After the Flood

A flood destroyed the great majority of artwork and photography that I made from the 1970s to the mid-1980s. My ex-wife belittled my photography as a waste of time and space. She put nearly everything I had done in the damp basement of our rented house in Albany, Oregon. I was unaware that she had moved my numerous boxes of slides. A sudden torrential Oregon rain caused the water table to rise about five feet filling the basement with sewage and destroying all but a few boxes of my images that sat on a high shelf. I waded through chest-high mud to retrieve them. I was so discouraged and upset by the loss that I abandoned photography for almost 19 years. I continued to take snapshots of my children.

Wading through the flood was a grossly disgusting experience. I saved about 400 slides, three-fourths of which are now on my website. About 50 of them were pictures of my first child, David, who passed away from a brain tumor when he was three years old. Only about a dozen slides from my pilgrimage were salvageable. The rest numbering about 1500 were buried in mud and lost. Following the flood, I was preoccupied with my high-pressure jobs at Intel and Microsoft for a period of 15 years. I barely had time for anything else besides work and my two children. I was their sole custodial parent beginning when they were ages eight and ten respectively.

Nine years ago, I acquired a pro-level film scanner. The scanner had built-in capability to remove small defects and scratches from film transparencies. It took anywhere between ten to 40 hours per image to restore what survived from that period. That represented about 400 images out of many thousands. The scanner can’t do anything about large gunk stuck to a slide or negative. I learned how to restore and retouch images mostly by trial and error. The effort took almost a year.I was self-taught in both photography and computers. I never took any classes in either one preferring to learn from books and simple explorations of the medium itself. When it became a necessity to learn how to restore damaged film I obtained the software and hardware tools and read books on how to use them. I scanned and rescanned many slides repeatedly until my skill level improved and I was able to make better quality scans.

I had to let go of hurt and grief in order to move forward. I began to think of every image as if it was a completely new creation. I was using new tools and no longer relying on a camera, slide copier, or darkroom. I disdain computerized effects and don’t use them. They’re too easy and look fake. When I paint digitally, I use a pressure sensitive pen tablet as nearly all artists who work with computers also do. You can make it work exactly like a real pen or brush so it feels very natural.

Because of a personal tragedy, I acquired certain skills that enabled me to perform a service. These pages are examples of what I’ve done recently: Pilgrimage to the House of the Báb, a faded and restored filmstrip, and Views of Akká, a website that presents a book of historical interest. Those web pages get 1000s of visitors.


The prizes of our society are reserved for outer, not inner, achievements. Scant are the trophies given for reconciling all the forces that compete to direct our development, although working toward such a reconciliation hour by demanding hour, day by triumphant day, year by exciting year is what underlies all growth of the personality. The proper artistic response to digital technology is to embrace it as a new window on everything that’s eternally human, and to use it with passion, wisdom, fearlessness and joy. – Ralph Lombreglia, in Atlantic Unbound

Bestow upon me a heart which, like unto glass, may be illumined with the light of Thy love, and confer upon me thoughts which may change this world into a rose garden through the outpourings of heavenly grace.
Compilation: Baha’i Prayers, p. 71

The Family of Man

The writings of the Baha’i Faith extol the oneness of humanity. What does it take for a child to understand this fundamental truth? For me, it was an exhibition of photographs.

Click to listen. To be a Baha’i

“Bahá’u’lláh taught the Oneness of humanity; that is to say, all the children of men are under the mercy of the Great God. They are the sons of one God; they are trained by God. He has placed the crown of humanity on the head of every one of the servants of God. Therefore all nations and peoples must consider themselves brethren. They are all descendants from Adam. They are the branches, leaves, flowers and fruits of One Tree. They are pearls from one shell. But the children of men are in need of education and civilization, and they require to be polished, till they become bright and shining. Man and woman both should be educated equally and equally regarded.”
‘Abdu’l-Baha, ‘Abdu’l-Baha in London

I went to the Museum of Modern Art at least once a week and sometimes more often for a period of about three years. I began visiting the museum when I was 14 and had just finished reading a life changing book that the Museum published. It was called The Family of Man.

“Hailed as the most successful exhibition of photography ever assembled, The Family of Man opened at The Museum of Modern Art, New York in January 1955. This book, the permanent embodiment of Edward Steichen’s monumental exhibition, reproduces all of the 503 images that Steichen described as ‘a mirror of the essential oneness of mankind throughout the world. Photographs made in all parts of the world, of the gamut of life from birth to death.’ A classic and inspiring work, The Family of Man has been in print for more than forty years. The New York Times once wrote that it ‘symbolizes the universality of human emotions.'”

