9 March

Portrait: Two Trimmed Trees

by Jon Katz
Portrait: Two Trimmed Trees

Last weekend, the arborist George Conety came over to the farmhouse and he and his friend walked over and up onto every tree limb of the old Apple tree and the White Birch. They hauled off trailer loads of dead twigs and branches, and they pronounced these two venerable old trees – both planted around the time the farmhouse was built – healthy and restored.

The trees do look different, they have a grace and beauty and vibrancy they did not have a few weeks ago. They seem to be holding their arms and dancing together, perhaps in celebration or relief. They are waving to me.

9 March

For My Photography, A Huge Step Forward Tomorrow. The Petzval Lens, Pinhole Mount

by Jon Katz
Step Forward

Today, I took a huge step forward towards making my photography more distinct and creative. I spent hours on the phone with B& H photo talking about new ways to stretch my comfort zone. We studied and discussed about 20 different lens, Eli and I settled on the same one at the same time.

I’ve been studying different specialty lenses, and I loved the Lemography Petzval (what a great name,) I’ve been reading about it for days.  it is manual lens with an old gear mechanism for focusing, I will have to work hard to understand it and work with it.

The lens is quite striking looking. It supposedly takes phenomenal portraits, unlike any I have taken so far. I traded in one of my current lenses and purchased a very exotic brass plated version – the Petzval 58 Bokeh Control Art Lens.

This very famous and iconic lens was designed by Joseph Pezval, a Russian in 1840, at the time when portrait photography was flourishing. This is a rarely used or purchased lens, because of the gear mechanism and the manual focus B&H said hey have only sold a handful in the past few years, there are only three reviews of the lens on the B&H website, there are usually thousands.

The lens is essentially the same lens that was designed in 1840.

It’s Russian glass, which I’ve never used before (four lens elements in three groups), famous for it’s sharpness, a handcrafted lens with a radical Bokeh (background blur) control ring. The reviews say the lens, which has a 58 mm focal length together with an f/1.9 maximum aperture, gives me almost total control over the blurred areas of my portraits, the backgrounds.

The lens focusing mechanism is gear rack focusing, something I have heard of but never have even seen used.

This enables the photographer to move the viewer from one place to another, all within the same shot. I have some learning to do.

I like that this lens will challenge me. My Canon 5D Mark III does a lot of thinking for me, I want to do some more of my own. Good photography is part luck and part skill. I want to expand on the skill.

I will use the Petzval 58, as I call it,  for portraits, I think, and for some still-life street scenes and some landscapes. I bought four aperture plates which have to be manually inserted into the top of the lens casing (above) to change the aperture settings. I adjust the focus by turning the screw, it will not be a simple adjustment for me, and I can’t shoot fast-moving things without a lot of practice.

The lens actually the same lens that Petzval first designed, a big stretch for someone who has only used DSLR’s with sophisticated stabilizing and focusing systems. There are  no electronics in the lens.  None of that here.

The lens comes tomorrow and I am excited about it. I also took another big leap for $24 I bought a standard pinhole ring so I can take black and white pinhole photographs, a form of photography that I love. The old photographs stuck a pinhole through a piece of paper and shot through it, the effect is haunting and lovely.

So two new challenges for me, two ways of taking distinctive photos that are different, and hopefully, beautiful. I will spent about $750 for both and I feel like a  little kid, it is exciting, and I’m a bit nervous. I didn’t want to buy another fancy Canon super lens, and I can’t afford it anyway..

As always, the photographs will be posted on the blog, and are free to anyone who wishes to use them for any reason. You can use them as screensavers or print them out. I don’t bookmark or copyright my photographs, I see them as spirits and angels going forth to bring color and light to the world.

A pinhole camera is essentially a light box with a small hole in it. I fell in love with pinhole photography on a recent trip to New York City, a pinhole photographer was selling his photos on the High Line and they were quite wonderful. My black and white monochrome camera is perfect for both the Petaval 58 mm lens and the pinhole mount.

I hope to begin shooting with the new lens this weekend and will share the results with you as soon as I can. Stay tuned. I see this as yet another step forward for the blog as well as for my photography.

9 March

Talk To Animals. Get A Free And Very Classy Tote Bag

by Jon Katz
Talk To Animals: Win A Very Stylish Tote Bag

Good news on the “Talking To Animals” front. The first 1,000 people to pre-order my new book, “Talking To Animals: How We Can Understand Them And They Can Understand Us” which  is coming out in eight weeks (May 5).

Battenkill Books, my very wonderful and successful independent bookstore in Cambridge, N.Y., asked designer Nina Ossant to design some tote-bags specially for this book launch.  She did a great job.

About 400 people have already pre-ordered the book (they will get a free Tote-Bag) and there are 600 left. We can order more if necessary and I hope it will be. Connie says she is “flooded” with orders, sweet words for any writer to hear.

