Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Blacksmith's Shop

HENRY WADSWORTH LONGFELLOW: "The smith, a mighty man is he, with large and sinewy hands."

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: ...and here is the blacksmith's shop. It was the hub of the farm, at the meeting point of the two major axes of work. Three walls have windows to catch the breeze when its hot and so on a cold day approaching winter solstice, as here, sun shines in all day long. The farm house is just beyond the window shown above; the barns are behind.

Unused shops are a magnet for clutter, but much of the clutter here is what was left when the forge ceased working at least a half century ago.

Click on the image and you can step in and have a real look around.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Storm Over Skarf Mountain

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: The farm's founder was a blacksmith. His land was fertile and prime, on the top of a mountain just outside of town. When the sun shined, it shined here from dawn until dusk. His family were leaders of the community. Some of his grandchildren live on the hills behind me.

Like most New England farms, the crops varied with the economy - tobacco, corn, grain, and always dairy. It's been a half a century since the golden Guernseys who once grazed here, last "came home." Except for a bit of hay, both barns and farm house sit empty.

The large barn on the left was the cow barn. The barn has received so many changes and adaptations that it's hard to tell for what purpose it was originally built. There are both metal cow stalls and older wooden ones still in place. To me they look too small to hold the large dairy cows I see on farms today. Most of the up-hill portion of the barn is for hay, but at some time in the past a milk room was carved out of part of the bottom floor. Hidden behind the cow barn in this image, and facing onto a common barnyard, is a small barn for bulls and another for heifers. On the far (south-facing) side of the cow barn are giant doors that swing open onto the barnyard, and in the fall someone still pushes a tall wagon full of hay inside between rows of empty cow stalls where it will stay dry. Beside these large doors is a long row of windows that still fill the milk room with sunlight and whose shadows still mark the passage of a day.

The two, wooden silos were made by the Unadilla Silo Company in 1951. They probably replaced earlier silos in the same spot. Wooden silos were inexpensive, and farmers expected to have to replace them as they aged. The boards of these have shrunk, the iron hoops fallen slack from disuse. The bill for each silo was $250 and another $50 each to ship them from Unadilla, NY. A small passage leads from a space behind the silos down into the milk room. Most summers vines block access.

The buildings on the right include chicken coops, outhouse, a corn crib, machine shed and food storage. They cluster nicely around an area that may once have functioned as a dooryard, orchard, and garden. The old farm house is visible at the back. At the corner where the axis of the barnyard galaxy and the axis of the dooryard galaxy cross is the blacksmith's shop.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

May the Joys of the Coming Year Be Many

The photo and greeting card above was made by my daughter, Melissa Cherniske. Portrait photography is her business and her bliss. You can find out more about her work and commission her to photograph your family by going to http://www.LENSCAPES-PHOTO.com, and clicking on "portraits."

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Idea of Farm House No. 8

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: From my former classmate Tom Hubka, in his excellent book on the connected farms of New England, I learned the phrase the old-timers used to describe the farm. I've added a second phrase to make a two stanza rhyme:
Front house,
Little house
Back house
Barn

Front yard
Door yard
Barn yard
Farm
In the early 19th century the farm had no front yard, no pickets, but it always had a dooryard. The door yard is the place outside the kitchen in front of the ell or, "little house," but it was often also adjacent to the back house where the farm shops were located.

So it was the true center of farm life. It was not only a place to chop the firewood or harness the ox. There, vehicles were repaired and animals butchered. A chicken running headless one moment might soon be plucked there. Nearby corn was shucked and apples sorted; bushels for canning as sauce, crates to be pressed into cider, a few choice ones chosen for pie, and one red beauty polished and eaten. It was also the place to greet neighbors and spend some time catching up on the news of the day. Young ones played and old ones idled. Keeping a messy door yard was a sign of slovenliness and akin to moral turpitude.

Today the door yard may be grass or it may still have a vegetable or herb garden. Very possibly, however, it has been paved for parking. As a place, the dooryard, once the work center of the farm, has completely vanished.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Idea of Farm House No. 7

CARL SANDBURG - Upstairs
I too have a garret of old playthings.
I have tin soldiers with broken arms upstairs.
I have a wagon and the wheels gone upstairs.
I have guns and a drum, a jumping-jack and a magic lantern.
And dust is on them and I never look at them upstairs.
I too have a garret of old playthings.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Idea of Farm House No. 6

FRANK GOHLKE"Among the few positive things we humans may do that other species don’t is to create Places. We can quibble about the details, but most people who have thought seriously about the matter would recognize a few necessary components in any satisfactory definition: places, like landscapes, do not occur naturally; they are artifacts. A place is not a landscape; places are contained within landscapes. Place is a possibility wherever humans linger, but it’s not inevitable. Sometimes we just occupy space. Places can be created intentionally or as a side effect of other actions with other intentions. Place seems to be more likely to come into being the longer we stay put, but many nomadic cultures roam in landscapes whose minutest features are named, recognized, and given a place in the story of a people and a world. 

"Place has something to do with memory. The evidence of the actions of human beings in a specific locale constitutes a physical version of memory. In the visible traces of their passage I read the investment of desire, hope, ambition, sweat, toil, and love of people who set this location apart from raw space. I don’t need to identify the origin of every feature to sense its significance. The intentions of the inhabitants may be opaque to me; I only need to be aware that intentions were acted on here. Long-enduring Places demonstrate Wright Morris’s dictum that the things we care about don’t so much get worn out as worn in. Some would go further and say that the vital energies, positive and negative, that are discharged on a site create a psychic echo chamber in which what happened there can continue to reverberate indefinitely. It is that faith which informs Joel Sternfeld’s pictures of locations associated with horrific crimes, utopian communities, and the civilization of ancient Rome, moments whose perturbations can persist for millennia. 

"Human history takes many forms, some material, some mental. Place partakes of both. One way to define Place in a few words, in fact, might be as a unique and significant intersection in space of human history and natural history. Is the Grand Canyon a Place? In what sense? When did it become a Place? When the first human being set eyes on it? When the first band of Archaic hunters camped on its rim or along the river at the bottom? When the first story about it was made? The first permanent settlement? When the first photograph was taken? When Congress made it a National Park? Or was it when the uplift of the Colorado Plateau and the downcutting of the Colorado River began 17,000,000 years ago?"

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Idea of Farm House No. 5

COLLABORATIVE JOURNAL (guest contributer, Jane Roth): Old farmhouses go through many incarnations from the vision of the original owner, through renovations driven sometimes by changing need, sometimes by changing values. Sabbaday House began modestly but rose in stature. The rooms were small, and one flowed into another without halls. Remove the kitchen addition and the first floor bedroom wing (added in the 1950's), and you're left with four rooms on the first floor and four bedrooms on the second floor but with small "eyebrow" windows. Eyebrow windows hint that earlier this was probably attic or garret.

In any case, the second floor became the bedroom floor, divided, minimally, by need for privacy. The flow of the current layout would be unsettling to the original owners. The 4 over 4 (or sometimes 2 over 2) pattern was repeated all over New England. The first important addition was usually the kitchen ell. The old structures adapt well; farmhouses often have "good bones."

