Standing Stones


I really managed to let this project go over the top and into the weeds…

It also cost more than should have, but it seemed like a good idea at the time.

One of my neighbors had a ne’er-do-well husband who ran an excavating service. That’s code for “guy with back hoe” who digs foundations for houses, grades roads, etc. There was some kind of problem with one of the local municipalities he used to contract for, and he was out of work so I had an idea that’d keep him busy for a couple of weeks and help put some coin in his pocket.

This is one of the dolmen from near my parents’ house in the Aveyron; about a 2 mile hike over the causses. I couldn’t find a picture of me and my sister playing on it, but they exist somewhere in my mom’s books of photos.

I spent my summers in the south of France in a region that was littered with dolmen and other standing stones, and I always thought that was a pretty cool thing. And, out here, in mining country, there are lots of big rocks. So I suggested Ralph go up to the open mine in Pottersdale with me, and we could pick out some good rocks, load ’em on a flatbed, and install them in my upper hay-field. He knew some of the guys at the mine so they told me to get the hell out of the way, and I did. I’ve seen tree-trunks flip a bobcat through the air, and I know rocks are heavy, some things are best left to the experts, etc. I’m pretty sure the conversation at the pit went something like this:

Ralph: “You are not going to believe this…”

Anyhow, the next day Ralph showed up with a gigantic Komatsu backhoe on a flatbed and then one of his friends from the mine showed up with a couple little rocks. “Little,” as in: 9 or 10 feet long, 3 feet wide, 2 feet thick – about 10-15 tons apiece. Out here in mining country, they move rocks like that pretty casually. I watched from a safe distance as they dug some holes, put chains around the rocks, and nudged them in.

My standing stones, yesterday

Frost heave is a real problem out here; or it was before the global warming really started to kick in. Apparently there’s a rule of thumb that says you should have as much rock below ground as above, more or less, so my 10 foot rocks are only 5 feet high on the surface. If, long after I’m gone, someone decides to remove them, they’re going to need high explosive.

july 2011, after ‘installation’

It’s convenient because I can date satellite images of my house based on whether or not the stones are there. It seems that the satellite image-runs update every 2-3 years, they show up on all the mapping apps, now.

(google maps)

Since I’m not actually a witch or anything interesting like that, the stones generally sit out there unless someone wants a place to have a picnic. There’s a family of crows that have adopted it as their watch-tower – it’s a perfect place to sit and see everything in all directions, and to poop.

Back in 2012, I had the idea of posting a stock image using the stones but it didn’t really work out. The whole shot turned into a bit of a mess, really. My mental image was of a snow-swept landscape, with these standing stones and snow whirling around them, and there are footprints in the snow and blood, and some dude in a celtic tunic and breeks, with a bloody sword, his back to one of the stones. Sort of “a bad day at the office” viking-style. It was supposed to snow the next day so I thought I’d be ready and I had my camera rigged on the timer and tripod, other stuff staged on the porch ready to go. It turned out the weather and light were just what I envisioned. So, I set the camera on a 1 second fire cycle, costumed up, began leaking stage blood down my arm and staggering toward the stones through the snow. Right about then, the stage blood froze my hand to the hilt of my viking sword (solid steel, good thermal mass) and I couldn’t feel my feet and hands. I had my glasses off, of course, and could barely see where I was going in the general unpleasantness that was going on and all I could think was how miserable an experience this would be if it were real. It was around 5 degrees F.

self portrait, 2012

I clowned around a bit then headed back. It was snowing so hard that the bloody tracks were already drifting over, and I had to run warm water on my hand to get the sword loose.

