Monday, January 31, 2011

Joyful Release

This past weekend, I visited Rock Creek Cemetery, the oldest colonial cemetery in the District of Columbia. It is owned and overseen by the St. Paul's Rock Creek Episcopal Parish, which was founded in 1712. This once parishioner-only cemetery expanded into a public cemetery for Washington, DC citizens in 1840 by an act of the U.S. Congress. Since then, it serves as the final resting place for such notable public figures as:
Its historical importance aside, what drew me to Rock Creek Cemetery was its collection of art. Due to older burial traditions, such as burial with decorative headstones or internment in family mausoleums, the cemetery is covered with remarkable sculptures and structures. Today's photograph features an unusual headstone topped with a sculpture of a joyful angel throwing its arms to the sky. The rejoicing angel stood out from the other more solemn tributes and seemed to beautifully symbolize the dichotomy of death. For the living, death is full of grief and loss, but for those who have passed, I imagine it is full of release and joy. Perhaps those  who chose this gravestone for their loved one selected it to be a reminder of life's joy in spite of their sadness.

Sunday, January 30, 2011


Yesterday, I treated myself to a quick getaway. I took out a Zipcar for the day and went to explore some new places in the District, places I've only read about but had yet to visit. And of course, I took my camera along to document my excursion. Luckily, lots of snow remained on the ground after last week's snowstorm and only added to the drama of Saturday's photos. I'm looking forward to sharing with you some of the photos from this jaunt.

Today's photo from yesterday's collection captures a familiar spot -- the Tidal Basin -- but in a way I've never seen it before. The entire Tidal Basin was frozen and covered with snow yesterday. I'm sure this happens every winter, however, I've never witnessed it before. This image features a tree branch, probably from one of the now bare Cherry Blossom trees, trapped in the frozen water. Yet while there is stillness during winter, like this trapped branch, I also discovered that there is life as well. In the coming days, I'll share some photos from my Saturday excursion that illustrate either the liveliness or silence of winter.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Galloping through the Tulips

Sometimes, great photographs are just a matter of perspective or where the photographer decided to place the camera lens.

When photographing the tulips in Washington Circle last year, I thought it would be interesting to include the statue of George Washington and his horse among the tulips. After struggling to get both subjects into the frame, I found that when I crouched down into a sitting position near the outside border of the circle and photographed the scene in front of me, it would appear as if George Washington and his steed were galloping through the blooming tulips. Digital cameras give us the freedom to experiment without the worry or cost of developing multiple rolls of film. I doubt I would have discovered this great composition if I was counting the number of film frames at my disposal.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Solemn View

Arlington National Cemetery did not always use the emblematic marble upright gravestones. In many of the older sections of the cemetery, visitors will find diverse private markers like the one seen in this photograph. These different markers add character, art and history to the cemetery's now more modern design.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

To Infinity and Beyond

This photograph captures one of the three spires that make up the United States Air Force Memorial. During this visit, I tried to discover as many angles as possible to photograph the memorial's spires. At the base of this 24-story tall aluminum steel memorial spire, I looked up and was awed by how its curve seemed unending.

When I look at this image, I feel so hopeful. To me, it symbolizes life's continuity and limitless possibilities. We have the ability to design structures, like the U.S. Air Force Memorial spires, that seem to reach infinity and beyond. What a beautiful truth.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Translucent Leaves

Have you ever seen the Pixar movie, A Bug's Life? Even though I've loved all of the Pixar movies and short films, A Bug's Life still remains my favorite. It was not as popular as the Toy Story films, Up or Wall-E, but I loved its humor and inventiveness, especially the creativity behind the world designed for these bugs.

To accurately create the ants' environment, Pixar designers developed a very small video camera and ran it along the ground, like an ant, in the grass outside their offices. Their footage showed them that from an ant's vantage point, leaves appear translucent like the ones I photographed in Georgetown this summer. Instead of a leaf appearing as solid, the sunlight from above filters through the leaves and gives them this transparent appearance.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Olympic Iliad in Seattle

Modern art still confounds me, however there is something about Alexander Liberman's "Olympic Iliad" near the Space Needle in Seattle that speaks to me. Perhaps it's the red giant steel cylinders against the green grass or the sculpture's conflicting appearance of disorder and balance at the same time, that draws my attention. Whatever the reason, this public artwork has always stayed with me since my visit in 2005.

