Warm Southern Breeze

"… there is no such thing as nothing."

Meteorology, Mama & Baby -or- How I Was Befriended By Luck

Posted by Warm Southern Breeze on Monday, August 10, 2015

It was Easter Sunday, 2010, and unknown to me, dumb luck had befriended me.

Pure dumb luck.

Even scientists believe in it.

In 1996, Duncan C. Blanchard, a meteorological researcher then affiliated with the State University of New York at Albany, authored a scientific paper entitled Serendipity, Scientific Discovery, and Project Cirrus” published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society in which he cited Project Cirrus (1947-52), a period and project of research from which “many serendipitous discoveries and inventions were made, opening up areas of research still being pursued today.”

Blanchard’s work was cited a decade later in 2006 by David M. Schultz, who was then affiliated with the Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies, University of Oklahoma, Norman, Oklahoma, and the NOAA/National Severe Storms Laboratory, Norman, Oklahoma in a research paper entitled The Mysteries of Mammatus Clouds: Observations and Formation Mechanisms. In it he wrote that what little we know about mammatus clouds was, because of their nature, “obtained largely through serendipitous opportunities.”

In other words, what little we know about the clouds (so named after human breasts because of their appearance), has been obtained by pure dumb luck – although, being prepared, and being in the right place at the right time does account for something.

In conversation recently with a dear, and longtime friend, I shared about an image – a photograph – which I had made a few years ago, one which was – as I had been told by several people – was one of the best they’d ever seen of the subject.

As I shared, it was purely “dumb luck” that I got that picture.

It was April 4, 2010, and my good friends Caleb and his wife Diana had invited me over for Easter Sunday dinner with them at Caleb’s parents’ house.

Caleb, Diana and I made each others’ friendship at RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults), which is the year-long process by, and through which one becomes Catholic. And in the Catholic tradition, one’s entry into the Church culminates with public recognition and ceremony at Mass on Easter Sunday. It was, to say the least, a very “high church” time, one with great and immense significance for the faithful.

We had just eaten a very satisfying meal with the entire family – the three Mr. & Mrs. S’s, Baby Christian, and I – and the dishes and other food items had been put away from the table, and Grandmother S. had just sat down on the sofa in the living room with Baby Christian to read to him.

Grandmother S reads to Baby Christian Easter Sunday, 2010

Grandmother S. reads to Baby Christian, on Easter Sunday, April 4, 2010.

Unbeknown to me at the time was the fact that Grandmother S. had been diagnosed with inoperable, incurable cancer, from which she would eventually succumb… and did, shortly thereafter.

Over the years, I had largely come to eschew flash photography because, at the time, many places forbade flash photography, and I, desiring to create a record of the events without intrusion, learned to make do with no flash, and minimal equipment. Functionally, what that translated into was “camera and film only,” no tripod.

Consequently, in order to obtain usable images from whatever venue I was photographing, I used “fast” film – often, Kodak Tri-X pan (400 ASA), and would push it at least one, and in many cases two stops over. In effect, I was “over rating” the film, and in a manner, “demanding” that it perform according to a rating of greater light sensitivity, and would “push process” develop it in chemicals according to the rating at which I had shot it. Photographers of many years experience will completely understand what I mean by that. Those whom have never used film simply don’t know the joys of half of it… nor the frustrations.

So over the years, my technique developed to become one done almost exclusively without flash. The same is true for my use of DSLRs and other digital cameras today. Rarely, if ever, do I use flash of any kind.

And so, it was also true that Easter Sunday afternoon, April 4, 2010, when I sat down in an armchair across from Grandmother S. on the sofa as she held Baby Christian in her lap, and patiently and lovingly read to him. His manner was serene, and his demeanor was one of rapt attention as she held the book before him, and in a calm, gently sweet and musical tone of voice, read to him, and talked about the story, and the pictures therein.