------ divider ------

My parents left me a lot of leeway as a kid, and I used to wander great distances alone under the stars in the south of France. In the day I’d take a canteen of lemon water and a stack of books, and at night I’d take a sketchbook and walking-stick, which my imagination turned into a sword, or a wizard’s staff, or whatever else I needed. One full moon night I was up on the mesa about midway between home and the dolmen, and I decided to visit the dolmen, so I did. I’m not superstitious and I’ve always been an atheist but I got to the dolmen and was thinking about barrow-wights, and I believe I had just finished reading Alan Garner’s Weirdstone of Brisingamen for the umpteenth time – by the time I got to the dolmen I was subconsciously primed to scare the shit out of myself. I still don’t know what manner of little critter it was that was living under the dolmen that night, but when I sat down on the edge of the top rock, there was a scuttling and a little “chirrrrrrrr…..” sound from somewhere behind me. I was a runner, then, as a kid, and I was home in 15 minutes; I was parkour’ing down the vineyard walls and cutting across fences and jumping hedge-rows like there was a revenant chasing me. Stop and look behind me? No way! It was gaining on me.

Yeah, there’s also a dolmen in my yard. But that’s another story.

Comments

  1. jrkrideau says

    I hope you appreciate all the trouble you are going to be causing anthropologists a couple of thousand of years from now.

    That winter picture is great: Ranum’s last stand as the wolves close in!

  2. says

    jrkrideau@#1:
    I hope you appreciate all the trouble you are going to be causing anthropologists a couple of thousand of years from now.

    I sure hope so! In fact I have a nice bronze torc and a broken bearded axe; maybe I should bury them up there just in case.

    Glad you like the picture; the way I wanted it to come out was very different from the way it did come out, as so often happens. In this case, I should have calculated the depth of field and where I wanted the lens zoom in advance, and had a stake with a flag for the position of the tripod. I had to wing this composition very fast because snow was building up on the lens at an alarming rate. To really get this right I’d have needed a much higher shutter speed, or a second exposure with a big strobe to electrocute myself, no, to freeze the blowing snowflakes. I also should have calculated the exposure manually, but I was freezing and hurrying and got the stupids; the actual scene was way darker and stormier and more intense than this. I’m too proud to just stomp on it in photoshop, though.

  3. says

    I adore it all, every bit of it, including that photo. Christ, I’d love to raid your closet…but I couldn’t be trusted. Lately, I have found that when I’m getting profoundly down about life in ‘merica, wearing the Phrygian cap you sent is quite cheering.

  4. says

    wearing the Phrygian cap you sent is quite cheering.

    Liberte! Egalite! Fraternite!

    I really need to get off my ass and get into the studio. I have a bunch of goofy self-portraits I aim to shoot.

  5. says

    The problem with short-focal landscape scenes is: you gotta be a good director to shoot that kind of stuff and have it come out right. I think I kind of nailed the pose and everything but the scene was just too big. Someone who’s not a studio photographer, like me, should have done the camera-wrangling. There are too many moving parts for this sort of thing to turn out if you’re doing it solo. Too much detail gets lost in a small web-resolution version; but no way I could have shot motion.

    I was probably screaming “my hands! I can’t feel my hands!”

    I like to be pretty hardcore about this kind of stuff; I let my hair grow all summer and fall, because I planned to try this shot in the winter.

  6. chigau (違う) says

    As an archaeologist, I echo jrkrideau.
    And I point out that, despite what you may have heard, we are not that easy to fool.
    And I bet the wolves had their phones out and were texting pix:
    Can you believe this guy?
    .
    And I am awed by your ability to take the selfie waaaaay past 11.

  7. says

    Oooh, love that close up. Just need to crop and adjust the levels down a bit, so the streaks of snow are more visible. You definitely got them captured. I think it’s both a bad thing and a good thing we don’t live closer together. I’d love to shoot something like that! And I’m used to “oh fuck freezing!” when out and about with the camera.

  8. says

    chigau@#6:
    And I point out that, despite what you may have heard, we are not that easy to fool.

    Yeah, I’m pretty sure neutron activation could date the steel in that sword pretty tightly. (“it was forged in 1985 from a piece of steel that was used in a WWII liberty ship…”)

    And I bet the wolves had their phones out and were texting pix:
    Can you believe this guy?