Liberman, known for his use of industrially manufactured materials, assembled the red cylinders, cut at varying angles and lengths, to form an immense structure than one can walk around and underneath. While one might suggest its form resembles a spider, glazing at it does not fill me with dread. An unusual response, since I intensely dislike insects, particularly spiders. Rather, "Olympic Iliad" makes me feel free. I wonder if that was Liberman's intention since his design makes some cylinders appear to be floating in the air.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Delightful Tidal Basin

Besides Arlington National Cemetery and the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial, the Tidal Basin is one of my favorite photo subjects in the Washington, DC area. Each season, it changes and shows a different face. In winter, snow might cover the ground beneath the Tidal Basin's tree groves. In spring, its trees are full of Cherry Blossoms. In summer, the water reflects its surrounding green trees. And then in autumn, falling red, yellow and orange leaves create ripples in this human-made reservoir like in today's post.

Regardless of the season or its appearance, the stillness and beauty of the Tidal Basin delights my spirit and camera and draws me back again and again.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Pennsylvania Sunset

Driving home from a Gettysburg National Park visit, I had to pull out my camera one more time to take some  photographs of this Pennsylvanian sunset. Once you spend several hours taking photographs, it's hard to stop. Every where you look, you find another photo opportunity. And don't be concerned; I stopped on the side of the highway to take this photo. Photography while driving definitely doesn't mix.

Saturday, January 22, 2011


Reading a friend's blog post this morning about inner strength when facing life's challenges made me think of one of my heroes, Eleanor Roosevelt. She epitomized grace under fire. Here's the highlights of the challenges she personally faced in her lifetime:
  • Eleanor was married to a man who suffered from the paralyzing polio disease, yet ran and served in public office first as governor of New York and later as a four-term President of the United States.
  • She served as First Lady during two historic crises in America's short history -- the Depression and World War II.
  • She also served as the first chairperson of the United Nations Human Rights Commission, while facing criticism about her abilities to lead and form a Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
  • She was often the lone public voice speaking out about unpopular social issues, such as poverty, civil rights, and women's rights.
  • She had six children, one of whom died at birth, and maintained a marriage in spite of FDR's adulterous affairs.
  • It was also rumored that she was a closeted lesbian due to her long-term friendship with a female reporter, however that has never been proven.
Eleanor once said:
A woman is like a teabag. You never know how strong she is until she gets into hot water.
Well, she was definitely a strong teabag. Eleanor inspires me daily to keep facing life's challenges with determination, compassion and humor. While she may not have been a beauty -- something she was publicly ridiculed for -- it is rare to see a photograph of her without a huge smile even during her darkest days. I'm grateful that the Franklin Delano Roosevelt National Memorial included this tribute to her, honoring her mission to improve our quality of life, as well as her inner strength which helped carry this country through crippling economic crises and war.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Robert E. Lee's Arlington House

Did you know that Arlington National Cemetery was originally Civil War General Robert E. Lee's home and plantation? Arlington House which sits on the hill overlooking the cemetery and the Potomac River was originally the Curtis-Lee House, home to Lee and his family prior to the Civil War. The home was constructed and owned by George Washington Parke Curtis, the adopted grandson of President George Washington. Lee married into the Curtis family and thus, this plantation became his home and the birthplace of his seven children.

When Lee -- a respected career Army officer and West Point graduate -- turned down President Abraham Lincoln's offer to lead the Union Army in the Civil War and chose to lead the Confederate Northern Virginia Army instead, many of his old Army colleagues who were Unionists were enraged. One of those enemies, Brig. Gen. Montgomery C. Meigs, established Arlington National Cemetery on Lee's property in 1864 after the government bought it in a tax sale and began burying Union dead near Arlington House. By turning the property into a Union cemetery, Meigs desired to make the estate uninhabitable for the Lees even if they reclaimed their property from the federal government after the war. Eventually, the U.S. Supreme Court in 1882 returned ownership of the estate back to the Lee family since it was seized without due process. However by this point, the family chose to sell it back to the government, keeping it a military cemetery. Now, Arlington House and the Curtis-Lee ancestral plantation is the home of more than 250,000 military grave sites.

