Ariel Swartley: Blog en-us (C) Ariel Swartley (Ariel Swartley) Thu, 03 Aug 2023 19:47:00 GMT Thu, 03 Aug 2023 19:47:00 GMT Ariel Swartley: Blog 120 93 Waterborne Pool ThingPool Thing Thirty-five years in Los Angeles and at last I have access to a swimming pool. I get it now. The limpid David Hockney paintings.Our communal reverence for the color turquoise. The pool guy jokes though mine is a community pool; I don"t actually know who cleans it. Not since childhood have I been so eagerly waterborne. I like that word, both its long vowels and its hinted double meaning. Born and buoyed. An element to inhabit and make use of. Forget about its connotations with disease.

SSA NobskaSSA Nobska

My waterborne life began at 14 months aboard a stately old ferry, the Nobska-the start of a summer pilgrimage that lasted for decades. The ship's benches, red leather, were cracked; its austerely furnished staterooms were rented by families like mine with babies for the two and a half hour trip between Woods Hole and Nantucket-- or more often by boisterous bridge players. Its gastronomic high water mark was a grilled ham sandwich on bread like damp kleenex, and I'd like to eat one right now. There's a photograph of me and a friend, we're about 8, crammed into the sharp angle of the bow on the open top deck. Both of us girls are wearing captain's hats and grinning to beat the band. There's nothing like a ship to make you feel you're going somewhere. In 1973, when the vessel, commissioned in 1925 was finally retired, my mother needlepointed a portrait of the Nobska on a blue jean jacket.

In their absence..In their absence..In their absence the hedge had grown, and the waters had risen. The repeated journey to a beloved location--the hour's drive to my godmother's house on a hill in the woods, the even longer drive to the Woods Hole ferry dock--were for me, an only child, alone in the back seat, a kind of illustrated storybook. After pages of trees (there were so many trees ) a picture would suddenly appear. I titled these with all the solemnity of a Victorian publisher: "The House That Goes Around a Corner," "The Mailbox That Stands on a Chain." (Its links had been fused in that curving shape, my father explained.) His science rested not all that uncomfortably with the wonder of the thing, as though in a separate but accessible compartment. Consciousness as a TV dinner? Is that the template of my generation's mindset--we like distinctions to be clearly observed and maintain the freedom to mix everything together? But I have missed a turn here.

4444Peak Peak, part three. The one I see most days, weather permitting. Saddleback, Orange County CA 2018. Actually it’s 2 peaks, Santiago and Modjeska.  I learned to swim at five. (My mother never did, but went to the beach as often as she could and always "took a dip" bending her knees until the water came up to her neck and moving her arms with fierce concentration.) Starting at ten I was taught to row and then to canoe, which I managed creditably on a lake, but the competitive nature of sailing undid me. I crashed a borrowed Rainbow into a newly painted cabin cruiser and cost my Dad a hefty fee. In my twenties, having acquired a workmate whose family owned yachts, I discovered to my sorrow that I was hopelessly seasick even in port. So it was with great nervousness, and sea bands, and dramamine that I accepted a San Pedro friend's invitation to a harbor cruise aboard his newly acquired sailboat. Success (It was a very calm day.) So calm we even ventured outside the harbor, past Angel's Gate, the lighthouse, bulked up with scaffolding for a paint job that first trip, out into the just plain open blue. No landmarks to my untutored eyes just incidents- a flight of gulls, a freighter, and a blank blue page written and rewritten in blots and scrawls of foam. This is the life for me, I thought. Waterborne, inches above sea level, moving fast, someone else at the tiller. But my friend sold the boat.

Catalina Vue 2Catalina Vue 2 Now that I am fully a West Coast dweller, what I have instead of the Nobska is the Catalina ferry, a squatter, stubbier, and much faster vessel. It's a rougher trip  so I don't regret the ham sandwiches and opt instead for a Virgin Bloody Mary. One pattern of the trip, though is  the same - a slow participatory passage through an inner harbor, then a lurch and burst of speed as everything drops away but sea and sky. How I love that featureless expanse, which doesn't mean I don"t search for features. Dolphin or whitecap? Usually whitecap. One thing I like about Catalina - I don't have to throw pennies overboard in order to be sure to return. I can see it on the horizon driving home from the grocery store, unless fog interferes. When the fog does, we joke that the Conservancy which holds Catalina in an iron grip, has taken it away for cleaning. 

Does everyone try to fit their present life into a beloved pattern from their past? Every trip to Catalina has me naming the channel landmarks-the pink fish building, the beautiful bridge-all prelude to the moment things speed up as we reach open water. There's nothing quite like it- exhilaration wrapped in fear. The seasick prone will understand:. Is this going to be one of those trips? Eyes glued to the horizon. Seabands pressed tightly to wrists.  And yet I would not be not waterborne. I suppose, like my mother, I'm not about to let incapacity stop me.

CAN'T HAPPEN HERE: RootedCAN'T HAPPEN HERE: Rooted Because that's what it means to be on the water: To be relieved of the burden of carrying oneself. Not just the physical burden of the body, but the burden of rising and shining, of deciphering the fine print, To float to drift to hand over the tiller of being capable and living up. All journeys create a space neither here nor there. We leave our lives behind and let chance and the elements take over. Of course that's just an illusion we carefully nurture. Our lives are still with us and they can be so easily wrecked. As a species we have been happily enjoying the trip and ignoring the fine print. Forget about the connotations.dismiss the inconvenient truths. But now the water is leaving, the fire is coming and it is not clear at all that we will rise to the occasion, let alone shine.

During September's heat wave we camped on the Arizona side of the Colorado River and set our beach chairs in the flow. One of us, not me, immersed himself. I stretched my legs and let my feet bob to the surface.

I have nothing good or new to say about our disappearing waters But here in this desert flanking the river there are traces of how others reacted when the waters dried up a millennia or two ago. Stones laid in patterns black and white, huge figures carved into the desert floor. The impulse to lay down images to say we were here, we observed, we wondered and worried, is human and seemingly universal.

From The Water Bride. By Ariel Swartley 2021



(Ariel Swartley) California Catalina desert drought family Nantucket photography water Thu, 03 Aug 2023 19:46:35 GMT
Up in the Air

I like to take pictures when I fly. I like trying to match the wrinkles I see from the sky with the horizons I know from below.

The images in the series LAST FLIGHT HOME began on a transatlantic flight in late November, 2019. My seat was in an alcove by an exit door, the flight was smooth, and the attendant didn’t mind me shooting out the door’s window. Much of the time the view was obscured by clouds.