    I have a family of coyote who live in the woods behind the house; I often think they are laughing at me. It sure sounds like it. When the Coyote Committee meets down by the pond, it always sounds so amazing; I wish I could sit there with them. I’d promise to be quiet and just drink tea.

    And I am awed by your ability to take the selfie waaaaay past 11.

    Oh, I’ve done way worse than this.

  9. says

    Marcus:

    I have a family of coyote who live in the woods behind the house; I often think they are laughing at me. It sure sounds like it. When the Coyote Committee meets down by the pond, it always sounds so amazing; I wish I could sit there with them.

    We have a pack camps out close by now and then. I always go out with Doll, who is half Coyote, and we sit and she sings to them, and they sing back. They have an amazingly extensive vocabulary. If a coyote is making noise, they aren’t laughing at you. A laugh is an open mouth, tongue hanging part way out, and distinctly amused expression, in the sense of “way to go, stupid.”

  10. chigau (違う) says

    the close-up with the driving snow…
    .
    that stone should grow arms and
    engulf
    TheMarcus

  11. Johnny Vector says

    The winter shot is pretty hard core. For some reason it puts me in mind of Zoe Mulford’s Nobody Knocking. I hope that wasn’t you.

    I have a shot in mind for a video for a song my band hasn’t even recorded yet, involving a crop circle. I figured with modern planar trackers I could just take an overhead shot of a corn field and add a pretty convincing crop circle in post. But now that seems like cheating because I know if you were doing it you’d go out with a board and some ropes and do it for real. Too legit for me.

  12. says

    Johnny Vector@#11:
    But now that seems like cheating because I know if you were doing it you’d go out with a board and some ropes and do it for real. Too legit for me.

    I have the advantage of having a corn field…
    But it’d really piss off the guy I let grow the corn.

    Too bad you’d have trouble getting a drone nailed up there and steady long enough to shoot a time-lapse of people actually making it. I guess if you had a lot of people and knocked it out fast… a DJI will hover for about a half hour.

    Hey, I used stage blood. So I’m a total inauthentic.

  13. says

    I have to echo previous comments that this looks awesome. And I also would love to raid your closet.

    Other than that I’d say that the composition in your photo is awkward. I’m not sure whether I can explain why it feels like a bad composition for me. Whenever people start talking about composition in artworks, it always gets reduced to something stupid like “the rule of thirds” or “the golden ratio/spiral”. I don’t think it’s possible to find “rules” for how to make a good composition, and, even if there were rules, they would be many and contradictory. This is why I just follow my gut feeling about whether a composition looks good or no. Which makes me wonder whether I can possibly explain you why this composition seems bad in my opinion.

    I suppose I should try though. Saying “in my opinion this composition doesn’t look good” is probably not helpful at all. The focal point in your photo is supposed to be the person. You are standing close to the right edge of the photo. And simultaneously you are also looking to the right. When I have a subject looking to the side, I prefer to do the exact opposite with my compositions. See https://avestra.deviantart.com/art/Autumn-Leaves-II-649426648 for example. There my subject (my mother’s dog) is looking to the right and I have composed the photo so that there is more free space in the right side and less in the left side. The crop in your 5th comment looks a lot better than the initial composition. But that makes you lose the rest of the cool rocks from the photo.

    If I wanted to improve the initial composition while keeping in the photo more than just one or two rocks, I would position you inside the stone circle, leaning against the tallest rock while looking at the rest of them.

  14. Owlmirror says

    Maybe you could add an Ogham or Runic inscription — stating the exact date the stones were placed, and their provenance from whichever mine, and so on. Why not?

    Should the dolmen be called “Ranum’s Folly“?

  15. says

    Reginald Selkirk@#15:
    Foamhenge
    There’s one out near Harper, TX. I have pictures of myself out there. It’s foam and chicken wire and parged concrete. Quite a, uh, thing.

  16. says

    Ieva Skrebele@#13:
    And I also would love to raid your closet.

    I wonder if I should start posting pictures of stuff out of my closet. I admit, there’s quite some stuff in there.

