Rivers and lakes in remarkable 19th-century photographs

Rivers and lakes in remarkable 19th-century photographs

Rivers and lakes in remarkable 19th-century photographs

Photographers of the 19th century did not have an easy time of it. They had to put up with the limitations of the existing camera technologies. At the same time, they felt a need to express themselves and their individual take on reality. The Washington, DC-based National Gallery of Art succinctly describes the unique challenges faced by the early photographers:

“This first generation of photographers became part scientists as they mastered a baffling array of new processes and learned how to handle their equipment and material. Yet they also grappled with aesthetic issues, such as how to convey the tone, texture, and detail of multicolored reality in a monochrome medium.” (from ‘The Nineteenth Century: The Invention of Photography‘, National Gallery of Art website)

The following landscapes show how some 19th-century photographers met these challenges and helped raise photography to the level of fine art.. They are a reminder as well to modern-day photographers that it is about the picture, not about the photographer and his equipment.

A Misty Morning at Norwich, 1890-1891
Peter Henry Emerson (British, 1856–1936)
Courtesy of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

Sangor, Temple and Lake, about 1865–1875
Francis Frith (English, 1822–1898)
Courtesy of Getty’s Open Content Program

[River Scene, France], 1858
Camille Silvy (French, 1834–1910)
Courtesy of Getty’s Open Content Program

Potomac River, c. 1898
Frances Benjamin Johnston (American, 1864–1952)
Courtesy of the Library of Congress, USA

The Lake of Hakoni, 1865–1868
Felice Beato (English, born Italy, 1832–1909)
Courtesy of Getty’s Open Content Program

[Tufa Domes, Pyramid Lake, Nevada], 1867
Timothy H. O’Sullivan (American, about 1840–1882)
Courtesy of Getty’s Open Content Program

Worcester. From the Severn, 1870s
Francis Bedford (British, 1816–1894)
Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art

~ Barista Uno

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Musings on derelict boats and old age

Musings on derelict boats and old age

When I look at old and derelict boats, I cannot help but wonder at how much they have in common with people. Both are subject to the inexorable pattern of youth, middle age and old age. What the Buddha said on the matter is also true for boats:

When young, one is subject to aging; when healthy, subject to illness; when alive, subject to death. The complexion is no longer so clear & bright; the limbs are flabby & wrinkled; the back, bent forward; there’s a discernible change in the faculties—the faculty of the eye, the faculty of the ear, the faculty of the nose, the faculty of the tongue, the faculty of the body.

— Old Age Jara Sutta (SN 1:51), Dhammatalks.org

A rusty boat in Morocco
Public domain photo

In a narcissistic age that values youth and beauty, men will try hard to ward off old age. Asian men in particular are prone to using hair dye. The contrast between their smooth black hair and their wrinkled faces always amuses me.

I know a manning executive in his seventies who keeps a young paramour. It’s his Fountain of Youth, he says. In their declining years, some men will busy themselves with making more money than they’ll be able to use in their lifetime. In their subconscious mind, wealth serves as a hedge against the inevitable.

As for the women, some will try to keep fit by jogging, working out in the gym, etc. Nothing wrong with staying healthy, but it is sheer illusion to think that one is still young past the age of 60. Some women may even resort to Botox injections to smooth out the lines and wrinkles that Time has stamped on their faces.

Salen Wrecks (2014)
Photo by Magnus Hagdorn
Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) licence

With proper upkeep, a boat can be serviceable for a long time. Its life expectancy, however, could be cut short by a storm or an accident at sea resulting in irreparable damage. Humans are no less subject to the vicissitudes of life. Millionaires have been known to lose all their wealth overnight. Many a healthy individual has been stricken by grave illness. But the fickleness of fortune should not be cause for despair. As the Chinese proverb says, “A good fortune may forbode a bad luck, which may in turn disguise a good fortune.”

Embrace life. I believe this is the best position to take. Why not celebrate youth as well as old age? The latter is no reason to beach the boat. One must keep sailing with courage, faith and humility.

“And there was a great calm.” Sailing boat at sunrise (1934)
Photo by the American Colony (Jerusalem) Photo Department
Courtesy of the Library of Congress, USA

~ Barista Uno

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Choice quotes for ship captains from Joseph Conrad

Choice quotes for ship captains from Joseph Conrad

Who better to write about the sea and sailors than a man of letters who had been a ship captain? Joseph Conrad, a Polish author who wrote in English, is regarded as one of the greatest writers in the English language. He served for 16 years in the British merchant marine, assuming his first command in 1888 at the age of 31 — the three-masted iron barque Otago.

[Learn more about Joseph Conrad’s life and writings here.]

The following excerpts from Conrad’s works should resonate with today’s sea captains. They show his skill as a storyteller; his understanding of human nature; and, not least of all, his love for the sea

I may safely say that through the blind force of circumstances the sea was to be all my world and the merchant service my only home for a long succession of years.

Joseph Conrad, Preface to A Personal Record (1912)

Jukes was uncritically glad to have his captain at hand. It relieved him as though that man had, by simply coming on deck, taken most of the gale’s weight upon his shoulders. Such is the prestige, the privilege, and the burden of command.

