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Cities of the Dead

May 30th, 2018

Cities of the Dead

When traveling I’m always on the lookout for cemeteries. Not everyone understands why, including my wife. I know I’m not alone as there are many famous paintings and photographs of these areas.

I will try and explain what fascinates me though I think fascinate is too strong a word. Nor is it morbid curiosity. I’m drawn to them for the serene setting and peacefulness that is found in them. Then there are the stories to be told if you stop and listen. Monuments, statues, markers all tell a story of lives lived, their loves, their sorrows, achievements, scandals and so much more.

In America cemeteries as we know them today did not always exist. Usually people were buried in small sections of land that a family owned or in church plots. In 1831 all that changed when in Cambridge Massachusetts the Mount Auburn Cemetery was constructed.
From that date forward how the dear departed were buried changed so that soon elaborate park like cemeteries were becoming the norm. In fact public parks didn’t exist so these large beautiful grounds with statues, memorials, plants and trees became an attractive place to be while leaving the ordinariness of city life.
In fact upon entering a cemetery you often will do so through an elaborate gated entrance that in a way symbolizes you are leaving behind the city of living with all its hustle, bustle and noise and entering a city of the dead where quiet and respect are in order.

Perhaps not as quiet as you might expect. A resurgence is taking place in today’s cemeteries. Families are gathering in them and it’s no longer unusual to see them having a picnic which is how it used to be. Some cemeteries are having concerts on their grounds.
There are groups of horticulturists that have taken it upon themselves to plant fresh flowers and maintain these sites with a Victorian flourish. In particular are the bathtub sites. So named because of their resemblance to bathtubs. Protruding outward from the base of a headstone is a planter that resembles a bathtub.

Cemeteries are remarkable places filled with the most extraordinary sculptures, ancient trees as well as plants and flowers that really do make it a "Green Space" for all to enjoy.

More photos from this shoot can be seen by clicking on the link "More Information"

Wild Ponies

May 30th, 2018

Wild Ponies

When Was The Last Time You Did Something For The First Time? Photography presents challenges and opportunities for me to do something I’ve never done before on a regular basis. Most recently the challenge was to go in search of wild ponies that inhabit the Virginia Highlands in Grayson County Virginia. The State park is located in the Jefferson National Forest.
I was on a photo shoot looking for the wild ponies in the Virginia Highlands of Grayson Highlands State Park. The day started off very nicely after the previous evenings thunderstorms. I began the upward climb on the Rhododendron Trail which was sloppy and slippery in some spots after the rain we just experienced.
A volunteer who helps maintain the trails was warning hikers to be aware of a bear in the area.
Other hikers were coming up and down. Some had spent the night in a shelter. A family of four were hiking the mile long uphill trail. The mother was reassuring her son that horses and wild ponies were not a girls activity and pointed towards me for affirmation which I did. The father was carrying his daughter in a backpack modified to do so.

The ponies are actually considered feral rather than wild because they are the descendants of what were once domesticated livestock. Not anymore as they live freely between the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area and the State Park. A warning to anyone not familiar with them. They will kick the unsuspecting, can bite and are a bit pushy if they think you have food. Please resist the temptation to feed them. It’s for their own good and yours as it’s against the rules.

In all there are about 100 ponies living in herds of between 10 and 20. I spotted a few grazing inside the scrub brush and thickets along the trail. Stayed with them for a few minutes but decided to hike up to Wilburn Ridge hoping for an unobstructed view in the grassy and rock strewn land there.

Instead I encountered a group of scouts and their leaders but no ponies. I looked around for a little bit, saw a sign pointing to the Appalachian Trail to Massie Gap. I went up a little further and was at the top of the ridge in a flat area or bald as they call it when I saw two ponies making their way towards me. Got some close up shots, thanked them and made my way back down the mountain to the parking lot and picnic area.
Almost there when I spotted this pony heading in same direction as I was. Several more ponies had found a section of fence that must have been damaged and they had made their way through. People were having their photos taken with them. Dogs paid no attention to the ponies and presented no problems. Cars were more of a problem because as they were driving along up to an area where the ponies normally can be seen, drivers and passengers were doing a double take when they spotted them on the road and down in the picnic area.

