051216: Spring Cleaning

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The recent great weather has inspired me to deal with a long standing personal issue – tackling the many large piles of fossil laden rocks that surround my studio. It’s a problem of my own creation and it is way out of hand!

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The upside of such an issue is that I have a seemingly endless supply of material to re-explore and discover favorites both old and new.

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The down aide is that each new trip to the quarry or creek has me returning with bags full of fresh new prospects and the piles of rocks grow larger and larger.

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So, before paring things down, I chose to crack open those rocks headed for disposal – one last chance for them to show me something new.

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And these are some of the last minute finds.

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All of the fossils shown are locally found brachiopods (with the exception of the partial gastropod that appeared in the lead image).

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These two are positive and negative from the same fossils – both well delineated and as crisp as could be.

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A new (and permanent) exhibition opens this week at the Florence Museum of Natural History. Tales of a Whale is the product of nine years of effort which began with the discovery of a ten meter long, three million year old whale skeleton in the hills of Tuscany.

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The beautifully designed exhibit, seemingly set in a deep blue sea, centers around the whale skeleton which is surrounded by fossils of other marine life that were found in the same field. All this makes for a fascinating and informative look at that local ecology with a strong nod to contemporary ecological issues. (The image above comes from Museum files. The following image comes from a slide show on the website of La Repubblica Firenze where more images of the exhibit can be found).

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My congratulations and best wishes go out to Dr. Stefano Domenici and Dr. Elisabetta Cioppi for their brilliant work and long time efforts – efforts that have resulted in a brilliant exhibition and a greater understanding of our world. Should you find yourself in Florence, put this destination on your list!

Thanks as always for your visit here today.

050516: May Begins

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It’s a rainy start for May this year here in the Catskill region. I’ve had a couple of opportunities to get outside with my camera in between raindrops.

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My first stop was the garden – I know, flower shots – what a cliche! But when the world around you looks so good you can’t ignore it.

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And this delicacy is a very brief treat.

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Stop number two was my favorite neighborhood quarry.

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Interesting rocks with a few fossils (all brachiopods) mixed in.

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This last image is something of a group shot – a handful of local fossils sitting on my shooting table.

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These last two images, both of which have been seen here recently, will appear in two shows opening on Saturday at WAAM, the Woodstock Artist Association and Museum.The “mushroom” cabinet image, taken on my recent trip to the Florence Museum of Natural History, was chosen to appear in Far and Wide, the 8th Annual Woodstock Regional.

And in the downstairs gallery, the image below received an Honorable Mention in the Small Works Show. If you are in the area please drop by. The opening reception for both shows is 4 – 6 pm.

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Thanks for the visit.

042816 – Simple Design, Simple Minds

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Many of the objects seen here today look like they just got scooped up on a recent trip to the beach. Rather, they are marine invertebrate fossils that, if memory serves me correctly, range in age from six to twenty million years old.

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It seemed like a good idea to present this group (all from the collection of the Museum of Natural History in Florence, Italy) in black and white.

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These wonderful designs of Nature display well in a most simple fashion.

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Last week’s topic on the sophistication of non-human minds drew an interesting variety of response. And with it still fresh in my mind I now keep running into similar types of articles. So let me share a couple of new ones with you.

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“Brain scans of insects appear to indicate that they have the capacity to be conscious and show egocentrico, apparently indicating that they have such a thing as subjective experience.” That’s the finding of study written by Andrew B Barron and Colin Klein, and published in the Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences.

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/19/science/honeybees-insects-consciousness-brains.html?_r=0

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And here’s one on slime mold:

“…But that view has been changing in recent years as scientists have been confronted with the astounding abilities of brainless creatures. Take the slime mold, for example. It’s an amoeba-like, single-celled organism filled with multiple nuclei, part of a primitive lineage that’s been munching on bacteria, fungi and other forest detritus for hundreds of millions of years. And yet, this very simple living thing manages all kinds of intellectual feats.”

http://www.latimes.com/science/sciencenow/la-sci-sn-slime-mold-brain-learning-20160426-story.html

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It’s amazing what we continue to learn on the subject.

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And one last note on the general subject of intelligence, the brainiacs over at NASA are celebrating twenty five years of Hubble images with this video. Take a moment to view these astonishing images.

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Thanks as always for the visit.

