June 19, 2015

Bootprint in mud

Copyright 2015 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

One of the age-old backpacking credos is “take only photographs and leave only footprints” and, while I am not exactly sure who first coined the phrase, it is easy to remember reading about that ethic in outdoor magazines and books when first starting to backpack in the early 80s.  Here in the 21st century, there are those who strongly advocate for the “leave no trace” philosophy and argue against the leaving of footprints as well.  The concern is that the impact causes erosion and trail degradation, especially in heavily used areas.  It is also worth mentioning the aesthetic compromise brought about by numerous footprints.  Of course, one solution to that is to keep your eyes up and not look down.

Bootprints and soda bottle in mud

Copyright 2015 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

Footprints aside, a bigger problem are the other reminders of the human presence that are left behind.  The following photographs provide a bit of irony as the artifacts are those that generally would have been used to make the prints in the first place.

Lone flipflop at the base of a rock

Copyright 2015 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.


Lone sock in the mud

Copyright 2015 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.


Children's lone Spiderman shoe left behind in the grass

Copyright 2015 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

This notion of leaving a footprint has many, much larger, implications for the environment.  One of those would be the carbon footprint, which is created by the daily activities of our lifestyles. CO2 is one of the main greenhouse gases driving climate change and the current level is 403.94 ppm as described here-this reflects a continuing increase in the global level. This link provides an animated graph that demonstrates the rise of CO2 beginning 800,000 years ago, when the level was 278 ppm, until January 2014.  It is worth a watch as the movement of the graph can create an impact that simply reading numbers does not.

There are many different “carbon footprint calculators” available on the web: two of which are from The Nature Conservancy and the Environmental Protection Agency.  If interested, please click the links and read the directions as these are one way of getting an approximation of the amount of CO2 produced by individuals.  Reducing personal carbon footprints is one way of lessening the overall impact of carbon emissions, which brings us to this important point:  reducing the amount of CO2 for which each of us is responsible is one of the areas in which we have control over our environmental impact.  I often hear folks say “I am just one person, what difference can I make?”  If each person makes an effort, and then that effort is multiplied by millions, a difference can be made.  That difference starts with one person.

Having said that, it is also true the pressure needs to be brought to bear on a governmental level.  The United Nations Climate Change Conference will in Paris, France later this year-more information about that is available at the link.  Perhaps this will be the year when an enforceable agreement is reached.  That will only happen if individual countries recognize that it is the collective best interest of the planet to reduce greenhouse gases.

And that brings me to the final point.  Pope Francis recently issued a papal letter describing climate change as an humanitarian issue as the impact often falls disproportionately on the poor and least developed nations.  That is an important point.  It is also worth noting that within the United States over the past few years, the effects of climate change and sea-level rise have been felt in some of the most affluent parts of the country:  the now four-year drought in California and the impact of SuperStorm Sandy on New York are examples.

That final point?  No one is immune from the footprint of climate change.

Take care.

Update:  NPR posted this report today regarding truck CO2 emissions.


More Weather

June 16, 2015

BW photograph of three trees with storm clouds building overhead

Copyright 2015 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

Tropical Storm Bill is thrashing Texas with excessive winds and torrential rains.  Texas is one of the states that had been particularly hard hit by storms throughout a month, May 2015 that was recently proclaimed by NOAA to have been the wettest on record.  In a related note, NOAA had earlier predicted the 2015 Atlantic Hurricane Season to be “below normal“.  NOAA’s Administrator added an important clarification to that forecast when she said the following, which is excerpted from the second link above:

““A below-normal season doesn’t mean we’re off the hook. As we’ve seen before, below-normal seasons can still produce catastrophic impacts to communities,” said NOAA Administrator Kathryn Sullivan, Ph.D., referring to the 1992 season in which only seven named storms formed, yet the first was Andrew – a Category 5 Major Hurricane that devastated South Florida…”

So far in 2015, there have already been two named storms, Ana and now Bill; neither of which made landfall as hurricanes.  It is important to note, though, that while hurricanes and tropical storms garner headlines due to their relatively rare occurrence and the extreme damage wrought, May 2015 provided an ample demonstration of the cumulative effect of incessant rain.