Last FlightLast Flight I look for patterns in photographs. Using layers of varying transparency and adding colors with gradient maps lets me create motion and perspective. Repetitive shapes allow me to dramatize the tension between the rectangular frame the camera imposes and the fluidity of natural objects and landforms. But that’s just technique. The goal is to create pictures that are tactile, sensual, and mysterious.


Vulcan's WifeVulcan's Wife2020 California Open, TAG gallery, Hollywood CA, September 9 - 27 Some landscapes out my plane’s window were wonderfully foreign, like Greenland’s half frozen fjords and the marbled ice of Hudson Bay. Others, like the dry lands of the American West, were familiar and well loved on the ground. From high above they turned mysterious, the cinder cones and volcanic debris along I-40 in Eastern California becoming a phantasmagoria of feminine curves and jagged textures. The solar installation at the Nevada-California border made brilliant cones of light echoed by a white-topped peak nearby. Closer to home, the mountain ranges, San Gabriel and San Bernardino, that stand between Los Angeles and the rest of the country, were fissured by shadow and streaked with early snow.


Crossing to CaliCrossing to Cali At first I imagined the images I shot as window framed vignettes or sequences of subtly varied terrain. But once the the stay-at-home orders came down, I began to look at them differently. With air travel now a distant prospect, my old desire to know just where we were and what was beneath me seemed irrelevant. What I saw instead were magical lands, all unobtainable. The colors I remembered became more intense, the breakage on the ground starker. No longer verifiable by experience, the images from above took on the shifting shapes of dreams or hallucinations.

San Pedro, CA


(Ariel Swartley) desert dream flight ice jet mountain myth pattern photography quarantine snow transatlantic weather Thu, 13 Aug 2020 21:03:38 GMT
The mountain project, or where I've been keeping my sanity 134134Leaf green, sky blue. Violet mountain, black forest. CA rte 89 near Markleeville CA 2016 Simple notion: Post a photograph of a mountain every day for a full year. Call it #everydaysamountain. Because, in late   2018, every day was beginning to seem like something to get over. You probably know what I’m talking about. The news was full of suffering, and people being prodded or mocked by those whose job used to be to watch out for them.

117117Spring sunset with windblown sand. Route 62 east of Twenty Nine Palms, CA 2019

Mountains, on the other hand, though sometimes two-faced, barren, or looming, are never reprehensible. They make you look up.  And even when crumbling, they are so beautiful. Perhaps, publicly posted, their daily presence couldt be a small drop on the other side of the scale. A minor act of optimism. 

116116Mid-August sunset, Summer Lake OR 2016

Having enough photos was not going to be a problem. We take a lot of road trips, and If I start to run short, a trip to the supermarket can put me sight of three ranges. That’s how it is in L. A. But to act on a good intention every day for a year? The same good intention? Much more difficult terrain. Still, the darkest days of the year were approaching. I was hungry for light, for change of direction. I thought it might be worth trying to adopt a new practice. Consistency.

Eastern Sierras CA 2018 The Mountain Project’s first post was on December 21, 2018, the winter solstice. Hence its second tag, #solsticeyear  Two weeks ago, the fall equinox marked the project's nine month anniversary. 39 weeks, a gestation of sorts, in 273 mountain pictures.* I did forget to post once, but caught it the next morning, and there have been breaks in the rhythm, a skip plus a doubled up day, when I’ve been on the road and out of internet range. 

138138Green-streaked desert. Misty gray mountains. Route 62 somewhere west of Vidal Junction CA 2019 The work the project involved—finding photos in ten years of files, editing them, identifying the location, writing a brief description, and arranging some kind of posting order—turned out to have its own momentum. Something I could do when I couldn't bring myself to do much else. Which was a godsend during the winter and spring when I was sick and homebound for an unreasonable number of weeks.

Consistency, it turns out, has other rewards as well. I used to think that repetition was a kind of crime against the imagination. Now I suspect it’s more like a fisherman’s net. As constructed, the squares of the mesh are identical. In use they change shape dramatically, can strangle a thought, let a dozen ideas escape, but sometimes capture something completely unexpected.

The Mojave Desert
Joshua Tree National Park
While I was formatting pictures to the 7 x 5 inch size I’d decided on, the wild variety of the horizontal lines kept jumping out at me. Playing with color, cropping to accentuate a ridge, I began isolating the silhouettes of peaks and slopes against the horizon, then recombining them. I strung the slices of mountain-and-sky in rows at first, then stacked them vertically, grouping the slices by highway, trail, or region. When I printed the results on 13x 19 inch paper, I was excited by the images. They seemed to be the mountain project distilled. The process of getting the pictures had been stirred into the results.

In June, the print series became a book,**  Sky Lines.   SKY LINESSKY LINESA book of western horizons.
Published June, 2019

The plates collected in SKY LINES were assembled from ten years of photographs taken on foot or from moving cars. What began as an impulse to record the wild variety of scenery around me became in the assembling process a way of celebrating the joy and exhilaration I experienced moving west 30 years ago and the landscapes that remain a source of deep delight.
See the plates HERE

To order a copy (or individual prints), contact me through this site (There's a contact button.)
The book is 8 x 10 inches, 32 pages.
Mostly pictures (21 plates). Some explanatory text.

The title is descriptive, yes, and also a reminder. In the 1980s, the airline New York Air had a magazine that I wrote a book column for. I was paid, too, and got to choose the books. The editors named the column Skylines, and it ended abruptly after a couple of years when the airline went belly-up. Fast forward to 2009 (the year of the first of the #everydaysamountain pictures). That was my best paid year as a journalist ever. The next year, my end of the profession was going belly-up, too. By the fall of 2012, journalism and I had given up on each other and I was calling myself a photographer. Careers are con trails, smoke in the sky. Mountains are somewhat more durable.

Goodale Creek, Sunrise-Sunset, SKY LINESGoodale Creek, Sunrise-Sunset, SKY LINES Picture-making for me is primarily an act of looking in. What do I see here? What do I want to see?  Once I’m done with it, viewers can see it as they will. Journalism, though, is an act of reaching out. How do I say something so that you see it, too? Sky Lines, the book, alternates sections of just pictures with written sections describing the different areas that the picture are from. I had to wear my former as well as my present hat.

Recently I've begun to think about what happens when my solstice year ends. Will I keep posting mountains, re-upping for another year? Or find another everydaysa topic? Maybe switch from daily to weekly postings? I don't know. Certainly, the Sky Lines series continues to evolve. In August the comments of a photographer friend led me to reconsider the size and scale of the series' images. The result: composites of composites!   MOUNTAIN MULTIPLES Spring Snow Sierras 2MOUNTAIN MULTIPLES Spring Snow Sierras 2

Whatever's next, I know that I looked up at mountains and found more than I bargained for.