The creation of Arlington National Cemetery on his estate was the final insult to the talented Army strategist and leader, who died five years after the Civil War's end. Today, his estate brings such peace and solace to the many who journey here to honor those interred here. While created in disrespect to Lee, Arlington National Cemetery is now a place of respect and honor for those who rest there. I have a feeling that General Lee would now appreciate the irony.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Remembering What's Beyond the Gate

It's been a challenging year so far. Changes, adjustments and crises are appearing at every turn. I'm getting better at applying my 2011 life principles, but it's been a tough start. Today, Billy Joel's song, "Vienna," came on my iPod mix and it was exactly what I needed to hear. Don't you love when that happens?

So instead of me "waxing lyrical" on today's post, I thought I would let his song lyrics do the talking. While Billy Joel has his own back story for the song, "Vienna" reminds me to slow down and not take the hustle and bustle of life so seriously. Because in the end, things that really matter -- family, friends, life, "Vienna" -- await.

By the way, when Billy Joel was asked in 2008 by the New York Times to identify his favorite song from his career, "Vienna" was one of the two he mentioned.
"Vienna" by Billy Joel
From the album, The Stranger (1977)

Slow down you crazy child
You're so ambitious for a juvenile
But then if you're so smart tell me why
You are still so afraid?

Where's the fire, what's the hurry about?
You better cool it off before you burn it out
You got so much to do and only
So many hours in a day

But you know that when the truth is told
That you can get what you want
Or you an just get old
You're gonna kick off before you even get halfway through
When will you realize
Vienna waits for you

Slow down you're doing fine
You can't be everything you want to be
Before your time
Although it's so romantic on the borderline tonight
Too bad but it's the life you lead
You're so ahead of yourself
That you forgot what you need
Though you can see when you're wrong

But you know you can't always see when you're right
You got your passion you got your pride
But don't you know only fools are satisfied?
Dream on, but don't imagine they'll all come true
When will you realize
Vienna waits for you

Slow down you crazy child
Take the phone off the hook
And disappeaar for a while
It's alright you can afford to lose a day or two
When will you realize
Vienna waits for you.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Cherry Blossoms Up Close

Observing the panorama of Cherry Blossoms in bloom along the Tidal Basin, spectators can be so overwhelmed by the view, they lose sight of the beauty of the individual flower. Up close, the Cherry Blossom itself is small and delicate, easily knocked to the ground by rain, wind and/or disrespectful humans. Depending on the light, blossoms appear white, light pink or a combination of the two colors. During peak bloom, they are abundant and hundreds laden branches with splendor and pooled weight. My camera and I are counting down the days to this year's blossom cycle. Fingers crossed that it will as spectacular as past years.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Final Bow

Isn't nature amazing? Some flowers can be as beautiful at the end of its life as it was when it first bloomed. Just before its petals fell, this flower in the Washington National Cathedral garden is still on stage, awaiting nature's symphony to cue its final bow. For this composition, I placed the flower in the "wings" of the photograph, illustrating that the flower is no longer center stage, but gracefully taking its leave as summer arrived.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Backward Glance

Today, we remember and celebrate the teachings and life of a great leader, Martin Luther King, Jr. To make a better today and take the steps to move toward a peaceful tomorrow, we must continue to look behind us and learn from the past. While we cannot dwell there, we must apply its lessons learned to create a better world now and for future generations.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Snow-covered Mountains

Yes, snow-capped mountains are possible in Southern California. Heavy rain storms in December brought a white Christmas to the mountains near my family's home in the San Gabriel Valley. Between storms, we enjoyed our view of blue skies and snow-covered mountain tops. [sigh]

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Here's Looking at You

While visiting the San Diego Zoo, I spent quite a bit of time observing the frisky tortoises. Apparently during summer, the zoo encouraged the tortoises to mate and they were very active. To give the female tortoises a break now, the zookeepers kept the male tortoises separate from the female ones in the exhibit. Although separated, the male tortoises were still in heat and seeking companionship, just unsuccessfully with each other. Between relationships, this 150-year-old tortoise looked up at me and gave a huge grin for this photograph. They were such characters!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Keeping Watch at Night

Night photography is not one of my favorite pastimes. I find it a particularly frustrating process. Getting the flash right, keeping the camera still to prevent blurring and setting up the composition so the subject is defined in spite of the darkness are the challenges (and irritations) of night photography.