Stepping back, the contrast between the current weather patterns in Texas and those of the past few years is quite striking.  NOAA published this report in 2012, which described the predictions regarding the risk to Texas (and the rest of the country) of increased heat due to the rise of greenhouse gases. That report also explains some of the inherent issues with computer modeling, as there are many variables that come into play when doing so.  Even with the high degree of technological sophistication that computer modeling brings, it is still difficult to make long-term predictions about the weather.

Take care.




June 13, 2015

B-17 Bomber landing

(C) Copyright 2008 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

They certainly do happen.

Many years ago, I had the opportunity to visit a collection of retired military aircraft at a museum several hours from my home.  As the forecast called for rain, and in the spirit of being prepared, I packed my Nikon Nikonos waterproof camera, which was originally designed for scuba diving, and its equally waterproof 35 mm lens.  (As an aside, the Nikonos will give you an idea of how long ago this was as that 35 mm film camera has been out of production for decades.)  That camera/lens combination would be perfect for the subject matter and the anticipated weather conditions.

Both the aircraft and the weather lived up to expectations.  However, I was not worried about the latter as the camera shrugged off the rain as it should.  The only real issue was the need to wipe the lens of raindrops.  Still, it was quite an enjoyable time as the rain kept most others away and I had the aircraft virtually to myself.  The dark grey rain clouds made for a nice background and the inclement weather made for shadow-free exposures.  I happily photographed until my allotted time ran out, packed up, and left for home.

On the drive home, though, a nagging thought began its inexorable journey from my lower conscious and made its way to the forefront of my thinking:  had I loaded film in the camera?  Not being one to multi-task while driving, I did my best to stop thinking about the camera and keep my attention on the road.  That thought, however, would not go away.  Well, did you?  Finally, I could take it no more and pulled off to the side of the road, opened the camera bag, and grabbed the Nikonos.  Nope, the rewind lever spun freely-there was no film in camera.  I had forgotten to load it.

It was a treat to have a nice walk in the cool rain and look at vintage aircraft, still…

Mistakes are inevitable and, in fact, necessary for the long-term learning of new skills-as described by Daniel Coyle in The Talent Code: Greatness Isn’t Born.  It’s Grown.  Mr. Coyle explains how analyzing mistakes, making the necessary adaptations, and then practicing new responses is critical so that one becomes “better” at a given task.  With regard to this particular mistake, I learned to load the camera the night before and to put the flattened film box in the camera bag under the camera as it would provide a visual confirmation that the camera was indeed ready to go.  I also checked again in the morning before leaving.

That particular mistake never happened again.

By the way, the photograph that opens this post is The Collings Foundation’s restored WWII-era B-17 Nine O’ Nine.  This was taken at a different airshow many years after the incident described above.  After all, I have no photographs from that trip.

Take care.






What to Photograph?

June 7, 2015

Steve McCurry, who is probably most recognized for his photograph of Sharbat Gula, answers this question toward the end of this article.  That second article is worth reading as it also speaks to Mr. McCurry’s position regarding photography in general.

That which is meaningful, of course, is open to interpretation and that interpretation resides with the photographer.  Even if working under contract, the subject matter must convey some meaning to the photographer-even if that meaning is being able to pay the bills.  A long time ago, Pat Perry, my photographic mentor, said that many photographers cycled through wedding photography as means of financing the photographic work that was truly of interest to the photographer.  Wedding photography held no appeal whatsoever and, fortunately, I had other means by which to pay my bills.

