Falling in Love with Fall

Falling in Love with Fall

Most people have a favorite season. For me it was summer for as long as I remember: The mellow evenings, long daylight, warm temperatures. I remember playing soccer for days during the long holidays when I was a kid. In summer, life is easy and joyful. After summer, the second best season is spring. Why? Because summer comes afterwards. Autumn always seemed depressing; and winter, well, winter is cold and rainy.

But my preferences changed in the last year, fueled by my journey through photography. Suddenly, every season brings change into nature and, thus, change into pictures. With every passing week, there are new things to discover: Leaves change color, fog sweeps through, snow coats the landscape, ice transforms the texture of surroundings, the early blossoming plants arrive, and fresh greens flourish. A constant act of discovery – suddenly every season becomes more fascinating than it did before.

Autumn still isn’t my favorite season; but it’s on par with all the others now. I can appreciate it for all its colors, for the misty mornings and foggy woodlands. Getting up for sunrise is comfortably possible at 7 a.m., capturing sunsets can be done before dinner. Many birds pass our latitude, stop at the local pond and calmly wait until the conditions are just right.

Random Access Memory

Random Access Memory

Here, take these cookies, be a member, we remember. All of it. Eat, sleep, work, repeat. We bleed, sweet data. Still we tweet – no chance to cheat. It’s temptation, an online nation. Only little hesitation. Enjoy these widgets, rising digits to the sky. A day flies by. A week flies by. A weekend dies with clear blue skies. I briefly wave – but it’s too late. Too late for greetings, many meetings. Too late for any getaway. This day, at least, from the ever hiding beast. Wishful thinking, blinking prey.

But thanks for remembering this birthday from a long-forgotten friend. Attend, or force the end? Phone shines, mails are answered by AI. We buy. Ever increasing entropy gets organized. Our lives exactly sized and priced: A crime. But, at least, we can access everything, everywhere. All the time. A dulcet chime, a finished rhyme: Technology, boon and bane, like a chain.

Where did all the years go? I know, deep below the surface. Good night, withering planet, so bright and ill. Just give me the blue pill. And let big data suggest the best set of pictures.

Complexity

Complexity

Time and space complexity are among the first concepts one gets to learn in computer science theory. It’s about the analysis of the time and space an algorithm uses as a function of its input data. Lower time and memory requirements amount to a ‘better’ algorithm and, thus, to improved performance on data sets of increasing size. Optimizing algorithms with respect to their time and space requirements is essential in virtually all areas. Reducing complexity is the key.

With a little bit of imagination, this concept can be applied to photography. For me, this became apparent recently as I tried to shoot woodlands more intentionally. Here, if the camera is pointed somewhere at random, the frame is filled with a large variety of shapes, colors, and different impressions. However, visually pleasing photos show some kind of order and structure: They reduce the complexity within the space of the frame. They guide the eyes of the viewer. They clearly show the subject. They are easy to understand. Reducing complexity is the key.

The above pictures are neither good examples of reduced complexity, nor of woodland photography. Just some first tries on a long road ahead. But I already have some improved pictures of woodlands in the queue, waiting for their own post. Reduce complexity: in algorithmics, in photography, in life.

Birches, Deer, Fog

Birches, Deer, Fog

The scene: A large glade within the swamp, stretching under the moon-lit sky. The actors: Multiple deer, hidden between the trees, rutting season has begun; a group of motionless birches, leaves turning yellow. The director: Fog, shaping the landscape, constantly changing the stage.

Completeness

Completeness

No consistent system of axioms whose theorems can be listed by an effective procedure is capable of demonstrating its own consistency.

Gödel’s incompleteness theorem

A 1: Being happy requires time.

A 2: Being happy requires fulfilling work.

A 3: Pursuing fulfilling work for a comfortable life requires time.

A 4: Time is limited.

Theorem: Living a happy life is possible in our given time.

Some topics keep occupying the mind. And for the moment, again, it’s balance; or, as here, phrased as: completeness. Can something be complete? Work? A picture? Life? And what makes it complete? Is it the experiences we make? The amount of satisfaction we achieve? The accomplished perfection? And can we ever tell when it is complete, or can we just decide that it is? Or is it just a feeling of fulfillment that cannot be proven?

I’ve felt completeness once, however, in unfortunate circumstances. Maybe we need to accept, or even embrace, the incompleteness. The imperfection of the picture, the irregularity in life. Maybe this is the distinctive feature, the remarkable quality, that makes our existence worthwhile. That makes the picture special. That motivates us to keep going, to keep on pushing and to go out to find the rare human experiences that enrich daily routines. Incompleteness, as the 10th Dan that cannot be achieved, as the optimal algorithm that cannot be written, as the last theorem that cannot be proven.

Maybe, someday, I will know; and maybe someday you will know. For now, I’ll keep on trying to find the proof.