However, there is something about this moment at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial that I find captivating and haunting. Because it was taken at night, it captures how The Three Soldiers statue looks over the fallen Vietnam War brothers and sisters in spite of the darkness and absence of tourists. While we can't see the memorial wall in the distance, we know that is what they are watching, protecting. This image of the statue's gaze at night illustrates memorial designer's intention that at no time are the veterans whose names are etched on the wall are ever alone, unguarded or left behind.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Landscaping for Tortoises?

Who said that landscaping is only important to people? Apparently, the San Diego Zoo disagrees. I was so impressed with the flora and fauna the San Diego Zoo incorporated into all of its exhibits to make the zoo's wildlife feel at home. I would have felt at home in those environments too.

Today's post is a look at the landscaping created for the zoo's tortoises. If you look closely, you can see the shell of one of the tortoises behind the tree and rock on the left side of the photograph. Some landscaping designers might have just used sand, rocks and cacti only to recreate the tortoises' desert environment, but I appreciated the addition of the leafy trees to add some color, shade and whimsy to their home.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Crystal Branches

In my humble opinion, the best day in winter is always the day following a brief snowfall when there is just a few inches of snow on the ground.

Last night, my neighborhood received about 2 inches of snow, just enough to lightly cover sidewalks and dust tree branches like in today's photograph. Usually windy weather follows the storm and shortens our snowscape viewing time by blowing snow off of tree branches. Luckily for us, this was not the case this morning. Thus, I enjoyed the panorama of crystal tree branches during my morning commute to work. I guess snowy winters can have benefits!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


Of all of the photographs I took at the San Diego Zoo over the holidays, this image is my favorite. While the regal lion is still my favorite wild animal, gorillas rank pretty high up on that list too. In spite of their size and brute strength, they seem to still have a gentle, kind nature. But make no mistake; gorillas are fierce animals.

While taking photographs of this gorilla, he/she looked right at me. I doubt the gorilla singled me out from the other spectators at the gorilla exhibit, but the intensity of his/her stare made me pause and stop taking photographs for a while. The glare was familiar; it's the look I often receive from irritated commuters who dislike the invasion of their personal space on crowded Metro trains in the morning. While this gorilla lives in a rather large, beautiful enclosure at the zoo, his/her look told me that it knows that it's an enclosure and we are just onlookers invading his/her space. Animals are definitely not stupid.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Iwo Jima in Silhouette

Sometimes, it's the small victories in life that can be the most rewarding. For example, I love photographing the Marine Corps War Memorial or Iwo Jima in Arlington, but haven't been successful at getting a good image with the American flag unfurled until last year. Either there was too much wind or no wind at all that foiled my earlier attempts. As this photograph proves, persistence combined with patience can pay off. If the flag was blowing to the right of the flag pole, it would have mimicked the famous Joe Rosenthal photograph which inspired the memorial in the first place. Hopefully during my next visit to the memorial, I'll get lucky and take that image next.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Saint Paul

Washington National Cathedral is filled with and surrounded by beautiful sculptures. I'm especially fond of the Saint Paul Gate, one of the main entrances to the main nave of the Cathedral. Sculpted by German Ulrich Henn, the gate's prominent figure is of Saint Paul himself in deep contemplation or prayer. Saint Paul's expression is striking and draws visitors' attention as they enter the majestic Cathedral.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Submerged Turtle

I'm so used to green- or brown-colored turtles that I was surprised to find turtles at the San Diego Zoo with multi-colored shells like this one. The pond water of the turtles' exhibit was so still, I was able to capture the reflection of the exhibit and the turtle swimming underwater in the same image. Even the turtle's movements did not create ripples in the water. Nature is truly amazing.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Still Here

No snow in my neighborhood overnight, but looks like New England will be getting a few more inches of snow today. Actually during winter, the Washington, DC area gets more ice than snow. Last February's record snowfall was a surprise to the region. In spite of the snow and freezing temperatures, area flowers, plants and trees soldiered on and bloomed on schedule, as seen in today's photograph taken near my apartment building last year. Through several inches of snow, this plant still grows and blooms, personifying the promise of winter's thaw and the arrival of spring's blossoms.

Thursday, January 6, 2011


Squirrel! Ok, perhaps the meerkat on the right was not distracted by a squirrel, like the dogs in the Pixar movie, Up. But, doesn't this scene remind you of that movie moment?