We toured Ridge Farm with the grandchildren and great grandchildren of the farmers who built it in the 19th century. In the kitchen was an old, cast iron, wood stove and a gas range. Someone explained that it was years before the gas stove was actually connected, and they stopped using the wood stove. The granddaughter, already an adult herself, remarked on the lack of a dining room. Where did they eat, sleep, bathe? Where did the family gather on cold, winter nights? Again it was explained; there was always something cooking on the wood stove so people gathered there, and the tub had a large wooden top that served as a table.

The second floor of the house had some built in cabinets, and flooring that didn't match the layout of the rooms. In spite of good bones, this was an awkward renovation. What might be acceptable to gain a bit of space within the same space? When the bathroom was added did they rearrange the boy's and girl's spaces? It was a tight fit, but back then boys slept in one big bed, girls in another. Even then, someone explained, the second floor was always considered "not for company."

We lived in an 1820s or 30s farmhouse when we first moved to Connecticut. By 1830 New Milford was a hub, and the property on the top of a fertile hill was choice farmland. The house still had its original, central chimney and large bones that provided for spacious rooms. It suggested this had been a profitable farm, but the stairway was narrow and very steep. It doubled back on itself to avoid need for a passage along the side and to make space for the large chimney. It was the most economical way short of a ladder or spiral to connect the floors.

At the top of the stair a tiny landing had just room for a window ahead and a door to each side. The doors led to the two front bedrooms. They were spacious and sunny. Behind them were more rooms, but we can only guess they followed the traditional layout. The only thing certain because of the stair configuration and the original chimney, the people who lived back there had to pass through the front bedrooms to reach their own. Wasting space for a common hall or vestibule would have been profligate.

What had probably been two back bedrooms was at some point made into three cubbies connected by a long, windowless hall. It's hard to imagine that whoever designed the thrifty stair also designed the wasteful hall. The saved space of the stair was given back, and one still had to pass through a front bedroom to get to the back. In the bedroom cubicles one could do little more than sleep, but everyone slept alone. Then, the largest of the cubicles was converted to a bathroom, and everyone had to use the back hall. We learned that in the 1920s or 30s, when "the Jewish family" moved in, a new wing was added with servants quarters. When we rented the original section, The farmer lived up the street and his hired hand lived in that wing. The long back hall in our section ended at a door, forever locked, but on the other side the hall was still going.

The clear pattern in all three houses is for an escalating need for privacy. At Mountaintop Farm there's another empty farmhouse. Behind it is an old outhouse with spaces where three can sit and share one or another of life's pleasures together. In many houses today every room has a private bathroom where one can take long, hot showers and a computer terminal through which one can look back at the earth from cameras in space. Perhaps never before in history have we been so free to be alone.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Idea of Farmhouse No. 4

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL:

What is the process by which a place becomes just space?
How long till the energies fade?
Do they float among dust motes?
Do they make the floor creak?
Can one spot them as they glimmer,
Too indistinct to have a name?
And that moment, waiting for reply,
Is it still suspended there in the silence?
Can these survive a hundred seasons?
Can a photograph catch and hold them as they vanish?
How keen is the edge of what lingers?
How hollow the pull of what's gone?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Idea of Farmhouse No.3

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL:

Stairs without landings
Banisters without bottoms
No garret at the top
Where heirlooms gather dust
No dank cellar
Where everything reeks and rots
We take steps two at a time
And grasp only from newel to newel.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Idea of Farmhouse No. 2

ALFRED STIEGLITZ (as quoted by EDWARD WESTON): "A maximum of detail with a maximum of simplification."

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: The kitchens are gone, the old ones with the great chimneys that rise and embrace the house so that whatever gets cooked in the hearth or oven tastes of cast iron, and is digested first to fuel the next day's work, and then passed down to fuel generations. Families lived on everything that got canned there and on the bread that was baked daily, and arms got strong hauling kettles and washing laundry and the lessons learned were serious, the recipes passed down, tasty.

The old kitchen was in the ell until July when the women escaped to the summer kitchen. What lore, what culture blossomed in the dooryard with the lilacs and the chickens? No room has changed more or more constantly than the kitchen, not even the privy, and it's hard not to wonder how we've digested the changes.

Monday, December 14, 2009

TODAY'S PHOTO - The Idea of Farmhouse No.1

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: Thoughts on photographing an abandoned farmhouse.

Passages

At the threshold
Milk was left
And muddy boots
And ill will
And first kisses

In the blizzard of '88 the snow was piled to the top of the door.

Summers, the screen door
Let the breezes pass
And whispering
And the smell of midday meals
And the tractor's steady grind.

One fall the dog sat on the stoop and barked all night.

Across the threshold footsteps tracked
The days and weeks,
Wearing the boards.
Till the paint on the door jamb was thick,
The wood, brittle and dry.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Sunrise on Winchell Mountain

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: And here is the "long trajectory," referred to in my journal entry of December 7th. The sun, just rising above Connecticut mountains far behind me, rakes across the ridges, touches Winchell Mountain in the upper branches of these two autumn maples and at a few other points outside of this image, and lands next and finally on the side of the distant Catskill Mountains many miles away and on the other side of the Hudson River. At the top of the Maples day begins while I stand still in the shadows of night. In a few more moments the sun would have lit the whole hillside, but the cloud window closed, and the moment passed, and an overcast day began.

In October I posted the first image of Pleasant View Farm which I took from near this same location. I had intended to end the Pleasant View Farm series yesterday with this image, but I couldn't resist posting one of this week's snow photos first.

NOTE: best viewed full screen.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

First Snow

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: The first snow of the season and I'm standing near where the last two images were shot. It's Tuesday and I'm about to meet a friend to shoot a deserted house. It's getting hard to get up here before sunrise. It takes 50 minutes on the road which means I have to leave home at 6:15. When I make my sunrise run to Pleasant view now, it's colder than it was over the summer. Ripeness is all.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Between Fields

WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE: "Ripeness is all." (reprise)

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: Looking at yesterday's image, my brother found himself on the Yellow Brick Road. I'm hoping this image, shot on the same day, might leave some viewers also somewhere in the Oz zone, perhaps off to the side of the famous road and slightly dizzy from that perfume of untamed nature that doesn't affect tinmen. Every farm has areas between the corn and hay and cows too rocky or swampy, where nothing useful grows, and something else is always lurking.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Last Day of August, 2009, Pleasant View Farm

WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE: "Ripeness Is All."

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: Yesterday's image was taken on August 8th just after the hay had been cut. This was taken over three weeks later in afternoon sun as the corn tassels were darkening. Both belie the truth that we never really had summer this year, and the corn was over-watered, and the hay had no time to dry. I hope viewers will ignore all of this in favor of whatever truth the image suggests.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Valley Mist

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: The gentle roll of the land in this photo might suggest a broad plain, but the head of cool steam that's blowing off has risen from unseen valleys. This is the top of Winchell Mountain, a fertile plateau about a half mile across. It's named for James Winchell who as a young man in 1760 began the first farm here, and for his descendants who cultivated the land for three generations after. In addition to farmers, his descendants thrived and included scientists, lawyers, carpenters, ministers, teachers, engineers and a university chancellor. The land is farmed today by a family whose roots in the area are at least as old.