You can see even from the brief synopsis above that discovering that book put me on an inevitable path toward the Baha’i faith. My days at the Museum represented not just inspiration and beauty; they were an escape from the emotional abuse inflicted by my parents. My ambition changed. From that point on all I wanted to be was an artist. From minutes after I opened the book onwards, I believed in the transcendent human soul.

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That was what I loved about New York. Besides the Museum of Modern Art, the only other things I loved about the city were classical concerts at Carnegie Hall, Shakespeare in Central Park, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. When I was 15 years old, I watched Shakespeare in Central Park. Just as the Macbeth witches came on stage and began their act, someone shouted out that there was a shooting star overhead. Thousands of people all looked towards the clear night sky and cheered wildly. You cannot duplicate or emulate an experience like that and you never forget it.

Illumined By Thy Streaming Lights

In the writings of the Baha’i faith we read this beautiful prayer:

Cast upon this poor and desolate creature, O my Lord, the glance of Thy wealth, and flood his heart with the beams of Thy knowledge, that he may apprehend the verities of the unseen world, and discover the mysteries of Thy heavenly realm, and perceive the signs and tokens of Thy kingdom, and behold the manifold revelations of this earthly life all set forth before the face of Him Who is the Revealer of Thine own Self.
Bahá’u’lláh, Prayers and Meditations by Bahá’u’lláh

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May they arise to serve Thee and dedicate themselves to the Kingdom of Thy divinity, and set their faces toward the realm of Thy Self-Subsistence, and spread far and wide Thy signs, and be illumined by Thy streaming lights, and unfold Thy hidden mysteries. May they guide Thy servants unto gentle waters and to the fountain of Thy mercy that welleth and leapeth in the midmost heart of the Heaven of Thy oneness.
‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá

And among His signs are His splendours, rising above the horizon of oneness, His lights streaming out from the dayspring of might, and the announcement of the Most Great Glad-Tidings by His Herald, the One, the Incomparable. Verily in this is a brilliant proof for the company of those who know.
‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá

Thus will all peoples witness the power of the Most Great Name, and every nation acknowledge the might of the Ancient Beauty, and see how He hath toppled down the walls of discord, and how surely He hath guided all the peoples of the earth to oneness; how He hath lit man’s world, and made this earth of dust to send forth streams of light.
‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá

…the Holy Manifestations of God are even as a looking-glass, burnished and without stain, which gathereth streams of light out of that Sun, and then scattereth the glory over the rest of creation. In that polished surface, the Sun with all Its majesty standeth clearly revealed.
‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá

It is daybreak, and from the rising-point of the invisible realms of God, the light of unity is dawning; and streaming and beating down from the hidden world of the Kingdom of oneness there cometh a flood of abounding grace.
‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá

O my Lord! Illumine their eyes by the light of love, and enkindle their hearts by the rays streaming from the heaven of the Supreme Concourse.
‘abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace

Strive day and night; perchance these sleeping ones may be awakened by the celestial strains of the city of melody and hear the soft, delicate music which is streaming down from the kingdom of El-Abha.
‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Divine Philosophy

Through a Scanner Brightly – Part 4

The Writings of the Baha’i faith say: “Blessed is the spot, and the house, and the place, and the city, and the heart, and the mountain, and the refuge, and the cave, and the valley, and the land, and the sea, and the island, and the meadow where mention of God hath been made, and His praise glorified. –Bahá’u’lláh

One of the images I scanned during the past four weeks was processed in a special way. I took the photograph through a deep magenta filter. Although it was 35 mm slide film I developed the film as if it were a negative. The photographer’s term for that is cross processing. Insofar as visible light is concerned magenta and green are opposites. This is a detail of the image as it looked in the preview scan.

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Similar to most of my other older images, this slide also had considerable damage in addition to fading and color degradation. The hexagons are an effect of lens flare which comes from pointing toward the light source without using a lens shade to reduce flare (it was deliberate). I configured the Vuescan program to restore fading and colors. The end result revealed colors that I had only imagined but didn’t really exist in the original photograph. This shows the first glimmerings of sunrise near Crystal Springs Lake 15 miles south of San Francisco.

Say: O friends! Drink your fill from this crystal stream that floweth through the heavenly grace of Him Who is the Lord of Names.
Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh

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This detailed section shows what looks very similar to a painter’s brush strokes. It is, in fact, an unchanged and unretouched part of the original photograph. I developed a technique for doing this in the camera, the darkroom, and sometimes with the aid of an optical slide copier that I built out of spare parts. It was in the mid-1970’s when digital image processing did not even exist.

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O thou dear one! Impoverish thyself, that thou mayest enter the high court of riches; and humble thy body, that thou mayest drink from the river of glory, and attain to the full meaning of the poems whereof thou hadst asked.