The book is about my 15 years worth of study and experimentation learning how to communicate with the animals I live with, to understand them and help them to understand me. This involves emotions, body language, visualizations and food. The book is chock full of anecdotes and examples, going all the way back to my first dog Lucky, and up through Simon, my donkey and Red.

I have lived with goats, sheep, cows, steers, chickens, sheep, horses, dogs and barn cats. I have learned from each one of them, I even got Elvis, my 3,000 pound Swiss Steer, to come and stay on command.

The book also explores the very urgent need to find a new and wiser and more mystical understanding of animals if we are to keep them in our world. More than half the animal species on the earth have vanished since 1970, says the World Wildlife Federation, mostly due to climate change and human development.

In our country, the animal rights movement is separating domesticated animals – horses, ponies, some dogs, some elephants – from people, with whom they have worked for centuries. They have made the entertainment and uplifting of people into a social crime, and are driving this animals into oblivion, off to slaughter, or inevitable extinction.

Animals no longer have any wild to go to, there are very few preserves to take them in, without work and connection to people, they will disappear from the earth. It is imperative that we understand animals like carriage horses, who desperately need work and activity in order to be healthy and content.

They have never lived in the wild and would not last long there.  They attach powerfully to people, and languish without work and stimulation. The carriage horses are the lucky ones. Few preserves can afford the $35,000 it costs to feed and care for them each year, they take old and dying horses, not young and healthy ones.

The animal rights movement seems to know nothing about animals in many cases,  they only know how to take them away from people. We need a wiser and more mystical understanding than this. The book seeks to offer one. So I’m excited about the Battenkill tote-bags and I hope we sail past the 1,000 mark soon so we can order 1,000 more. The book comes out in eight weeks, and thanks.

You can pre-order the book here. Battenkill takes Paypal and ships anywhere in the world.  You can also call the store at 518 677 2515.

9 March

Windowsill Gallery: The New Farmhouse, The Changing Landscape

by Jon Katz
Kolkata Meets Gee’s Bend

Our 200 year old farmhouse is ever evolving, a fusion of Colonial America, the Sari’s of Kolkata, the quilts of Gee’s Bend Alabama, all on display in one window of our humble little farmhouse. What would the original builders and owners have made of our living room, a gallery of cultural diversity?

Our new curtains made of Sari fabric, a statue of Buddha given us by a friend, a quilt from the famous quilters of Gee’s Bend,  touched off with some flowers from the ones I got Maria when she came home.

The Gee’s Bend quilters are the inspiration for Maria and her quilts.

Life is an ever-changing landscape, so is our living room.

All of this is Maria’s doing, I just take the photos.

There are many benefits to sleeping with an artist, your home can become a living art gallery with its own curator, a window on the wider world in our small house in our small town. How wonderful to see.

9 March

The Creativity Kit: A Great Idea For Children In Need Takes Off

by Jon Katz
Creativity Kit Takes Off

Artist Rachel  Barlow’s wonderful idea to send Creativity Art Kits to refugee children and other kids who are coping with trauma has taken off. In the first day, she raised more than $1,500 to purchase materials for more than 50 children. These kits – designed by Barlow, a popular Vermont-based author and painter and illustrator are perfect for children recovering from trauma.

The refugee kids – many in foster homes because their parents are dead or left behind – are isolated. They don’t speak English, have friends here, are not on Facebook or Twitter and in recent weeks, have been kept inside for fear of harassment or deportation (they are all here legally.)

The kids are designed to foster creativity and voice and to build confidence and imagination.  They are not elaborate, they are designed to be portable and child and parent friendly. Each kit includes a set of watercolors, a sketch book, coloring pencils and a sharpener, a coloring book and a book for young artists to help with the drawing of animals.

The supplies will be presented to the children in a drawstring backpack so that they can take them anywhere. Rachel says her kits will evolve, but at the moment the goal is to get children – especially traumatized children – to create, to make creativity a part of their lives, especially when they are in emotional need. You can see what’s in the kits here.

This timely program is on fire, the initial response has been overwhelming.

I believe it will spread soon to other cities, towns and schools. The first wave of its are going to refugee children, but Rachel says she wants them to be available to foster and abused and traumatized children as well. Rachel understands trauma, she was the victim of sexual abuse as a child.

Rachel is, in fact,  a monument to the healing power of creativity.

I know her well, she has been a writing student of mine for four years, and one of the most creative people I have ever known.  I have seen her creative spark light up – she is an acclaimed landscape painter, an illustrator, an author books for young parents, and a successful blogger. You can see her wonderful work here.

You can contribute to this program using Paypal or major credit cards in any amount here.

I am grateful to be able to help support this idea, it deserves to grow and live. Creativity is one of the most empowering tools in the universe, these kids are going to the right people.

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