Winchell Mountain is an excellent spot to learn how morning happens and to watch the vapors as they cloud and drift and vanish. Off stage left I can look eastward, beyond corn fields, deep into Connecticut. If I walk right and look where the hill saddles, and the cow's graze, I can look west above a patchwork of hills, and beyond where the Hudson River must be, to the towering, shadowy Catskills. That's a long trajectory for the sun to shine its beam.

Even on mornings when the top of Winchell Mountain is in cloud, I've learned to wait and catch the drama as the cloud curtain lifts. This is a grand spot from which to collect morning.
----
NOTE: This one needs to be seen approaching full-screen.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Susurrus at Pleasant View Farm

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL:

It was really very soft,
That pedalpoint moment
When the sun's eye
Cornered the globe,
Swept past ridges and mountains
And made earth sweat,
Every blade bathed and dotted
By dew drop globes
That eyed back the sun,
Sustaining the pedalpoint
Softly over the whispering birds.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Bounty

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: Still cows, but my lens has moved from the slopes that rise above Twin Elms Farm to the top of Winchell Mountain and Pleasant View. It is late summer on one of those afternoons when I can almost feel the vital pulse of the planet, the ways it refreshes and rejuvenates itself. Here is the grand organism at work, even if this year provided rather more rain than farmers wanted

This is a large dairy farm, the kind of operation that takes the constant attention of a knowledgeable staff. In addition to twice daily milking, they raise and harvest many acres of corn and hay, and breed and raise calves. I know how much work it is running a dairy farm, and I'm thankful there are still people who do it, whose herds still graze on what's left of our Eastern farmland. For me there is a complex mystery, easily taken for granted, at the heart of the odd partnership of humankind and dairy cows. The mystery is not apparent when I read the stories of the great breeds of domesticated cattle.

In any case, I was thinking about this as I was driving back from a shoot today when a "Birdnote Moment," played on National Public Radio. It described another odd relationship, this between humans and a species of undomesticated bird. Somehow it seemed to shed light on why I think we underestimate the mysteries of our relationship with many animals. Rather than explain it myself, I refer you to the Birdnote text and/or the aired Birdnote mp3 where you will hear the bird's song.

Are we changed when there are no scenes like the one above to reflect upon, only cartons of milk and plastic-wrapped burgers?

Be sure to click on this image to see it large.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Eye to Eye

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: If your mind is of a literary bent, I recommend this link to parodies of a belovéd bovine verse:

http://oldpoetry.com/opoem/31410-Carolyn-Wells-The-Purple-Cow-Parodies

Monday, November 30, 2009

Cownundrum

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: For whatever it's worth, and I assure any enthusiast that it isn't much, the following was based on my observation that cows always show immense curiosity in my tripod. As soon as I take camera in hand and park tripod near by, it becomes a new field of exploration for cow brains to digest. Cows who previously had no thought to move, spot it standing there from across the yard. Many times while distracted photographing one cow, I've turned in time to glimpse another shy from the tripods falling heft, and in time to snatch it up before she moves in to sniff at her fallen prey.

A COWNUNDRUM

What is it about my tripod that catches the imagination of cows?

Perhaps it's the physics of the thing,
A philosophical flight by kinekind
Into the calculus of matter
And the stability of a trinity
And the ultimate futility of it all?

Or could it be the buxom milkmaid she longs for,
Humming on her stool her cowtown blues?
Or before that the fatted calf,
So utterly contented, beside the man on the stool
And the whine of his whetstone?

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Economy of Hay

ANSEL ADAMS: "The negative is the equivalent of the composer's score, and the print the performance."

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: I'm suddenly aware that I'm spending more time than ever revising images in Photoshop. It's not a bad thing; I still shoot more than I fiddle. In part, I think this is a natural result of drilling more deeply into the program and finding new ways to combine procedures, but I also think it is driven, in part, by my use over the past few months of HDR. If nothing else, HDR has drawn me toward situations of "impossible" lighting, and impossible lighting has led to post-processing fixes. But it has pushed my editing skills in other ways as well.

Without HDR this shot isn't impossible, but it's very dull. There's a branch that angles down and stands in relief just where the roof shadow is darkest. It is a detail I especially like, and below it is a ripple of vines that catches a ray of sunlight. Neither of these were clear to me in the two images I had shot to use for an HDR. In the exposure that let me capture sky, no matter what I did, that branch, at best, looked like obscure texture on the background barn boards. In the brighter exposure the background shadow was so bright that the leaves, though well formed, looked relatively flat and uninteresting. HDR technology combined information on the deep shadow from the overexposed original that revealed the hay wagon properly and preserved information about the color of the bright leaves from the underexposed image that was set to capture the sky. In the HDR software I could play with this balance and see what the whole might be. It was there that I saw, perhaps remembered, the bit of drama in the contrast of leaves and shadowed barn.

Unfortunately, the wind that day was blowing hard, and the leaves in the HDR looked like a double exposure. The actual HDR was useless. I made plans to come back, but on this day I had a useful sky, and when I did get back the hay wagon was gone, the hay stacked deep inside. However, I looked at the HDR with its double-exposed leaves, and I knew how I wanted the tones pulled together. Back in Photoshop I could combine the best of both images manually and then carefully adjust brightness, contrast, and saturation in carefully localized areas until the image was toned and colored as I had seen it in the HDR. The HDR software had let me sketch it.

Efforts such as this have led me to drill yet deeper into Photoshop tools and make many sorts of small adjustments I might not have made a year ago. Now, even when I don't need to make an HDR, I have a greater facility to make changes. As to the kinds of changes I'm making digitally, they are not very unlike what Anselm Adams taught photographers to do chemically in printing. However, digital processing allows infinitely more control and a much shorter learning curve. Of course, it also opens the doors to almost anything.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Last Haying

DAVID PLOWDEN: "It seems I have made a career of being one step ahead of the wrecking ball. I have been beset with a sense of urgency to record those parts of our heritage which seem to be receding as quickly as the view from the rear of a speeding train. I fear that we are eradicating the evidence of our past accomplishments so quickly that in time we may well lose the sense of who we are."

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: The hay that feeds the cattle through the winter comes from fields adjacent to where the beef cattle graze. Mike has already filled the first wagon and towed it to the lower field. Driving a loaded hay wagon down the hill, he must be careful to cut across the slope at the right angle. Too gentle a descent, and the hay wagon may tip sideways, spilling its load; too steep a descent, and the new load will propel the tractor on an uncertain ride. I've watched Mike plot a "switchback course," and bring a train of three raggéd, hay wagons down a steep hill safely behind his tractor.