Photo Post: Programmed Polarization

Photo Post: Programmed Polarization

Nothing really new from my side. Important elections coming up in Germany, but everything is as always: Internet and social media create echo chambers where every camp can confirm the superiority of their own arguments. Algorithms distort and decide. Alternative facts dominate and destroy. Little genuine discourse taking place. Four years ago we were horrified about the results beyond the ocean, this time we might elect a clown ourselves.

I have pictures for at least five upcoming posts in the queue. But they want to be sighted, sorted, selected, and set up first. The following selection is from our first evening at a seven day vacation at the coast – scenic sunsets, rough seas, wonderful memories. A lot more to come from the other six days.

Rock

Rock

As climbers and boulderers we come into contact with rock; a lot. Probably more than most people (except geologists). This comes with a certain appreciation for different types of rock. Around our region alone we have a combination of granite, limestone, sandstone, and basalt. The granite is rough and sharp – during summer nearly impossible to climb without destroying your skin. The limestone is smooth and slick, sometimes with nasty and small finger pockets. In comparison to Fontainebleau, most of our sandstone is fragile and crumbly, however, it had always a certain charm on me with its intricate structures and fascinating shapes.

Thus, a boulder can be aesthetically pleasing, especially if a clearly defined line from bottom to top is visible that begs to be climbed. It can inspire, motivate me to push harder than before. I guess everyone who had the pleasure to wander through the woods of Fontainebleau can empathize. But seldom, I had the same appreciation for the rock of mountains when hiking as I have for rock while bouldering. The dolomites thought me differently.

The masses are not here yet. Silent nature with the occasional gurgling of distant water: Calming. Few brown bears roaming the mountains: Concerning. Light is absent, stars occupy the dark canvas. Heavy breath, swampy steps, a steep ascent, a large plain to cross, another steep ascent. Never ending sedimentary rocks. Some ancient coral reefs, reaching into vast sky. Distant light. And finally: the mountains shoulder. Structures everywhere, patterns every. This rock is different. First views towards west. Rolling alpine meadows, interrupted by jagged peaks reaching high, layer by layer, color by color. Rocks on fire.

The Cunturines peak as seen from Lavarela after several hours of steep hiking. The colors are no exaggeration; the east side of every peak was on fire when the first sun rays hit.

We only stayed for two and a half days, most of which was characterized by heavy rain storms. But we used all the moments in between to explore the Fanes-Sennes-Prags national park. And I am confident when I say: I have never seen mountains as beautiful as these. Again, I started in the very early morning hours in hope to reach one of the closest peaks, Lavarela. But this time I underestimated the pure scale of this monumental landscape and could not quite reach the summit after 3.5 hours of hiking. It didn’t affect the view with a large panorama towards west. I guess this was and will be my nature highlight of 2021.

Thunderstorms

Thunderstorms

There are some things, only mountains can do: provide panoramic views, enable climbing and steep hiking, exhaust the visitors, and: thunderstorms. We witnessed the most intense thunder in quite a while during our time in the dolomites. Bright lightning. Thunderclaps and rolling thunder. Constantly. Elevating and frightening. Marvelous und destructive.

Lately, I have been discussing frequently what makes a good photo. In the end, as most things, it comes down to personal preference. Many rules exist, but many exceptions to any rule exist as well. For me, I have found that the best photos do to things: First, I am flashed when I see them the first time. It strikes me like lightning; I am stunned and in awe. Second, they keep me engaged and hold my interest – like the thunder rolling through the valley, they develop and keep giving as long as I keep looking. New forms, new details, new patterns.

It’s been a year now since I have my camera. I am looking forward to the next year and I am hoping to produce at least a small thunderstorm of pictures; flashing bright and rolling afterwards.

The Mountains are Calling

The Mountains are Calling

The night is young, but the warmth of the last day has already faded. The cold creeps beneath my jacket. It’s 1:30 a.m., the goal in mind is Hochiss: the highest mountain of the Rofan mountain range at 2299 meters height above sea level. Thus, 1359 meters in altitude to go. Lone clouds are scattered across the sky and the moon peaks cautiously behind to throw dark shadows. During the first 20 minutes I pass the small village Maurach; a single car turns up the music as it passes. Then, I leave the streets and houses, and with them the dim lighting of civilization that seems to be present everywhere. I need a brief stop to retrieve the headtorch deep within my backpack; it hasn’t been used for a long time. After only 30 meters I need to change the batteries – and then the mountains begin, then I walk.

The headtorch bounces around in the dark forest, as do my thoughts in my head, mind and legs wander around together: Have I packed everything? Will I arrive in time for sunrise? Will I find the correct way? What will we eat tonight? How does the story of my current novel turn out? How fast are raindrops when falling from the sky? How good is the vision of cows at night? Will my knee hurt again?

All senses are sharpened, every noise of the forest seems loud and intense; but in comparison to the days, humans and nature are mostly sleeping. The path is steep and gets even steeper with every step. The stone I want to step on quickly jumps out of the way. Startled, I watch the toad disappear in the wet grass and everything goes back to silence.

From time to time I look into nature, and sometimes it looks back: small dots in the dark, reflecting the light, belonging to hidden bodies: Is it a sheep? A bear? An ibex? Sometimes their movement gives it away, sometimes they stay anonymous. The rabbit is pretty obvious though as it hops across the meadow, as are the cows with their bells that cling revealingly. Walking and thinking goes together, especially when alone. Thoughts come and go, as the surrounding landscape, from forest to meadow to rocky paths. Sometimes thoughts are easy and without any obstructions, but suddenly a steep and slippery slope awaits around the next corner.

I am fast, faster than anticipated at least. Another more difficult section waits below the summit; especially with limited light. Already at 4:10 a.m. I approach the last ridge towards the lone cross on the peak. Darkness makes it difficult to guess the distance but it doesn’t look too far. And indeed, 5 minutes later I am there: On top of the world – not exactly, but at least on top of the Rofan mountains, the Hochiss. I shut off the headtorch and look around at this miraculous scene illuminated by moon and stars: It’s simply breathtaking. 360 degrees of stunning views. Most haze got washed away by the severe rain falls the day before. A clear summer morning with crisp air. No other person in sight. Other peaks stretch below in every direction. The east-facing walls are already glowing in warm light.

Sweat and wind are never a welcome combination, especially when it’s also freezing cold. I try to dry my clothes from the sweat and put layers on layers on layers to stay warm. Gloves in July; later that day people will be amused by the thick jacket at my backpack. But later that day, the sun will also burn down on the innocent hikers and I will get a sunburn because I didn’t consider sunscreen when I started in the middle of the night.

Back to now: Already 90 minutes before sunrise it’s clear where the spectacle will occur: In the east, the very edge of the sky has started to shift towards a pale yellow. With every minute it conquers the sky and gets more intense. We follow our 360 degree view clockwise and see the huge mountains in the distant that belong to Berchtesgaden. The tones are shifting more towards a fiery orange, magenta, and lavender purple.

Towards south, Zillertal and Inntal are covered in a sea of thick and low clouds; just to the right of Inntal, the large mountains of the Karwendel are hiding in dark blues. In front of this spectacle, I can see all the way back to my starting point, the path winding below, towards the muted lights of Maurach.

It turns out that being early is better than being late. The time flies and I nearly miss the moment I came for. Secretly, the sun is already looming behind a far mountain. I have to change lenses and all settings in order to take a picture, but it’s already too late to properly prepare it. I did it no favor in banning it on canvas with the structure of the clouds across the valleys til the mountains at the horizon. The sun also seems as big as I have never seen it, as it covers the tip of a single mountain in the distance.

The light stays magical for another 15 minutes, but then, the miracle is over. After 5.5 hours, the second part of the day starts: Hiking across several other peaks to the summit Rofanspitze to meet up with Mädchen Klitzeklein. In the other direction, this can be done as a long via ferrata over five peaks; on my route, I am doing two of the peaks (Hochiss and Spieljoch) and go around two other ones (Rosskopf and Seekarlspitze).

On the way back I am first meeting some of the mysterious nightly lurkers. This time, they aren’t scary at all, skipping around the rocky hillsides like its a 5+ route. At 7:30 a.m. I also meet the first person who does his regular morning walk from his private cabin towards the peak. He is surprised to have oncoming traffic at this time.

After another two hours of fast hiking, my power is abandoning my body. Also, concentration is dwindling away – as is probably yours after this unusually long post. My day ended, comfortably, with the cableway back down and a lot of food and early sleep. So I’ll leave you, as usual, with some final photos.

Taking Risk

Taking Risk

Alex Honnold free-soloed El Capitan in Yosemite; people might describe such an action as dangerous or inappropriate, or even call him tired of life. For me, it is about the exact opposite: It’s about using your life, about passion and emotion, about feeling alive.

What’s the point in our journey? Do we live the 9–5 weeks until we are 67 and die of illness afterwards? It’s difficult to know beforehand how to live a life that we don’t regret; after all there is only a single chance (from what I believe). This can be a constraining or liberating thought, a coin with two sides. Either: Be careful! Stay save! Or: Use your resources consciously to find satisfaction – even if it might come with risk. This does not need to be dangerous at all though: A walk in the woods, a calm hour in the evening with your favorite music, or a long conversation with close friends.

However, for me, feeling alive also sometimes brings along risk. But it is a deliberate and calculated risk that entails joy, freedom, or happiness. It also entails an honest confrontation with oneself: How far am I willing to go? How good can I assess my own abilities? What is really important to me? So important that I am willing to take a risk? And from time to time the answer is the distant peak at the horizon or the high boulder I am walking by. The boundary is always moving, sometimes towards the safe side, sometimes towards the more dangerous side. And in case of an unplanned end, it’s probably the car ride or the swim in the sea that finishes the journey anyway.

How do you feel alive?