Thus it hath been made clear that these stages depend on the vision of the wayfarer. In every city he will behold a world, in every Valley reach a spring, in every meadow hear a song. But the falcon of the mystic heaven hath many a wondrous carol of the spirit in His breast, and the Persian bird keepeth in His soul many a sweet Arab melody; yet these are hidden, and hidden shall remain.
Bahá’u’lláh, The Seven Valleys

This image felt dull to me so I had almost discarded it. Its title is Angels on a Ladder of Light.

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I rescanned it last week to restore its original colors. It still needs a little work but now it’s a little closer to what I wanted to convey.

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By pure serendipity I often come home with photographs that have exactly nine things in them, birds, flowers, trees or people. It’s actually just a fortuitous accident when it happens. Here is a recent photograph I took of nine birds.

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Say: Through the ascendancy of God, the All-Knowing, the Incomparable, the Luminary of divine understanding hath, in this day, risen from behind the veil of the spirit, and the birds of every meadow are intoxicated with the wine of knowledge and exhilarated with the remembrance of the Friend. Well is it with them that discover and hasten unto Him!
Bahá’u’lláh, Tabernacle of Unity

Through a Scanner Brightly – Part 3

The Baha’i Writings say of this day:

“By the righteousness of Mine own Self! Great, immeasurably great is this Cause! Mighty, inconceivably mighty is this Day! Blessed indeed is the man that hath forsaken all things, and fastened his eyes upon Him Whose face hath shed illumination upon all who are in the heavens and all who are on the earth.”
— Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah

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Someone wrote me just yesterday: “The use of light in your pictures of birds makes me feel that I have stepped into the Abha Kingdom.”

The translation of the word Abha is The Most Glorious, or more simply the metaphysical world, the world of the soul, what many people refer to conventionally as “heaven.”

I was deeply moved and grateful for their reaction to my photographs. The entire purpose of my bird images is precisely what they stated, namely a feeling, however inadequate, of holiness that words cannot convey. The photography process itself is a meditative act for me. I often achieve a semi-detached mental state when I’m using Photoshop. The process is very abstracted because much of the time I’m only looking at a tiny portion of an image. Thus all I see at that moment are a microcosm of subtle shades and tones that are essentially formless. It’s a contemplative process that paradoxically requires both concentration and a release of concentration to whatever flows naturally and easily. That is the meditative aspect of image processing for me. Because I use a pressure sensitive cordless pen instead of a conventional mouse, my movements and actions are very natural and easy.

As an example I might be looking at something like this:

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Here’s the entire image (greatly reduced):

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Although conventional wisdom tells us to have the sun over our shoulders when we take pictures I do just the opposite of that. I let sunlight pour through the birds and aim right for the light source. Technically that’s called transillumination or more prosaically just backlighting.

It’s the song that is really important here much more than any of the images. Beauty comes from the music written and sung by Susan Lewis Wright.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dU4eUEidG8A

Of course, my signature line sums my purpose up very succinctly. It sums up the purpose every Baha’i has when they create music, images, poetry or other writing, and arts or crafts:

“Behind all these manifestations is the one radiance, which shines through all things. The function of art is to reveal this radiance through the created object.”
— Joseph Campbell

“Blessed are those who have fixed their gaze on the realm of glory and have followed the commandments of the Lord of Names. Blessed is he who in the days of God will engage in handicrafts. This is a bounty from God, for in this Most Great Dispensation it is acceptable in the sight of God for man to occupy himself in a trade which relieveth him of depending upon charity. The craft of every craftsman is regarded as worship.”
— Bahá’u’lláh, from a Tablet – translated from the Persian

“O thou servant of the One true God! In this universal dispensation man’s wondrous craftsmanship is reckoned as worship of the Resplendent Beauty. Consider what a bounty and blessing it is that craftsmanship is regarded as worship. In former times, it was believed that such skills were tantamount to ignorance, if not a misfortune, hindering man from drawing nigh unto God. Now consider how His infinite bestowals and abundant favours have changed hell-fire into blissful paradise, and a heap of dark dust into a luminous garden.

“It behoveth the craftsmen of the world at each moment to offer a thousand tokens of gratitude at the Sacred Threshold, and to exert their highest endeavour and diligently pursue their professions so that their efforts may produce that which will manifest the greatest beauty and perfection before the eyes of all men.”
Selections from the Writings of `Abdu’l-Bahá

This is part three of a series of four articles. Click to read part 1 or 2.

Through a Scanner Brightly – Part 2

The Writings of the Baha’i Faith say:
“Thankful, the birds of the spirit seek only to fly in the high heavens and to sing out their songs with wondrous art.” — ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá

Last month I began scanning many of my older photographs in addition to more than 120 images that I had not been able to successfully scan before. I scanned a total of 210 images. Most of my film scans were done between six and ten years ago. Now I have more knowledge of how to scan film, better hardware, and Vuescan, a much better scanning program than any of those that are bundled with film scanners. Six years ago the earliest versions of Vuescan were very simple and provided only the most basic settings. Now Vuescan has a very detailed and well written manual and a wealth of settings. Vuescan is very versatile and has versions that run on Windows (all versions), Linux and Macs.

