Friday Photos from 2014 

12.19.2014. I love shots of birds on top of mammals. Notice the two oxpeckers on the white rhino ... one inside a nostril and one on the side of his face. This is one of the first white rhinos I ever saw in the wild, which was in South Africa ... so amazing to see so close. This guy is getting a lot of exposure here ... I did actually post him once already way back in my South Africa trip (the trip that started this blog, incidentally). And he's getting included again in an upcoming post to support #JustOneRhino. But I'm really feeling friendly toward this fella and am letting him take the spotlight for this week's Friday Photo as well. Since his first appearance on SKJ Travel, though, I've gotten some imaging software (a few months ago). And he's one of the first pics that I went back and re-processed with the new software, which is really good at selecting shadowed areas and lightening them, something I couldn't do very adeptly otherwise. It's so cool! So I think his portrait has improved since his first appearance here. Originally you couldn't pick out much detail on the left side of his face without completely blowing out the right side with too much white/gray. He's a bit more balanced now. Stunning creature. But while his individual portrait may have improved, his chances for survival have plummeted with the crisis in rhino poaching in South Africa. Yes, we must end on a sad note ... it's really the only note there is for rhinos in South Africa right now.   

White rhino with oxpeckers, one in his nostril. Hluhluwe-iMfolozi NP, South Africa.


Meow. Cheetahs are my favorite of the African large cats. I just love the black stripes on their faces coming from their black-ringed, blazing orange eyes. And I feel a kindred spirit for them because of their speed (I love experiencing speed!), and baby cheetahs are just something else in their cuteness ... little fuzz balls. They are also relatively gentle in their demeanor toward people, are often the closest and friendliest cats that people see on safaris. One of my favorite nature show scenes of all time is from Big Cat Diaries when a cheetah jumps on the roof of Jonathon Scott's vehicle, squats over the open sun roof and takes a poop into the car. You can right-click on this fella to see the pic a bit bigger. Namibia. 

Cheetah at Dusternbrook game farm outside Windhoek, Namibia.


11.28.2014. It's kind of intimidating when a bataleur eagle suddenly looks right at you! Scrolling through my pictures, I have a bunch of him in profile, standing in the road, and then suddenly this one pops onto the screen, it almost made me jump back a little. Etosha National Park, Namiba.

Bataleur eagle staring intensely at me. Etosha National Park, Namibia.


11.21.2014. Portrait of a woman at the Ju/'Hoansi-San Living Museum in Namibia. What I love best about this particular woman is her hands. These super friendly people of the San bushmen preserve and share their tribal traditions for tourists. Usually I think of a living museum as something more like the Colonial Williamsburg complex in Virginia, demonstrating ways of life that are far removed from us in history and completely impractical in contemporary Williamsburg. The San people, though, are on the cusp where their traditions are still relevant to some of their current lives. Some bushmen, of course, have moved to urban centers, but their incredibly ancient ways of survival and culture aren't yet relegated to tomes of history. They're still used and useful in pockets of Namibia and adjacent countries. The majority of the existing San population lives in Botswana, and they're embroiled in legal battles with diamond companies to maintain (actually, regain) unrestricted access to their ancestral lands. Anyway, those associated with the Ju/'Hoansi-San "museum" collect revenue from tourists, and it's really a special experience to spend some time with them. They are incredibly warm and welcoming people. My next blog post about Namibia will be all about my experience with them. 

San woman from the Ju/'Hoansi-San Living Museum, Namibia.


11.14.2014. From Dang Jia Shan village in China. This morning I was out in the blowing snow putting the garbage can out at the end of the driveway and thinking about how all the stairs need to be shoveled ... there are a lot at my house. Chores. Coming back inside, I realized I hadn't thought about a post for today's Friday Photo. But now I had chores on my mind, so the first place I looked was my store of photos from the peasant village, where every day begins at dawn with a set of chores I can hardly fathom. (for example, some of the ones outlined in my essay, The Earthen Heart) I've always liked this capture. I like the donkey and his cart of grass, and I like that the villagers always stopped to talk with us when we asked to take their picture. The vast majority of my people pics from the village show folks purposefully posing and smiling because Anrong always encouraged this ... and that's fine -- some great smiles in those photos -- but I also like the occasional more casual capture, as in this fellow mid-sentence. 

Villager in Dang Jiashan village, Shaanxi Province, China, leading his donkey home with a cart full of grass.


11.07.2014. This photo comes from a grotto at Villa D'Este in Tivoli, Italy. An amazing villa with over 500 water "features" ... fountains, pools, etc. Mostly fountains. It's a UNESCO World Heritage site and well worth a day trip from Rome. (you can read a little ditty I wrote about it for Unesco Geek if you like) I never understand what makes people like one photo over another, it often doesn't make sense to me. I guess it's the simple adage beauty is in the eye of the beholder. A lot of times my favorite ones seem to appeal primarily only to me. And on the flip side, ones that I imagine will receive a lukewarm reception are sometimes very well liked. Always a mystery. I guess that's part of what makes photography interesting (at least to an amateur who isn't trying to make a living!) Anyway, I like this one, but it's not a full-on favorite or anything. But for whatever reason, a lot of other people have taken a special liking to it. Perhaps more to this photo than any other I've displayed if I am to judge by comments spoken to me. Maybe some of you will like it, too. :)

Fountain in a grotto with calla lilies at Villa D'Este, Tivoli, Italy.


10.31.2014. Not too much to elaborate upon with this photo. Taken in Sienna, Italy. I just like the whimsicality of it ... pigeons drinking from a fountain. Somehow the one waiting in line to drink looks very impatient, like, "Come on, come on already!" If you've ever seen the cartoon, Animaniacs, I can't help but think of the little gang of Mafia pigeons. 

Pigeons drinking from a fountain in Sienna, Italy.


I like this photo for the back-lighting ... somehow the yellow dust at the elephant's feet and behind him is enchanting to me. The sunset light in Etosha NP, Namibia, was amazing. Photographers often call that time of day "the golden hour" because the low, angled lighting enhances the subject, but the hue and intensity of the gold in Etosha was something special. And one evening it was pink rather than gold. I like that the sunlit dust is like a halo on the ground around the elephant ... the rocks otherwise are gray/white, even kind of bluish. And then this almost ethereal halo around one of nature's most phenomenal creatures. 