On the hillside above him he's already cut the hay and raked it into furrows. Behind the tractor is a baler. As it runs along the furrows it gathers the hay and stuffs it into a metal duct which extrudes bales. Periodically the baler catapults a newly baled block of hay into the wagon at the back. On this particular day the catapult is giving him trouble, and after each bale he stops the tractor, gets down from his high seat, and resets the catapult arm. There has been too much rain, and some of the hay is not dry yet, but he won't even finish baling the dry hay this evening.

Each year there are fewer working farms in New England. When I first photographed at Twin Elm in 2007 they were growing corn here, but harvesting the corn became more work than they could handle. The equipment used to harvest corn is entirely different from that used to harvest hay. Today the corn harvesters lie abandoned in the fields over the wall where the herd grazes.

******************
Many thanks to Mike, Ralph and their family for continuing permission to shoot at Twin Elm. Similar thanks to so many others who have given permission over the past three years for me to walk their lands and photograph. I hope everyone has a happy Thanksgiving filled with laughter and loved ones.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Mooed Indigo*

KONRAD ADENAUER: “We all live under the same sky, but we don’t have the same horizon”

*Photo title suggested by Arthur Boehm

GUEST JOURNAL by Jane Roth:

The Cow

She lumbers up the hill
Once spry,
Now heavy, awkward,
hirsute and laden with flies.
Culled from the herd
Her differences noted.

Sad, alone
She seeks friendship
And could adore
The human in the field
Alas, cross-specie relationships
Do not endure.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Cowstellation*

JEANLOUP SIEFF: "All aspects of photography interest me and I feel for the female body the same curiosity and the same love as for a landscape, a face or anything else which interests me. In any case, the nude is a form of landscape. There are no reasons for my photographs, nor any rules; all depends on the mood of the moment, on the mood of the model."

*Photo title suggested by Margo Schab

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL:

Alimentary Meditation
Grazing along the sunny ridge,
On windswept plains,
Or in the shadowed grove,
Brazen fragrance of the herd,
What does the fly know of the cow's itch?
What does the cow know of the flies hunger?
What do intestinal microcultures know
Of the universes they reverberate.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Among Beef

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: Everything beyond the dairy yards is running wild. He's not a bull, but there's probably no convincing him of that, nor do the other steers or the heifers seem to realize he's really just an ex-bull. There are several of these ex-bulls in the herd. I'm sure they each have a social rank, but I can only guess which one is chief ex-bull. They watch me more closely than do any of the other cattle, and I watch them back with equal attention. Beef cattle require little handling, and at Twin Elm they're left pretty much to themselves as they wander the extensive fields. As a result, they're on their guard when the strange guy with the tripod comes through.

Everything beyond the dairy yards is running wild. The fields are shrinking, being reclaimed by wild bittersweet and thistle, and other things with thorns, barbs, spikes, or spines that cows won't eat and people can't traverse. In some places fields have been abandoned entirely, though here and there they are penetrated by narrow channels through the brush, passageways kept clear by the cows and often only passable by cows. And the water that flows down the mountainside, long ago washed out much of the farm drainage system. Muddy areas trampled by the herd are often nearly impassable by human feet. I may meet parts of the beef herd almost anywhere up the mountainside. Beyond the dairy yards everything is running wild.

The ex-bulls take seriously their duty to guard the herd, and I respect that, but they are not brave, and so we do this little dance as I make my pictures. Cattle raised without regular human contact maintain a safe zone. Their eyes are on the sides of their heads giving them wide-angle vision. With their heads pointing forward they can see everything from shoulder blade to shoulder blade. Of course they turn their heads to extend this vision, but there's a blind spot at the back and a point of balance. If I enter the blind spot they will turn. If I encroach on their safe zone from behind the shoulder blades, they will move forward and away from me. In this way I can kind of herd them into positions where the light is right or the background interesting for my photographs.

Sometimes the ex-bulls will try to herd me, but I've learned not to retreat from my own safe zone. They do this slowly. They're probably not trying to herd me so much as approach on their own terms to satisfy their curiosity. However, I preserve my safe zone. When the ex-bull gets too close for comfort I never retreat. I move toward it, and it retreats.

I've read that bulls that grow up with other cattle know they are bulls. Individually raised bulls may think they are people and challenge approaching people for dominance. I have no idea how each of the animals in the Twin Elms herd was raised, and I try to watch signals closely. At the end of a shoot, as I leave the pasture, I always keep one eye behind me.

There have been times when several ex-bulls converged around me. Being surrounded by so many tons of beef surmounted by sharp horns is not comfortable. Then I'll plot my advance toward one of the converging ex-bulls. Sometimes when I look back the remaining ex-bulls are gently butting heads. Everything beyond the dairy yards is running wild.

*******
The concept of "ex-bull" was adopted from writings of Helga Tacreiter. I found her observations on cow behavior interesting, and suggest these web sites:
http://www.psyeta.org/hia/vol8/tacreiter.html
http://www.cowch.com/index.html

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

How Now Brown Swiss? No.2

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: It takes two to tango with a cow. I guess it's to be expected. Yesterday I spoke of the problems I had getting the cow to turn her head the right way. This shot was taken this morning while my friend Lazlo stroked Bessie's nose and diverted her attention, all the while snapping pictures with his right hand. While he stroked I snuck in from the side. Even so, I feel lucky to have caught this, and I threw away fifty to get it.

Yeah, I know, it's a slow-moving cow, and people have been known to get some pretty good shots of tigers leaping at a lens. These Brown Swiss really are sweethearts. Unlike dogs, they're much too polite to ask to be petted, but once you start, they'll put down their heads to show you where. I wish their noses didn't constantly drip.

To give due credit, Brown Swiss are ideal models if you can overlook nose goo and sometimes a pancaked flank. Black Angus may make great steak, and they can look nice dotting a field, but dark fur obscures the features of their faces and the otherwise sinuous contours of their bodies. Dappled cows such as Holsteins and Guernseys and unlikely breeds like Belted Galloways compound these problems by camouflaging their bovine curves. Brown Swiss and Jersey cows have smooth, even, light, tan coats which darken and lighten softly across their flanks. Sunlight can reveal magenta or orange overtones. When the angle to the light is right, all the curves of the torso are visible and sometimes you can see the ripples of the rib cage. Brown Swiss are larger than Jerseys, awesomely so. Add large, furry ears, a docile nature, and high butter fat content, and I'll introduce you to a model any photographer might fall in love with.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Twin Elm Farm, October, 2009

THOMAS DE QUINCEY: "Cows are amongst the gentlest of breathing creatures; none show more passionate tenderness to their young when deprived of them; and, in short, I am not ashamed to profess a deep love for these quiet creatures."

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: What is the patience of a cow? And what might a photographer do to try it? Yesterday I had a lesson in the nature of cow patience. When among the dairy ladies I move in bovine time. I want them to stay settled - maybe even forget I'm there. Too much movement, and they may come over to inspect. Move suddenly, and they spook. Yesterday one of them wanted her picture taken. She followed me down to the lower yard and stood and waited, and she'd actually found some rather nice light. The problem is, every time I started clicking the shutter, she'd turn away. When I put my lens down and looked at her, she'd turn back to where I wanted her, but as soon as I started clicking, the head would turn away. I couldn't quite get it framed as I wanted, and so we played this game over and over. She continued posing and turning and posing and turning until I exceeded her speed limit, exceeded her rpm's. All at once, she stepped back, turned around, and walked back to the first yard. Not only that, but a few moments later another cow who had been watching us followed her leaving me alone the yard. I was being snubbed by cows. I could almost feel disgust in their departing footsteps.