— Joseph Conrad, Typhoon (1902)

Some commanders of ships take their Departure from the home coast sadly, in a spirit of grief and discontent. They have a wife, children perhaps, some affection at any rate, or perhaps only some pet vice, that must be left behind for a year or more.

— Joseph Conrad, The Mirror of the Sea (1924)

A man’s real life is that accorded to him in the thoughts of other men by reason of respect or natural love.

— Joseph Conrad, Under Western Eyes (1911)

A man is a worker. If he is not that he is nothing.

— Joseph Conrad, Notes on Life and Letters (1921)

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It is not the clear-sighted who lead the world. Great achievements are accomplished in a blessed, warm mental fog.

— Joseph Conrad, Victory: An Island Tale (1915)

To see! to see! — this is the craving of the sailor, as of the rest of blind humanity. To have his path made clear for him is the aspiration of every human being in our beclouded and tempestuous existence.

— Joseph Conrad, The Mirror of the Sea (1906)

The sea, perhaps because of its saltness, roughens the outside but keeps sweet the kernel of its servants’ soul. The old sea; the sea of many years ago, whose servants were devoted slaves and went from youth to age or to a sudden grave without needing to open the book of life, because they could look at eternity reflected on the element that gave the life and dealt the death.

— Joseph Conrad, An Outcast of the Island (1896)

Ah! The good old time — the good old time. Youth and the sea. Glamour and the sea! The good, strong sea, the salt, bitter sea, that could whisper to you and roar at you and knock your breath out of you.

— Joseph Conrad, Youth (1898)

My whole being was steeped deep in the indolence of a sailor away from the sea, the scene of never-ending labour and of unceasing duty. For utter surrender to in indolence you cannot beat a sailor ashore when that mood is is on him—the mood of absolute irresponsibility tasted to the full.

— Joseph Conrad, A Personal Record (1912)

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~ Barista Uno

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5 bold maritime wishes in the Year of the Dragon

5 bold maritime wishes in the Year of the Dragon

It’s the Year of the Dragon from 10 February 2024 to 28 January 2024 according to Chinese astrology. Shall we see some major changes in the shipping industry? No, not innovations in technology or marketing, but a shift in the values and outlooks of those who deal with ships and the men and women who man them.

Wishing for such a fundamental change might seem futile. “One does not attain everything he wishes for. / Winds blow counter to what the ships desire,” wrote Al-Mutanabbi, the classical Arab poet (translation from Wikipedia). Still, it is human nature to wish and hope for a better future. Only the dead stop doing so.

For whatever it’s worth, here’s my list of maritime wishes for the Year of the Dragon 2024:

More emphasis on duty, less on rights

Seafarers treated as ends in themselves, not as a means to an end

Genuine charity (not donations-driven)

An end to the notion that certain organisations (e.g., IMO) are sacred cows

Less ass-licking by the maritime press

 

~ Barista Uno

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Waterways in the delightful landscapes of Alfred Sisley

Waterways in the delightful landscapes of Alfred Sisley

Waterways in the delightful landscapes of Alfred Sisley

Born in Paris to British parents, Alfred Sisley belonged to the group of artists that started French Impressionism in the 19th century. His work, however, has not received the universal attention that it deserves. The New York Times dubbed him in a 1999 article “The Invisible Man of Impressionism”.

Sisley (30 October 1839 – 29 January 1899) almost exclusively created landscapes. His paintings, though lacking the flair and exuberance of Claude Monet, have a laid-back charm. Some of them may strike one as a bit staid.  Even so, they are refreshingly beautiful. And they leave no doubt about Sisley’s gift of conveying atmosphere and light in a way that should appeal to modern-day viewers.

 

Though the artist must remain master of his craft, the surface, at times raised to the highest pitch of loveliness, should transmit to the beholder the sensation which possessed the artist.

— Alfred Sisley

The following is a small collection of landscapes selected from the hundreds that Sisley painted. Click on the images to magnify them. For a detailed bio of the artist, click here.

View of the Canal Saint-Martin, 1870
Oil on canvas
Alfred Sisley (1839–1899)
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The Seine at Port-Marly, Piles of Sand, 1875
Oil on canvas
Alfred Sisley (1839–1899)
Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago

The Bridge at Sèvres, 1877
Oil on canvas
Alfred Sisley (1839–1899)
Courtesy of Tate
Licence: CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0 (Unported)

The Loing at Saint-Mammès, 1882
Oil on canvas
Alfred Sisley (1839–1899)
Courtesy of Museum of Fine Arts Boston

The Bridge in Moret in the Morning Light, 1888
Oil on canvas
Alfred Sisley (1839–1899)
Courtesy of The York Project (2002), DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH, via Wikimedia Commons

Les moulins de Moret–Hiver, 1890
Oil on canvas
Alfred Sisley (1839–1899)
Courtesy of Christie’s

KEY CHARACTERISTICS OF IMPRESSIONIST PAINTING


Depiction of the artist’s impression of reality rather than a faithful rendering of it

Short brush strokes and small colour patches to convey a sense of movement

Rejection of formal composition in favour of a more “spontaneous” look

Blurring of contours and boundaries with use of colour instead of black lines

Focus on the transient effects of sunlight

Often painted outdoors (en plein air)

~ Barista Uno

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