Saturday, December 5, 2009

Graphic Elements

I see my photography as being a type of vision quest. I find peace in the quiet of early mornings and use that time to make myself whole after a long work week. As a teacher, some might assume that I am an extravert who thrives on interpersonal interactions, nothing could be farther from the truth. In my head,... I am an introvert.
I live in an overstimulated world, work in a boisterous environment, and instruct within a hive of activity. This working life is a stark contrast with my id. I would rather study a rookery of arctic birds in the solitude of a hide, than be the center of attention. I walk away from crowds, seek a deep dark wood, and sooner spend a quiet night in a tent than flirt with the glitz and glam of the Vegas Strip. 

Once a week I must go on my vision quest. I’ll take a long drive to catch first light or hoist my photo-pack on my back and walk. There are many days when the camera stays put, unused and untouched, but, on occasion, I will relax. I will take a break from my work, I will leave the noise, and I will cling to a brief moment of peace.

©2000-2010 / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

On the Origin of Species

One-hundred and fifty years ago, the seminal theory that unified the life sciences was published on this day. The author, Charles Darwin, outlined his basic theory twenty years prior to its formal publication. His deference to the scientific process and the norms of his time stalled the presentation of a remarkable idea that changed the way we now understand life on this planet. While many in history contemplated the connectedness between living organism, nobody but Darwin could provide a mechanism for evolutionary change. It took Darwin two decades to assemble the evidence and refine his original hypothesis. Today, this theory is fundamental to our basic understanding of biology.

What is most remarkable is that Darwin had the forethought to describe an evolutionary mechanism prior to the development of genetic theory and molecular inheritance. To honor this remarkable idea, I offer you a photo essay juxtaposed with the closing paragraph from “On the Origin of Species.”

“It is interesting to contemplate an entangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on bushes, with various insects flitting about and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent on each other in so complex a manner have all been produced by laws acting around us. These laws, taken in the largest sense, being Growth with Reproduction; Inheritance which is almost implied by reproduction; Variability from the indirect and direct action of the external conditions of life, and from use and disuse;  a Ratio of Increase so high as to lead to a Struggle for Life, and as a consequence to Natural Selection, entailing Divergence of Character and the Extinction of less-improved forms. 

Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed laws of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved.”  Charles Darwin, November 24, 1859.

©2000-2010 / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Fall is Over

It is November in Minnesota. 
With the loss of fall color, I have become a pattern seeker. These are challenging months for my type of photography. Spring and early fall are a cornucopia of color and life; the period between often seems stark and dead.

While I love the rich colors of spring and early fall, November forces me to be a better photographer. I now must focus on the little details, contrasting themes, and directional light.

Whenever possible I search for color in the ambient light with the hope that I can soften the stark pre-wintery landscape. Barren trees are a favorite winter theme especially when I can place them against a pastel sky.  November challenges me, but it also offers me the opportunity to see familiar things in novel ways.

©2000-2010 / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Filtered Fall

Bayfield is a tiny port town on the south shore of Lake Superior. Located about three hours east of our home in Minnesota, it is a wonderful weekend getaway. Much like many tourist towns in the Midwest, Bayfield closes its doors when the weather gets cold and the tourists head south. We quickly discovered that our trip was the “final weekend.” Neon posters with claims of fifty-percent discounts or modified menus were plastered to store windows, and crowd-free streets made for a peaceful calm throughout the town.

We spent our evenings in a bed & breakfast near the salmon and trout hatchery just east of downtown Bayfield. The Artesian House is an “A” frame style home situated on twenty-five acres of north woods. Al, the owner and “innkeeper,” purchased the former apple orchard and has nurtured the restoration of his land. The Artesian House proudly boasts a “Wisconsin Travel-Green Seal,” and the B&B relies on solar panels for heat and an artesian spring for water. Needless to say, it is a lovely spot to capture a bit of fall.