*The mountains appear daily on Instagram under ariel.swartley and can be found on Twitter by searching the hashtag #everydaysamountain. Facebook friends are able see them there. The whole series eventually lands on this website.

**Exciting (to me) developments: Both Sky Lines and my previous book, A Season in Point Russe, are on exhibit until October 15 at The Los Angeles Center for Photography, chosen as part of the Center's first annual PhotoBook Competition.

A new composite-composite picture, "On the ET Highway," will be part of the CA 101 2019 show, opening Oct 4 in Redondo Beach.

Deserts: On the ET HIghway (Multiple)Deserts: On the ET HIghway (Multiple)








(Ariel Swartley) California composite desert horizon Idaho mountain Nevada Oregon out west photo-a-day Sierras sky Utah Wed, 02 Oct 2019 15:14:05 GMT
A Season in Point Russe: a #photografic novel Book CoverBook CoverFor information on ordering copy, contact me through this site. A Season in Point Russe is a #photograficnovel. I made up the word. For several years I have been trying to tell stories using both text and images. I could say that I like exploring different ways we connect information dots (In a line, like dominoes?). How we understand a narrative. But really, I’m trying to pull you into another world.

You cannot buy a ticket to Point Russe. It’s an imaginary community. Seasonal resorts on attractive stretches of shoreline are ubiquitous in the Northeast, where I was raised, Not as Imagined - Plate 3Not as Imagined - Plate 3 although interval ownership means the once stately pace and deeply personal backbiting of their social scenes are fading. The sense remains, though, of a special place. One that can be claimed by temporary as well as full time residents, sometimes to the consternation of each. C. whose diary and bureau drawers provide much of the information we have about the Point is a renter who knows the right people. An observer with access. 

Like all fantasies, Point Russe. is attached to the so-called real world in a number of places. Somewhat haphazardly. For example: Any French postcard visible in the work is a vintage French postcard. The same cannot be said of the rest.

Pt. Russe postcards -limited editionsPt. Russe postcards -limited editions (Since publication some of the Point Russe cards have left the page and taken on limited tangible form.)

Many other items – matchbooks, say— are not exactly real, but realish. Photoshop is a delightful enabler of such distinctions. For that matter, so are dreams. And our memories.

Knives, needles, scissors, cocktail napkins—these are part of my inheritance. Scanners are a downsizers best friend. I once lived in a house that through a fluke was scanned—attic to basement and every beam and piece of furniture between—by a team of Scandinavian specialists. As a result my dirty laundry is now odorlessly preserved in an archive. History is haphazard, too.

We carry the past with us, but how? I’m interested in the nature of attachment. What’s more evocative: The name on a recently unearthed invitation? Its color and weight? The particular typeface? (I’m easily moved by a typeface.) What are we preserving when we preserve a key to a door that no longer exists?  D Opens Up - Plate 11D Opens Up - Plate 11

You don’t have to have visited New England to have vacationed in Point Russe. From elementary school on we understand that summer is a time out of time with its own mythic arc. Beloved recurring traditions vye with tantalizing new prospects. This year I’m going to—Win the cup! Shoot the moon! Make Aphrodite notice me!

Well into adulthood and beyond we keep believing there will be another chance. Another summer. All we need is a boat - or a book - to take us there. 



(Ariel Swartley) #photograficnovel beach coast diary dominos embroidery France Imaginary places island Jung lake lakeshore Last Seacoast Books needlework New England postcards seashore souvenirs summer place vintage Tue, 26 Jun 2018 22:27:11 GMT
"SIGHTED_The Records" Comes True frontpiece and acknowledgmentsfrontpiece and acknowledgments

Clairvoyance? Seems the Department of Defense wants to believe, too. When I wrote Sighted_The Records in 2014, I was imagining a small, under-funded, hole and corner operation in which the government collected and analysed reports of UFO sightings. 

Turns out, the truth was very near and much, much stranger. According to this week’s headlines, the Pentagon has acknowledged a secret UFO program.

The full New York Times article reports that an entity known as the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program initially had its headquarters on the Pentagon’s fifth floor as well as storage facilities for recovered objects in Las Vegas. 



After its Congressional funding ceased ( 22million, annually) in 2012, it has continued to operate in the shadows, shepherded by officials from the Navy and the CIA.

While much of the program was devoted to navy pilots’ reports of mysterious in-air sightings, its researchers "also studied people who said they had experienced physical effects from encounters with the objects and examined them for any physiological changes.“



I hope that John, my fictional researcher, is laughing like hell from wherever he ended up. 

Read his story.
Ordering InformationOrdering Information
SIGHTED_The RecordsSIGHTED_The Records

(Ariel Swartley) advanced aerospace threat identification program area 51 department of defense luis elizondo pentagon photography ufo weather Wed, 20 Dec 2017 18:03:51 GMT
Red States   A playful series on serious topics. Any resemblance to current politics is wholly intentional. 
How Do I Know (This Tulip Is Red?)How Do I Know (This Tulip Is Red?)

RED STATES began with my reading of Josef Albers’ book, Interaction of Color, which demonstrates that the so-called evidence of our senses is often no evidence at all.


#1 How Do I Know (This Tulip Is Red?)



Better Red (Than a Better Red)Better Red (Than a Better Red) “Color,” says Albers, who chaired the Department of Design at Yale, “deceives continually.” So does Photoshop. Translating perceptions into words and images— or print protocols— is no slam dunk.


#2 Better Red or A Better Red?



Really White (or a Sense of Whiteness?)Really White (or a Sense of Whiteness?)

Physicists, mathematicians, and philosophers have long marveled at the brain’s ability to fool itself. Some of them— Sir Isaac Newton, Bertrand Russell, Ludwig Wittgenstein— make appearances here.


#3 A Sense of Whiteness or Really white?



Filtration: The Philosopher's StoneFiltration: The Philosopher's Stone

Using all kinds of language —visual, symbolic, numeric— they tried to show how we orient ourselves within a sea of random data. And how we signal our position to others. 



#4 Filtration 


Believing is SeeingBelieving is Seeing Their results were not always encouraging.
Newton once wrote "I can calculate the motion of heavenly bodies, but not the madness of people."


#5 Believing is Seeing       See photos larger at Red States gallery 

(Ariel Swartley) Alchemy Bertrand Russell Color Theory Filter Isaac Newton Josef Albers Photoshop Profile Red Wittgenstein lemon optics philosopher's stone poppy tangerine tulip Wed, 22 Mar 2017 18:08:41 GMT
Can't Happen Here High GroundHigh Ground


Can't happen here. 

We are watchful, drained, gated, and secured.