I followed them into the other yard, but they were by then in the far corner, and they clearly wanted nothing to do with me. For awhile I photographed other things. Three of them left the yard completely and moved into the muddy interior yard down between the buildings by the honey wagon. It was a place I was reluctant to go without my rubber boots, but finally I followed them there. I stood amid the muck just on the other side of deep puddles. The cows knew I could go no further. I watched as they began grooming each other and nuzzling. I was surprised at how affectionate the ladies were to each other. Much later in the afternoon I circled round the barns and photographed a bit from the other side of the puddles. I think at that point they forgave me, because they came over to the fence where I was standing. I wonder how they'll receive me when I go back today. It will be a test of cow memory.

Monday, November 16, 2009

How Now Brown Swiss?

GRANT WOOD: "All the really good ideas I ever had came to me while I was milking a cow."

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: I confess it. Sometimes I talk to the cows. I do it in English because I'd be ashamed to utter my treble moo in front of a cow with a basso profondo that makes my toenails curl. If only I could open my mouth and have that sound come out! Then I'd have a real conversation, and the cows would pay attention. And back in the city, think how useful the talent to moo could be in clearing a path on a crowded subway platform.

Mostly, the cows show no reaction to my chatter. Those who think cows to be sluggards who mind nothing but hay and grass are mistaken. While most of their lives are spent standing and chewing, if you get anywhere near them you will discover inquiring minds meditating on the meaning of your presence. They are not like dogs who mostly want your attention and love. Nor are they like cats who require your obeisance. Mostly, cows just want to know.

I often try to get near and snap a candid shot of the herd, but usually they spot me coming and follow every move. Then my photos look like posed family portraits, all eyes on the lens. Cheese! And after I've crossed the pasture and am moving on, they are usually still watching until I'm out of sight.

Of course, occasionally they do talk to me, and then my toenails curl.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Brown Swiss


WIKIPEDIA: Famous Brown Swiss:
Hoosier Knoll Jade Monay Set a new bench mark for udder quality when she won Supreme Champion in 1994. When she was classified, the udder was scored E-96 which is still one of the highest scores ever obtained for udder quality by a Brown Swiss. Recently Monay was awarded the distinction of being the All Time All-American 3 Year Old for the Swiss Breed.
Old Mill E Snickerdoodle is considered by many as one of the best Brown Swiss to ever walk across the show ring. She was undefeated from her first show in 2003 up until the World Dairy Expo in 2007. She currently sets a record across all breeds for most consecutively won classes at Harrisburg and the World Dairy Expo.
Jane of Vernon "Almost all Brown Swiss today trace to this magnificent cow who lived from 1929 to 1945. She garnered Grand Champion honors at national Brown Swiss shows in 1932, 1933, 1934, and 1936. Jane of Vernon was bred by the late Orbec Sherry of Viroqua, Wisconsin."
[1]

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: Though the title of this photograph nods toward Kuener Farm and Andrew Wyeth's painting of the same name, the scene has shifted from Chadds Ford to Twin Elm Farm in the Oblong. Beyond sharing a common title, this image has nothing in common with Wyeth's painting.

The main herd at Twin Elm are beef cattle. They roam most of the hillside above the barns and cover considerable territory. They are a mix of breeds including some Brown Swiss. When I'm in the fields with them they are a curious bunch who will watch me closely and then walk over to see who's trespassing in their pastures, and sometimes when I'm out there taking pictures, they'll sneak up on me, and I won't know they're there until I feel one breathing behind me. When I turn, however, they jump away. I take comfort in knowing they are more afraid of me than I of them... not too much comfort.

This photo, however, is of one of the dairy ladies. There's only a handful of them (What a concept! They can easily weigh a ton each.) They are all Brown Swiss, and their personalities are entirely different. They'll stand and watch me with their sad, brown eyes and their large, furry ears, and when I walk toward them, they'll let me pat their necks. They are slow, gentle giants. Brown Swiss have a reputation for their sweet disposition and docile nature. It is well earned. Even among the beef herd, the Brown Swiss steers, although the largest animals in the herd, are the least threatening.

Then again, all cows spend 6 hours a day eating and eight hours a day chewing cud, but I was warned that some of the bulls may not have been properly castrated.

For more on these cows visit: Autumn Cow in Retrospect

Friday, November 13, 2009

Pretty Lily

JOHN LOENGARD: "A Ming vase can be well-designed and well-made and is beautiful for that reason alone. I don't think this can be true for photography. Unless there is something a little incomplete and a little strange, it will simply look like a copy of something pretty. We won't take an interest in it."

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: I plead, guilty as charged, but I couldn't resist. More adventurous efforts coming soon.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Orbits

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: Before leaving Chadds Ford, let's make a brief stop at Longwood Gardens as Gary and I did on both visits. It has greatly enlarged my concept of water lilies. These are not the innocent lilies of Connecticut woodland ponds that are from birth beset by lilivores of all shapes and sizes. They are invadors from another universe, armored and armed. What horny beetle or sucking slug challenges their ramparts? What evanescent visitor sips their honeyed nectar? What are his stingers like?

I wish I'd had a moment to reset my aperture to sharpen the foreground thorns, but by the time I made the adjustment, the rings had disappeared from the back. I must investigate if similar displays are at the Bronx Botanical Gardens or anywhere in my orbit.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Barncat (Sophie) with Spring House & Kuerner Hill

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL - Thoughts while watching Sophie:

I leave it to others to advise me if this photo was worth the effort it took to bring it to fruition. It is another case of light that entices the eye but defies the lens with extremes of bright and dark. One sign of the stress is the extreme graininess of some sections.

Making it, required an HDR composite of four different exposures. However, the center of the HDR lacked clarity. It is a picture within a picture and needs a level of realism beyond Sophie's grainy, barn world. In order to preserve the clarity in the center picture I inlaid a segment from one of the original exposures. If one zooms in very close one may spot some of the Frankenstein-like sutures. That's a lot of touch-up work, and I'm not sure the whole thing is worth it, but I do love it when light starts playing with windows and windows start playing with light. I should have photographed more in that corner and at the shed just across the farmyard.

I know some will object to the intrusion of Rubbermaid. Oh, and the spring house! I had passed here on my way out 40 minutes earlier when the sun fell beautifully on its end gable. I didn't shoot it then as I was heading to another possible shot. The other shot was worthless, but now I'd like to know what images might have been prompted by that other lighting. Have I missed a better moment? One never likes to admit such things. Choices!

Monday, November 9, 2009

American Gothic


PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL:
Cobweb

Tightrope of time
Transforming idle barns.
Who is it that strung them there?
Who patrolled those wires
Before they got soiled and gray with age?
Before new lines were strung.