Aside from flash, one of the greatest annoyances, hindrances or distractions to candid photography is the distinctive whiz-flap-clack noise of the view and shutter mechanism in SLR and DSLR cameras – however quiet they may be. The mirror in a SLR or DSLR, sometimes also called reflex mirror, facilitates the photographer’s view of the scene through the lens, and must physically move up and out of the way at least as fast as the exposure time, and must do so even slightly before the exposure is made. It’s nothing less than a marvel of engineering that in a mere fraction of a second – in some cases, 1/8000th of a second – a mirror can swing up, an electronic “curtain” can open and close, and a lens diaphragm stop down – all in precisely timed sequence – to properly expose a scene to create an image. Naturally, the physical movement of those mechanical parts means there is a noise associated with every SLR and DSLR, which is why many professional photographers who work candidly, particularly in close quarters, have long relied upon the much more quiet rangefinder style cameras that do not have a reflex mirror.

Often, in more relaxed, or casual environments, I prefer shooting in manual mode, wherein I select the shutter speed, aperture, and ISO (light sensitivity) rating to complement the environment and my artistic vision. Frequently, I’ll select an exposure combination and leave it on that setting for the majority of an event, unless there’s a significant change to the lighting.

It was a tender, and loving moment to see a new grandmother together with her first grandchild. The expression of her love was palpable, and Baby Christian, wrapped securely in her loving arms upon her lap, was fully engulfed in her gentle, matronly affection. She was exclusively and intently focused upon him, which was plainly evidenced by his response.

As I raised my camera up to my eye to view the scene, I double checked the exposure in the hopes that what I was seeing was what I would get before making the image. That’s because WYSIWG – What You See Is What You Get – isn’t always the case in photography, simply because our eyes are themselves marvels of design and (dare I say it?), engineering. There isn’t a film or camera sensor yet made that can equal the beauty, capability, and complexity of the human eye. Within one scene, our eyes can see details in areas of shadow, and details in the highlights of an adjacent object within the same field of view. Although cameras can be, and are built with specialized sensors to “see” the infrared spectrum of light – to literally visualize an object through the obscuring darkness of smoke and haze – those same cameras cannot “see” in broad daylight like our eyes can. Neither the most advanced and sophisticated sensors nor any film has such a broad range of simultaneous, multi-variable image exposure capability. They see the “invisible,” while we see the visible. And yet, neither sensor nor film can see to depict both simultaneously.

Moving slowly to hold the camera to my eye, I kept one eye upon the scene, and the other focused in the viewfinder as they sat across from me, mere feet away. Keeping both eyes open is a photographic technique and skill developed over a period of years, one that enables the photographer to see the entire and surrounding scene, while simultaneously keeping focused upon the subject at hand.

She gently turned the book’s pages after reading them as Baby Christian sat attentively, and almost mystically silent as he absorbed her devoted loving and affectionate attention. I “snapped” a few images in rapid succession, though not too many to avoid becoming a distraction to the unfolding scene before me. Again, though SLRs and DLSRs are more quiet today than perhaps they ever have been, stand in a quiet room, or sanctuary, have someone take a picture with one, and I guarantee, you’ll hear it.

After making a few images, I remained seated, and continuing to bask in the sheer joy of the moment, checked a few images in the built-in display. Sometimes I CHIMP, though not often. CHIMP is an acronym meaning CHeck IMage Preview, which is the modern digital version of making a Polaroid test print before a final image is produced. “CHIMPing” allows the photographer an opportunity to see a quick preview image, and if necessary, make adjustments during the photographic event – although, it’s not without peril, because excessive CHIMPing means that the photographer may miss opportunities to capture quickly fleeing scenes.

I don’t specifically recall how many images I made that moment, or that day. And it was only later, in the “darkroom” of my computer, that I found what I had almost inadvertently captured… one of the most lovely, expressive images of tender affection between a grandmother and her first grandchild.

The lighting upon Baby Christian’s face was reflected back from the pages of the book, and the resulting image was – as earlier referenced – “obtained largely through serendipitous opportunities.” Although it is equally true that – as I also wrote – “being prepared, and being in the right place at the right time does account for something.”

It wasn’t too long thereafter that Grandmother S. left this life, and all who loved, and knew her were deeply saddened at her passing.

At her wake, it was a pleasant surprise to find a rather large (at least 16×20) Foamcor-backed print of my image of her and Baby Christian featured prominently in a central room.

To date, the only exposure that image has had, has been with them, and a select few others. It has largely been one of virtual anonymity.

And although I’ve never entered it into any contest to compete for award or recognition, the greatest reward for me is knowing that my preparedness, in conjunction with pure dumb luck, has left an indelible image upon the hearts of those whom I love.

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