Thursday, August 30, 2007

Saving the Undercroft

The beauty of old barns for me begins with their riot of shapes and panoply of textures. Barns are industrial buildings that often meet a complex architectural program. They grow with the farm they serve and change with changes in agricultural markets. Their organization usually follows considered decisions about how to get more out of the work day with fewer sore muscles. One can often trace the history of what was farmed and how, by additions and changes made to the farmstead.

A lot of hands went into the making of any old farmstead. Every window and every wall carries the particular quirks of each hand & mind that hammered on it. In some old farms, even today, a great great great grandchild has taken me to places where great grampa set a mark.

Sadly, all of my encounters with old barns also remind me that these geriatric structures are often crumbling. As they fall, they plow under a rich history and a lifestyle. I'd like to think that "plowing under" is the compost of images such as this.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Title Search

I intended to post more of Southwest Harbor, but then we went to Salem, MA, to see our friends Lou & Vicky; I chose a shot on our walk near Marblehead for posting, but last night I was back at the swamp and the sky was perfect, and so it went. Why plan? Today I shot barns at midday. I never shoot at midday.

This shot is crying out for a name. Any suggestions?

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Staying Rooted

June 8, 2007, Southwest Harbor, Maine
The sun, barely up but soon to be blanketed behind slate clouds. I climbed from bed at 4:30 AM for this? At first the sky looked clear - scrambling to set up tripod, bag, camera, position... Three shots before the clouds appeared from nowhere. position... sun rising fast. position... **5:12:54 AM - snap:shot #22*** I must make something else before the sun is totally gone. How to shoot when the world isn't holding still??? Well, perhaps that's NOT what you thought this photo is about.

In fact, I went on shooting for another 17 minutes, long after the sun was behind the cloud bank, and with some good results, but I especially like this one with its lone tree, cropped but braced against the clouds and the rising sun. That there were many competing shots of vastly different character perhaps testifies to the richness of the scenic components, to the constantly changing light, and to a certain uncertainty by the photographer as to what the hell he was after. I struggled with the "contact sheets," but finally chose this. It seemed to me that it had the most complex story to tell. That so many came so easily tells me there's much better yet to be had in Southwest Harbor. 'Until I discover what it is, be sure to click the thumbnail to see this shot full screen.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Meditation on Robert Adams

I've just finished two complementary books by the same author, photographer Robert Adams. The first of these, "Beauty in Photography," explains and illustrates with precision and humanity his Apollonian aesthetic. It is an aesthetic that leads him to embrace illustrative painters such as Hopper (Just saw the magnificent exhibit at Boston MFA) but dismiss as "decorative," the Abstract Expressionists. What really kept me going through his discussion was the way he illustrated his thoughts with some gorgeous images by many photographers.

However, it is in the second book, "Why People Photograph," that he gets down to what, for me, is the nub of the matter. The two chapters on American Photography are written with a prose that reverberates like Loren Eisely's. The nub comes near the end of the penultimate chapter: He writes,

"It is worth adding, finally, a truism from the experience of many landscape photographers: One does not for long wrestle a view camera in the wind and heat and cold just to illustrate a philosophy. The thing that keeps you scrambling over the rocks, risking snakes, and swatting at the flies is "the view." It is only your enjoyment of and commitment to what you see, not to what you rationally understand, that balances the otherwise absurd investment of labor."

The statement follows a long discussion of the destruction of the American West in the 20th century - the open, empty space where one could be alone and at a frontier. The observation is the richer because he links it to another truism, "You can never go home." As one who grew up in Colorado, Adams must feel all of this very deeply, and it is, in fact, a part of the few images of his that I've seen.

As it turns out, today I was at the Museum of Modern Art in NYC and saw another half dozen of his photos. They are very beautiful in all the ways that he describes in "Beauty in Photography." This is the first time I have seen original prints of his work. There is no prettiness to them. Instead, the compositions drew me into thinking about the choices of elements and the relation of parts. In one, neat echoes were created between the roofs of tract houses in the desert and the lines of distant mountains. Another showed people at a distance, sheltering themselves from heat beating down on the barren land. All of this is portrayed in a very matter-of-fact manner. Even the small size of the prints, approximately 8X10 inches forbids entry into the visual space in any detail. They perhaps follow in the tradition of leaving a record, in this case a consciously literate one, of the landscape at a given time. Of course there are hints of distant grandeur, but they are in retreat and very cerebral - unsensuous. Why do their ironic hints of tragedy leave me wanting something more - some swatted flies maybe?