This was my original scan of an image I titled Magenta Web.

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The new scan brings out the true vibrant colors of the original 35 mm slide.

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This is an example of the details that are barely visible in an image that must be greatly reduced in size for a Web page.

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My scans cover so much detail that they take approximately 20 minutes each to complete. Each one is roughly equivalent to what you might obtain if you had a 42 Megapixel digital camera. In real life, no such camera exists yet. (The human eye’s resolution is equivalent to a 576 megapixel camera.) Scan dimensions can be as wide as 5400 pixels by 8100 pixels. Individual scans can contain up to 285 MB of data each which is roughly equivalent to what 12,000 typical Web page images contain. Unfortunately that also means that they capture every bit of dust, every flaw, scratch and damage on the film. All of my film pictures were damaged (see Part 1 for details). The scanner also makes an infrared pass over the film’s surface. Physical imperfections show up as shadows on the infrared channel. That enables the combination of the scanner’s firmware and Vuescan to repair them. The scanner incorporates recovery technology licensed from Kodak. You can see some of the damage to my image, The Serene Pilgrim, below:

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This was what the old scan looked like.

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The new scan now shows the subtle colors that are really present in my original photograph. Vuescan eliminated all the damage so it required only minimal post processing in Photoshop.

Here is another example from one of my most abstract photographs. It’s an image of emotional turmoil. This was the original scan done six years ago. I never displayed it in my Web galleries because I didn’t like its colors. It was nothing like what I visualized when I took the photograph. I haven’t titled this image yet.

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This is what the image is supposed to look like. Vuescan was able to restore its badly faded colors.

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There Must be Some Light in There?

I search for quotes from the Bahá’í sacred writings that I feel will complement my images. As I wrote yesterday, “Sometimes I have a specific passage or concept from the Bahá’í writings in my mind when I go out to take photographs. More frequently the assigned titles are afterthoughts.”

A few months ago I wrote about the flood damage that destroyed 15 years of my early photographic work and left only about 400 slides that were recoverable. The rest which numbered over 1500 slides were permanently destroyed under a deep layer of silt and sewage. Some of my photos suffered more than damage; they were simply poorly exposed or uninteresting.

Photo after scanning

This image shows a detail section of one of my photographs after I scanned it. My dedicated film scanner has the ability to suppress most scratches and dust marks. It does that by performing an infrared scan of the film after scanning its three color layers. The scanner can then clearly detect dirt and scratch marks and interpolate data from surrounding areas to fill them in. The scanner cannot do anything about larger blemishes like the mildew spot shown in the upper left corner of this image. You can see two other damaged spots also.

This photograph was cross processed. That means that it was a roll of 35mm slide film that I developed as if it were a negative. I also used a green filter to enhance the effect. The negative or opposite of green is magenta, thus the developed color. I was able to invert it in Photoshop and carefully brush out the damaged portions. I also replaced the resulting greenish sky with blue. The scanned image had a caption that I had sandwiched onto it in a slide copier. The original uncaptioned image was not retrievable because of the flood. Unfortunately this one suffered some fading and had lost its original vibrancy.

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I was not attempting to create a realistic image. As always it is the color intensity that fascinates me. See My Perception of Color and the article that follows it, Flowers on the Sun.

Original scanned image

This is a scan of a lightly damaged bird image. Almost all the bird photographs that I made were at the same spot in Golden Gate Park at Mallard Lake near 25th and Lincoln Avenues. The composition was uninteresting and the red detail was difficult to bring out. Nevertheless I was unwilling to discard it.

Some basic post scan work

Simply increasing contrast and brightness doesn’t really work. That results in two-dimensional bright yellow birds and a dull picture. What I really wanted was a sense of motion and dramatic color.

Closer to a finished image

This is closer to what I visualized when I photographed the image.

Final version

“This is the day on which the Bird of Utterance hath warbled its melody upon the branches, in the name of its Lord, the God of Mercy. Blessed is the man that hath, on the wings of longing, soared towards God, the Lord of the Judgment Day.” — Bahá’u’lláh

Original scan

This image was photographed through a very dark red filter but on a brightly lit path. There was no shadow detail to recover. The slide also had some large areas of damage in different parts that the scanner could not repair. I am still working on this image.

Unfinished but improved image

“By Him Who is the Truth! I fear no tribulation in His path, nor any affliction in My love for Him. Verily God hath made adversity as a morning dew upon His green pasture, and a wick for His lamp which lighteth earth and heaven.”
— Bahá’u’lláh

A page on my website shows more examples and explains more about my visualization techniques.