If it does happen, (but it won't),

On WatchOn Watch Almost at the DoorAlmost at the Door Good DrainageGood Drainage

we have options.

UnquenchedUnquenched SecuredSecured








Escape is possible.

















(Ariel Swartley) California climate change flood global warming weather Sat, 06 Aug 2016 06:33:35 GMT
I Make Mistakes Printing my first show as a fledgling photographer, a series called The Path at Noon, I loaded the paper wrong side front. Ugh. Ink lays on the uncoated side of expensive photo paper like a grubby oil slick. It can take months to dry and smudges everything.

The First MistakeThe First Mistake

All photographs from Path Taken in Error. The new series (2015-2016) 
#1 The First Mistake

After beating myself up as a careless idiot for a while, I thought to regard the mess as a call to print by hand. Using photo paper, this time right side to, I took three impressions, each successively paler, of the gooey image. A ghostly fourth remained on the misprint

The Error CompoundedThe Error Compounded

 #2 The Error Compounded

The original photos of  shadows on a woodland path  were a mix of soft and sharp edges in shades of sepia. The new transfer prints featured textured vegetal shapes in tans and greenish grays. I referred to them laughingly as The Path taken in Error, and enjoyed their abstract patterns, especially those that suggested prehistoric trees and aerial landscapes.

 #3 Path Followed Regardless Path Followed RegardlessPath Followed Regardless

I tried photographing them and making prints, but the peculiar green refused to come through. I got mad enough to crumple a sheet and throw it in the corner. The next day, in the spirit of following a trail where it led, I smoothed the crumpled paper and scanned it. Eventually, I strung four dark to light brown images together lengthwise and had them printed on thin white cotton which I hung in the workroom window.


 #4 Path Seen from a Distance

The Paths and their Errors could have ended there, but one October noon five years later, my partner and I got lost in the desert. It was only for a few hours, but the experience of having no idea which way to turn was shocking. We had been careless. Planning a brief, before-lunch hike in an area we knew, we carried no compass. We wandered in circles and climbed many needless hills before we rediscovered our starting point.


Path Seized in DesperationPath Seized in Desperation

 #5 Path Seized in Desperation

Back In the studio, I was lost as well. After months of moving, I had an expanded workspace, a new printer, and no idea what I wanted to do. The long fabric image of the original Error had moved with me and hung by the desk. I thought about the mistakes we had made on our hike, and how they had led through recriminations to appreciation and new resolutions.


Path Traveled Willy NillyPath Traveled Willy Nilly  #6 Path Traveled Willy Nilly

Returning to the beginning of the old shadow Path, I saw that its pratfalls might be reworked in new sizes and colors and could incorporate scans of the printed fabric. 
I thought, too, of the ways we foster an illusion of security with compasses, map coordinates, and web links, and how hard it can be to align those orderly abstractions with the ground we have to walk on. 


Trying to Get HomeTrying to Get Home #7 Trying to Get Home

I think this is the last picture in the Path Taken in Error series, but given that Home, when we return to it, is never quite the way we left it, I cannot be absolutely sure.



Seal Beach, 2016










(Ariel Swartley) GPS QR code art equals life compass hiking lost misprint photography shadow trail Wed, 25 May 2016 23:31:27 GMT
Dry Times Greetings from the Land of Little Rain. Death Valley had a flood last month. California's farmland is still dry. 

ABOUT the Series: Words and Pictures
Land of Little Rain 6: no rainLand of Little Rain 6: no rain"Here you have no rain when all the earth cries for it, or quick downpours ... for violence" Inspired by California's farming history and current drought, LAND OF LITTLE RAIN is a series of six manipulated photographs that blend image and text. The title comes from Mary Austin's The Land of Little Rain, essays about the dry lands of the Eastern Sierra she first published In 1903, and all the texts in the pictures are drawn from that book. (The actual words and their accompanying photographs can be found below.)

ABOUT the History: Contested Waters
Land of Little Rain 5: knowing ditchesLand of Little Rain 5: knowing ditches"One needs to have known an irrigating ditch when it was a brook, and to have lived by it" Austin's family came to California in the 1880s to homestead, but a drought wiped them out. In 1892 she settled in the Owens Valley with her husband, an irrigation specialist. Over the next decade they watched the valley transform from pioneer community to potential agricultural powerhouse. Land that had  been irrigated by ditches built on the centuries-old Paiute model was, in 1902, designated as a federally funded reclamation site. The dams were coming, and Austin wrote with the mixed feelings of a farmer and a wilderness lover, detailing a past in the act of vanishing.
Land of Little Rain 1: the destiny of streamsLand of Little Rain 1: the destiny of streams"It is the proper destiny of every considerable stream in the west to become an irrigating ditch."
What she didn’t know was that another deal was going down by which Los Angles was acquiring the rights to Owens Valley water. The federal reclamation project died on the drawing board, river water was channeled south to the city via aqueduct, and the Owens Valley became drier than ever.

Land of Little Rain 2: willing streamsLand of Little Rain 2: willing streams"It would seem the streams are willing. They go as far as they can, or dare" In late 2013 and early 2014 Richard Matthews and I took several raod trips up and down California. He drove; I shot. Drought was beginning to make itself felt, and fields were left fallow, but the Owens Valley, its water rights restored and its agriculture expanding, was greener than we'd ever seen it. We too had mixed feelings.

ABOUT the Process: Pouring Text into Images.
Pooling WaterPooling Water One option in photo editing software allows an image to be saved as a "pattern." I began to explore using language to create these patterns in REGARDING WAVE, a series of water pictures inspired by Gary Snyder's poetry collection of the same name. In those pictures, the word-pattern was made from Japanes kanji (Snyder, a Zen Buddhist, lived and studied in Japan for 12 years.) I printed out blocks of a character--the one for fog, or float, or pooling waters, scanned them as photographs and saved them as patterns. These I applied to images of waves, wakes and ripples-- all abundant in my coastal California life.

Land of Little Rain 4: appropriated watersLand of Little Rain 4: appropriated waters"It is difficult to come into intimate relations with appropriated waters" In Land of Little Rain I wanted to use Mary Austin's terse but sonorous English and the problem was to find sizes and arrangements of type that could be transformed into an element that was neither wholly text nor utterly texture, but rather a blending of the two. A confluence. Each picture records a different compromise between form and content, with the length of the quote and the complexity of the composition both playing parts in the outcome.

