A Day in the Land of Odd

Happy Holidays everyone!  With all the activities as of late it has been difficult to find time to get out the remaining posts of the year. .. and by activities that includes tonight’s accomplishment of finally drumming through every single song on my Xbox for Rock Band 3 on pro-drums – including all three cores (RB1/2/3)  expansion packs (LEGO, AC/DC) and too many downloaded songs to admit in public.  Since I had a few minutes to spare while resting the arms, I thought I’d crank one out that I did the prep work on just a few days ago.  While going through my list of ideas I noticed one that has been on there for a looooong time.  To be specific, that would be like 1 year and 7 months.  This is actually a mixture of shots taken by both myself and Linda although not entirely sure which is which so for the most part assume equal credit.

So, back in May of 2011, Linda and I had the opportunity to visit an old friend of mine called Allerton Park and Retreat Center near Monticello IL (link here).  If you were fortunate to attend the University of Illinois, it is likely you are familiar with this location as it is a nice place to get out and away from the grind.  My brother Ron first introduced me to this place while he was going to school there.  The best thing about this place is that it’s more than just a place for some peace and quite – it is also a rich environment for creativity and a godsend if you are in to “photographing the odd”.  The site was the estate of one Robert Allerton who was heir to his father Samuel’s fortunes from his association with the First National Bank of Chicago and many stockyards including the Union Stockyards of Chicago.  Robert was passionate about art becoming an avid collector and philanthropist.  This passion resulted in his estate becoming  full of eccentric sculptures collected during his worldly travels.  Robert was also heavily involved with the University of Illinois along with his adopted son John Gregg.  I was not aware of this before reading up on Wikipedia and their official site, but it was actually deeded to the university back in 1946 (one of the largest gifts to date to the university).  I’ll let you read up on the history of this place, but hands down, if you are looking to spend the day behind the camera .. this is an excellent place to start.

First of all, there are statues all over the property that are stunning in both their size and subject.  Take for example this one.

I believe it is called Death of the Last Centaur.  Guess this is a good time to mention that a large majority of these images were SHOPPED.  I admit it (unlike Peter Lik) but the digital darkroom is one of my favorite parts of photography.  Unlike with wildlife photography I take a little more liberty in landscape shots – the animal world is a little more picky on maintaining the “natural” coloring of the species.  I wanted to learn some advanced techniques and the shots from Allerton provided a fertile ground for that.  I’m guessing from the wide angle shot that Linda actually took the one above – otherwise I would have had to hiked about 1/4 mile away to get that coverage with Beast.   The shot below shows the tighter ones I was shooting.  My goal was to fade out the background so the statue would pop a little more.  A lot of work with masks and filter brushes in Lightroom got me here.

Not bad, the sharpness of the status stands out better than in the first shot.  Some color manipulation accelerated the timing about 5 months into the fall.  The next task was to try my hand at some B&W and tone manipulation.  This is harder than initially thought.

The background did not lighten up as much as desired – need to read up a little more on the Dodging and Burning in the tool but the statue’s coloring came out close to expectations – it would have popped a lot more on a lighter background.  Maybe next time I’ll see if there is an angle that takes some of the trees out.

Hit the jump to see other shots from Allerton…

Here is a head on shot.  One again it gets lost in the background.  If you compare with the colored shot above you will also notice I brought some of the yellow of the leaves into the statue itself – gives the statue more of a reflective property.

Another shot at the B&W.  Now this time I was able to do a better job of masking the background and lightening it up while darkening the statue itself to provide greater contrast.  Clarity and Saturation were also played with to help drown out some of the detail in the background

I really  like this shot and thinking of getting it printed to see how it looks on the wall.  Thought I would throw the following shot in as well.  It provides you with a feel for the size of this sculpture.  Note the composition seems to work nicely as well – Linda’s posture follows the overall outer curve of the centaur – what’s your opinion?

There are a lot more statues around the grounds and some you will have to put a little foot work in to get to.  Nothing like combining a hobby with a little exercise.  A word of caution is probably in order here – some of the statues that adorn this estate are mature oriented – a polite way to say… Au Natural.

The darkroom effort on this statue was a struggle.  The goal in this one was to get the statue itself to have more of a white tone while bringing it out from the busyness of the woods.  Essentially the exact opposite approach from the centaur above.  Not the best effort in either case but not horrible for my first attempt.. time to figure out a few more controls in the Lightroom toolbox.