The locals who live in the area tell of a horse in the herd they call Fabio because of his long blonde mane and tail which brings to their mind the actor who was known for his good looks and locks. I didn’t see Fabio but here are photos of one of his offspring.
The long and the short of this description is that after all the hiking if I had simply waited in the picnic area, instead of ants joining me I would have had about 8 ponies to share my lunch with. Oh well the exercise did me good! This photo is of one of them as he was walking along the road I managed to catch him as he poked his face into the opening of the gate.
The park is very family friendly and offers picnic areas, camping sites, horseback riding and hiking trails. The hikes are more than just a walk but certainly not overly strenuous and offer some amazing views. The Big Pinnacle Trail in particular will give you a 360 degree view of the surrounding landscape.
Several music festivals and craft fairs are held throughout the year. Once a year the Wild Pony Roundup takes place when ponies and colts are bribed into corrals to be inspected then treat any health concerns. Excess colts are auctioned off to maintain the herd at a safe level and also to protect the land from overgrazing.
So when was the last time YOU did something for the first time?

More photos from this shoot can be seen by clicking link below...…."More Information"

She Shed He Shed

May 17th, 2018

She Shed He Shed

It Was a Case of She Shed He Shed

It all started when she said “I want to start a garden”. Then I said good idea! Little did I know that the garden would need a lot of water, a fence, mulch, seeds, and tools and of course a shed?

A shed? of course a shed to keep all the aforementioned items handy. Now as luck would have it we purchased a small lot adjacent to ours and it had a long abandoned concrete building about the size of most sheds you might buy from Home Depot, Lowes or lumber yard.
Cool you say we’re saving money already. Not so cool because of course being long abandoned it had been neglected for that long too.
Now the rusted metal roof had to be removed and hauled to a metal recycling center where I was rewarded with $9.62 for my troubles.
Meanwhile back at the Ponderosa my wife Yong had previously tilled by hand the soil then spread compost and some topsoil before adding seeds and some marigold plants that she says keeps bugs away.

Deciding to take a break and go pick up the clear corrugated panels is when our troubles really began. Checking the website of the big box store we were going to indicated they had more than enough to fulfill our needs. Yep you guessed it there was none there.
Back home we went a little discouraged and disgruntled but figured tomorrow was another day and we would pick up where we left off. This time though when Yong called same big box store in a neighboring town just further away I said ask them to physically check the inventory. Naturally she trusted the employee who said he checked and yes they had many. Off we went in a great frame of mind only to be told by several employees they didn’t have any. Finally a veteran employee of these types of encounters said that at the very bottom of the website in very small print are the words must be ordered online! So once more empty handed and chastised we returned to our home and her shed.

On the third day we set out once more for additional garden supplies. This time we stopped at Lowes and checked out the roof materials. Finding some 8 ft clear panels we decided we would buy them and cut them down to 6 ft lengths.

Now we were ready to tackle the shed. All the old framework supporting the old roof was rotted and of no use so we ripped that off and began to build a new frame. Here is where it should be noted that after many years of settling the structure was no longer level or plumb as carpenters like to say. No matter what we tried we were always going to be a little off at either one end or the other.
We managed between the two of us with only the bare necessities as far as tools and ladders were concerned to frame it and secure it so that it wouldn’t fly off in the first strong storm to come along.

All that is needed now is a fresh coat of paint, a new door and utilize the well water that is very convenient to the garden and will cut down on our water bill.

A follow up blog will be posted once those things are completed as well as the bounty we hope to reap from the soil. For now it’s a She Shed but stay tuned!

Walking In Memphis

May 6th, 2018

Walking In Memphis

Never having been to Memphis before I didn’t really know what to expect. Downtown was an easy walk to the river and the River walk was well designed for people wishing to relax and watch the sunset. Children had plenty of space to play and burn up that energy which they seem to have an abundance of.

Across from our hotel the “Sleep Inn” which was clean, kept clean by housekeeping and affordable was a park that was inviting. It seemed to be a site where many community events would take place. Trolley cars were being tested for their upcoming inaugural opening and they definitely add some charm to the area as does the Cobblestone Street they run on.. Unfortunately the day we were scheduled to leave, food trucks of all kind were setting up around the perimeter and if you read my last blog you’ll understand how disappointed I was.

Our first night we headed over to BB Kings House of Blues. We arrived before the house filled with patrons. We were able to sit, eat and listen to the music which was great. Special note, if you order the nachos be aware they were delicious however a single order was more than the 4 of us could eat especially with dinner on its way.
One person who made the evening so delightful was our waitress Tamiqa who was more than personable in fact she was downright funny and a joy to talk with.
Having just arrived from New Orleans where the music was awesome, this evening was no different and we were listening to some very fine singers and musicians.