0421: Anecdotes and Anthropomorphism

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Today’s title comes from a fascinating article in the latest issue of Atlantic Magazine. Entitled “How Animals Think,” the article refers to the work of primatologist Frans de Waal who makes “… a passionate and convincing case for the sophistication of nonhuman minds.” Like many of you, I grew up being taught that the non-human version of thinking was “instinct” and nothing more. And, despite the various anecdotes of animal behavior suggesting otherwise, and despite being told that it was our need sometimes to imagine human traits in animals, there was no truth to any of it.

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Rather, thanks to advances in technology and scientific research, we are beginning to see that “As de Waal recognizes, a better way to think about other creatures would be to ask ourselves how different species have developed different kinds of minds to solve different adaptive problems.”

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In fact, in many cases those particular kinds of minds can be quite astounding. Last Sunday’s NY Times ran an article entitled “A Conversation With Whales,” in which the following statement is made:

Sperm whales’ brains are the largest ever known, around six times the size of humans’. They have an oversize neocortex and a profusion of highly developed neurons called spindle cells that, in humans, govern things like emotional suffering, compassion and speech.

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Times have changed. Most phones these days have video capability, Youtube and Facebook now exist and abound with examples of animal behavior that previously had rarely been seen (those anecdotes that that had been so easily dismissed in the past).

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Whether it be a chimp hugging Jane Goodall goodbye or the mourning rituals of elephants, these and many other examples are helping us to evolve to a greater understanding of the world around us and, perhaps, our own place within it.

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So I had  a mix of emotions when I took these images recently in the back rooms of La Specola, the noted natural history museum in Florence, Italy. It was simultaneously compelling and repelling. While this taxidermy in the pursuit of science and research served its purpose in the past I assume that more enlightened minds now see that such practices are no longer appropriate.

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And, after having spent many Sunday afternoons visiting the Bronx Zoo as a kid, I can hardly approve of the caged displays of animals anymore.

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Despite this long history of misunderstanding, attitudes are changing. Animal sentience has been codified into law in New Zealand and France recently. In August of 2012 an international group of prominent scientists (including Dr. Stephen Hawking) signed “The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness” declaring animal sentience as real.

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It is certainly something worth considering.

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Let me make a switch now to perhaps the other end of the “consciousness” spectrum – lichen! Not a lot of brain activity around here.  But an interesting organism nonetheless.

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Thanks for the visit.

0414: Birds

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Shortly after returning from our recent trip both Cindy and I each found these two interesting objects – bird skulls. Not an everyday occurrence for sure but it seemed appropriate after having just spent so much time in the Ornithology Department of La Specola in Florence.

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What immediately came to mind as I was setting up this last one was the pterodactyl (below) that I photographed in the Fossil Department. Certainly birdlike but apparently there is much discussion as to just how “birdlike” or how “reptile-like” it actually is. From what I was able to discern, the pterodactyl was a “flying reptile.” Its all a bit confusing to me. All I know for sure is that the images all work well with each other.

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And so this week’s selection is quite literally for the birds!

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One final note – Today I’d like to take a moment to wish a most warm and happy birthday to Cindy, the love of my life.

Happy Birthday my dear Cindy!!!

0407: An Odd Mix

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This time last week I was hurrying to get the blog posted. It was 72 degrees out with a bright sun – easily the best day of this early Spring. The rest of the day was spent at my favorite quarry where I eventually filled the trunk of my car with fossil laden rocks.

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Fresh material to explore and photograph. Material enough, I was sure, to fill several of these posts. Most particularly today’s.

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But two days later, my plans changed when a Spring surprise arrived in the form of six inches of snow. And that pile of rocks sits waiting for me.

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So, in search of a  new topic for today, I decided to browse one of my photo libraries from a few years ago. Often, I can find many images that I had originally passed over (for whatever reason). And, with fresh eyes and a different perspective, they all becomes new material to explore.

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What you see today is this rather odd mix of images that seemed to beckon to me – no criteria other than that.

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This next set of images is from the Florence Museum of Natural History – this time the subject is bones.

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And, finally, a nice piece of news – The image above, which I had shared with you a few weeks ago, has been selected for “Far & Wide”, the 8th Annual Woodstock Regional Exhibition. Entitled “Natural History – Mushrooms,” it was taken at the Botanical Division of the aforementioned museum. Opening and reception is set for May 7 from 4-6 pm.

Thanks for the visit.

0331: Natural History

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Today I have more from the Florence Museum of Natural History – mammals, entomology and paleontology in particular.

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Last Fall a friend gave me a couple of hornets’ nests. They had been hanging in her barn for years. She thought I might find them interesting (which I did) and passed them along to me to explore (which I am). These are my first attempts. (Thanks Dorian).