Land of Little Rain 3: man-made waterwaysLand of Little Rain 3: man-made waterways"—but how much farther in the man-made waterways" What I didn't anticipate was the extraordinary exhileration--like opening a flood gate--when, with a tip of the Paint Bucket tool, a text poured down a track between groves or raced across a hillside. Words were running off the page, soaking into the paper and going where I never wanted them to go. This necessitated a lot of reengineering. During it, I was amused and chagrined to observe that just like Mulholland and California's other water czars, I was determined to be the one to control the flow. 

LAND OF LITTLE RAIN  texts and images (Larger versions viewable HERE

Land of Little Rain 1: the destiny of streamsLand of Little Rain 1: the destiny of streams"It is the proper destiny of every considerable stream in the west to become an irrigating ditch."

#1  “It is the proper destiny of every considerable stream in the west to become an irrigating ditch “


Land of Little Rain 2: willing streamsLand of Little Rain 2: willing streams"It would seem the streams are willing. They go as far as they can, or dare"

#2  "It would seem the streams are willing. They go as far as they can, or dare"


Land of Little Rain 3: man-made waterwaysLand of Little Rain 3: man-made waterways"—but how much farther in the man-made waterways"

#3 " —but how much farther in the man-made waterways"


Land of Little Rain 4: appropriated watersLand of Little Rain 4: appropriated waters"It is difficult to come into intimate relations with appropriated waters"

#4  "It is difficult to come into intimate relations with appropriated waters"


Land of Little Rain 5: knowing ditchesLand of Little Rain 5: knowing ditches"One needs to have known an irrigating ditch when it was a brook, and to have lived by it"

#5  "One needs to have known an irrigating ditch when it was a brook, and to have lived by it"


Land of Little Rain 6: no rainLand of Little Rain 6: no rain"Here you have no rain when all the earth cries for it, or quick downpours ... for violence"

#6  “Here you have no rain when all the earth cries for it, or quick downpours … for violence”



CODA: Still Dry

We retraced our 2013 route though the Central Valley this July. Groves were dead, hills no longer golden but a pale dust tan. Evidence of the drought was everywhere. There were no words for me to insert. The land was speaking for itself.

(Ariel Swartley) California Gary Snyder Mary Austin Owens Valley drought farming literature photography water weather Tue, 10 Nov 2015 14:16:54 GMT
Our Part of Town gray shedgray shed

Our part of town: Whiskey Flats to Point Fermin, a mile-long stretch of San Pedro, at the southernmost edge of L.A. It's a neighborhood of hills and fog, bordered on three sides by ocean. Geologists say it used to be an island. Still feels like one. Many of the houses date to the early 1900s though there have been some modifications along the way. I've lived here since 2003. We keep trying to gentrify but don't really succeed. 


Our Part of Town is now a 20 page, 8 x 8 inch picture book, made with Artisan State. 




(Ariel Swartley) Los Angeles Pacific ocean San Pedro Southern California alley beach town coast fog stucco Tue, 07 Jul 2015 16:16:34 GMT
Story Line  

There are stories that you follow linearly like piece of music or a hiking trail. They keep you facing forward, though sometimes they look back, and may even end up where they started.

Then there are other stories that move differently. Not as a line but as a stack, Or a tilt-a-whirl. They emerge from the patterns made by Tarot cards, from a landscape altered by a snowfall, or from the tangled images of dreams.

Wanderer is becoming that kind of story. The new adventures have no words, though since they have color and light they necessarily have seasons. If I could, I would invite viewers to move the images on screen into new arrangements and make new stories.

The original photographs of Wanderer were taken over a period of two months in the fall 0f 2012. The objects that appear with her coexisted at that time in one house. Some had been lurking there for more than a century; the house had been there for at least two. But as in every Tarot reading, every dream, things are both exactly what they are and also something else.


(Ariel Swartley) 19th century Nantucket Tarot anime doll dream graphic novel house photography quest snow story vintage Fri, 05 Dec 2014 21:17:54 GMT
What's Really Out There
Things aren't always how they're seen.     

In my book, SIGHTED_The Records, there are two versions of the same shot. In one, several moons--or maybe I mean discs-- are clearly visible. In the other--thanks to the digital magic of gradient maps (do not ask me  to explain)--the moons disappear, subsumed in a bland expanse of blue. 

So, exactly what truth is out there?

I am an alien, a New Englander, raised with boutique spaces: hill here, field there. Now I am an emigre, a Westerner, zooming through a vast expanse. Who knew an orchard could be so big? Who knew a sky?

They say seeing is believing, but believing what? 

Stories are a kind of map. Making them makes sense of what we're passing by. Landscape speaks in a thousand voices. All of them are partly true. I'm looking. I'm listening. Let's drive.




What's your landscape saying?


Preview the book SIGHTED_ The Records here 

Visit the photo gallery SIGHTED





(Ariel Swartley) archives Area 51 highways illusion manipulation mystery photography science fiction typeface UFOs weather Mon, 20 Oct 2014 22:39:49 GMT
Dice in Your Face

Last week we stopped in a casino near Hoover Dam to use the restroom. (Long road trip.) Would have put a fiver in a slot game too, but the smoke got to us first. 

Two nights ago, after an inspiring talk by a fellow photo group member on the uses of Boost posts, I came home, put 20 dollars on Facebook, and said "show me the cherries." Despite the absence of lights and whirring noises I could feel the the thrill of the bet, the sure and fatal knowledge that the dealer always wins, and the satisfyingly simple entertainment of seeing exactly what turns up. Sure there was a moment when I wanted to keep going, build a streak, see myself as a winner, weeoo. But I promised my partner that Vegas rules would apply. Choose an amount; bet it; then leave. 

The money ran out at 11:16 last night. Facebook tells me I "reached" 2330 people. A few Likes are still trickling in. 

Thanks big time to everyone who responded to my picture (at right). Sorry big time to everyone who hated having my sponsored self stuck in their face. Gamblers are messy people. I'm going now to clean up my act. 

Would I gamble again under the FB bigtop? It's dimly possible.
Am I excited about Ello and its absence of ads? You bet your life.
Is there a reason to go back to that desert casino? Actually, yes.
The ladies room had an awesome sound system, and it was playing Solomon Burke


(Ariel Swartley) Facebook Vegas advertising gambling photograph Fri, 26 Sep 2014 16:26:06 GMT
SIGHTED_The Records. In Print!

What really happens on the highways? What gets reported in the archives? 
SIGHTED_The Records--a story in photographs, paper, and typeface --now available 
in print and as an e-book. 
Share stories on Facebook at
See more at
Shoot your sky. 


(Ariel Swartley) Area 51 UFOs archives highways illusion mystery science fiction typeface weather Tue, 23 Sep 2014 20:58:51 GMT
SIGHTED_The Records Because things aren't always as they're seen.