Elephant approaching waterhole at sunset, Etosha National Park, Namibia.


10.17.2014. Somehow this photo seems to suggest a story. I don't know exactly what that story is ... maybe it's more accurate to say this photo sparks a lot of questions. A bicycle abandoned on a neighborhood roadside through the ghost town of Gilman, Colorado. Who rode it? Where did they ride it to and from? What adventures did they have on it? How many times did they crash it (surely at least once)? The golden autumn leaves littering the ground around the rusted bicycle seem to add some sort of wistfulness to the pondering of its former owner. And somehow the bike seems lonelier among the pile of leaves than on a barren roadside. I just find this image somehow poetic.

Old bicycle abandoned in the ghost town of Gilman, Colorado. Golden autumn leaves litter the ground.


10.10.2014. Here's another texture photo. From Gilman. I imagine I have some photographer to thank for the nice positioning of that rusted can on that bench, and his/her photo is probably better than mine ... nonetheless, I like the bi-color starkness of the picture and the texture of the peeling paint, which is different between the bench and the wall, coming off in splinters on the bench and big globs on the wall. Plus I always like the texture of rust. 

Rusting can on bright green bench. Gilman, Colorado.


10.03.2014. There are a couple reasons why I like this one. One is the fact it's a product of patience and determination. Erik has always expressed admiration for how dogged I was to get a decent photo of this butterfly on this flower bush. I followed it flitting around for ages until it stayed still in one place long enough for me to get my camera close enough to it to use the macro focus. I wasn't sure at the time whether he was bemused or annoyed as he sat on the park bench around the Back Lakes in Beijing, China, while I chased this silly butterfly. Secondly, I like the obvious simple title, "A Butterfly in China ..." I like it because the ellipsis refers to the "butterfly effect" in chaos theory, a concept I'm rather enamored with. It's the iconic expression of the theoretical meteorological phenomenon wherein a butterfly flapping its wings in China could cause a tornado in, say, Turkey. No one says something this drastic has ever happened, but according to chaos theory, such a complex and dramatic cascade of consequences could actually create such an event. This makes me think carefully about everything I do everywhere I go. Who knows what seemingly innocuous thing I do in China might ripple outward until it affects me somehow half way across the world. And lastly, I just like the vibrant colors in this shot.   

Butterfly on pink bushes in a park in Beijing, China.


09.26.2014. I love giraffes and I like this shot I captured in Namibia simply because of their respective poses ... the iconic side profile and the iconic front portrait, right next to each other. Plus little critters next to bigger critters are always cute. As with all my photos from Etosha NP, the gray-blue sky comes from the smoke of a nearby brush fire. 

Giraffe pair at Etosha National Park, Namibia.


09.19.2014. I like this photo for the texture. An old, rusted keyhole in an old, splintered door. Perhaps not the most fascinating subject or framing, but the texture of life is somehow there ... which is fascinating to me -- the years, the weather, a key somewhere that locked and unlocked this door perhaps hundreds, perhaps thousands, of times. From an abandoned Berber village (a ksar) in Tunisia. 

Keyhole in a door at Old Guermessa, Tunisia.


09.12.2014. From Etosha NP in Namibia, male impala locking some horns. It was fascinating to watch them ... I saw a lot of sparring matches in Namibia (one night they came practically right through our camp!) and the maniacal look in their eye as they run toward each other, head lowered, at full speed, is so intimidating ... like bezerk Vikings. It quite amuses me. But I think mostly I chose this photo today simply because I feel just like this -- one of those impala is me and the other is Winter ... there is snow on the ground this morning and I'm quite upset over it, and wish to fight winter off and send it running away to some other neck of the woods. 

Two male impala sparring at Etosha National Park, Namibia.


09.05.2014. Today's photo comes to you from what seems like the top of the world ... the summit of Haleakala volcano on Maui, Hawaii. The views from here are akin to looking out an airplane window -- the clouds are far below you. I think the alternating layers of clouds and peaks are neat, as if the land and clouds are being shuffled together like cards. I also like the contrast of the red crater and the blue sky. (you can right click on image to open in a new tab to see at larger size)

At the summit of Haleakala volcano, Maui, Hawaii.


08.15.2014. Erik is the master of digital photo collages ... he's responsible for some truly astounding creations. I tried my hand at it once. It came out better than I expected it would when I first sat down. I wasn't trying to make a masterpiece or anything, just having fun with Photoshop ... you know, one of those days you just crank up some tunes, keep a nice cold beer on your desk and play away. But I ran across it the other day searching for something else in my China folder. It was like when a fond memory pops into your head after a long time. It was a nice memory of my second trip to China kind of summarized in this one piece, but also a nice memory just of that process of playing with a software program just for the hoots of it. Makes me want to try my hand at it again some day when I have nothing else to do. Anyway, please click on the image to see it larger, at 1200 pix wide, so you can pick out some of the detail. (in my browser, I have to click right and choose "open image in new tab" then look at it in the new tab)

Digital photo collage of sights in China.


08.08.2014. From the Dale Chihuly exhibit currently at the Denver Botanical Gardens. These days a trip to Denver feels like a big field trip to me, as I so seldom come down from my mountain in Nederland. The other day Erik and I trekked to Denver and saw this glass sculpture exhibit everyone has been raving about, where these very organic blown glass forms are placed throughout the gardens. I don't know that there is anything to point out about the photographs themselves that I like, simply the amazing display itself. In the first photo, the glass forms are like graceful birds in the water, and I loved all the water lilies on the ponds. The second one has such a whimsical nature, like something out of a Dr. Seuss book.

Chihuly glass sculptures in a pond at the Denver Botanical Gardens.Whimsical Chihuly glass sculptures in the Denver Botanical Gardens.


07.25.2014. A young Himba woman in Namibia. I had permission to take a number of photos of this family. Many of the women were far more elaborately dressed than she; I kind of like her relative simplicity. But I think what really draws me to this photo personally is that it makes me wonder what she is thinking about -- a universal thought that all young women might have? or a thought capable of being formed only from inside her culture? 

Young Himba woman, Namibia.