Oregon Ridge Bachelor Boarding House in winter

(C) Copyright 2007 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

Still, I foundered as a truly emotional connection to my photographs was mostly lacking.  It was exciting to make my first properly exposed photographs.  Sure, I could make nice photographs of flowers and sunsets and such, but they had no long-term resonance.  Every now and then, I would catch a glimpse of that “beyond the pretty” stirring that a meaningful photograph engenders.  The first occasion was when photographing the remnants of Oregon Ridge Town many years ago.  There was/is a historical connection to a time gone by represented by the remaining shells of the Boarding houses and Manager’s house.  People used to live and work here.  Photography keeps that era alive as the images are  the only means by which to experience that period.  Indeed, the Manager’s house at Oregon Ridge was completely razed years ago and there is no other way to know of its existence-all that is left is a patch of grass.  It is impossible to make the above photograph of one of the Bachelor Boarding houses now, as the building proper does not exist.


Bachelor Boarding house foundation in winter

Copyright 2015 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

The above photograph documents what is still standing eight years later.  Oregon Ridge is an ongoing project as each time I go there and make photographs is the last time those buildings will look that way.


Trash outside house in Lower 9 Ward three years after Katrina.

Copyright 2008 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

The second occasion came when photographing New Orleans in 2008.  I made two trips there in January and then again in December and have written several blog posts about those experiences.  The destruction in the 9th Ward and other parts of the city came to represent the stark reality of poverty and governmental hubris in the United States.   Those issues, and those images, made a profound impression on me and my photography.  Flowers and sunsets became far less meaningful.   I was teaching a travel photography course at the time and used several of the New Orleans images as teaching points.  It is not surprising that these are the kinds of images that many of the students appeared to not want to see, which was reflected in their comments.  August 29, 2015 will be the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

Plastic cup and cigarette butt discarded atop a wall between buildings

Copyright 2015 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

Trash and environmental degradation is mostly what gets my attention now as both of those speak loudly to our culture.  There is deep meaning in the simple act of tossing a cigarette butt or bottle to the ground and that meaning is it doesn’t matter.  Perhaps, more to the point, convenience and immediacy matters more.

With regard to the first meaning, yes, it does matter.  Trash greatly detracts from the aesthetic and says that we do not care about our neighborhoods and natural environment.  To the second, we truly are a throw-away culture.  That includes trash, buildings, and, most importantly, people.


Displaced persons New Orleans post Katrina 2008

(C) Copyright 2008 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

It makes sense to me that some would feel so marginalized by society that it truly does not matter what is done to the immediate environment.  After all, why should there be a buy-in to taking care of the natural and material world if, as an individual person, one feels neglected, or exploited, or worse-not thought of at all?  Being disposable is an idea that becomes magnified throughout communities and populations.  At the other end of the spectrum, some feel greatly entitled to do whatever they want as if it does not matter.  Climate change?  That longer-term issue becomes the sacrificial lamb to the shorter-term goal of power and commerce as least-developed nations and their peoples bear the larger brunt of rising seas, scorching temperatures, and unhealthy glaciers.

What to photograph?  Mr. McCurry is correct:  that which has meaning.  Everyone with a camera has to make that decision.

Take care.

After the Flood

June 3, 2015

Broken log and downed branch after Morgan Run flooding

Copyright 2015 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

This is a brief photo essay of Morgan Run a day after the flooding from the most recent storms.

Battered tree root and debris after Morgan Run flooding

Copyright 2015 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

Debris caught in tree branch after Morgan Run flooding

Copyright 2015 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

Fallen maple leaf among colourful rocks

Copyright 2015 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

Flipflop among debris from recent Morgan Run flooding

Copyright 2015 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

Flipflop among debris from recent Morgan Run flooding

Copyright 2015 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

It is interesting that the flip-flop was not swept away-perhaps the rocks and other debris deflected the water enough for it to remain.

Take care.

Too Much

June 2, 2015

Ripples in mud flats from recent flooding at Morgan Run

Copyright 2015 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

Texas and Oklahoma have been battered by nearly continuous storms since the Memorial Day weekend.  These storms have produced tremendous flooding as many rivers have over-topped their banks and have swept away trees, property, and lives.

