Photographing the Foxtail Agave, and how I found inspiration in Seneca’s stoicism

Happy new year from me to you… I hope my followers had a peaceful and enjoyable holiday season. This is my very first post in 2023, and in it I include an invitation for you to welcome the new year with a hint of stoicism (see below).

Over the holidays I started a new, short photography project: a study of the Foxtail AgaveAgave attenuata. The leaves of these succulent plants are curvy and have a particular way to harvest light. It was entertaining, trying to find different angles and perspectives with my camera, while I tried to distract my mind from the doom and gloom of the first holiday season after my husband’s death. 

I took the FEATURED PHOTOGRAPH with a 50 mm mirrorless lens at f/6.3, shutter 1/250 s and ISO 350, handheld, on a cloudy day. It had rained, one important aspect of succulent plant photography. The rain washes the significant amount of dirt these plants tend to accumulate on their leaves, making it possible to take photographs that are free of unwanted distractions. If you follow me on facebook, you have already seen this photo. 

As a stand alone print, the FEATURED PHOTOGRAPH is available on my GeoGalleries portfolio.

Photographing in projects

A photography project, as I understand it, is a somewhat unified, cohesive body of work that employs the same concept, technique, subject, and or palette throughout multiple photographs. Working in projects can be an excellent way to improve one’s skills and explore a particular theme or style in greater detail.  It also helps the photographer to remain focused and avoid being pulled in various directions like a leaf in the wind.

If you are interested, my previous posts about working in projects can be found on this link, and my previous image projects are displayed on my Adobe Portfolio.

Inspiration in “ócio” 

I dedicated some of my free time over the holidays to read a book by the Roman philosopher Seneca “On the Shortness of Life”. Seneca argues that life is long enough if we maximize our time in “otium” (Latin). Life is only short – he writes- for the busy person, who forgets about one’s own own mortality and goes on existing for the future, while engaging in futile endeavors that waste away the time one has to live.

It takes the whole of life to learn how to live, and—what will perhaps make you wonder more—it takes the whole of life to learn how to die.


In Portuguese, the language I read the book, “otium” was translated as “ócio”, which primarily implies “wasting time”, or “doing nothing productive” with one’s time. The term is often applied to lazy people. I believe that the word “leisure”, in the English translation, expresses more accurately the meaning the philosopher tried to convey, as being the best way to spend one’s time.

Undeniably, Seneca was a busy man most of his life. He was involved in significant intrigue, manipulation, and power struggle, typical of the Roman Empire, which he effectively administrated for several years on behalf an immature Emperor, Nero. Seneca most likely explored his stoic philosophical ideas when he was in exile and wrote his books in the end of his life, when the Emperor denied him retirement from his administrative duties and ordered him to live in semi-reclusion.

Inspired by the book, I decided to spend my vacation in “ócio” and explore the dual meaning of the concept. I read the book a few times, to improve myself through the study of (stoic) philosophy; but I also started a new image project, to waste my precious, mortal time, on a futile endeavor.

ReferenceOn the shortness of life, by Lucius Seneca. (link for informational purposes only, not affiliated. 

Below, a photo of my edition, in Portuguese and Latin.

Next chapter…


Wall Art Botanical Images

Wall Art Photography projects

Wall Art landscapes and miscellaneous


19 thoughts on “Photographing the Foxtail Agave, and how I found inspiration in Seneca’s stoicism

  1. Steve Schwartzman says:

    A calm and stoic new year to you. Photographic projects are a good use of your time and energy. Your attraction to the agave is understandable.

    A Latin dictionary gives these English translations for otium: ‘leisure, vacant time, freedom from business; ease, inactivity, idle life; time for any thing; rest, repose, quiet, peace (as opposed to war).’ As you pointed out, the Portuguese descendant, ócio, has taken on the negative senses ‘idleness, laziness.’

    The largest of New York’s Finger Lakes is Seneca Lake. One website claims that the name comes from one of their villages, Osininka. Wikipedia says of the Seneca people that “They are descendants of Seneca who resettled there after the American Revolution, as they had been allies of the British and forced to cede much of their lands. The tribe’s name has no logical connection with the ancient Roman statesmen Seneca the Elder and Seneca the Younger.” The Seneca actually call themselves Onödowáʼga, which apparently means “Great Hill People.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Alessandra Chaves says:

      Interesting about the Seneca lake. I wasn’t aware of it. Words’ meanings change regionally as well. So much gets lost in translations, particularly when one is translating a text from 2000 years ago.


  2. howg2211 says:

    Beautiful image. Happy New Year to you and looking forward to seeing more of the projects that will occupy your ‘leisure’ time!


  3. Steve Heap says:

    Lovely photograph, Alessandra! You are a master at capturing these complex curves and shadows and a project like this really gives the mind some time to heal. Interesting to about the philosophy. I read the piece several times, but I’m still not 100% sure what he meant, because it sounded like he was forced to keep busy on his “work” even in old age. Maybe I should read the book!


    1. Alessandra Chaves says:

      Thank you. In fact, the book is a letter to Paulinus, who is believed to have been in charge of Rome’s wheat supply. It is also believed that the letter was meant to convince Paulinus to abandon public life and dedicate himself to literary leisure and philosophy. The dates the letter was written and circumstances leading to it are a matter of dispute and investigation, but overall it’s a letter about why one should not take on too many responsibilities and occupations because life is short and should be used to improve upon oneself.


  4. shoreacres says:

    That’s a beautiful photo of the agave, and a good tip about post-rain photography. I often hear people commenting about how ‘fresh’ the world looks after a good rain, and the effects of a good post-drought rain are particularly striking. That said, I’ve never thought specifically about how relevant that could be for photographs.

    It’s interesting that you should mention Seneca. I’ve been reading the Epistles of Horace, and enjoying them immensely, partly because David Ferry’s translation makes them delightfully accessible. Horace was influenced by both the Stoics and the Epicureans, and doesn’t fit neatly in either group, but that philosophical confluence contributes to my fondness for him.

    I really like the quotation you highlighted, and agree with it. As it happens, I had an interesting situation to deal with in the past year myself. While not as significant as your husband’s death, it still demanded attention. What I found most interesting was my response, which was quite different than it would have been in my younger years. Age alone may not beget wisdom, but experience certainly does, and it sounds as though Seneca understood that as well as anyone.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. shoreacres says:

        That’s right. Action and reflection belong together. That’s how any learning takes place — like with my photography. First comes action — taking photos — and then comes reflection. What worked? What didn’t? Why? How can X be improved? And so on. All of that can be done even without a classroom!

        Liked by 1 person

  5. shoreacres says:

    I just came across this passage from a book called The Daily Stoic,, and thought of you:

    “In Seneca’s essay on tranquility, he uses the Greek word euthymia, which he defines as “believing in yourself and trusting that you are on the right path, and not being in doubt by following the myriad footpaths of those wandering in every direction.” It is this state of mind, he says, that produces tranquility.” [Holiday, Ryan; Hanselman, Stephen. The Daily Stoic (p. 23). Kindle Edition]”

    That rings true for me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Alessandra Chaves says:

      Interesting that I was thinking about this the other day. My late husband processed this kind of tranquility. He knew exactly who he was, what he liked and what he as here in this wold for. Of course that does not leave much room for change, but spares one a lot of time wondering, “should I be on another path? “

      Liked by 1 person

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