07.18.2014. Today is Mandela Day, a day for honoring Nelson Mandela and his life's work by pledging acts --big, large, small, or tiny -- that will change the world for the better. I was perusing some Mandela quotes last night. There are many worthy phrases and ideas that fell from his lips. But one of them struck me ... it's nothing dramatic about fighting injustice or changing the world, not to do with struggles nor commentaries on society. A very simple sentence that really hit home because yesterday I was out in the forest behind my house ... I was searching for a fawn but I never found him. But I had my camera with me (in case I did see him), and when I came into a field of wild blue columbine flowers, I had to stop and take some pictures. Even though I have hundreds of photos of columbines, I continue to photograph them every year. I think I must have already gotten them from every angle and light, yet every year I go photograph more. Every year come columbine season, I'm a different person. A whole year's worth of experiences, insights, successes, failures, joys, trials, thoughts, stuff I've learned or read ... a whole new layer of me is now holding the camera. The quote is this: "There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered." In the past I know I've taken pictures of the columbines in this same field in the forest behind my house because I wanted to produce a pretty picture, I wanted something I could maybe print and frame or make a card from ... something to show other people. Last night I had my camera with me for a different reason, but when I came to the flowers, I photographed them because if I didn't, it would be like walking past a fountain of dark chocolate and not dipping my finger in it for a taste, even though I've eaten pounds of dark chocolate already in my life. I think a couple of the photos turned out nicely, so I'm sharing them with you today even though their purpose inside my camera wasn't originally conceived as one to do with sharing. But with them, I acknowledge that the field of wildflowers remains the same each year, but I come as a very different photographer each time. 

Colorado blue columbine. Nederland, ColoradoColorado blue columbine. Nederland, Colorado


07.11.2014. Member of the San tribe in Namibia showing us how to start a fire the really old-fashioned way, using friction created with a hand drill. He has just created a spark in the middle of this pile of kindling and he is now blowing gently on it to coax it into flame. What I like about the photo is the way the smoke curls down over his fingers and billows up behind. The lighting could have been better for it. I have one that's really trippy with the smoke but sadly the man is out of focus in it. But I still like this one for the sense of motion and ancient creation that I feel from it. The San tribe are also known as the "bushmen." The San is the tribe portrayed in the classic movie, "The Gods Must Be Crazy." 

Man of the San bushmen tribe blowing smoldering kindling into a fire. Namibia.


07.04.2014. It's the 4th of July in America -- my second-favorite holiday, which I love because of the fireworks. But I'm posting pics of Namibia. :) However, in honor of our holiday, the first photo was chosen for its 4th-of-July theme colors of red, white and blue. This is the "dead vlei" in Sossusvlei, Namibia -- an area of desert so dry that the trees that once lived here, in days of wetter climate, died and couldn't even decompose in such dryness as currently exists. So they are hundreds of years old, still standing strong and straight in death. The colors weren't manipulated, by the way; with a polarizer on the camera lens, the sky was really that blue, and the sand dunes were really that red. In the early morning light, they appear even redder. The white earth is a deposit of clay. I can't help myself from posting the second photo as well, as it looks like this elephant is dancing in celebration. Being a summer holiday, 4th of July is also a particularly good party holiday ... and this elephant looks like he's happily partying it up. Maybe doing the Hokey-Pokey ... putting his left leg in and putting his left leg out.... Taken at Etosha National Park. (you can see he has bathed himself in similarly white clay as found in the dead vlei)

Dead vlei in Sossusvlei, Namibia. Blue sky, red sand dunes and white clay pan whole centuries-old dead trees.Elephant looks like he's dancing, one foot off the ground, in Etosha NP, Namibia.


06.20.2014. OK, triple whammy ... as this is the only Friday I'm home in June. All from Namibia. (1) Leopard ... it's silly, but I just like his tongue. Thinkin' about some vittles. (2) Himba family ... I find this a very tender scene -- mother quietly nursing a newborn infant inside her small hut while an older child sits patiently beside her. I also dig the mother's necklace. And of course her elaborate hairdo rocks. (I'll explain more about the hair when I get a post up about the Himba.) (3) I think the child on the left is simply gorgeous ... her big eyes and little dimples, so poised and elegant for a child; the kid on the right is so playful, and she was always worming herself into the background, often with goofy faces, of the pictures I took of a set of children in a small village I walked through. 

Leopard in a tree, Namibia.Mother from Himba tribe nursing a newborn inside her hut. Namibia.Two Himba children posing for the camera. Namibia.


05.30.2014. The bazaar in Isfahan, Iran. We visited it every day for 4 days. Here it's empty during afternoon siesta. I love the architecture -- the succession of arches in the ceiling, the patterns of the bricks, and the colorful items on the sides. You can see here also the spots of sunlight coming in from the skylights.I think it's my favorite of the many photos I took in the bazaars throughout Iran and I think for some reason it's owing to the lack of people, even though normally people in a bazaar are appropriate!

Bazaar in Isfahan, Iran.



05.23.2014. I like lampposts. Simple as that. This one almost gets lost in the colored background, but stands out just enough. The fact that it is a completely different color from the busy-colored tile work behind it somehow appeals to me. Sort of completes the rainbow. :) Oh yeah, it's from Golestan Palace, in Tehran. (forgot to mention that earlier)

Golestan Palace. Tehran, Iran.


05.16.2014. Though I'm still in Iran in my mind and writing and photos ... still a few blog posts to put up ... I am also starting to think ahead just a wee bit, as I'm leaving in exactly two weeks for Namibia. Thoughts of elephants and all those glorious African animals are drifting into my head (I know because I dreamed about them last night). Here's one I like from Uganda. I told Erik I bought the full insurance on the camera lens I'm renting for Namibia so that even if I lose it altogether, it's covered. In case, you know, an elephant reaches its trunk into my vehicle and wrests it away from me. If that happened, truth is, I wouldn't even be upset .. the story would be too good! ha ha

Young elephant, Murchison Fall, Uganda.


 Another preview for upcoming posts from Iran. This one may surprise you a bit that it’s the interior of a Christian church in Isfahan. There is an Armenian quarter in Isfahan and this vibrantly painted church stands together with a museum about the Armenian genocide in which many fled to Iran to escape persecution by the Turks. We encountered extra crowds because the church had been closed to the public the previous two days for Easter. So now bus loads of tourists milled around us (because we were leaving Isfahan that day, it was our last chance to see it). I was pleased to fire off a shot without a bunch of heads filling the bottom of the frame … only just the crown of one; that was a pretty good feat. You can click on the photo to enlarge it a little bit. 