At the risk of being "decorative," the thing that keeps me, "scrambling," in my feeble way, " over the rocks," is the very sensuous experience of the moment be it in the musty creak of an attic or in the bubbling marsh. How could I do other than seek to make that sensuousness be the living breath of my image? Alas, I will forever be confined to calendars with pages torn off by the month - nor ever twisted enough to be an artist.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The Heart of the Hollow

This photo is very hard to appreciate on a computer screen. The image when "fit to screen" is too small to permit much entry into the picture space. Those who can zoom should do so, but then try zooming out again to see the whole. Printed copies offer no such challenge.

So why have I put it here? Because it reveals a new love of mine, the swamp that lies in the very center of The Hollow. Hollow Swamp is a mysterious place, long, amorphous and difficult to enter. So far my only approach is from country roads along its perimeter. At the outlet end of the main belly of the swamp it is crossed by such a roadway, almost a causeway. The roadway and the swamp are at war. The funneling effect where swamp water must pass under the roadway forces the otherwise dense swampgrowth to retreat a bit and leave a small, clear pool to catch clouds' reflections. The swamp in its turn has begun to undermine the roadway, leaving deep holes in the shoulder asphalt. What part the beavers are playing in this counterinsurgency is hard to know, but their constant re-engineering of the water flow assures the town crew of certain amount of re-engineering of their own.

For my part, the resulting pool and its edges are proving a useful new shooting spot if I can keep from being tripped up by the holes. For all of you, this puddles in some of the center land between the farms I have photographed here. Hollow Swamp is undoubtedly the most ignored feature of The Hollow; but its profuse diversity populates the Hollow with a richness, a blossoming of life that sings through day and night and echoes off the surrounding hills. It is a song and an echoing that is choked silent in too many places by urban sprawl.

Thanks to all those who write back from time to time if only to let me know which images you liked best or liked least.

For information about the current CAMERA'S EYE photo exhibition, go to:

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Etude in Diagonals

This afternoon I gave in to the urge to shoot sunset in the area around Amenia, NY. I've been resisting late shoots there because it means I get home to dinner much later. On a normal evening I can usually hold myself down to under 150 exposures. On the way to Amenia I saw this barn, and I could not keep the car from pulling to the side of the road. I took just five shots of the barn of which this was the last. It was also the last shot of the evening. By the time I reached Amenia a haze had come in diffusing the sunset, and all the sites I knew looked unappetizing.

I drove around for awhile hoping to stop somewhere, but it never happened. Finally, I told the GPS, to take me home by the shortest route. To a GPS "shortest" is distinct from "fastest." As it turns out, the shortest route from the spot I'd wandered to quickly turns to dirt then cuts through Taconic State Park and then, still dirt, enters CT. All in all, I think I passed over two mountains, through several dark chasms, past one area where the side of the chasm was so steep the road was falling away and barricades narrowed passage to a car width; it took me 40 minutes to get to an intersection and a bit more to get back to pavement somewhere above Salisbury, CT. I never knew there was such a road in the area. By the time I reached the ridge in Sharon, the sun was a fire ball through the haze, and a deer posed just 50 feet off in the field, but the car had already fallen into back-to-the-stable mode and was not to be resisted.

In spite of only catching 5 images, I'm delighted with the evening's shoot; one takes what one is given, and I prize geometries such as this. I've had many evenings where I shot over 150 images and had nothing that pleased me as much as this.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

No Trains Stop Here Now

Unusual clouds, the result of changing atmospheric conditions, sent me back to Wassaic on Thursday, By the time I drove into town the skies were better than expected, and I took some shots of the grain elevator with track and rail-crossing lights. I half-heartedly imagined how I might photoshop the light to on.

Wassaic is a tiny crossroad in an unlikely valley, hugged between two steep mountains, just off of busy route 22. If you didn't know it was there, only an improbable wrong turn could put you here. It is urbanized enough for sidewalks, but few people walk on them. In the tiny general store the owner can often be found playing chess with a customer. She makes change without leaving her seat at the chess board.