They age and gray
Until they grow plush
And the rafters are webbed,
And the joists cocooned.
Time's tightropes
Layer to downy forgetfulness.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Belly of the Beast, No.2

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: This was taken earlier in the morning looking down from the third floor. I had just returned from a tour with Karl, our host. He wanted to take us into a section of the barn we had not yet entered. An addition to the barn along the southern wall includes the famous room that is the subject of "Spring Fed." It is the bottom floor dug into the bank to which Karl Sr. cleverly diverted a natural spring.  It had been the first section of the barn Gary and I had entered, and both of us had tried repeatedly and unsuccessfully to photograph our own "Spring Fed."  Now Karl led us to a storage space above the spring room, a shed addition leaning against the south wall of the great barn.

Even with the doors to this space open it was too dark to photograph. To make matters worse, the siding was rustic and had large gaps between the boards. The bright sun projected black stripes everywhere. The south wall was alternate shadow and glare. The light, such as it was, blinded rather than illuminated. Karl led us through the space with pride as, one by one, he pulled back covers on beautiful, old, horse-drawn sleds and explained how each had been carefully restored. Winter sleigh rides! I've always thought it must have been wonderful to glide through the snow, pulled along by a strong horse as in Welles' Magnificent Ambersons.

When I asked about sleigh rides, Karl showed us a photo of himself and Andy riding in such a sleigh.  It was an event he seemed to take in stride except for the presence of Andy. A sleigh ride with Andrew Wyeth!

Sleigh rides are gone, and hay rides aren't really hay rides as they must have been once. If both lasted longer here, that may not be bad. I recall that there was little modernization while Karl Sr. was alive. Long after tractors and balers were common everywhere producing hard, little rectangles of crushed hay, Kuerner Farm still processed hay loose from the field, forking it onto the hay wagons in a heap. It was significantly more work haying that way, but back then the hay rides must have been a lot more fun.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Oh Hayloft Where the Cobwebs Cling

ANDREW WYETH: "My aim is to escape from the medium with which I work. To leave no residue of technical mannerisms to stand between my expression and the observer. To seek freedom of so-called free and accidental brushwork . . . Not to exhibit craft but rather to submerge it; and make it rightfully the hand-maiden of beauty, power and emotional content."

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: Later in the afternoon I'm following the light beam from the gable window into a new quadrant of the barn where it is lighting some webs. Karl the host is working there. I watch. He is excavating bales from the back of a shaft that leads through the hay to near where my beam is falling. He has a small hand cart and is calmly loading bales and shuttling them to a new location in the shadows at the other side of the barn. He works slowly but steadily. There is no way for both of us to work in the shaftway at the same time. I watch some more. Can I get in as he leaves, make my three exposures, and get out before he's back for more bales?

I watch him leave - he has a half dozen bales precariously balanced - and then slip into the shaft where there is scant room for me and my tripod. To get my angle I'm squeezed against the hay bales, and I feel the dust and grit slipping into my shirt collar. The shaft has the feel of a catacomb, and I understand why Karl wears a face mask as he works. I set my tripod as I listen for Karl's approaching footsteps and the grumble of his cart. I must make three exposures without moving the camera. The composition is fussy and I struggle with the tripod to get the lens into position. I hurry. Haste makes waste. I do the longest exposure first, two long minutes. Two minutes of grit down my collar. Two minutes through which I keep listening and doing my best not to move. Then exposure two, thirty seconds. If I can get this one done, the last is only 8 seconds, and I'm at it, and it's done.

I'm already gathering my tripod and camera before I hear the grumbling wheels and the reply of the floor boards in the next room, and I hurry out of the shaft. In three more intervals, while Karl ferries hay, I complete two more sets, compositional variations.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Hayloft

ANDREW WYETH: "I played alone, and wandered a great deal over the hills, painting watercolors that literally exploded, slapdash over my pages, and drew in pencil or pen and ink in a wild and undisciplined manner."

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: Karl Kuerner, known as Karl J. Kuerner III, met us Monday morning at the barn. I was glad to see him again. He is the grandson of Karl Kuerner, Sr., Andrew Wyeth's first, and arguably most important, muse.  Karl J., was there to feed animals and take care of morning chores. The barn was dark inside, and he helped us open whatever could be opened to let in light, and sometime early mid-morning was gone. He is an artist, and we'd hoped to stop by his studio to see what he was at work on, but a bad cold kept me away. 

Sometime later in the morning another man arrived and began shutting up the doors. He was somewhere in his eighties, a bit unsteady yet fit. It took awhile to explain that I was photographing the barns and needed to keep the doors open for the light. I explained we might be shooting for awhile, and tried to make clear "awhile" might be measured in multiple hours, not minutes. He was as hard of hearing as I am but had no aids; it took awhile to find the right wave length for communication, and I wasn't sure if we ever completely found it. When he left he said he'd be back later to close up; he was worried about children falling through the open hatches where hay was tossed.  So was I and also worried about me falling through a hatch or Gary, and the man's concern doubled my caution. 

He moved further into the barn and had a similar conversation with Gary, and I returned to shooting, a bit guilty that I might have rushed him on to get back to my image. It was perhaps a half hour later when he appeared with a book to show me, and I instantly realized my mistake.  The book was the book I'd bought at the Brandywine Museum on my last visit, the book of Karl J. Kuerner's paintings. This man was Karl Jr., the proud father of the artist and the proud son of the muse, here for his chores. Do I recall Karl the grandson saying his dad still ran the farm, did the haying? We were pleased to discover he would pose for us.  This was Karl Jr., our host.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Belly of the Beast

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: In mid-October I met my friend Gary in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, for a repeat visit to the Kuerner Farm, made famous in the paintings of Andrew Wyeth. This visit I was not so focused on Wyeth's example as on this great space. In the spring, when we were here last, Karl Kuerner's hay barn was nearly empty. Although far from full now, at the end of the season, this much hay changes everything. Passages that were open are now blocked with hay, and it took a while to orient myself, but it also made the spaces more interesting.

The barn is divided into thirds. The thirds on the two ends are for hay storage. The center third is a core for access to the hay. One enters the barn along the broad side at the back. Hay wagons can be pulled or pushed up the ramp and into the barn on the third floor, adjacent to the hay storage bays on either side that are clear space from bottom to top. From the center section of the third floor hay bales can be tossed to the floor of those bays below and eventually stacked to the top of the gable. That's three "flights" of hay. At the back of the barn, beneath the ramp one can enter the the second floor of the barn through a kind of loading dock. The second floor is the bottom of the hay storage. Chutes allow hay and grain to be passed down to the first floor where animals were kept in the winter. Alternately, hay can be taken to the loading dock, loaded on wagons, and delivered to field or dropped through doors at the front of the barn to the farmyard below. At one time the barn would have been full of hay in October, but now the season's hay doesn't quite fill to the top of the second floor.