Armenian church in Isfahan, Iran.


04.25.2014. A place known as the red village in Iran. We saw so many sights of well-maintained architecture, the beautiful tilework and such, and also places of antiquity in rubble ruins, but I liked this place for being in the middle ... an old village in the process of decay. You can still see the evidence of its former decorative elements. Parts of this remote village are still kept up mostly for the benefit of tourists to see and there is a hotel and a restaurant, and elderly locals sell handicrafts and food, while most of the young generation has moved away. It would have been so quaint in its heyday, and it's sad to see it fall apart, but I'm happy to have glimpsed it before it might fall away completely. I think this photo adequately sparks the imagination to envision what it looked like in the past. 

Door with decorative fresco above and a balcony above it, now in decay. Red Village, Iran.


04.18.2014. More from Iran in advance of the accompanying post on Shiraz, Iran. Shiraz is a delightful city with so many beautiful sights. This is from a sweet little mosque. At the time it was the smallest we had seen but the architecture was splendid ... almost accentuated because of the smaller scale. 

Shiraz, Iran.


04.11.2014. Nothing special about this photo except it's the first I'm posting from Iran. A taste of the colors soon to come. And I do like how a solar flare dot managed to end up smack in the middle of the stairwell. 

Typical Iranian architecture in Tehran.


04.04.2014. Early spring on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada. This was taken in the Hatley Gardens. It was a colder and bleaker day than it looks like in the photo. I remember what I was wearing that day all bundled up, and it seems incongruous with the impression this photo gives of the temperature. We often use the term "warm" to describe the richness and tone of color. In processing this photo, I boosted the black levels, as the original image was very washed-out and not very colorful. As I increased the black input, color flooded into the picture, and subsequently the actual physical climate seemed warmer. It amused me to see that "warming" the colors gave a warmer impression of the actual temperature of the landscape in the photo. 

Bridge over a pond inside Hatley Gardens in early spring (late March). Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada.


 When I recently ran across this photo of Onapa from the UWEC in Uganda, I instantly fell in love with it. It just seems to me that he is on the verge of hatching some pretty profound thoughts, sitting there grasping his stick ... like maybe he's contemplating what he could do with that stick, how he could use it to one day rule the world! The world of the chimp island, anyway. I half expect him to stand up and use it like a staff; then he walks off slowly and wisely into the jungle. You can read more about Onapa, my favorite boy, HERE, or see him play with a skirt HERE.

Onapa the chimp contemplates life with his stick. Uganda.


03.21.2014. Today I'm thinking about rice. 
These are the Longji ("dragon's backbone") rice terraces outside of Yangshuo, in China. They're a pretty big tourist attraction and deservedly so; I'd recommend it to anyone. Construction of these began around 1300 AD and now cover 65 square kilometers. It's one of the most verdant landscapes I've been in, and you're surrounded by the sound of water cascading down from one terrace to another through carefully engineered troughs. So beautiful. I think I like this photo because you can see the rice plants close up in the foreground, some well-articulated terraces in the middle-ground, and the background showing the rolling topography of the hilly region. (Perhaps my photo selection today has something to do with the fact I just bought a 50-pound bag of rice at Costco. That's right, 50 pounds of rice. Because it was jasmine rice ... my favorite kind which is normally quite expensive in the grocery store.)

Mountainside full of rice terraces near Longshen County, China. Known as Longji ... the dragon's backbone.


03.14.2014. Earlier this week on one of the Twitter chats I often participate in, the theme was architecture, and one of the questions was to share an example of architecture that had an emotional impact on you. My answer was the Pilgrim's Way at Labrang in China (you can read about it HERE). But then somebody else answered that seeing the home where her parents had lived in another country was emotional. Several other people chimed in with similar notes. And it made me think back to when I sought out the farmstead where my dad grew up in Nebraska. My dad had taken me by there several times when I was younger, but we never stopped, just drove past. I only remember with any clarity one time how we went into the fields up the road and my brother thought he could just grab the mane of a random horse in the field and pull himself up on it ... didn't quite work out that way. So a couple summers ago, Erik and I followed my mom's directions (my dad has passed on) to visit there. The house had burned down, there was one wall standing. Other people had lived in it until the fire which had happened recently, so the barn and outbuildings were still in relatively good order. I've been regaled with plenty of stories about my dad and his brothers growing up and farming there, but I could never really picture them in my head -- I had no architectural context. A lot of the stories took place in or around the barn which I had no solid vision of. So when Erik and I visited it, it was like a revelation in my imagination ... so many things snapped into place into this setting. Definitely had an emotional impact. I've been thinking about that all the rest of this week, so I thought I'd just share some photos I took from there, from this humble place that held and shaped my dad who then cradled and shaped me. 

Inside the barn looking up into the hay loft on the farm where my dad grew up. Nebraska.
Door to a side room in the barn where a huge buzzard flew out and startled me and Erik. Nebraska.One wall standing of the house my dad grew up in, now burned down. Nebraska.


03.07.2014.  This is one of my favorite family photos from Dang Jia Shan village -- Mama and Papa Dang, and mama's cousin from another village on the far right. It brings me joy every time I look at it ... the expression on each of their faces is so beautiful and illustrative of their personalities. Papa, in the middle, always displayed that direct and serene smile when he spoke to us. To have their pictures taken, they always wanted to sit very proper in their little chairs, but rather than face the camera serious and dour, they invariably had a genuine smile, and here they are laughing at something Anrong said. They're sitting outside in Papa and Mama's courtyard.

Mama and Papa Dang and mama's cousin sitting in mama and papa's courtyard, Dang Jia Shan village, Shaanxi Province, China.

02.28.2014.  This has always been one of my favorite photos. How could it not be when it contains a kitty cat, bright flowers, and the color blue? Three of my most favorite things. Snapped this scruffy little feline napping on a bench along a narrow street on Hydra Island in Greece. Some of you may have seen the pic before, back when I was selling photo cards, this was one of the more popular sellers. As winter continues to embrace my home on this February 28th, I just felt the need for something a little warm and fuzzy, bright and summery, to share with you today as I imagine I'm in the warm Mediterranean rather than buried in snow drifts in Colorado.