I took several photographs of these meerkats at the San Diego Zoo and there was not one image of all them looking in the same direction. Chances are this is common for the breed, since the meerkats are always on alert for predators. Besides being cute, meerkats remind us that we should always be on alert and aware of our surroundings because challenges can arrive from any direction.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

New York Public Library

Have you ever thought while reviewing your photographs, "Now, why did I do that?!" and delete or discard the offending photograph? I experienced that moment frequently, believing that my misjudgment or miscalculation prevented a good photograph from becoming a great one. As part of my 2011 challenge, that line of thinking is no longer allowed. Instead of getting hung up on what I didn't accomplish in a photograph, I'm going to celebrate what I did capture.

This photograph near the New York Public Library entrance in New York City is one of the images I've discredited in the past because of a mistake I wish I never made. To the viewer, it isn't obvious, but from my vantage point, it sticks out like a sore thumb. In spite of this glitch, there are great elements in the composition, such as the multicolored flowers and the lion statue, that I love. The image itself epitomizes the beauty found in so many of Manhattan's structures. Banishing it would prevent others from enjoying those characteristics as well. I'm learning that there is a difference between being a perfectionist who focuses solely on errors in photographs, ignoring accomplishments, and a critic who looks at the whole -- good and bad elements -- to grow as a photographer. I'm choosing the latter and broadening my photographer's eye to take in both the pros and cons of my images, and as a result, become a stronger, but less pessimistic, photographer.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Taking in Shenandoah Valley

While the viewer may not see what my friend is seeing, it's amazing how one can still sense that her view is impressive. Admittedly, I have an advantage since I was present and know what she saw. However, I intentionally positioned her in the composition surrounded by large rocks and the large tree in the background to help us imagine her view beyond the camera's reach. I like the idea that her panoramic view of the Shenandoah Valley is a mystery and we must use our imagination to fill in those blanks. At times, what the photograph does not reveal is more intriguing than what it does.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Yellow Hibiscus

Yellow is my new favorite color in nature. This trend is particularly evident in my photography lately. Whether it is the color of leaves, animals or flowers, such as today's photograph of a yellow hibiscus at the San Diego Zoo, I adore yellow's brightness, vibrancy and welcoming presence.

Growing up, I was not fond of yellow, especially due to my parents love of it as a paint color. However as I've grown older, my fondness for yellow's shades and ranges has grown exponentially. If you think about it, yellow is a perfect color to exist in nature. When combined with the color blue found in natural elements such as the sky and water, it becomes green, a dominant color in nature found in numerous plants and animals. According to Wikipedia, the color yellow is associated with liberalism, but I'm sure that connotation had no impact on my growing affection for the color. I think.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Relaxing Elephant

Traveling can make one weary. Although I love how traveling brings new places and adventures, spending time in airplanes, airports and train stations can be draining. So as I make my way back to Washington, DC today, I'll be focusing on this photograph from my visit to the San Diego Zoo as my "Moment of Zen."

The zoo just opened a new elephant exhibit, Elephant Odyssey. In this moment, one of its elephant residents decided to greet visitors by laying its head on the enclosure wall and occasionally waving his trunk. The crowd went wild with delight. I believe the feeling was mutual for our relaxing elephant, who was a bit of a ham. This image is also an example of how focusing on the background (subject farthest from you) instead of your foreground (subject closest to you) can create interesting compositions, especially when closeness to a subject is limited.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

2011: The Year of Possibilities

Happy New Year! Welcome to a new year, a new day. Have you determined yet how you will make 2011 different from 2010? What are your 2011 resolutions? As I mentioned in an earlier post, I'm planning for 2011 to be a significant year in my life. Starting today, I'm adopting a new attitude and shifting my perspective by applying the following life principles to my decision-making and photography:
  • Walk in faith, not fear
  • Think positively, not negatively
  • Seek opportunities, not obstacles
  • See potential, not imperfections
  • Follow instinct, not naysayers
Bottom line: 2011 will be a year all about possibilities.

Throughout the year, I'll be challenging myself to see the beauty in every moment and to open myself to new paths and adventures. Today's photograph is a reminder that when I let go of fear, negativity, obstacles, imperfections and naysayers, magical moments happen. This unplanned image was taken of the 2010 Cherry Blossoms at the Tidal Basin at the end of a long photo session. At the time, I had no idea that it would be the best photo I've ever taken. I'm looking forward to a year full of these moments. I hope you will join me and welcome the magic of the possible into your new year as well. As they say in New Orleans, "Laissez les bon temps roulez!" or "Let the good times roll!"