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The first signs of spring are finally showing themselves, although the temperatures in Maryland are still uncharacteristically low. Spring training is in full swing with opening day only a week and a half away, I am seeing crocuses in the back yard and expect the daffodils to start blooming very shortly, and when I drive to work the sun is starting to make its appearance against the windows of the buildings in Baltimore. These are the three signs I look forward to seeing each time around the sun.

This final lumen print encapsulates this rebirth. The subject matter taken from dead flowers that sat in my darkroom is reborn on Panalure paper exposed to the sun for many hours (I set it outside a few hours before sunset, then forgot about it until mid-morning the next day), having had water poured between the sheets of glass holding the composition together from bottom to top. Simple curve and level adjustments convinced the colors to bloom, allowing paper that would otherwise have no use to give me a smile.

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I had the privilege of giving a presentation to the Central Maryland Photographers’ Guild about pinhole and alternative process photography. The idea was not only to give a talk, but also to give everyone a task based on the talk, and then return the following month to see how the participants have fulfilled that task.

My initial idea was to have everyone make a pinhole image, but I knew that that would present some real problems. As expected, when surveying the audience, nobody was still using film. This meant that they would not be able to make their own pinhole (an actual pinhole should not be used with a digital camera because it will allow dust to get to the sensor). I explained that although it would be possible to print one on Pictorico, ink does not really do a good job blocking light, so this would not work properly. The only reasonable way to do this would be to purchase a pinhole body cap.

I had planned to talk about the Bromoil process with examples of my work, which I did, but at the last moment decided to include Lumen prints in my talk. I am very lucky because I know a number of people who, having switched to digital and no longer have a use for their old photographic paper, have given their unused paper to me. I have been able to use much of it with the Bromoil process (an extreme example), but RC and glossy paper does not work with the process. That paper has oftentimes been used to make Lumen prints.

I decided to give the participants a choice of tasks. One option was to purchase a pinhole body cap and take a digital pinhole image. The other was to make a lumen print. Others are not as fortunate as I in having some old photographic paper, so I put together 30 bundles of paper and gave them to those who wanted to give this a try.

I was not going to present a task without doing it myself so I used some old Kodak Panalure paper to make a few lumen prints. In the past I have used this paper within my pinhole cameras because it properly captures the full color spectrum (as opposed to common orthochromatic paper, which does not). The offering here is one of the prints that I will be bringing on my return to the guild, and I look forward to seeing what others have done.

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All things must pass and so did our time on the Aran Islands. It was farewell in several ways, but foremost in my mind was how the islands had changed over the past nineteen years. When I first visited there was only one car on one of the islands, a taxi that would take one from the east end of Inishmore to the west end if one did not want to take a horse drawn coach. Today the island contains many cars that regularly zoom along the roads, making one step aside on a regular basis.

On one hand, some of what make the islands so attractive has gone away, on another hand it only makes sense to wish to the inhabitants the best of their choices, on a third hand those accustomed to dealing with cars will never know the difference. We may return – there are so many other places to visit – and if so my druthers will be to spend a couple of days on Inishmaan, where despite the changes on the large island, little has changed over the years. The ability to quietly contemplate over the ocean of rocks is certainly what John Millington Synge enjoyed (his house still exists there, though it has been whitewashed), and mindless exploration brings untold benefits, so I would love to pass through one more time.

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If there is one takeaway from the Aran Islands it is that there are rocks. Many, many rocks. It is estimated that there are about 1,000 miles of ancient stone walls to contain livestock and define property ownership. If one were to conservatively estimate that each foot of wall contained five rocks then that would come to over 25 million rocks. A rock was picked up and placed in a specific location over 25 million times. I am still unable to get my head around that.

This image shows three layers of walls with the limestone ground between. Deep fissures can be seen, which may contain hints of soil. The Aran Islands of one hundred years ago looked more like this than the fields of grass of today. Although a fictional documentary, the movie Man of Aran does show the islands in 1934, when men broke these rocks with sledge hammers to get to that soil.

Though that is no longer necessary, the islands offer a unique opportunity to see back into another time when things were very different.

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Dun Aengus is a fort that dates back about three thousand years, and is pretty much a required location for all visitors to Inishmore. I had visited the fort the last time I was on the Aran Islands in 1995 and this time climbed up to it again. Over the past 19 years a number of shops have opened up at the base of the hill (there were none in 1995) and since I wanted to bring a few presents back to my family I looked in one.

I picked up a painted stone and decided to make the purchase. I went to the counter and pulled out the bills in my pocket.  After handing over the bills to pay for the stone I started counting the coins to complete the transaction.  The cashier said, “Oh, just give me the rubbish,” which has become a phrase I now use for many things.

We got to talking and she told me that she was the one who had painted the rock.  The image was that of the house in which she grew up, and where her mother still lives. Describing where the house was located I tracked it down and offer it here.

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Inisheer is small. Really small, as in around two by three kilometers (about 1.25 by 1.85 miles) with less than 300 inhabitants (although that is almost twice the population of Inishmaan), all clustered together near the harbor.

The Aran Islands were the key to the control of Galway Bay, so despite their size, they had an element of importance during the Medieval period.

Today O’Briens Castle stands atop a hill with a wonderful view of the bay. Standing there with the wind gently running past me, I had a feeling of serenity that may not have existed in the past. The opening in the stone wall offers entrance to the castle, as opposed to the challenge that may have been the case in the past.

I almost decided to remove much of the foreground and not to place the castle in the middle, but the feeling I had when I photographed the place had more to do with the present than the past.

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I believe that most people on the Aran Islands make ends meet through tourism in one form or another. However, that was not always the case.

Go back a century and these islands were basically three large rocks off the coast of Galway. Using sledgehammers men break the fractured rock to get to the soil in the crevices. Scooping this soil out they would mix it with sand and the seaweed women could collect from the shoreline.  This would be laid on top of the rocks to serve as fertile soil to grow potatoes and other vegetables. The meals would be rounded out by whatever they could catch from the ocean.

There are a number of areas on the islands that give one an idea as to what they may have dealt with long ago, and this image shows one of those areas, contained within one of the ubiquitous stone fences, and modern (non-thatched) houses in the background.

More about this unique place can be read (free) in John Millington Synge’s The Aran Islands at http://en.wikisource.org/ or read it the Kindle.

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It is not unusual to see buildings on the Aran Islands that are long abandoned, and any walk through Inishmore will take one past this church, though from the other side.  One of my morning walks the fog was still in the process of escaping for the day.  I wandered down a small side road and finally looked back at the church.

Wandering into the past is not all that hard, lift the rope from the gate and walk forward. There may be no direct route to the destination, but with the end point in mind, there will always be a way.

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I will be posting a series of images from the Aran Islands that are contained within my folio.  I will also be posting larger images so that they can be downloaded and printed out if anyone wishes.

It is sometimes difficult to define beauty. Actually, it is impossible.

This house on the island of Inishmore particularly struck me because it has apparently weathered the years, taking its hits but refusing to yield, which is the story of the people of the Aran Islands. The stone fence continues its job and holds fast as nature does its inevitable thing.

Beauty is not only new and pristine, but also old and worn, full of stories unable to be told.

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The idea of this lumen print was to give the idea of a family that starts together, then begins to drift away.  Three leaves are embedded together while one of the children prepares to go off on its own.

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