Gray and white kitty sleeping on a blue bench with bright pink flowers. Hydra Island, Greece.

02.21.2014.  Another from Ixtapa because, besides being fascinating with iguanas in general, I really like the variety of colors in this guy's neck sack thingy, and I like the look at his tree-climbing claws danging down from the tree limb. (Also,
 my choices were limited by my computer being broken and I only have access to pics I've downloaded onto my laptop, which mostly are from Ixtapa.)

Iguana resting on a tree limb, Ixtapa, Mexico 

02.14.2014.  Much like any photo of an elephant I like simply because it's an elephant, any photo of a spoonbill bird I like simply because it's a spoonbill ... one of my favorite birds, which I have the pleasure of seeing each time I go to Ixtapa, Mexico. This year I had the joy of finding two nests of baby spoonbills. One of them I could just manage to get into my camera, having to focus through both a chain-link fence (which separates me from the crocodiles in the reserve) and through dense foliage where the spoonbills make their nests. I watched one parent feeding its babies by regurgitating its food and letting the babies reach into its mouth to eat it. You can see more spoonbills HERE from last year. 

Spoonbill bird parent feeding a chick from its mouth in its nest. Ixtapa, Mexico.

02.07.2014 This is scanned from a film photo, taken in Brazil in a fishing village outside Belem I lived in for a couple weeks to conduct some sociological research as a volunteer. The kids loved having their pictures taken and they would come by the throngs to stand solemnly in front of the lens. Though I have several of these types of pics, I like this one because the kids spent some time selecting a background for themselves, in the end choosing to stand on the corner of this crumbling building, and they fetched some fish baskets to stack up. I just thought it was interesting that of all the backdrops around them they could have picked -- for example, a lush patch of jungle, or a picturesque thatched house -- they chose this decaying hunk of cement to be immortalized in front of. (I also like the chicken minding his own business on the side.)
Children standing on a decaying cement building with fish baskets, Brazil.

01.31.2014 Happy Chinese New Year. The Chinese zodiac tells us this is the Year of the Horse. So, seemed appropriate to make this Friday's photo a horse ... one of the dear, sweet, small-stature creatures we encountered in Iceland. I got out of the car to photograph this fella and his herd at some random spot along some lonely road in Iceland. There's just something so gentle and comforting about him, and his mane is so pretty the way it's curling in the wind ... yes it was very windy. You can see more Icelandic horse pictures HERE.
Icelandic horse in winter fields, red coat and yellow mane. Iceland.

01.24.2014 This photo is from the day we sneaked into the Acropolis in Athens, Greece. Specifically, it's a photo of t
he Erechtheion, a temple on the north side of the Acropolis dedicated to Athena and Poseidon. When we were there, most of the citadel, including the Parthenon, was covered in scaffolding while stabilization efforts were underway. It was still a neat place to see, but didn't make for very compelling photos. Can't say this one is super compelling, either, but out of the handful I took, it's by far the most serene ... no other people around, no modern artifacts (scaffolds, machinery, etc.). Perhaps the story of how we found ourselves in there is worth a shout-out in an upcoming Tuesday Tale ... :) (honestly, we're not complete hooligans but we don't always play by the book, either)

Erechtheion temple at the Acropolis in Athens, Greece.

01.17.14 This photo is from the ancient Mayan city of Chichen Itza in Mexico. Erik and I took a day trip tour from where we were stationed in Cancun, but ditched the guide and romped around the ruins on our own, evading most of the stifling crowds by getting off the beaten track and finding some really cool stuff -- the stonework preserved on some of the buildings is amazing, so intricate. This isn't a great photo or anything, but what amuses me about it, is that this is only one year after we acquired a digital camera and I hadn't yet come into my own in photography, so we shared this one camera, I didn't have my own. Now that it's been almost 10 years and I've snapped thousands of photos since then, I can see my innate tendencies existed from Day 1. As I was looking through our pictures from Chichen Itza, knowing some were taken by each of us, at first I thought I wouldn't be able to know who took each photo. But it was completely clear, and Erik and I each retain the same idiosyncrasies now. Some examples: if it's a close-up of some small detail of a building or landscape it's usually mine; if it's a shot framed by a window, door, portal, etc. it's usually Erik's. If it's a kick-ass photo it's usually Erik's; if the architectural element is positioned at about a 45-degree angle across the shot, it's almost always mine, as in the photo below. For whatever reason, I'm drawn to standing at this angle when photographing a building or corridor, etc. Romp through this website enough, and you'll see what I mean!

stone Mayan building
And a bonus photo today for fun because I was so surprised to find it in the photos from this excursion, I'd completely forgotten about it ... at one point while exploring, we found a little cave down by a water hole with some resident bats. I imagine Erik took the photos as I was likely a little freaked out. I love how you can see their little feet clinging to the wall, looking almost as if they're painted onto it. We have another shot of them flying out, and one of a single bat I'll post on Facebook. They're really quite furry and cute.

three bats on a cave wall

01.10.14.  This is the Fisgard Lighthouse on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada, the first operating lighthouse in British Columbia, which shone its first light in 1860. I like its classic lighthouse look and the rustic boathouse in the foreground. But you know what? That's not really a boathouse ... in fact, it housed a searchlight that would illuminate the harbor at night should any ship approach during WWII; it was camouflaged to look like a fisherman’s hut or boathouse from far away. It's not even made of wood, as it looks ... it's cement painted to look like wood. Off to the right are the bunkers of Fort Rod Hill, a fortress built to protect this harbor from any enemy approach, operational from 1878 to 1956. The other thing I like about the photo is just the brightness of the colors ... the blue ocean and the bright red and white buildings. 
lighthouse and boathouse


Friday Photos from 2013

It took me 40 years to see the Grand Canyon, which isn't really all that far away from me. Can't say as any of my photos came out very spectacular, but they are all special to me simply for the fact of having finally seen this icon of American landscape. This is taken from the South Rim, having approached from Sedona.
grand canyon


In spite of the gobs of photos I posted of the chimpanzees at UWEC in Uganda, as far as I can tell, this little toddler's portrait didn't make it in. His goofy little face just cracks me up every time I look at it, the way he's puffing out his mouth. I'm starting to compile a gallery of some favorite chimp photos over at SKJphotography. Might have to include this fella!