Found out from some surfing that the statue is named Primitive Man.  Robert Allerton’s butler actually posed for the cast in 1921 and was constructed out of limestone in 1922.  It is actually a large scale sculpture by Charles Laing – wonder if the butler imagined how many people would be looking at his junk.  Those three shots were the bulk of my exploration into full on image manipulation – beyond the standard tweaks in a majority of the images that grace the pages of this blog.  The good news is I’m staring at a number of books on the subject just waiting for me to crack them open and soak in their knowledge.

Figured I’d throw in a few more shots we took on the grounds so you have a feel for what you are in for if you get the opportunity to visit.  This statue sits in their gardens area.  This was a difficult shot because we were back so far due to the zooms that people couldn’t see us.  There must be 30 shots from this perspective that are littered with people enjoying the plants.  Patience, patience, patience.

Looks like the right side could have been brought up about a millimeter but you can see from the edges I was getting glass bend on the pillars.  How about some more cement boobs.  The Internet refers to these as Sphinxes, but they seem more like Sirens to me.  There are two of them that “guard” the pod  where I spent a good hour photographing at.  Check out those feet!.. ummm.. they are BELOW the boobs.

I specifically remember trying to compose these shots.  The shot above was actually a result of giving up on the other statue because I could not get the background to work at all.  Everything I tried resulted in an unbalanced shot which gave the appearance that the statue was leaning to the right.  If you compare it to the one above, the evergreens on the sides help prop it up a bit… although it looks like it might be leaning slightly to the left .. I give up.

Admittedly, I am a sucker for interesting rocks (check here).  This rock was just sitting at the far end of the pond.  They must have liked it as well since they gave it a pedestal to sit on.

Linda must have been getting bored waiting for me to complete my shoot at this pond.  So much she started taking shots of me!

… and why was I spending sooo much time at this particular pond?  Two words … Loch Ness.    That’s right, I had the rare opportunity to witness the dreaded Allerton Loch Ness.

Can you see it?  look closer … a lot closer.  Okay, Okay, I’ll show you what I was staring at through the Beast.

Look at the size of that thing.  So big it was generating it’s own wake that spread out the entire width of the pond.  Still having problems seeing it?  Fine, put the zoom on Warp Drive Scotty.

Although just its head is sticking out you can kind of make out the long serpentine body just under the surface.   I can already visualize all the things I’m going to buy when I sell this rare sighting to the local media.  First off a Sherpa to haul the Beast around for me.

wait a minute…crap!

Sorry folks, false alarm.  On closer inspection it appears to be a snapping turtle – a HUGE snapping turtle at that.  It may even rival our local encounter (link here).  Looks like no Sherpa – at least I have a UB fallback.

That’s all folks – short and sweet tonight.  Just wanted to share a great place to visit .. and let you in on some digital darkroom stuff I’ve been tinkering with.  Have a save and joyous holiday – I’ll see you after Christmas.

2 thoughts on “A Day in the Land of Odd”

  1. Nice article, thanks! Do I detect the faintest hint of jealousy toward a particularly famous professional photographer with torn shirts with torn sleeves and groupies?

    The last black-and-white photograph that you are thinking of printing looks like an icy winter scene–very spooky given that the figure is dead. Actually, I found out that Allerton is creepiest on a very foggy, gray November day when there’s no one there and it’s so silent and still and you get lost in the swampy areas because you can’t see hardly anywhere because of the fog and you run into these creepy statues out in the middle of nowhere. It’s an Edward Gorey world, not at all like the sunny day when you were there. On the other hand, I’ve never been so massively attacked by mosquitoes and other filthy, diseased pestilence as I have on hot summer days at Allerton.

    Not to deter anyone from visiting the place. Just bring some DEET, say, oh, 100%. And don’t watch “The Shining” before going there on a really foggy day in late November. Don’t.



  2. THERE IS NO JEALOUSY HERE! I am just big enough to admit it when I Shop!. I can definitely see how this place would be uber-creepy in the fog. I obviously didn’t go into detail on all the statues, but the ones on the path deeper in the woods would definitely bring out the chills if you felt lost out there. I have also been there on hot summer days and you can literally hear the buzz of about 1,000 mosquitoes all chanting your name – actually may have been out there with you and Eilish that day – my recommendation 100% DEET, body nets and those electrified tennis racquets to zap anything that gets close to you. It was not that bad when we were there, but thanks to all the flooding guessing it was a banner year for flying pests.

    Forgot to mention in the actual post, but if you go there, be sure and make it out to the Sun God (think that is the name of it) … if we scared you away with the pest comments, take heart in the fact you also have the option to drive there… but you will be missing the full experience if you don’t hike at least some of it


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