Unfortunately, the bad weather continues follow us like a dirt-cloud on Pigpen, and our trip to Bayfield did not break the trend. Rather than give in to the cold and precipitation, I tried to make the most of the light and fall color. I knew that grand scenes and brilliant color was not in the cards on this weekend. As such, I shot with my black & white eyes knowing that a bit of filtration would build up the contrast and accentuate the patterns. In the end, our filtered fall made for some decent photography, good eating and a peaceful break from work.

©2000-2010 / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Going, Going, Gone!

It was fall yesterday and now it’s winter. The snow wouldn’t be a surprise on a January morning, but it’s October 11th. Fall is our fleeting opportunity to absorb nature’s technicolor, and the photography community waits with baited breath for the big show. This year the show was a “B-Movie...,” bizarre, entertaining, and disappointing. A cool dry summer was followed by a hot dry September. When the rains finally came, they were followed by high winds and a frosty cold snap. As summer waned, the moderate temperatures of fall were brief and so was the “show.”
Rather than dwell on what could be, I offer you a chance to glimpse at what is. The cottonwood pictured above is one of my favorite subjects. This venerable old tree has the character of a wizened face. The wrinkled bark with deep invaginations unveil the scars of winter while its leafless asymmetric limbs suggest a better past. I love this tree and I love to watch it change with the seasons. 

In contrast, the images below reveal fall in all its glory. To make these images, I looked for patterns of shape, texture and color. These leaves are the show, they reveal the potential of a camera on a fall day. 

©2000-2010 / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission

Sunday, October 4, 2009

The Great Transition

We have just entered the great transition. 

Having grown up in Manhattan, I know and understand winter. New York City has winter. January streets are dreary and gray and yellow cabs streaked with dirt soak pedestrians with the ubiquitous slush of water, drainage and dog shit. I loved winter in New York. I still remember standing over steamy manholes while chewing on a warm vendor pretzel. 

Having left “the City” for SoCal during my teenage years, I learned to forget seasonal transitions. We traded in the mixed precipitation and windy streets for sunny days, comfortable nights, and climactic stability. Snow was that stuff in Big Bear and Arrowhead... it was in the mountains, if you could see through the smog. To the denizens of SoCal a seasonal transition was an excuse to buy a new car. 

Today Tamy and I live in Minnesota... 
I thought I knew winter, but that was just a lie. On September 25th the temperature kissed 80 degrees, ten days later we struggle to hit 45. The cold is on its way and the landscape is beginning to change. We have entered the great transition. Fall in Minnesota is beautiful and painfully brief. Leaves begin to change in September and their delicate petioles cling to caring branches as relentless winds howl from the North. The locals who seem to trace their ancestry back to the dawn of humanity embrace the cold and treat it like a friend. It is no friend to us. We shiver and whine as the temperature dips... fall foreshadows and pain will follow.

As green is replaced by orange I try to capture one last moment of sanity. Our photographs are a record of what could be, and they are a reminder of better times. We are in the great transition and I’m afraid to sleep... winter may arrive tomorrow.

©2000-2010 / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Gallery at the Daily Grind

On Saturday September 12, Tamy and I hosted a display of images from our travels to Tanzania. While I realize that a 14 day safari doesn’t a gallery make, our limited days in Tanzania resulted in more unique photographic opportunities than our twelve weeks of travel to Costa Rica. During our trip to Tanzania, we spent nearly one hundred hours pursuing unique destinations, wildlife and landscapes. Africa was a transformative experience for us, and we felt the need to share it with others. 

We hung a total of twenty images on the “Grind’s” gallery wall and displayed twenty unframed pics throughout the coffee shop. This was also an opportunity to share our self-published book “Jambo Tanzania,” which can be purchased here from Blurb books. This book includes more than 80 photographs, discussions about ecology, and stories about our travels to Africa. 