At 10:20 AM, when I took this, the light coming through the gable window on the southeast side of the barn reached almost to the front of the barn. Gary and I spent a good part of the day following that beam of light as it moved east across walls, floor, and hay while the sun moved west.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Yellow Tree


PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: All that glitters is not reflection. There is no beaten path through this valley which runs for about 5 miles to the Housatonic. The busiest residents are the beavers who continually re-engineer the water's flow.

The prevailing grain of hills in northwest Connecticut and nearby New York state is north-south in row after row, but here and for about ten miles around, by some freak of nature, the hills are skewed more east-west,; this valley bends along the path of the sun allowing me to catch this revealing side light.

Even so, finding places to photograph the resulting ponds and swamps is not always easy. A road passes on the south of this swamp, but even there the shrubs at the perimeter constrict shooting angles. I'd circled this area unsuccessfully several times looking for a place to shoot, but found this angle unexpectedly while walking the pastures around White Farm. It's a spot worth remembering.

The Old Lake Road

E. H. GOMBRICH: "The photographic enthusiast likes to lure us into a darkened room in order to display his slides on a silver screen. Aided by the adaptability of the eye and by the borrowed light from the intense projector bulb, he can achieve those relationships in brightness that will make us dutifully admire the wonderful autumn tints he photographed on his latest trip. As soon as we look at a print of these photographs by day, the light seems to go out of them. It is one of the miracles of art that the same does not happen there. The paintings in our galleries are seen one day in bright sunshine and another day in the dim light of a rainy afternoon, yet they remain the same paintings, ever faithful, ever convincing. To a marvelous extent they carry their own light within. For their truth is not that of a perfect replica, it is the truth of art."

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: A few year's back, in the 1700s, this was Waramaug's Lake, the place where he and his Wyantenock tribe lived and hunted and fished in the summer and from which he ruled much of this part of Connecticut. When the trees were like this he was already thinking of his winter hunting grounds south of here, near a gorge and a waterfall in the Housatonic River. Here, where we find rustic beauty and the vitality of nature, he might despair at how beaten down and limp all nature seems. There, in the broad valley below the gorge, Waramaug's winter hunting grounds, where the Housatonic River once rushed, he would be surprised to find a long, deep lake with steep walls and a hydro-electric plant where eagles nest.

Waramaug sold his summer hunting grounds, including the lake in 1703. The first Yankee's built farms and their children built guest houses and inns, and today real estate developers, water conservationists and land preservationists debate the future.

In spite of that, this image asks us to linger. The fall here is at its perfect peak and under perfect light and perfect wind; a coincidence to delight a photographer's heart? In fact, not so. Again the eye is not like the camera lens and it took three images to get detail in both sky and road. Without a computer even Ansel Adams, I think, could not have coaxed clean detail from this old road.

A previous generation of photographers found their expression in the very limits of the technology they used. Today, the power of the home computer asks every photographer to decide where to set limits and may render moot Mr. Gombrich's comments. Although I needed technology to get the road to read more as my eye saw it, the color on the opposite shore needed no help from me. Yet any knowledgeable Photoshop user might wonder if I pushed the saturation. No, that's exactly as I and the camera saw it.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

In Search of Edvard Munch

TERRY FENTON: "Modern painters have inclined to an art that appeals directly to feeling apart from representation with its inevitable overtones, distractions, and prejudice. Of course, representation couldn't be abandoned overnight and much of value stood to be lost in the process. It was abandoned in stages and often with reluctance and regret. Artists didn't pursue abstraction for the sake of the abstruse. Far from it. They were driven to it as a kind of last resort. It was a kind of necessary purging for the sake of a deep and fundamental universality, one that was part and parcel of painting itself."

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: The primary aim of the photojournalist or the portrait photographer or the naturalist is usually representation, often artfully done, but getting the representation right is the essential thing. Art, however, lies in the realm of expression. Without wanting to get any further into the question of what is art, the photographer who chooses expression as his or her primary aim is immediately confronted by a medium that clings to representation and in which representation often comes to dominate. The spectator who asks, "What's that?" of an abstract painting fears he's being tricked. The one who asks it of an abstract photo feels cheated.

I'm recently back from the Kuerner Farm in Chadds Ford, PA, the farm Andrew Wyeth made famous. Wyeth was interested in this issue, and I can never follow his footsteps without thinking about it. Seeing the way he treated real nature is instructive, but there is an essential difference between photographer and painter. Whether the painter is Wyeth, Vermeer or Fragonard seeking to represent some physical reality in the external world, or Turner or Kandinsky or Pollock working in a realm where representation is obscured, they all begin with distinctive ways of laying color onto a surface. A painter with any degree of facility begins expression the moment s/he applies paint to the art surface or draws a line. It's right there in the medium. A finely controlled physical act driven by the coordinated effort of mind and muscle is a primary element of the painter's expression. There need not even be a real scene. Similarly the manner in which a violinist touches bow to string asserts the violinist's expression. It is highly relevant to the art of both that muscles and emotions are so deeply linked. To whatever degree artist or violinist is facile, expression emerges naturally from the physical act of creation.

In contrast, a photographer begins with the things that lie in front of his lens. Where is the point of combustion between the expressive photographer and the lines and forms photographed? Where does physical engagement take place? Is it in the dance I do to juxtapose elements and set boundaries? Is it in that corner of my eye where sometimes something clicks? Or is there nothing analogous to brush and bow to connect my expression to the forms I use?

Furthermore, without the painter's brush the canvas is blank. If there is no violin there is no music, but the landscape I photograph often makes its own music without me, expressive in itself; a swooping heron, a bank of lilies, a rock formation in the desert, a Grecian urn all sing their own songs. While the thing I photograph must be central to what I express, how is its expression related to mine?

And what alteration is it that transforms a postcard image into expressive statement? On the back of the postcard one often writes, "Wish you were here." The postcard is a second-hand and second-best experience. To be expressive, a photograph must become a thing in itself apart from what it represents, independent though reliant on the moment that triggered it. It must catch something specific yet universal, maybe just a quiver of sensation or perhaps a deep resonant chord, and it must isolate it. Is this the goal that the photographer seeking expression should strive for?

This image was photographed late on Monday. The sun was slipping below the hill, and the filtered light and lonely shadows added a note of disquiet to the quickly changing scene. That note is caught also in the rock jetty that juts violently across this finger at the end of the lake.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Autumn Detonation

RALPH WALDO EMERSON: "Do not be caught by the sensational in nature, as a coarse red-faced sunset, a garrulous waterfall, or a fifteen thousand foot mountain... avoid prettiness - the word looks much like pettiness - and there is but little difference between them."

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: It is not just that large, still lakes are hard to find, but that their seductive prettiness poses photographic challenges. As one correspondent wrote recently, "...usually the bilateral mirroring effect is corny...." The problems: Opportunities for cliché are everywhere. How does one avoid it? Composition is also difficult. Where does one put the edges of the image, especially with a long, recumbent shoreline that defies punctuation? Finally, there is that prettiness itself that expresses omnipresent stillness with visceral clarity. Motionless air, air at its most impalpable, is made palpable. It is a phenomenon so expressive that any photograph must be a runner-up to the real event. The photographer trembles at the responsibility of somehow giving that stillness a point of view, an angle, a barb - to find in the scene, not Emersonian profundity, but something of moment.