The following day we explored the city a bit as well as the River walk again. Big Bass Pro Shop (an outdoorsman’s paradise) was on Joe’s list of sights to visit. Housed in a pyramid shaped structure which contains a waterfall, live fish ponds, hotel, restaurant, souvenir shop and everything people who enjoy the outdoors might want or need.
Afterwards we headed back to town to have lunch and found this little bit out of the way place Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken” and it very well could be!

We continued adding steps to our count and headed over to the National Civil Rights Museum the former Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated. The room and balcony where it took place has a large wreath to commemorate the date. Two cars from that period are parked outside which adds to the overall feeling. Not far from here is a wall with a mural depicting the sanitation workers who were striking for better pay and work conditions. MLK was there to support them.

There are many historic and notable buildings. One such is the Cotton Exchange Building. In its day it was where fortunes were made or lost as part of the Global cotton industry. Gothic style architecture at the corner of Front Street and Union Avenue it now is an apartment building. The floor on which trading took place is now a museum with exhibits and videos.

Also visited was Graceland for the Elvis fan in our group. Stopped at the wall where we all added our signatures.

I had done some research and had learned that an historic cemetery was less than 15 minutes away. Elmwood cemetery is on the National Register of Historic Places and once inside it’s easy to see why. Not your ordinary cemetery. Statues and gravesites that are remarkable for their ascetics as well as for the stories they tell. The most stunning among them is of “Wm Maxwell Rose”. Can be seen in my collections here in FAA

We finished our stay in Memphis with another evening at BB Kings and found ourselves in the middle of “Bike Night” on Beales Street. There was so much more to see and do that couldn’t be done in just 2 days so we will be going back to check on other sights like Mud Island River Park. A Swiss style Monorail takes you across the harbor to the park which features an amphitheater, museum with 18 galleries and much more. The following morning we headed on to Nashville. More on that in next week’s blog.
Till then keep on rambling.
Jim Cook

