Posts Tagged ‘refraction’

The drinking glass I picked up at a thrift store with the intention of planting sprouts in it this winter.  But for now it has been sitting on a table next to the window.  This morning I dropped two small tomatoes into it, just a placeholder until I chop them up for salad later.  Then that thing happened again.  While at the keyboard I happened to glance over my shoulder and there it was, a curious light on the tomato as the morning sun shone through the curves of the green glass.  At first my focus was purely the tomato but as I hunched over my still life I noticed what was happening at the base of the glass.  So I placed a piece of black cardboard beneath the glass, removed the tomatoes and added some water. This is what I saw.

I changed the level of the water. I placed the green glass on top of a clear glass to raise its height.  At one point I dropped in an ice cube.

It was just fun to see what changes might take place.

I set aside the green glass and replaced it with a clear square glass that has a thick bottom.  I photographed its pyramid like base and that was pretty cool.

Overall, my “experiment” took about 15-20 minutes.

Not much clean up.  Just some glasses to dry.

Just some glasses to dry.


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Water flowed across the asphalt, a broken pipe perhaps.  In the bright light of the day were reflected the reds, greens, and golds of the overarching trees, and the thick dark lines of the neighboring fence.

And nearby a butterfly perched, the brightest one I’ve seen all year.

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Caustic in Black & White 1

Okay, I first remember reading about John Cage in a story by Alex Ross of The New Yorker. The piece opened with a description of the 1952 performance of John Cage’s composition, 4’33”, which turned out to be four minutes and thirty-three seconds of silence. It’s a bit more complicated than that, or maybe not, but you can read more via this article link.  John Cage and silence came to mind recently because I was sharing a video I’d made with the physicist in my life and when I asked him what piece of music should I pair with these images, he suggested, “soundtrack by John Cage.”

Caustic in Black & White 2

Caustic in Black & White 2

At first I thought he was kidding.  There had to be a short classical piece to fit the light and motion so reminiscent of northern lights.  When I’d asked him what music to pair with a short video of sunlit water flowing over rocks, he’d suggested Faure’s Requiem in Paradisum.  Now he recommended silence? On my own, I found Bartock’s Evening in the Village. I tried the pairing. He appreciated Bartok but he still favored Cage.  I read a bit more about Cage, his compositions, his performances, his poetry … an interesting man to say the last.

Caustics in Color

Caustics in Color

So what I captured on the wall one morning took place in less than four minutes and thirty-three seconds.  It involved a rippled window, a different one in the house.  Light shone down through the gaps in the leaves and branches of the oak tree that towers over the house.  That light made its way through the glass refracting through the ripples producing a dynamic pattern of caustics on the wall.  Most often that pattern of light is static but this particular morning the wind was blowing. The branches and the leaves they moved creating what that physicist described as “a pattern of illumination that varied in space and time.” It was a good moment inspiring some experimentation as you can see in the video below.  The flickering on the wall is as it happened … in less than four minutes and thirty-three seconds.

A Silent Dance from Cynthia Staples on Vimeo.

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… it struck the bottom of the glass where it lay in its rack …

… and it was beautiful, too.

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That same day there was a glass on the table, and it too filled with light. As you might imagine, it was a very hard day to concentrate. It would have been easy to pull down some shades or find a dark corner, but I do declare, I just couldn’t do it.  I have no regrets even though I had to stay up a bit late to finish some writing assignments.

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In Copley Square, there is a fountain where I like to sit, eat my hot dog, and then, if I’m lucky, photograph leaves floating on the surface of the water.  This week few leaves floated but there was plenty of trash, and the trash was blocking some sort of vent or drain and so the water was swirling erratically.  And then a little kid poured in a bottle of bubbles, and somebody’s dog jumped in to chase the pigeons and I thought, quite frankly, “This sucks.”  But then you know what happened as it always does?  The sun came out … The trash did not disappear but there was a beauty revealed, too, I think.  But that’s just my perspective.

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It was a bit like finding the rainbow in the ice last week.  I was walking past a sunlit window and turned my head at just the right moment to see something there, that would only be there for a moment.  This morning I was walking past a sunlit window in a different room and turned my head at just the right moment to notice not ephemeral ice but ripples and waves in the old glass.  At certain angles, the ripples distorted my view in wonderful ways.  I’ve posted about the views through this window before (like here).

Branches and old vines. A dead tree with falling bark. A metal fence and crumbling stone wall.  That’s really all that’s captured in any of the photos.

I think the photos have always been taken through the two panes of old glass.  It’s just that the angle of the winter sun was different today, and my perspective was different today.

We’ll see what tomorrow holds in terms of light, perspective and all those other variables that influence a picture.

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I’m no illustrator but I do enjoying pressing colored pens to paper, and the weather this weekend provided a good excuse.  You see, after a heavy rainfall late Friday, the sun came back out.  There was that magical moment of rose red clouds appearing.  I stood at one window watching the clouds form, but then by chance, I glanced over my shoulder through another window.  A double rainbow graced the sky. Later I tried to explain to that science guy of mine the beauty that I’d seen of rose clouds in front of me and being surprised by the rainbows behind me.  His response?  “Of course.  Your shadow points toward the rainbow.”  Hunh?!

I grilled him all weekend  and finally he was able to break it down to me in a way that I understood though it helped me to draw it out, too.

“If you’re looking at rosy colored clouds, you’re probably looking toward the sun with the sun lighting the clouds from below.  The sun’s white light — and remember that white light is really all the colors combined — is being filtered through the earth’s atmosphere.  Blue light is scattered leaving behind the reds.”

“If you’re looking at the rainbow, the sun must be behind you.  Why?  Because the rainbow is formed by white light hitting water droplets in the air.  Again, white light is refracted.  Different colors are scattered.  The angle at which the light strikes the water droplets produces the spectrum of colors you see.”

He had more to say about angles but by then I just wanted to play with the markers.

This morning he shared the following “timely comic: with me.  Enjoy:  Frazz Comic Strip, July 28, 2013






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My friends accuse me of always finding the bright side.  I don’t think that’s true.  I can be quite the curmudgeon.  But I do have to admit that when a sudden gust of wind tossed the lamp to the floor, shattering the glass shade and bulb, one of the first thoughts that ran through my head was, “Hmmm.  I wonder what photos might come out of this incident?”

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When I walked the river’s edge last Saturday, I kept peering deep into the water looking for fish and turtles.  But the sun was so hot and there were so many canoeists in the water.  It became quite clear that beneath those churned up waters that I would be spying no fish or turtles. So I paid attention to the surface.

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