So why do it?... 
We don’t make a living taking pictures... as a matter of fact, we make a living so that we can take pictures. With over 100,000 images saved to hard-drives and another 30,000 slides in storage, what are we to do with it all? 
Photography is about sharing one’s vision and experiences. While some photographers strive to share their work via published media, others prefer the intimacy of a gallery. I love the gallery format! Galleries allow us to interact with others, tell stories, and experience our work from another’s perspective.

During our brief two hour opening, we shared Tanzania with more than fifty people. We waxed poetic about elephants mudding at watering holes, aggressive lions, and the safari experience. It was a lot of effort to make our gallery happen, but it was worth all of the time and energy we invested. 

“Jambo Tanzania” will be on display at the Daily Grind Coffee House in Stillwater, MN through the month of September. See our work there, enjoy a latte and go on Safari.

©2000-2010 / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Be a Tourist Near Home

I’m always surprised by the photographic potential that exists within 5 miles of my home. While I enjoy a good road trip and air travel to exotic locations, there is nothing like the familiarity of “home base.” When I have nowhere to go, I take advantage of this familiarity, and focus on the essence of photography:  light, subject, and composition.

©2000-2010 / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission

Friday, September 4, 2009

The "A: Job

It’s the end of summer and the “A” job is about to begin once again. 
I consider myself to be one of the lucky ones. My work is fulfilling because I can study and talk about my passion every day. And although I am getting older, my clients keep me young. There is little doubt that teaching high school biology is a challenging way to making a living, but it is also a great way to inspire others to think about their place in the natural world. Teaching is my crusade against ignorance and waste.

While I love my work, I mourn the loss of my time. My summers are about my family and my photography, while the other ten months are about teaching. To compensate for this loss of creative freedom, I fall into the “weekend warrior” mode. Each Saturday and Sunday I wake up early, throw on my ragged outdoor clothes, and search for inspiration. While this may not be as exciting as traveling to Africa, Costa Rica, or the Great Plains, weekend shooting grounds me. This type of photography breaks up the routine of the work week and allows me to make peace with myself. There is no doubt that come December I will long for an endless summer, but until that time, I will search for inspiration where it can be found and enjoy my two passions...

©2000-2010 / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Project 350: Wake up - The Climate is Changing!

Last Wednesday I had the opportunity to participate in a global climate workshop for educators and concerned citizens. The keynote speakers for our mini climate institute included polar explorer Will Steger (from the Will Steger foundation) and author/educator/environmental activist Bill McKibben. The focus, as you might surmise, was on the patterns and evidence for wide-scale climatic change. 

From my perspective and that of countless climatologist, ecologists, and geologists, this planet is undergoing anthropogenic induced climate change. The expansion of the human population and industrial development is now releasing CO2 (Carbon Dioxide) and CH4 (Methane) in concentrations that are having a real impact on climate stability and predictability. These greenhouse gasses re-radiate infrared radiation back to the earth’s surface. The redirection of these long IR rays, that would have otherwise escaped into space, are causing the climate instability that our planet is now experiencing. If you would like to “bone-up” on your understanding of climate science and climate change please visit the following links: The International Panel on Climate Change Change.

My point for this blog is to introduce you to Project 350. The number 350 is the critical threshold for atmospheric carbon dioxide. Current climate research now suggests that climate instability (aka: Global Warming) occurs when CO2concentrations exceed 350 ppm. Currently, the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide stands at 387 ppm. That’s right, we have crossed the critical threshold. By burning fossil fuels, humans liberate excess carbon dioxide that was once sequestered into the earth. The rate of combustion is greater than the planet’s capacity to deposit excess carbon into the ocean or plants to fix the carbon into new tissue through photosynthesis.

It’s not too late to impact a real change! Project 350 is an awareness thing. It’s about taking action, making changes, and influencing the future in a positive way. Visit the site (, tell a friend, get politically active, and make real changes in the way you consume.

What happens if we don’t change our behaviors?... we may lose more than you imagine...