chimpanzee toddler

Pretty much any photo of the Great Wall of China is interesting, but I've always been partial to this one. I hiked a stretch several hours outside Beijing that wasn't all kept up and manicured like the parts near the city. I thought this was more fascinating seeing this almost unfathomable serpentine beast of human labor and suffering crumbling into decay just like any other thing on the planet that Time gets her hands on. Notice on the left of the photo the line of wall and watch towers snaking along the mountain ridge.

watch tower on the great wall of china decaying


Another from Zion National Park in Utah. The Virgin River snaking out of the canyon at sunset.

river coming out of canyon with reflection


This is a sentimental photo from Antigua, Guatemala. My first operation of a digital camera was on my trip to Guatemala. When I fully dove into amateur photography the following year, I immediately acquired a penchant for photographing doors and locks and keyholes. This is probably my very first door shot! (Someday I think I'll make a photo gallery of doors and locks ...) I really like the stone work, and the carving on the wooden door is quite nice, which is why I took the picture. At that time I had no thought to any kind of "technical" aspect of photographing. I discovered this photo in my stash only recently and it just made me smile to realize it's the first in what would become a very long line of photos of doors and door accessories.

Wooden doo with Mayan images carved into in colored stone wall


I didn't travel very far to get this photograph (I left home about 5:00pm and was back home by 8:00), but it was an adventure nonetheless. I live in the Colorado mountains in an area with a rich (pun intended, I guess) mining heritage. Gold and silver were mined in great quantities in the 1800s and early 1900s. The area around Central City, the first capital of Colorado, has been dubbed the "richest square mile on earth," in reference to the amount of precious minerals inside the earth. Old mines and mining cabins, mills and processing equipment litter the mountains around me. We stumbled upon this cabin one day wandering the old wagon roads in our 4-Runner and I probably couldn't find my way back to it again. It seemed to me particularly picturesque with its weathered wood and rusting sheet metal, the door open in a friendly gesture, welcoming me into the past, nestled peacefully into the green trees and bushes.

Abandoned mining cabin, Russel Gulch.


Today's photo comes from Zion National Park in Utah (USA) because I just returned home from there a few days ago. While there, I learned a lot about photography from my traveling companion who is a professional photographer. Mostly we photographed the water in the Virgin River which runs through the middle of the park. This is a morning shot, capturing the golden light in the shade before the harsh sun came over the mountain peaks. My companion patiently tutored me in setting up this shot but scoffed at acquiring it for himself. Can you guess why? As an amateur, I have the luxury of not worrying about perfection and how well a photo might sell. So the little people in the background didn't deter me from capturing this lovely scene. Those people, incidentally, were other photographers ... the river was lined with photographers practically shoulder-to-shoulder each morning and evening.

River in soft golden morning light with yellow fall tree leaves.


What I love about this photo from Chemainus on Vancouver Island, Canada, is how well the real people (3) blend into the giant wall mural. And especially how totally random it was that a guy would be walking by right then carrying a glass door. It just seems like some kind of cartoon-class event should imminently transpire involving the glass door. I just find this a whimsical photo.

Wall mural with three real people.

Wall mural with three real people.


Elephant toddler with big ears. Need I say more? I included a close crop of his face and little ridged trunk. From Kruger National Park, South Africa. This trip was my first outing with a DSLR camera. The results were mixed; I got some fun shots but also a lot of blurry shots and wildly incorrectly metered ones. Take a photography lesson, you say? Oh, but that's just not my way ... then I would know what I'm doing!! And that ain't my modus operandi. heh. :-) I can't say exactly why I like this photo, but I think it has something to do with the scrubby forest in the background the ele seems to be walking out of. (it was early spring; few leaves on trees yet)

Young elephant eating a twig in the spring forest.

Young elephant eating a twig in the spring forest, close up shot of face. Photo by Shara Johnson


What this photo represents to me is patience. This was taken in the lovely Tuscan village of San Gimignano, Italy. It was highly recommended to me that I include it in my Tuscan itinerary, and justly so. How does this photo of an old well in a medieval courtyard illustrate patience? Because if you knew how long I stood with my finger poised on the shutter until no people were in the frame, you would understand! I suppose I take too many un-peopled shots, but in architecture I really mostly prefer the structure without the folks. I had about a two-second window to get this shot off after standing for probably over 10 minutes waiting for it. It's no museum quality photo, but it's the photo I wanted, and I got it.

Stone stairs around a well with coats of arms painted on the stairway corridor. photo by Shara Johnson


This little guy is from Boulder Beach outside of Cape Town, South Africa. Getting to see the penguins there was occasion to cross another thing off my "list." I'd seen television shows about the penguins in South Africa and how they sometimes take over towns, walking through the streets and golf courses and into peoples' houses. I always thought that was hilarious and would love to see penguins just toodling around. I don't know how to explain how they have so much personality, but they're the kind of critters that make you want to put words in their mouth. Anyway, this is probably my favorite penguin photo from the afternoon I spent at Boulder Beach.

Molting penguin.


Back to Dang Jia Shan village in China today to visit one of my favorite village characters ... the person I called "Old Man Xiu Xiu" because I didn't know his real name, but he was the grandfather of adorable little Xiu Xiu (who put the sticker on her head in A Simply Joy). He and his wife were generally considered the jolliest and most playful couple in the village. He always had a smile and a laugh, even when doing chores, and his pipe always dangled from his neck. Many men in this region wear white towels on their heads as he does. So my reason for liking these photos is simple ... just because I like the person! In fact, you get a bonus today with two photos of Old Man Xiu Xiu.

Old Chinese man laughing with a pipe.

Old Chinese man smiling with a pipe in his mouth.


This photo caught my eye from the medina in Tunis. What I like so much about it, is how much "stuff" is packed into the scene -- the small iconic Mediterranean blue door leaned against the wall; the old door with paint faded and peeling, the cute little windows and handles on each half of the door; the grim stone around it ... I don't know if that's faded paint or what has caused that rusty color; the colorful strips of tile work around and above the door; and then the delicate metalwork window at the top, so pretty, like a little jewel on top of the decay.

Mish mash of decaying and beautiful doors and windows in Tunis.