French Quarter Festival 2018

April 27th, 2018

French Quarter Festival 2018

French Quarter Music Festival 2018
Bourbon Street
I had been to the festival in 2017 and loved it. The music at various stages throughout the Quarter plus the food vendors lined up around the perimeter of Jackson Square filled my being with sound and smell. This first time I was on my own with the sole intent of taking photos and was amply rewarded with several photos I was proud of and one which was entered and selected into a national competition. Needless to say I made it a point to come back in 2018. I convinced my wife and 2 friends of ours to join me. This then is the story of our music journey which began in New Orleans but continued onward to Memphis TN and wound up in Nashville TN.
The 4 of us arrived in New Orleans just as a major storm was sweeping across the south. Tornadoes, torrential rain and floods were creating havoc. This day the festival had to be cancelled. The last part of our drive was a white knuckle affair and once we arrived at the hotel we decided to get something to eat until we could check in. This was groups 1st taste of New Orleans cuisine and everyone was delighted. Eventually we got settled in our rooms and decided against any further driving and called Uber to drive us to Bourbon Street.
By the time we got there the rain hadn’t stopped but forecast for the following day was going to be sunny and mild. Bourbon Street was busy and probably more so because of the festival being cancelled for the day. Rain hadn’t dampened people’s mood and the bands were playing to their audience getting everyone in the mood to sing along or get out onto the dance floor. One place we wanted to stop in was Pat O’Brien’s Bar famous for its Hurricane drink but because of the rain it was packed and so we moved along the street ducking in and out of various bars and rain puddles staying to listen for a while before going onto the next and eventually fueling ourselves with red beans and rice or po’boys!
We found one spot that kept us entertained for the rest of the evening. They kept the music going by switching lead singers and played requests from the patrons. Finally around midnight we decided to call it a night and Uber. Streets were crowded with people and Uber had to cancel trying to find us so I hailed an empty taxi which turned out to be nearly the same cost as the Uber would have been.
The Festival
Being that the day before had cancelled we were determined to get an early start. Again we called Uber and that driver got us very close to Cafe Du Monde. The line to get in and sit at a table was already over a block long so we moved to the take out line and in about 10 minutes we were able to order our chicory coffee and beignets. Beignets are square shaped pieces of dough that is fried then coated with a powdery sugar. We walked up to the Mississippi riverfront and found benches with other folks who were similarly minded and enjoyed our powdery breakfast and the expansive view of the mighty and muddy Mississippi.
Now it was time to get out and explore what the festival had to offer. Buskers were on nearly every corner. They ranged from solo musicians to duets and small bands. No one disappointed! I recognized several of these musicians from last year’s festival. As I later learned some have grown up before the eyes of festival goers for many years. Larger more established and renowned groups had stages to perform on. The music ranged from predominantly Jazz to Blues and some rock and roll and even a heavy metal band who called themselves appropriately enough “Raw Oyster Cult”.
Speaking of Oysters it was time to take a stroll through Jackson Square and find something of interest for our taste buds. The four of us split up in search of our favorite dish from the 17 or more restaurants that were selling ample samples of their menu for prices ranging from $3 to $12.00. My favorite is Tujagues Restaurant who serves up a mean Brisket of Beef with a creamy horseradish sauce.
Once again we began putting steps on our step counters and went in and out of the many shops that offered the usual tourist items for sale along with some great art work from local artists. In between were more small groups of musicians. Most will have a pail to receive tips and people who stopped to listen or like yours truly take a photo would gladly leave some dollars for the pleasure to do so. Further into the quarter is the French Market where there is great food (I know, I know!) vendors selling dresses, jewelry, masks, antiques, books, local art and a little bit of everything. Once you and your wallet or purse have reached the end of the market you will be able to cross the street and arrive at Abita Beer Garden, try the Amber you’ll be hooked for the rest of the festival.
At this point the huge building alongside of you is the New Orleans Jazz Museum at the Mint. Officially stopped operating as a branch of the U. S. Mint in 1909. The 2nd floor of the building has a remarkable display of instruments used by famous musicians from New Orleans history. Some great photos and also audio recordings. Not to be missed by music lovers especially lovers of Jazz.
After leaving the building and walking its perimeter you will come to the Popeyes Restaurant stage where there is always a great band playing. Moving ever onward you will come to a crowd favorite destination where you are greeted by the smell and sight, of platters of crawfish, sausage and corn on the cob. More food vendors are here in case crawfish is not your thing. At the end of the building is another stage which has more of an old time feel to it where people are sitting in lawn chairs and others are up dancing.
Its time now to make our way back to Jackson Square and up to the Riverwalk. Along the way we stopped at Pat O’Briens and were able to be seated in the Piano Bar. Two women took turns at the pianos and played and song requests from the audience. They were quite good and often humorous breaking the crowd up into bursts of laughter and applause. We enjoyed beer and their famous Hurricane drink before leaving and heading towards the Riverbank. The previous year I didn’t realize there was more music to be listened to here or more food to be eaten (I know, I know) This time though there was a rocking band playing and had a very large audience which we were able to weave in and out of to get closer to the action. We stayed and listened for quite awhile then retraced our steps in the direction of Jackson Square where we ran into several characters that were elaborately made up to look like statues and other characters but would make subtle movements acknowledging tips or having your photo taken with them.

Frenchmen Street
As we had been back and forth in the Quarter and the festival would be closing in a few hours we made our way over to Frenchmen Street and started our bar crawl and eventually wound up at Maison’s a favorite of mine from previous trips. Since we had pretty much had our fill of food we opted for appetizers and drinks and got a table to enjoy a band called Junction that was playing some Jazz standards. I shot my favorite photo of the trip while band was playing. If forced to make a choice between Frenchmen Street or Bourbon Street I would choose Frenchmen Street. As a friend suggested to me these are the up and coming artists who are not as well-known as their counterparts and though the atmosphere is lively it is a bit less frenetic. Bourbon Street is loud and noisy in a good way, you’ll sing along with the band and other visitors while Frenchmen Street offers a more casual listening experience. In fact you will find this is the street local residents prefer.