©2000-2010 / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission

Monday, August 17, 2009

Badlands National Park 2009: Wildlife Landscapes

My favorite genre of nature photography is the wildlife landscape. When I look at nature images by modern masters like Jim Brandenburg, Frans Lanting, John Shaw, and Art Wolfe, it is their wildlife landscapes that I find most compelling. Wildlife that is artistically framed by it’s surroundings conveys two essential messages to the viewer. The first message is about basic biology and the second is about conservation. 

In biology we use the term niche to describe an organism’s role in its environment. This role includes food, predators, spacial requisites, temporal characteristics, and reproductive needs. These five niche characteristics are a small subset of the thousands of traits that could be used to describe the needs for any organism’s survival. As such, the definition of a niche might best be framed as an “n-dimensional space.” Here “n” represents all of the variables that can influence the way a given organism lives in its environment. Life adapts to where it lives through countless generations. In each generation, those that are best adapted to their environment survive to reproduce, while poorly adapted individuals die or produce fewer offspring. Through this process, living organisms increase the way they “fit” into their environment.

In the current age of technological change and human expansion, the biology of non-human life is in conflict with our egocentric needs and desires. Here lies the importance of conservation. If we value non-human life, then we must also value the space where these plants and animals live. It is through the conservation of habitat that the complexity of each niche can be preserved.

Wildlife landscapes carry a message and tell a story. They expose the beauty of wild spaces, and reveal the key requisite to sustain the biodiversity. The best wildlife landscapes educate us about biology and communicate the need for conservation.

©2000-2010 / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission

Monday, July 27, 2009

Badlands National Park 2009: The Past

Tamy and I recently completed our annual pilgrimage to Badlands National Park in Western South Dakota. This year we visited the park with Tamy’s sister and my nine year old niece. While a family trip may not sound conducive to photography, nothing could be further from the truth. We are all repulsed by the consumerism that grips our every waking moment and revel in the opportunity to slow down, breathe clean air, and ponder what once was. I am very fortunate to have a patient family that supports my need to hike in the woods, stare into emptiness, and make art.

Tamy and I have visited the Badlands nearly every year since 2000. Although I curse the monotonous drive and swear that I will never do it again, I’m sure that I will contemplate the ten hour trek from Minneapolis into the great plains for “just one last time,” in 2010. There is something captivating about the Badlands for me. 

This national park is not iconic... there are no geysers, famous peaks, or permanent riverine canyons. Furthermore, the wildlife, while omnipresent, is not as diverse as the game that can be found in Yellowstone, Glacier, or Denali. Nonetheless, the Badlands holds a mystery for me. The park tells a vivid story about our planet’s ancient past. Buried deep within the crumbling mountains are rich fossil beds that reveal the details about a prehistoric inland sea. There was a time when reptilian “sea-serpents” swam throughout an ocean that once swelled across our continent. These whale-like reptiles left reminders of their dominance in the form of petrified remains that are unearthed each day. As the sea retreated, it was replaced by a dense sub-tropical marshland that was the site of a great mammalian diversification. Thirty-five million years ago, this vast landscape was home to the saber-toothed cat (Haplophoneus) , hyenadon, giant omnivorous pigs (Archaeotherium), two-horned rhinoceros (Subhyracodon), and prehistoric three-toed horse (Mesohippus). When you hike or drive through the canyons of this park, you can see yourself moving through time. 

But there is more to this barren landscape than prehistory. Badlands National Park also tells a story about biologically modern humans, their survival, and their destruction.  This was indigenous land, a place where the first Americans lived, hunted, and survived. The Badlands was a place for the great herds, “a Serengeti for the North.” It remained this way until Europeans tried to tame the land; their failure is why the park exists today.

More than ever, the Badlands has endeared itself to me. This park with it’s striking landscape and big blue skies, hidden stories of what once was, and elusive big game holds a mystery for me that I just need to resolve. 

©2000-2010 / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission