Photographing the UCD Arboretum with Allan Jones
(Speaker invited by Bill Blakewill)
Every available chair in the room was filled for a presentation by Allan Jones about the U.C. Davis Arboretum. Jones presented a slide show tour of the arboretum from the Terrace Garden next to Borders all the way to the Peter J. Shields Oak Grove at the far west end of the campus. He captured key plants, insects, birds, and even a few turtles found in each of the special sections of the Arboretum.
The photographs he shared and his detailed discussion made each of the separate gardens and collections stand apart from the next collection that might lie only a few feet away. Some collections represent a different geographic region so you find yourself walking through The Mediterranean Collection, the South American Collection, the Mexican Collection and the Australian Collection. Others focus on a type of plant, like the Acacia Grove, The Conifer Collection, The Oak Grove and the Redwood Grove.
Just listing them, however, doesn't do justice to the Arboretum or to Jones' presentation. He brought each of those areas alive with his close-up photographs of flowers, buds and leaves, and with the way he patiently captured the birds, butterflies, bees, turtles, spiders and other creatures that have an intricate co-dependant life with the plants.
Although Allan earned both his Bachelor's and Master's degrees from U.C. Davis, he lived and worked in Sacramento where he grew to love what he called the "character" of the American River. When he moved to Davis, transferring his love of the flowing American River to the section of Putah Creek on campus with relatively still water that he sometimes called Putah Pond, took some time. However, when he retired after 43 years as a tomato inspector and researcher, Jones began taking photographs around the Arboretum. He got to know the people who keep the Arboretum alive and well and began doing work with them to document the leaves, buds and flowers of the many kinds of oak in the Arboretum. He came into photography relatively late in life, using pencil sketches as artistic expression before discovering what he could do with photography. He said he's still learning about photographing plants, with Emily Griswold, the Assistant Director of Horticulture, as his guide. He even created a clever outdoor photo studio using a cardboard box, some black cloth and a lot of painters' tape to make it so he can take photographs in the field instead of having to take specimens back to a studio.
To capture what he sees three-dimensionally in the Arboretum onto a two-dimensional photograph, Jones pushes his cameras and his Photo Shop resources to their maximum, and beyond. He showed us how the he uses a lens from an old film camera in his Canon digital camera, even though "it sounds like a coffee grinder." He generates composite photos after taking several photographs from different distances from his target so that his final photograph has everything clearly focused in detail.
Jones also gave the audience insight into when to get great photos, like telling us to come in the morning to capture dragonflies sleeping in the roses and in the evening to catch wasps sleeping in the deer grass. He spoke about going to the Peter J. Shields Oak Grove to take photos of cormorants and showed us a hilarious set of photographs of a cormorant trying to swallow a carp that was much too large to fit in the cormorant's mouth.
For a quick overview of The Arboretum, go to http://arboretum.ucdavis.edu However, if you really want to learn about the intricacies of the site, stop by the Arboretum Headquarters at the Buehler Alumni and Visitor Center, or watch for the guy with the noisy camera and the big cardboard box. He's there almost every day.
(Allan grew up in the Bay Area and went to college at U C Davis in 1961. He earned a BA in English and History in 1966. He was a graduate student and English TA for 7 years, earning a Masters and Candidacy but no PhD. In 66 he began working summers as a tomato inspector and made it a full time career working on Safety, Training and Research for the next 43 years until my retirement in 2009.
At Davis he was lucky enough to take introductory art classes from Wayne Thiebaud, William Wiley and beginning ceramics from Robert Arneson. His largely seasonal Tomato career allowed him to indulge an interest in art and photography each winter. Primarily he did realistic pen and ink work, designs and landscapes.
He came late to photography using it to illustrate training with tomatoes and other illustrative material. But during the off season he began haunting the American River Parkway in Sacramento perfecting landscapes and other natural subjects for 20 years. In 2008 he moved back to Davis and began biking through the Arboretum and taking pictures of flowers. He was "discovered" by the staff and became a volunteer Arboretum Photographer taking illustrative as well as his pretty photos. He is now producing a formal digital photographic 'documentation' of the Shields Oak Collection)