The high water mark evidenced by debris from recent flooding at Morgan Run

Copyright 2015 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

Locally, we have had the first real thunderstorms of the season the past couple of nights, which do not even begin to compare to the tornadoes and volumes of water that have hit Texas and Oklahoma.  For example, Houston, Texas received over 11″ of rain in one day last week.  Our storms were just a glimpse of what has been happening there and yet they produced enough rain for Morgan Run to rise and flood its banks.  The above photograph is of the high water mark-this is the line of debris that demarcated the farthest encroachment of the water.

The overflow and flattened grasses from recent flooding at Morgan Run

Copyright 2015 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

Flood waters produce currents that have the force to flatten flora…

Wooden debris against a tree from recent flooding at Morgan Run

Copyright 2015 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

Wooden debris against a tree from recent flooding at Morgan Run

Copyright 2015 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

Flipflop among debris from recent Morgan Run flooding

Copyright 2015 Kevin p. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

and can sweep away branches, trees, and, if enough rain has fallen, vehicles and homes.  If there is a sturdy enough object that can withstand the pressure, a debris pile will accumulate.  As the linked report that begins this post describes, at least one house in Texas was destroyed after being removed from its foundation and carried into a bridge.  As of May 30, 28 people have died in the floods.

The home in which I grew up had the basement flood twice-it was such a disturbing experience to be atop the basement stairs and look down to see family possessions floating around.  I distinctly remember checking several times as I was afraid that the water would continue rising into the rest of the house.  In 1972, Hurricane Agnes caused the Monocacy River to flood and destroyed one of the businesses in which my aunt, uncle, grandparents, and, on occasion, myself worked-my grandmother drove me as close as possible to the then receding water to see the damage.  Those experiences during my early formative years left me with a healthy, perhaps even unhealthy, respect for the power of out-of-control water.  I routinely cross that portion of the Monocacy and, when doing so, always think back to 1972.

On the other side of the world, and at the opposite end of the weather spectrum, India has been experiencing a heat wave since April that has seen temperatures exceed 110 degrees: it has been hot enough in some areas that the asphalt roads have softened, as described in the linked report.  As of that May 26, report, 750 people had died due to the unrelenting heat.  Yesterday, June 1, NPR’s Here and Now broadcast this report, which has the death toll at approximately 2,200.  I have no personal connection to temperatures of that magnitude and duration, although I do greatly dislike the heat and humidity that has already found its way here this year.  I can only imagine what it is like in India.  In that regard, the recent thunderstorms have been welcome as the temperature is now in the lower 60s.  This is temporary.

Climate change is longer-lasting.  Please do read and/or listen to that Here and Now report as the significant theme therein is adaptation.  Given the overall warming of the planet, these kinds of weather events really can no longer be referred to as extreme as they are now much more commonplace.  Indeed, that same Here and Now episode had several stories about the drought in California and the water-rationing systems that have now become law in many counties.  Adaptation, in this context, refers to the varying means by which species have to find ways to cope with climate change.  Charles Darwin discussed the process of evolution as the method by which species habituated to their environments-the other alternative was to die off.  The climate is changing now at a pace such that species do not have the time for biological adaptation, in fact, extinction is the route many will find.  (For much more on that, please also give Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History a read.)  Ms. Kolbert’s subtitle is referring to the anthropocene era-the time in which human activities are responsible for the mass changes to the planet.  This is a term that is controversial, as is explained here. (Note:  this is a long article, but one well-worth reading as the events so briefly discussed in this paragraph are provided their much due attention.)  While the term “anthropocene” is controversial, the human-generated impact on the Earth is quite clear.

The title of this post was created with the intention of it being applicable to a wide range of meanings, many of which have been included in this particular post.  This is a time of too much flooding, too much heat, and too much related dying.  It is also true that “too much” may be used to refer to the length of this post, which along with the links, is quite a read.  Point taken.  However, climate change and its impact the resources necessary to sustain the diversity of species on this planet is arguably the most significant issue of our time.

Condolences to all who died and suffered in these most recent of weather events.

Take care.