I imagine some people might find this one macabre, but I love old cemeteries. They're peaceful, they're beautiful, historical and documentary. This photo is from the Old Jewish Cemetery in Prague. The most unique thing about the cemetery is that when it ran out of space centuries ago, the Jewish population was unable to purchase more land for it and so they simply added layer upon layer of dirt, bodies and gravestones. Heaps and heaps of gravestones were erected millimeters away from one another, and eventually on top of one another ... it's a remarkable forest of gravestones, now many slanted or toppled, some the engraving is worn clean away, tree trunks grow around others. It's fascinating. In this shot you can see how tombstones are layered one behind the other practically touching each other, crammed up against a building in the background, the mossy tree trunk providing a counter-balance of peace. I like how the tree root snakes around the first three gravestones on the right. Take a minute to look closely at how many tombstones you can see in that small space.

Small section of the Old Jewish Cemetery with gravestones crammed into every inch of ground, a mossy tree trunk covers the rest of the ground. photo by Shara Johnson


I've posted a lot of photos from my sublime gorilla experience in Bwindi in Uganda. There are a lot in my original blog post (see here) and even more throughout the various articles I've written for other travel websites, posted on Facebook, etc. I'm just so exuberant over it. Anyway, after all those photos, I could probably pick about 4 or 5 as my favorites, and the one below is among them. I haven't posted it here on my website before until today. There is something about the look in this gorilla's face and eyes that is so peaceful and contemplative, and the way she's nestled into the foliage. As a whole, I've just really fallen in love with this particular mountain gorilla.

Contemplative mountain gorilla, Bwindi forest.


Not too much to say about this photo, actually. I just like it. Taken in a small peasant village in northern China. I don't know the woman, I just liked her wrinkled and kind face. She was sitting in front of me at a musical performance. I imagine that like the peasants I did personally know, there lies a memory of hardship behind that furrowed brow.

A sepia image of an elderly Chinese woman with a white hat, northern Shaanxi Province. Photo by Shara Johnson


This photo comes from a very small village temple in the folds of the Loess Plateau in northern China. I think what I like about this photo is the small details ... the one sunflower in bloom, the small structure in the background, the change in sky color from blue to gray, and I just like the rusty bell an awful lot, which was hit with a gong (you can see it stored above the bell) to produce a rich sound. Many people in surrounding villages came to the temple in this village because it had goddesses in the folk religion to pray to for fertility issues and for the heath of children.

Rusting bell in the small village temple near Dang Jia Shan village.


I took this photo just a few days ago at the Huntington Botanical Gardens in Los Angeles, California. The desert garden exhibit was overwhelming in its profusion of cacti and succulents. As with many of my fav photos, there's nothing technically grand, but I like that this one gives a tiny glimpse at the density and variety of prickly and succulent flora packed in together. Take a second to scrutinize it and see how many different types of desert plants ... not so astounding in say a rainforest exhibit or Asian garden, but these are all plants from the ecosystem we typically think of as sparse and barren. And the variety of plants in this photo would hardly even constitute the tip of the iceberg. If you're in the LA area, I'd recommend checking this out.

Different types of cactus plants and succulents densely arranged in the Huntington Botanical Garden desert garden exhibit, Los Angeles, California. Photo by Shara Johnson


I consider this pretty much the first half-way decent photo I ever took. It was with our first digital camera. This is Temple V in the ancient Mayan city of Tikal, Guatemala. We got up in the pre-dawn to experience sunrise among the temples. It was a misty morning and we never saw the actual sun, but it was a very magical experience, the air full of singing birds and the temples disappearing into the mist as if into the heavens. Can you spot where Erik is? Gives a little sense of scale to the pyramid.

Temple Five, a structure of large gray steps forming a rectangular-based pyramid rises into a gray mist, framed by tall green trees. Photo by Shara Johnson


This is Ksar Ezzara, one of many traditional Berber dwelling/granary compounds in Tunisia. I loved exploring these. We went to some that were in ruins, and some that had been restored, such as Ezzara. On the bottom level, we found a few doors open and men stretched out on the floor in the darkness; I think they simply used them as shady spots for an afternoon nap. What I like, I’m sure obviously enough, in this photo is the blue door, and also the different shades of plaster. The architecture is very typical for a ksar.

Traditional Berber dwelling and granary Ksar Ezzara with blue door, Tunisia. Photo by Shara Johnson


I imagine this one might not appeal to so many people … but I’ve always liked it. This was in an art museum in Brno, Czech Republic. I think it looks cool with the man illuminated as he is, so ethereal. In truth, when you walk around to the front or the other side of him, the sculpture is a bit more disturbing, with other heads and stuff protruding from him. My taste in art isn’t refined enough to find that picturesque, but this side I like – through the pillars, in the middle of the large austere space, naked and white like a humble and blessed creature reaching out in the light of creation or knowledge, or some such mighty realm. You know … artsy.

Sculpture in art museum in Brno, Czech Republic. Photo by Shara Johnson


Another villager from Dang Jia Shan. Something about this photo has always subtly appealed to me. I think it reminds me of 1800s America documentary or period photographs. For one thing, the somber expression. In truth, this little girl had probably never had a camera pointed at her, I think she was a little stiff and bewildered, but she looks so steadfastly into the eye of the camera. Meanwhile, the little kitten curled up on the chair looks up at her with a bit of admiration (naturally I like any photo with a kitten in it). The jumble of glasses, bottles and teapots on the shelf behind her, the poster on the wall ... incidental items that yet reveal so much about this girl's home in rural China that is so different from mine.

Young girl with her kitten inside her home in Dang Jiashan village, Shaanxi Province, China.


The Xianglongsi Temple (Incense Burner Temple) in Jiaxian City, Shaanxi Province, China, perched above the Yellow River. I just think it's so quaint on its precarious perch. I visited it twice. As you can see, there are several small buildings, each with a different shrine. One time the caretaker told us that someone had left offerings only at the main temple to the Buddha.  The next day at the tiniest shrine for the Land God (traditional folk religion), there was an enormous snake all coiled up inside it.  The caretaker said the Land God was mad that he didn’t get the same offerings as the Buddha.  So the caretaker put an offering in the shrine himself, and the next day the snake had gone.  So he warned all of us that if we gave anything or burned any incense in the main temple, we couldn’t forget to do so at the smaller shrine also. The Land God's shrine is the miniature white structure in the corner, jutting out onto the rock a little between the two brick walls.