What really happens on the highways? What gets reported in the archives? 
SIGHTED_The Records: A sketchy story in words and photographs. 
Some of the truth is in here.  STAY TUNED FOR BOOK PUBLICATION DETAILS!
See gallery

(Ariel Swartley) Area 51 UFO archive highway mystery weather Thu, 06 Feb 2014 18:50:54 GMT
WANDERER: The First Book    Lovers of skewed perspectives, vintage kitchenware, Hello Kitty, battered china. 
   quest stories, New England woodwork, lemonade, and northern light 
   may be pleased to know that my alter ego, Wanderer,  now has her own book,
   both e- and text, which may be previewed and/or acquired at or (e-book only) at i-tunes

   WANDERER UPDATE  A new book with a new format is in the works. See some
   pages at WANDERER: The New Adventures





(Ariel Swartley) anime antiques doll graphic novel house Nantucket photography quest vintage Fri, 20 Dec 2013 16:10:51 GMT
This Reading Life: My Home-Bound Summer Abroad, Part 2 This is part 2 of a long-form article about a summer reading adventure inspired by Paul Theroux’s Ghost Train to the Eastern Shore. Part 1--with books by Michael Ondaatje, Shirley Hazzard, Orhan Pamuk, and more--with was posted on 9/25/13


Reading Ghost Train to the Eastern Shore, I was rattling across the increasingly odd -stan states and looking forward to India on the horizon. Events, however, conspired to keep me in near-Asia. By the time I finished Orhan Pamuk’s Snow, the obliging Los Angeles library had delivered another novel recommended by Theroux to my local branch. Theroux calls Ali and Nino, by Kurban Said “the great Azerbaijani novel…a book so persuasive in its detail and mysterious in its origin, it made me want to go there.” He goes on to describe the author as “a Muslim…who had also used the Turkish name Essad Bey, and had been born a Jew in Baku named Lev Nussimbaum.“

For me, the words “great Azerbaijani novel” were persuasive enough.

It wasn't simply that, suddenly single-coastal for the first time in years, I was avid for any escape—though I was. The habit of always having another option when the present one paled had become thoroughly ingrained. But without knowing anything about Azerbaijan, I’d been attracted to the country since childhood when I‘d seen it’s exotic name on a packet of foreign postage stamps. For kids in the pre- Google Image era, stamp-collecting was an early introduction to travel literature. Physicist Richard Feynman credited his longtime obsession with Tannu Tuva to the hobby. Triangular, with strange animals on them is how I recall the description of the stamps in Ralph Leighton’s 1991 book on Feynman’s quest, Tuva or Bust.

Childhood is a long exercise in imposing our imagination on the world around us and then trying to knit the two together. In Feynman's case the exercise led to a revolutionary physics. In others, what remains in adulthood is the desire to impose. Oil-rich Baku was fertile ground in that regard, but not wholly to the imagination's detriment. Alfred Nobel funded his portion of the Swedish prizes from shares in his family’s pioneering Baku fields.

The leads of Said’s novel, subtitled “a love story” are a Muslim teen of noble birth and his wealthy Russian Orthodox girl friend. At that time (the early 1900s), Baku saw itself as the meeting point of Europe and Asia, and cherished a notion of itself as a city tolerant of religious and cultural diversity. WWI, the Russian Revolution, and the intransigence of human ambition show the lovers the flaws in the city’s view of itself. But the story, told in sensuous, hyper-romantic prose, moves seamlessly between poetry and politics, casinos and harems, leaky boats and limousines.

Perhaps the landscape of the Caucasus—“sternly majestic” as Tolstoy saw it —enforces high romance. But it wasn’t until Ali and Nino fled to a hillside fortress in Dagestan that I recognized where I was: in the country of The Sabres of Paradise. Written in 1960, Lesley Blanch’s formidable history of Shamyl, the 19th century Iman who against all odds defied Russian expansionism, is the charismatic historical context for Ali and Nino’s Baku.

Blanch herself is worthy of a detour. A former editor of Vogue’s Paris edition, she initially devoted her extravagant prose—as billowy and highly finished as the dresses she featured in the magazine—to women who abandoned convention and followed their passions to desert tents, silk lined harems, or the chambers of an upstart general. Among them: Isabel Burton and Isabelle Eberhardt in The Wilder Shores of Love, (1954) and the Empress Josephine in Pavilions of the Heart (1974). SouvenirsSouvenirs

For all the heavy breathing, her biographies were underpinned with research as sturdy as whalebone. In turning her attention to Imam Shamyl, Blanch, then living in Paris, was able to track down his descendents as well as still surviving Imperial Russian and Turkish sources. It was a prescient choice of subject. Reviving and enforcing the Prophet’s laws, and mounting a holy war for Allah against foreign conquest, Shamyl remains, in the Caucasus and elsewhere, a model of the warrior/imam.

More information about the Caucasus of Ali and Nino’s day came from Tom Reiss’s book The Orientalist, also praised by Theroux. Reiss tracks the twisting story of the pseudonymonous Said beginning with his birth in 1905 and his Baku childhood, son of a respected Jewish businessman and his Red Russian émigré wife, through his conversion to Islam and prolific career as Essad Bey, a journalist in Germany and the US who wrote on his negative experiences with Communism. The book concludes with Said/Bey/Nussimbaum's death as a protected but impoverished refugee in Mussolini’s Italy.

For Reiss, Nussimbaum’s attempts to reconcile his sense of self with that of the world's serves as a window on European Jewish consciousness in the first third of the twentieth century. Quoting Disraeli and early pre-Zionist writers, he explores their frustration with the limits of assimilation in the West and a concomitant celebration of otherness, leading to an increasing identification with the East.

In the end, of course, none of Nussimbaum's identities offered protection against Hitler's decrees. Even as Essad Bey, Nussimbaum could no longer publish in Germany, his home since his teens. ‘Professional home’ may be a more accurate description. Emotionally, he seems to have felt himself an exile from the moment he entered Europe. In Ali and Nino he created a homeland for himself: vivid and romantic, beautiful and damned.

What is the color–palate of memory?  Hyper-saturated like the illuminations on a medieval manuscript? Soft and a little blurry like watercolors or pastels; or a mixture of high contrast and subtlety, some hard edges, some fuzzy one, like a black and white photograph or pen and ink drawing?

While waiting for Reiss’s book  to arrive at the library, I discovered  Orhan Pamuk’s Istanbul: Memories and the City. Both an autobiography and an exploration of his hometown through photographs culled from local archives and his family’s collection, Pamuk’s book moves through topics—ancient history, foreign commentators, his parents troubled relationship—as though they were neighborhoods. The reader becomes a walker, crisscrossing many-storied avenues, finding certain corners becoming familiar, halted frequently by a turn of the page that reveals a black and white glimpse of a ruined arch or narrow wooden balconies.

