Environmental Conservation Award

“North Cove Shallows at Dusk” Wins John G. Mitchell Award

By markrogerbailey

 

“North Cove Shallows at Dusk” (2012) by Mark Roger Bailey

My photograph, “North Cove Shallows at Dusk,” has received the 2013 John G. Mitchell Environmental Conservation Award.

The award by the Land/Conservation Trusts of Lyme, Old Lyme, Salem, Essexand East Haddam (CT) honors the American environmentalist and former editor of National Geographic Magazine, John G. Mitchell (d. 2007). Past editor of Sierra Club Books and a longtime field editor and writer for Audubon Magazine, he also wrote many books, including LOSING GROUND (1975), ALASKA STORIES (1984), and DISPATCHES FROM THE DEEP WOODS (1991).

I captured this photo in Essex, CT late one April afternoon. The river bottom stones in the foreground, the larger boulders in the middle distance sharing the deepening water and the reflected glow of sunset spoke to me about the interconnectedness of our existence along the banks of one of America’s great rivers.

1930 Model A Ford_Mark RogerBailey

1930 Model A Ford parked under patriotic bunting before the Griswold Inn, Essex, CT (2012)

My photograph of an antique Ford automobile, “Model A Before Griswold Inn,” placed second in the Cultural Historic category.

Good Night, Earth

By markrogerbailey

Photographer Knate Myers compiled this amazing time-lapse video from stills captured by crew members on the International Space Station (ISS) and shares it with us on Vimeo.  The perspectives, scale, movement, and color are amazing.

Thank you, Knate.  This is inspired, and inspiring, work.

Images Courtesy of the Image Science & Analysis Laboratory,
NASA Johnson Space Center, The Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth
eol.jsc.nasa.gov

Music by John Murphy – Sunshine (Adagio In D Minor)
itunes.apple.com/us/album/sunshine-music-from-motion/id297702863

Related Links

Vimeo | Knate Myers

Knate Myers | Photography  (Zenfolio)