After The Festival
The day after the festival we took a fascinating tour of the St Louis Cemetery #1 and learned a lot from our tour guide who was very knowledgeable regarding history of the cemetery as well as of New Orleans itself. Afterwards we went into the oldest bar in New Orleans Jean Lafittes Blacksmith Shop. Originally a Blacksmith shop now a bar. Much of the original construction is still evident and is a little bit dark in areas which contributes to the overall atmosphere and probably has also figured into stories of it being haunted. Again after a few beers which across the city all seem to be $6.00 for a 12 oz draft we drove to the Jean Lafiitte National Park and Refuge we arrived near 5:00 pm and learned that is when the park closed its gates. Park Rangers said we could park on the highway and still visit so we did just that and began a mile long walk on a combination of dirt paths and wooden bridges over bayous. We spotted several alligators particularly when our footsteps on a bridge would bring them out from under it. All in all it was a wonderful way to end the day and our visit to the festival. The trip continued however onto Memphis TN and finally to Nashville. More about that in my next blog.

Favorite Subject or Subjects

March 31st, 2018

Favorite Subject or Subjects

Yesterday a neighbor asked what is my favorite subject to photograph. I quickly replied not weddings! I was hard pressed to actually say what it was. A day later and thinking on it a bit I would say that landscapes are what I'm drawn to. I am not satisfied with simply presenting it as is or documenting it. I very much want to alter it by enhancing or showing it in a way that makes the viewer stop and wonder. If using infrared as my tool I can display the scene in an entirely different light that can be ethereal, other worldly and mysterious. By no means will I restrict myself only to landscapes but will point my camera at whatever catches my eye. People, inanimate objects all will tickle my imagination and are fair game for my creativity. In fact this is sometimes where creativity intersects with imagination and becomes fun! Compositing images helps me along this path and very much allows me to make a point or commentary. Some favorite examples of his would be my photograph of Lincolns bust superimposed over Soldiers National Cemetery (Titled Freedom), another would be testament to Coal Miners (Titled When Coal Was King), one more (Titled Soliloquy) pays homage to Victor Hugo's "Les Misérables".
Later today I will be heading to Cades Cove in The Great Smoky Mountains and will be looking to capture an interesting landscape or other subject. So if you see me be sure to smile as you could be that subject!
Einstein said "Creativity is Intelligence having Fun"
Have Fun
Jim Cook


February 28th, 2018


Dreamland is that state of being that lies between the borders of surrealism and abstract. Sometimes unknown country and other times territory that is well known but altered. My art falls into this category neither belonging entirely to one or the other. It is heavily dependent on natural light and more frequently the source is infrared light. Infrared changes scenes or landscapes from real to surreal and often can invoke feelings of mystery and even desolation or apocalyptic events. Not wanting to subject my psyche to those feelings on a constant basis I lighten things up a bit by using color either through infrared methods or by using software to create painterly colorful images. Examples of this would be a photograph titled "Detritus" a B&W infrared image of a beach that has a decidedly apocalyptic mood. The other example is a cheerful and colorful image of a horse that is titled "Horse of Many Colors". Both of these are viewable in my collections.

Who Am I

January 5th, 2016

Who Am I

Some time ago I posted this image on my FB photography page and asked people to suggest titles for it. I received many ideas and was surprised at their range. Since that time I recently heard from someone who quoted my original post and then offered his own suggestion as to title and why. Here then is his letter "What I most like about this image is it's ability to render so many different opinions of it's subject or meaning. My personal feeling is that there is something that makes me feel as if it has something to do with the soul and I am trying to write something along that line to show with the photo. " That is a quote from your description above. To me it is a piece about identity. As people we are constantly growing and learning and forming our own unique identity. But I think for some (read here me) it is a struggle. We have our sense of right and wrong but so does everyone else. Sometimes they're in agreement. Sometimes they're at odds. We have expectations for ourselves. Our family, friends, and loved ones expect things from us. The same with society. And religion. Rules. Regulations. Code of conduct. Acceptance. Or not. Appropriate. Or not. Things that were taboo fifty years ago are accepted today as normal. So should I infer that what is taboo today will be accepted when I'm 80 years old? How can that be? This is a piece about the search for one's identity. This is something that I struggle with. Who am I? Who do I want to be? Where do I belong in this world? Why am I unhappy? What steps am I taking to achieve my goals? What are my goals? What are my expectations of myself? What are other's expectations of me? Do their expectations matter? Will I find love? Am I relevant? That's what this piece means to me. It's a beautiful piece. I would have titled it, "who am I."

Often in todays world brevity is the order of the day so to receive remarks that ruminate on so many subjects is out of the ordinary and very refreshing. They also cause me to ponder his thoughts and re-examine this photo. I am going to rename this image from what I chose originally to "Who Am I"