I felt a little envious of Pamuk, who still inhabits the place he fell in love with as a child. That was something I had tried to do, with increasing difficulty over the last few years, and had finally failed at. As the summer went on, I was sometimes surprised that I wasn't going back. When I dreamt of the house, though, it was always with fear that the new owners would arrive and find me still in it. 

My envy of Pamuk stopped cold a day or two after I started his memoir as reports of the protests in Taksim Square and their brutal suppression began to appear in the news. In Pamuk's Istanbul, the square is the elegant focal point, a place to purchase cakes, to meet friends, to see and be seen. The plans which sparked the initial protests, those aiming  to turn Taksim Square into a steel and glass tourist ghetto, clearly violated that spirit. In the days of uprising and death that followed, his book’s black and white views seemed to grow more and more distant, more and more precious, and infinitely sad. I was forcefully reminded that it is not necessary to leave a place to to discover oneself an exile.


(Still to come: Part 3 of My Homebound Summer Abroad. Theroux's train enters Southeast Asia. I discover Joseph Conrad, Tiziano Terzani, and Siberia.)

All photographs copyright ariel swartley. Click on any for more information

(Ariel Swartley) Azerbaijan Baku Books Essad Bey Istanbul Kurban Said Lesley Blanch Orhan Pamuk Paul Theroux Richard Feynman Taksim Square Tom Reiss stamp collecting Thu, 03 Oct 2013 21:39:47 GMT
This Reading Life: My Home-Bound Summer Abroad, Part 1 In late April, about to fly east to bury my father, I bought a book for the trip: Paul Theroux’s Ghost Train to the Eastern Star.  My mother had tried to interest me in Theroux’s first train book in the 1980s, View from the Bus but I was discovering earlier travel writers—Lafcadio Hearn, Pierre Loti, Freya Stark—and had dismissed her recommendation. Now he and I were both older. I bought his follow-up journey as an e-book, dip-in-and-out trip insurance for unexpected delays.

There were none. In fact no time for reading at all. Our return from Boston took us through eastern Canada, but we traveled by Greyhound and then train, following the spring north and west. Rivers, birches, boulders, evergreen-spiked hills: what the word countryside meant to me as a child. I couldn’t stop watching. Camera lens against the pane, I took pictures as we rode: a greenish haze punctuated by pale tree trunks—or, when the train or bus slowed and I wanted to experiment with the i-pad, a pointillist frenzy of tiny new leaves. 

The trip was not entirely bookless. I’d prepared for the Toronto segment by re-reading Michael Ondaatje’s love-letter to his adopted city, In the Skin of a Lion. We spent one afternoon roaming around the monumental lakeshore waterworks that figure as a populist acropolis in the novel. I'd never been to a lake where I couldn't see the other side. It was like an ocean in a dream: bluer, milder, calmer. The next day we walked across the Bloor Street Bridge whose construction is part of Ondaatje’s story. It still spans a cultural divide along with  a river. We found mansions pricked out with spring bulbs on the Anglo side and a tipsy Greek lunch on the other.

The flight home was another story. Cramped and hungry I lost myself in the dark northern violence of a Harry Hole mystery.



As May headed to June and L. A. mornings were more often gray than blue, I became aware that my annual migrations to New England had come to an end. Other horizons, too, it seemed were closing in. 

A brief respite was provided by The Bay of Noon, Shirley Hazzard’s brilliant coming-of-age novel-cum-memoir of post-war Naples, my copy a product of a two-day visit to San Diego and its second-hand stores. Hazzard, who has lived on several continents, is especially penetrating about why northerners head south. But enlightenment didn’t last: I developed eye trouble. Somewhat sullenly, I picked up Ghost Train to the Eastern Star. An e-book, it had adjustable print.

Like Theroux’s own journey, my progress through the book was a slow train full of unscheduled stops and deviations. Not because I didn’t find the story compelling, but because Theroux’s travels kept putting him in company with writers I wanted to know better. 

First up was the Turkish Nobel prize winner, Orhan Pamuk. His conversation with Theroux at an Istanbul dinner party intrigued me where his prize-winning hadn't. I'd hoped to begin with his first novel, My Name is Red, but my library didn’t have it, so I took Snow  instead.

It was exciting to read fiction with so many layers. There's the precise description of a city (Kars) seen through a visitor’s eyes. Then Pamuk’s sly and beautifully controlled tone, and his artfully naïve narrator which allow the seeming blacks and whites of Turkish politics and religion to emerge in a more complicated, human grey-scale. Finally, there's the book’s endless, imaginatively reiterated snowfall—days of it—at once naturalistically precise and perfectly metaphorical. A white-out, a snow-job, a blizzard—Pamuk's snow shifts the shape of everything.

It's easy growing up in New England to believe that snow is an indigenous specialty. Ours is a blithely insular corner of the world, and there are all those Christmas images featuring clapboard colonial houses and windows-with-shutters draped in artful white. My first winter in Los Angeles I looked for cards that suggested my new surroundings. Something in Santa Fe pastels with a Christmas cactus in a painted bowl was the best I found. At least the wall behind the bowl was stucco. But whether fleeing the winters or the attitude, New Englanders have long been perceptive travelers—Massachusetts native Theroux being one of the most recent. Henry James's A Little Tour in France is both a classic of the genre and still pertinent a century after it was written (e.g. The French countryside’s “look of intense, and peculiar rurality…. It is a peasant's landscape; not, as in England, a landlord's.“). My own Los Angeles neighborhood was first described by Cambridge's Richard Henry Dana, in Two Years Before the Mast.  At the time (1835) it consisted of a bad harbor, one house, and a hill (still here) where coyotes sang him to sleep. They've been gone from this end of town for decades, foiled by the multiple lanes of the freeway system. Until this spring, that is, when one was sighted at a local park.

In fairness, though, photographers may be forgiven for thinking that New England does have a lock on snow. Vermont-born Wilson Bentley had no need to travel: he found enough exotic structures in his backyard to occupy him for a lifetime. Pioneering the technique of isolating snowflakes on a black background, he photographed over 5000 glittering, soon-to-be-melted crystals and propounded the theory that no two are alike. It's Bentley's carefully edited images, now in the public domain, that the world sees when it thinks of flakes.

View from the Hill Snow en masse presents other difficulties (I'm talking photography here, not school closures), namely the absence of contrast and the presence of glare. I shoveled my last steps at my parents house in 2007. Now what I have in its place as a sudden descending presence is fog. Like snow, it's not a convenient subject to capture—too much brightness, too much blur. But it's a near-permanent resident of my neighborhood.