There are a number of surprises in Wassaic. None is more striking, however, than this building, vestige of another time. Then, active farms were scattered over these hills, most started by immigrants who arrived from various parts of Europe in the late 19th century. Then this little crossing was a center of activity, and the grain elevator was a keystone in the farm economy. Passenger train service just began from NYC to this area two years ago. The shiny new station is up the track a bit and situated on route 22 so Wassaic continues to snooze, but the sleep may be short lived. The restoration of this grain relic is but one of the signs of change. In the meantime some of the old farms hang on with large herds of cattle. Many of the hillsides are still covered in corn rows. Also among the hills abandoned barns decay awaiting the transformation still in the wings.

I was around back of the grain elevator when I heard the crossing bell ring followed by a loud blast from locomotive's horn. The train was bearing down and closer than expected when I crossed the track, and it raised my heart rate. I had only seconds to prop up my already open tripod and snap the shutter. I fired off two good shots, one with each light lit. In the other shot the train and the blurred break between the cars are both further down the track. In this one everything happened just right - and then the train was gone. No train stops here anymore.

REMINDER: Our photo show opening today was busy and successful. If you're in the area, we'd love you to stop in. For more information, visit the web site ( or send an email.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Antique Bowers

Once they were as ubiquitous as stone walls in New England, those neatly planted rows of trees that marked a roadway's approach to a farmstead and canopied the way with a cathedral of branches. Long ago those vaulting limbs provided cool respite for the farmer in his summer chores or the neighbor passing by. Even more than the physical shade they provided, they were a mark of pride and neighborliness and civilization. Where these survive today, they still comfort our eye as we pass at carbonated speeds. I never pass without thinking of the farmer who measured and planted and nurtured each tree. Did he think about the generations to follow that might continue to stop in the shade of his bower?

Shot this evening at Hillside Farm for my neighbors.

To learn more about the upcoming CAMERA'S EYE exhibition, "Fog, Mist, Flowers, & Clouds," visit

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Radial Composition with Shrub

Photography provides a unique hinge between the world as its reflections strike the lens of our eye,
and the abstract "musical" language of colors and forms which strike our spirit.
Photos like this one, it seems to me, force the issue.
What would you call it?

Thanks to the owners of Hillside Farm and to Joe Mustich and Ken Cornet who introduced me to them so that I could make photos there. This photo is from my second shoot there. The barns are terrific, and I will be back again soon. There are hundreds more shots to be taken of this window alone.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Elevating Grain - The Vanishing Farmscape

Meanwhile, back in Connecticut I've returned to my barnstorming with photos from two new farms currently in process. Last Sunday I met photographer Ivan Goldberg just across the border in Dutchess Country, NY, where we followed our whims through the labyrinth of country roads and shot what we saw. Ivan shoots with a digital camera outfitted for infra-red, and he has posted his wonderful, surreal images on his web site ( The clouds were especially conducive to good shooting, and Ivan's images captured the day beautifully. His full gallery is on my list below on the right. It's well worth a visit.

One spot that was especially attractive to me was the hamlet of Wassaic, part of the town of Amenia. We were both attracted by, among other features, an old grain elevator that is being renovated. I only took three shots of the elevator on our first visit as I didn't think they would read so well as photos. How mistaken I was! yesterday I went back to Wassaic and the surrounding region and shot a lot more. I especially like the way the new metal siding catches the light and makes the massing crisp and clear. I expect to return to this area regularly. If the image above has moires through it you need to open it larger.

After shooting the grain elevator I continued my walk around the town shooting other structure. At the back of the grain elevator I met two men working on a section of roof. They gave me permission to enter the grain elevator, and I climbed the roughly seven floors to the room at the very top. The wood structure on the first level was much more massive than I expected with columns and beams made of lumber as much as 18 inches on a side. There were also large wooden chutes that descended from the floors above. As I climbed, I saw large steel screws that must have been used to move the grain inside some chutes. There was also a conveyor belt that ran vertically from the bottom of the elevator to the top. It was outfitted with hundreds of scoops that each held perhaps a quart of grain and carried it to the top of the elevator.

Rumor was that the elevator was to become a restaurant serving different food on each floor, but it's hard for me to see how fire codes could allow such an enterprise. After leaving Wassaic I explored more of the area. There's still more I want to post from the Maine trip, but new photos call for attention too.

Stay tuned for information on the next Camera's Eye Exhibtion, "Fog, Mist, Flowers, and Clouds," which we are preparing now and which runs on Aug. 11, 12, 18, and 19.