    Other than that I’d say that the composition in your photo is awkward. I’m not sure whether I can explain why it feels like a bad composition for me.

    I agree. It feels like bad composition to me, too. I’m hampered, however, by the fact that I know my compositions are mostly center-shot ‘bad’ compositions. I’ve been beaten up over and over by better photographers, but it doesn’t seem to stick.

    In this case I was trying to do something to create dead space off the right-hand side of the image, so the viewer’s mind might add the pack of wolves or nazgul or whatever’s there. Remember, this was shot to be stock – though I’ll freely admit that frequently I shot stock images as a way of not having to worry about this sort of stuff: someone else was going to come along and fix it and turn it into something good.

    If I wanted to improve the initial composition while keeping in the photo more than just one or two rocks, I would position you inside the stone circle, leaning against the tallest rock while looking at the rest of them.

    I actually wanted to do that but I didn’t want to be facing into the wind and I’m right handed and I had this sword glued to my hand with frozen stage blood. I felt like losing the sword from the image would turn it from a heroic last stand to more of a slasher flick sort of thing.

    I don’t know about you but when I’m creating an image I don’t think very deeply about this stuff (I probably should) because I start with what’s practical, then move to “does it look OK?” and then do a pass to check for errors (are there any trees growing out of people’s heads, etc) That all happens very very fast for me now, so I don’t get much thinking in before I know what I want to do.

    Usually the recommended cure for someone who does bad snapshot compositions like mine is to force them on a brief compositional diet of still lifes, then fanatically deconstruct those compositions, and do it until the artist finally starts to implicitly add compositional error checks into their process.

    My mathematician friend Andrew (who is also a photographer, and much better at composition than I am) used to point out that the “rule of thirds” is silly because you can almost always divide anything into thirds, then claim you’re following the rule.

  17. says

    Owlmirror@#14:
    Maybe you could add an Ogham or Runic inscription — stating the exact date the stones were placed, and their provenance from whichever mine, and so on. Why not?

    I really like that idea. I don’t have any skills at rock-carving or Runic. I do know people; perhaps I could have an inscription (in old Norse) that reads “Hand-wash and rinse in cold water; tumble dry.”

    They’re a particular form of limestone that is notoriously hard; it’s sand bank that got squished between layers of the carboniferous shale. One reason there are often big chunks of it lying about is because it’s apparently really hard to break. I’m not sure what I’d want to use to carve letters in the stuff: dremel kit? Angle grinder? And angle grinder seems like it would do, but ooooh that’d be messy and scary – ergo very “viking appropriate” Hmmm… car battery and inverter, check, check. I could do this. I will try to remember to do a “site survey” and see if there’s a suitable flat spot for carving and, if there is, I’ll do a small carving test with an angle grinder and see what happens. Face shield and leather/kevlar apron and welders’ gloves I think.

  18. says

    chigau@#19:
    What about acid-etching?

    It’d be tough on a vertical surface and I’m not sure how I could mask the stone. I suppose I could paint it with hot wax or something. Hm.

    I think I like the angle grinder.

  19. says

    I’m hampered, however, by the fact that I know my compositions are mostly center-shot ‘bad’ compositions. I’ve been beaten up over and over by better photographers, but it doesn’t seem to stick.

    I disagree that centered compositions are bad. When having a picture with a single model against a uniform grey background, putting the model in the center makes sense in most situations (it depends on the pose though, that’s why I say “most” rather than “all” situations). Moreover, when you look at famous paintings, a huge amount of them have centered compositions. For example, most Bouguereau’s paintings have exactly that. So center-shot compositions are not bad per se.

    When you have a picture with a single model against a complex background, then it gets trickier, and, depending on the background, a center-shot composition might no longer be a good idea. Same is true for images with multiple models.

    I actually wanted to do that but I didn’t want to be facing into the wind and I’m right handed and I had this sword glued to my hand with frozen stage blood. I felt like losing the sword from the image would turn it from a heroic last stand to more of a slasher flick sort of thing.