Driving to my Father’s nursing home in the last year of his life I would travel the coast drive, cliffs above and below me. I learned the curves where the fog nearly always crossed the road and the flat stretch by the shopping center that it often avoided. The last leg of the trip, up a 1000 foot hill, would usually put me above the gray. But sometimes I would leave him in a cold cloud and travel down to a brilliant sunset. I rarely had the camera when I wanted it.

I spent a lot of time that year starting books and not finishing them. Remembering this, I was determined to keep going back to Theroux, determined to maintain some kind of thoroughfare between each new sidetrack. 

COMING NEXT: Part 2 of My Homebound Summer Abroad. More books! East meets West in Baku, Istanbul, & Germany. 

All photographs copyright ariel swartley. Click on any for more information.

(Ariel Swartley) Books Henry James Los Angeles Michael Ondaatje Orhan Pamuk Paul Theroux Richard Henry Dana Shirley Hazzard Wilson Bentley new englanders snow travel travel-writing Wed, 25 Sep 2013 16:33:01 GMT
Regarding Waves    Watching waves does not mean I understand them. Here is what I think I know.

Minus Tide

There is an impulse
--energy, a genie, an epiphany. Wind or a boat--
and a body that receives it.
In this case, water.

The form that results is articulated by the conditions it encounters: rocky point, plunging shore.

For the watcher, a vocabulary of line, shape, and texture is articulated as well:

barrel, swell,
breaker, rill, trough, 
spume, spindrift, backwash, 

foam, cat’s paw, ripple, whitecap,
swash, surge, undertow
plume, wavelet, 

Sea Drift

Language and image act on each other.
Shorelines build and erode.

In daylight, the waves are mostly blue or gray.

from Regarding Wave*  a photo series

*Thanks to Gary Snyder whose 1970 book title I appropriated. He saw very clearly what he was regarding: “Gods  tides  capes  currents/Flows and spirals of/pool and powers”

(Ariel Swartley) foam ocean ripple wave Fri, 09 Aug 2013 00:13:03 GMT
What I see when I look over my shoulder.


My father became a more brilliant story-teller as he got older and his memory made gaps which he was free to fill in as he wished. I hated it. I wanted facts, true history, documentary evidence. I'm older now. The past is a place half recognizable, half not. "A foreign country," novelist L.P. Hartley called it. To me, it seems like a fairy tale. Dreams masquerade as memories, and history is another form of invention. There is documentary evidence in these pictures, true history, but I can't see what is directly behind me. I can only glance sidelong, over each shoulder, with one eye and then another. Remembering is a matter of looking askance.

Summer House
From the photo series, Another Country, at
(Ariel Swartley) ancestors dream fairy tale history house mourning myth past shadow world story summer time when Wed, 19 Jun 2013 19:45:08 GMT
Summer Kitchen is a Book My photo series, Summer Kitchen, is now a book

with a (slightly) expanded text

and some additional photos.

 It is also available as an i-pad edition.

Scroll very far down

and see most of it here. 

Or even purchase a copy!



(Ariel Swartley) antique collage family kitchen memoir Nantucket summer vintage Wed, 12 Jun 2013 22:45:33 GMT
Why Green? greywall


The wall to the garage that faces the garden is gray. Gray all over, blue-gray, except for a white patch left from some repair work. You can't see that patch here.

Coming out, a sunny day, oh my. The whole wall has turned a new color. A green I would have loved to invent but didn't have to.Greenwall

Research reveals Richard's bicycle jacket, fluorescent yellow, hanging on the laundry line to dry. Sun angling off its shiny surface onto a once-gray wall.

There used to be a vine on the wall. Virginia Creeper, straying over from the garden bed to the left. You can't see that either. Just the squiggles left from the vine's tendrils after it was pulled down. An old-fashioned look, especially on the wall's soft new color. Sprigged muslin?  

Light reflects, color changes. Mind reflects, substance changes.

Sun + microfiber + painted wood + plant detritus = Victorian dress fabric. An equation as nutty and delightful as that which produces an image out of chemicals on paper, or pixels on a screen.

Post Script. Richard tells me that when the jacket is wet, it leaves streaks on his shirt. Not yellow or green, but red. Why indeed.

(Ariel Swartley) color perception green mysteries reflection vine walls Sat, 11 May 2013 15:45:29 GMT
Just published: In Xanadu: A Little Book of Poppies  

 An e-book version for the i-pad is also available. (Attractively priced, though a different typeface--such is the way of e-publishing.)
It can be viewed here:



(Ariel Swartley) bees book gold myths poppies red xanadu Mon, 17 Dec 2012 01:11:27 GMT
You Had to Be There It was an extraordinarily lovely shot. They'd nearly frozen, the photographer said, getting up to shoot the lake that early. Oh, he said as an afterthought, "I added the clouds."  

They were extraordinarily lovely, too--high, thin streaky. But my heart fell. Something I thought the picture was telling me--about wind and weather and water at one moment of one year--it wasn't exactly telling me. But what is "exact" in any photograph? Or in any kind of telling? And why do I worry so much about it?

Future Past

A colleague made a comment I liked: "Every time I see a picture of some snow covered winter scene," she said, "I find myself thinking that some photographer was very cold."

Digital, now, means never really having to be there. And yet, as a writer I particularly like photography's ability to force me out of my head and the clouds of words that fill it, and into a world of alien surfaces, uncertain weather, and un-planned arrangements. 

Once there, I am eager to tinker and make adjustments. But I enjoy the sensation of collaborating with things that resist my will. If I can broker a detente between the given and the chosen, I am happy. If the relationship between them turns to marriage...That's magic.  

Of course, it all depends on what we choose to regard as a given....








(Ariel Swartley) adjustment digital photography weather Wed, 29 Feb 2012 20:56:31 GMT
Making History: Preserving the land's meaning along with the land


"If the trail itself is the earliest form of narrative—a clear path though dense thickets of competing data—then  stories, too, are a kind of map, limning relationships, connecting sights with sounds and history with emotions.

Here in California, the trails left by geological events, by the earliest inhabitants, by the various users of the land, lie across one another in a confusing and eroding web. So too do the stories of successive waves of inhabitants. Gold is a different color to a farmer than to an ecologist. A basket weaver sees one terrain; a gravel miner sees another.

How to tell those trails and map those narratives so that they engage  as broad an audience as possible is the aim of jesikah maria ross’s Restore/Restory...."

For the rest of my article on jesikah's project, go to:

For more about The Art of Regional Change, go to

(Ariel Swartley) Art of Regional Change California history land use Fri, 24 Feb 2012 22:05:30 GMT