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This last image is a mixed media piece of mine entitled “Primordia.” I have been working on a drawing project for the past nine months or so and this will be the first time one will be displayed. It hangs at the Woodstock Artists Association and Museum in the active members show opening this Saturday 4-6 pm.

Thanks as always for the visit.

0324: A Spring Break

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Another walk starts off this week’s post. It was an overcast early Spring afternoon that got me up and away from the computer – a break from all the Florence images that have had me tied up lately. A need for nature not pixels! The lichen was a good start.

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The garden showed me some things new…

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…and some things old.

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Some shapes reminded me of other shapes.

Some images reminded me of other images.

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And that brought me back to the computer – which led to this mix.

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Crustacean 1, La Specola

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Crustacean 2, La Specola

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Stairwell, Bardini Gardens

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Tools of Mosaic Artist

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Jupiter and Saturn, Orrery, Galileo Museum

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Gastropod, Florence Museum of Natural History

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Santa Maria della Spina, Pisa

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San Miniato al Monte, Florence

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Virgin with Child and Bicycles, Florence

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Vasari’s Vision of Hell, Duomo, Florence

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Thanks for the visit.

0317: Walking around Florence

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The visual delights of Florence are legendary – the Duomo, Ponte Vecchio, Piazza della Signoria, etc. The artwork, both inside the many museums and outside in the many piazzas, are certainly an eyeful. But so too is almost every small side street. Graffiti and street art is often clever and thoughtful (There is also, unfortunately, plenty of awful spray paint graffiti).IMG_9372_01_LR_12

Turning a corner might yield the sight of a Renaissance mural juxtaposed against modern life. Peeking in a window near the Duomo shows a workshop where artisans keep up centuries old traditions.

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A stroll through a graveyard (San Miniato al Monte) showed unique headstones…

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…and a most interesting crypt.

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And then there is a very clever artist (or artists) at work who turns simple traffic signs into amusing and sometimes provocative statements…

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…little visual asides that you catch out of the corner of your eye…

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…but linger in your head…

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…along with a smile lingering on your face!

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I had to include some fossils today, so I thought this little selection would work nicely.

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These are gastropods from the fossil collection of the Paleontology section of the Florence Museum of Natural History.

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They relate to an upcoming exhibition that will open at the museum in May. More on that as the date approaches.

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I did manage to take a break from working all of my Florence files to come up with something new at the studio. Ironically, new shooting began with my Moroccan trilobite (above) which I found in a Florence flea market! And, below, something I brought back from a walk in the woods yesterday.

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Thanks for the visit.

0310: A Curious Cabinet

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I discovered months ago that many of my regular viewers have a thing for mushrooms (you know who you are!). Today’s post is one you might find particularly interesting. The opening image, above, is a cabinet that runs from desktop to ceiling, one of many that line the walls of a small room in the Botany Section of the Florence Museum of Natural History. And, yes, it is filled with mushrooms – or rather – a beautiful collection of mushroom sculptures from the 1800s.

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Every door that was opened to me in the museum last month gave way to fascinating objects of all sorts. This one, though, caught me completely by surprise.

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I was visiting with Dr. Chiara Nepi, Section Head of the Botany Department. Dr. Nepi had allowed me to photograph in her areas on my last visit. She was most kind and generous to me at that time and so a visit this trip to say hello was very much in order. As the visit was wrapping up I mentioned about my experience with my neighbor’s mushroom farm. “Have you seen our collection of mushrooms?” she asked. No, I was not aware but more than happy to take a look.

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Within moments, the door to this room opens. And, once again, I’m dumbfounded by what I see!

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Turns out the Museum has this collection of amazing models (more than 200, I believe) made in the 1800s by the Frenchman Jean-Baptiste Barla, a curious and interesting scholar, naturalist, and botanist. His models became appreciated by both researchers and enthusiasts and were in such high demand that he began manufacturing them in the 1850s.

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These are just a few of the pieces in the collection, which was donated to the museum over a period of years.

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So, I thank Dr. Nepi once again for the opportunity to play with these little gems!

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I also managed to have a few moments with another interesting, small collection – this time belonging to the Ornithology Department. Birds’ nests and birds’ eggs.

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Prepping these images for today’s post seems particularly appropriate on a day like today. Back home now after traveling. Early Spring. The sky is filled with long, long “V”s of honkers heading north – like trains lined up one behind the other, waiting for their turn to head home.

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Birds are everywhere – probably checking out the best location for a new nest!

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Thanks for the visit.

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