Xianglongsi temple, or incense burner temple, on the banks of the Yellow River, Jiaxian City, Shaanxi Province, China.


I would like to introduce you to Mr. Happy. I used to be upset about this photo because the file got corrupted and the bottom third of the photo was cut off. But I've decided Mr. Happy's feet are immaterial to what he and this photo is about. Every morning at dawn while I lived in the village in China, a stream of villagers passed by our courtyard on their way home from their chores. Mr. Happy loved posing for photos, carrying water home from the spring. I don't know his real name, but I think Mr. Happy fits him just fine. And I love this photo of him.

Mr. Happy, as I call him, completing morning chores, carrying water home from the spring. Dang Jiashan Village, Shaanxi Province, China. photo by


I like this photo, which was taken from a helicopter over Maui, Hawaii, because it illustrates the countless wonders of nature that lie hidden and remote, that grace the glance of so few people yet exist with as much or more grandeur for it. This and other waterfalls seemed to spring spontaneously from the landscape we flew over, the thick jungle obscuring any evidence of a river. You’re flying over monotonous jungle canopy, and then, shazam! Suddenly nature whips out her silver brush and plunges it into a dark pool. Such lovely little surprises.

Waterfall as seen from a helicopter, Maui, Hawaii. photo by


This comes from Montalcino, Italy, the Sant'Antimo Abbey, where a small order of monks still practices Gregorian chanting. Visitors can listen several times a day. The abbey is small and austere, which increases the impact of the ancient songs. The photo is nothing spectacular, but I really love the tree! So tall and so straight, just like the tower of the abbey. Imagine if you could time-lapse it and watch it grow. I think someday a giant will come along and pluck it from the ground and use it as a brush to paint the sky.

Sant'Antimo Abbey, where monks chant traditional Gregorian chants 6 times a day. Montalcino, Italy. photo by


Well, to some degree my comment is simply that I never get tired of elephant photos, no matter what they look like. This one is from Uganda (Murchison Falls NP). But I think what appeals to me about this photo is just how the elephant is approaching. It always gives me a thrill to see one walking directly toward me. They are such vast and magnificent creatures, they hold such amazing potential "energy" ... they are capable of doing such a wide spectrum of things as they approach; it's exhilarating knowing they could crush you in an instant if they wished, but usually they pay little mind to you.They're complex creatures, and their approach sparks complex feelings -- in me, anyway.

An elephant approaches me in Murchison Falls National Park, Uganda.


Another photo from Prague. This building is in the old town square. The reason I like the photo is because it provides a bit of an optical illusion. If you keep looking at it, or look and then look away and then back again, your perception of the corner of the building and the "pillars" of light changes. Sometimes it looks like the building corner projects outward like a "normal" corner, and sometimes it looks concave like a niche.The strips of building lit by the floodlights similarly change between seeming to protrude and to recess.

Building lit at night in the old town square of Prague, Czech Republic. photo by


South Africa: I think I like this photo because of the color ... early spring at Hluhluwe-iMfolozi park. The landscape is primarily shades of brown, often tending toward a reddish color; the first buds of green are just emerging on the branches. And then the giraffe with similar colors but more stark. The far away hills are such a faded color, it almost looks like a fake backdrop. In truth, I like giraffes in any circumstance!

An elderly giraffe walks through the early spring bush in Hluhluwe-iMfolozi National Park, South Africa. photo by


Czech Republic: This is the Strahov Library in Prague, part of an ancient, if small, monastery complex. This was just up the street from where I lived during my time in the Prague Summer Program, and as the monks brew up some mighty fine beers ... you could find me on their grounds quite a bit. You can look at the books in the library with prearranged access ... they actually aren't solely for picturesque display.

The Strahov Library lies inside a small monastery complex in Prague, Czech Republic. photo by


Canada:  Masks at the Royal British Columbia Museum in Victoria. The museum has a very interesting collection of totem poles and ceremonial masks representing the Native cultures of British Columbia.

A traditional wooden mask in the Victoria BC national museum, Canada. photo by


Uganda:  A mushroom in the rainforest. This gelatinous-looking fellow reminded me of the little umbrellas you put in your tropical mixed drinks. Though I don't care at all for eating them, I love spying mushrooms in the forest; I think they're quite fascinating little entities.

A delicate mushroom in the rainforest floor, Budongo National Forest, Uganda. photo by


This is Ksar Ezzara, one of many traditional Berber dwelling/granary compounds in Tunisia. I loved exploring these. We went to some that were in ruins, and some that had been restored, such as Ezzara. On the bottom level, we found a few doors open and men stretched out on the floor in the darkness; I think they simply used them as shady spots for an afternoon nap. What I like, I’m sure obviously enough, in this photo is the blue door, and also the different shades of plaster. The architecture is very typical for a ksar.

Traditional Berber dwelling and granary Ksar Ezzara with blue door, Tunisia. Photo by Shara Johnson


I imagine this one might not appeal to so many people … but I’ve always liked it. This was in an art museum in Brno, Czech Republic. I think it looks cool with the man illuminated as he is, so ethereal. In truth, when you walk around to the front or the other side of him, the sculpture is a bit more disturbing, with other heads and stuff protruding from him. My taste in art isn’t refined enough to find that picturesque, but this side I like – through the pillars, in the middle of the large austere space, naked and white like a humble and blessed creature reaching out in the light of creation or knowledge, or some such mighty realm. You know … artsy.

Sculpture in art museum in Brno, Czech Republic. Photo by Shara Johnson


Another villager from Dang Jia Shan. Something about this photo has always subtly appealed to me. I think it reminds me of 1800s America documentary or period photographs. For one thing, the somber expression. In truth, this little girl had probably never had a camera pointed at her, I think she was a little stiff and bewildered, but she looks so steadfastly into the eye of the camera. Meanwhile, the little kitten curled up on the chair looks up at her with a bit of admiration (naturally I like any photo with a kitten in it). The jumble of glasses, bottles and teapots on the shelf behind her, the poster on the wall ... incidental items that yet reveal so much about this girl's home in rural China that is so different from mine.

Young girl with her kitten inside her home in Dang Jiashan village, Shaanxi Province, China.

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