    Ouch. I see the problem.

    I would approach this type of shot differently. First, I would go out with my camera during a nice warm day to take photos of the rocks from multiple angles/sides to figure out the best composition for the rocks themselves. I would experiment with different angles and focal lengths to see what looks best. Then I would figure out in which spot to put the model.

    Afterwards, when the snowstorm started, I would go out already knowing where to put the tripod, in which hand to hold the sword and so on. When the weather is nice and I have plenty of time, I experiment on the spot. Otherwise it makes sense to figure out what I need to do beforehand.

    Usually the recommended cure for someone who does bad snapshot compositions like mine is to force them on a brief compositional diet of still lifes, then fanatically deconstruct those compositions, and do it until the artist finally starts to implicitly add compositional error checks into their process.

    Hell no! This is how you ensure that the would be artist reconsiders their career choice and decides to do something else. I don’t like “cures”, which involve dying of boredom. I would propose a totally different approach.

    1. When you arrive at your shooting location, before grabbing the camera, spend a minute walking around, observe your scene from different spots and angles. This should be sufficient to eliminate all the really bad compositions. Once you decide from which spot you want to take your shot, take a photo. Look at your LCD screen and think about what you see. Do you see a way how to improve this composition? Maybe you could try framing it differently or taking five steps to a side? Take multiple different photos. Then go home and see what you got on the computer screen. Which composition you like better? Why? If the location is close to your home you can go back the next day and try again, maybe you can improve upon what you got the previous day. Otherwise try again in a different location. With practice you are bound to get better.
    2. When you are at home looking at other people’s art online, pick an artist/photographer you like. Spend a while examining this artist’s images and their compositions. Why do they look good? What things this artist does and what they never do?
    3. Let’s assume you have an upcoming trip to some location, a forest or some waterfall for example. Google for images with forests or waterfalls and see what compositions other photographers make while working with similar locations. This isn’t going to work for rocks in your backyard though… I’m not saying that you should exactly copy a composition you see in another artist’s picture, instead it should help to understand what types of compositions look either good or bad.

    My mathematician friend Andrew (who is also a photographer, and much better at composition than I am) used to point out that the “rule of thirds” is silly because you can almost always divide anything into thirds, then claim you’re following the rule.

    I dislike the rule of thirds for a different reason. When you put “rule of thirds” in Google image search, it will show you countless self refuting pictures. There will be photos with lines photoshopped on them, even though the actual composition in that photo does not follow the rule, because the subject is somewhat off the lines. For example, this image http://www.ultimate-photo-tips.com/image-files/rule-of-thirds-0.jpg actually follows the rule, the focal point (bird’s eye) is exactly at the intersection of two lines. But this is not the case for majority of images used to illustrate this rule. For example here https://iso.500px.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/ruleofthirds_cover.jpeg the rule isn’t followed, because the model should be moved slightly to the right if you actually wanted to follow this rule. Photographers who try to advocate the usage of “rule of thirds” actually refute themselves with the images they use for illustrating the very rule. A more accurate “rule” would be: “Don’t put your subject in the center of the photo, move it somewhat to the side instead. How much to the side? Whatever you like. As long as your subject isn’t exactly in the center, anything counts.” Of course photographers will say that you don’t have to be exact. OK, but then why even bother calling this “the rule of thirds”, why not call it “no focal points exactly in the center of the image” rule instead?

  20. Owlmirror says

    I do know people; perhaps I could have an inscription (in old Norse) that reads “Hand-wash and rinse in cold water; tumble dry.”

    “Do Not Taunt Happy Fun Stone.”

    “This End Up ↑” (Or better: “↓ d∩ puƎ sᴉɥ┴”)

    On two: “Rock” and “A Hard Place”.

    “This erection brought to you by Pfizer.”

  21. chigau (違う) says

    Centurion: What’s this, then? “Romanes eunt domus”? People called Romanes, they go, the house?
    From The Life of Brian
    *tsk*

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