In this photograph I've zoomed my longest lens to 400mm (600mm full-frame equiv.) and pointed it at a stretch of shore visible also in the previous image. Alas, I fear this image fails the criteria described in the paragraph above. (this is a far greater fault than the imperfection of the reflection which I secretly prefer to clarity.) ...but how could I resist it?

This week autumn climaxed. The colors are richer than any fall in memory, like a fireworks finale but silent; no booms, and extended over days. Sunday and Monday were a serendipity; a 48-hour window of clear, dry air has lit the hillsides just at the most magic moment. Prettiness has run rampant. The situation begs the aesthetic question I've posed more narrowly above and is the subject of a future journal entry.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Smooth Sailing

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: Mirror calm on a large lake is an elusive event unless one lives on the lake. For at least four years my photo explorations have regularly taken me by Lake Waramaug, and from time to time a portion of the lake has been nearly still. Complete stillness is most often found at dawn and occasionally at dusk. One stops and waits for a large lake to calm to mirror stillness at the risk of wasting an entire shoot, and so as I've passed the nearly calm lake I have usually driven on.

It was therefore a complete surprise to find the lake like this twice in the past week, and a special bonus that this gift has come at the peak of fall colors and on this occasion with a clouds like feathers.

I had returned from a three-day shoot in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania just the night before. I had slept in and let sunrise pass, and I had small hopes for a midday shoot except for a particular image that might still work before fall colors dimmed. I was headed for Kent Hollow, but as I passed this spot I knew I had to stop. Stopping is nearly impossible on the road around the lake, but I found a place to turn around, drove back to the only spot where I could safely park, and began shooting. I photographed for just 15 minutes before I decided I'd gotten all I could from the location and decided to return to my car and drive to the state park at the end of the lake, where parking was easy. However, by the time I was back in my car the calm had ended.

Photographers seize the moment or lose it. I continued with my initial plan and continued on to Kent Hollow and the photograph posted previously.

Click the image to view it large.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Waller Woods, Winds of Change

GALEN ROWELL: "One of the biggest mistakes a photographer can make is to look at the real world and cling to the vain hope that next time his film will somehow bear a closer resemblance to it...If we limit our vision to the real world, we will forever be fighting on the minus side of things, working only too make our photographs equal to what we see out there, but no better."

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: The previous photos were from March of 2008. Here is the same hillside a week ago in the very late afternoon. The hilltop above was still green. By this week autumn color had reached the hilltop and the tree behind the house was nearly bare. The clouds roll on.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Waller Wood, Passing Clouds Two

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL:

In stealth the shadow moves upon the meadow,
becomes a stain on the hillside
before spilling into the next hollow.
A ceaseless, silent trespass no hand can alter;
No will but the wind to usher its motion.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Waller Wood, Passing Clouds One


GALEN ROWELL: "At the heart of all photography is an urge to express our deepest personal feelings - to reveal our inner, hidden selves, to unlock the artist. Those of us who become photographers are never satisfied with just looking at someone else's expression of something that is dear to us. We must produce our own images, instead of buying postcards and photo books. We seek to make our own statements of individuality."

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: This is another of the overlooked Waller photographs from Winter, 2008. (See also Great Hollow Rhymes).

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Cloudy Afternoon at Peakéd Mountain Farm, No. 3

SUSAN SONTAG: "photograph is both a pseudo-presence and a token of absence. Like a wood fire in a room, photographs - especially those of people, of distant landscapes and faraway cities, of the vanished past - are incitements to reverie."

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL:
Larger than the Clouds

And so in one afternoon
the clouds moved
through many moods,
and I danced to
the southwest corner of the field.

As the sun neared the horizon
the spaces between the clouds became
larger than the clouds,
bales tumbling in the layered troposphere
on over Washington Depot and into darkness.

****************
Earlier photographs of Peakéd Mountain Farm:
Cartwheeling Rumble
Making Hay
Above the Bog before the Storm
In Fog at Sunrise
Etude in Diagonals

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Cloudy Afternoon at Peakéd Mountain Farm, No. 2

AARON SISKIND: "We look at the world and see what we have learned to believe is there. We have been conditioned to expect.... But as photographers we must learn to relax our beliefs. Move on objects with your eye straight on, to the left, around on the right. Watch them grow large as you approach, group and regroup as you shift your position. Relationships gradually emerge and sometimes assert themselves with finality. And that's your picture."

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: Continuing my shoot it became clear that the cloudscape I'd been photographing was made of two cloud layers. The bottom layer, the evaporating remains of the morning cloud blanket, seemed to hover barely higher than the hills until it became thin enough to reveal the great white monster in the background.

A big sky shot taken shortly after yesterday's image shows both cloud layers clearly. It's one of those "not quite," images. The diagonal of the cloudscape is not quite defined enough to make the image move. The dominant effect is linear and static. This image is even more linear than the one rejected. There's nothing wrong with a linear image if it's integral to the meaning of the shot.

What might Church or Cole have done here? Of course a painting is a fantasy, and a photograph is reality. Is it possible to photograph this landscape long and not find their ghosts lingering in spite of all that has changed?

Friday, October 16, 2009

Cloudy Afternoon at Peakéd Mountain Farm, No. 1

• What do I learn from returning to the same sites that makes results improve over time?
• How do I approach familiar sites differently than sites which are new?
• How familiar is familiar?
PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: The next series of images were captured on a single afternoon in early July from the field to the west of Peakéd Mountain Farm. Even though this is the most interesting side of the farmstead; even though as one moves around the field the forms of the buildings seem almost contrapuntal; and even though on clear afternoons everything is bathed in light almost until sunset, in spite of all that, until now I have never captured an image from this field worth sharing.

Timing is everything. When the weather changes skies are often most interesting. So it was natural that when the clouds began to break apart on the afternoon of July 2nd, I hoped that music would be playing over Peakéd Mountain. Clouds are fickle things (so Joni Mitchell tells us), and as I passed through Bog Hollow I worried that what I'd seen developing back in Tanner Valley was already evaporating here. There's always a tension - take the clouds where you are and make the most of them, or go somewhere special and hope that they're as good there & then as they are here & now.

Coming out of Bog Hollow I discovered that, if nothing else, fate had arranged a hay rake, a hay wagon and a dozen hay bales tastefully about the field. In this region farmers generally do two hayings a season. This year June rains that continued into July hampered farmers' efforts to cut and store hay from the first haying. They worried that the hay would rot before they could deal with it, while I was glad the bales and the equipment were still in the field when the clouds blew through. Timing is everything.

Since I knew the patterns in which the buildings danced I suppose I was more comfortable moving with them than I might otherwise have been, but finding where to stand in the counterpoint takes full and spontaneous engagement as the whole dance unfolds. Once the image is found I work quickly to correct so that the top of the pine has separation from the edge of the hill and so that telephone poles and other details do not get cluttered up together - work quickly before the light or the cloud moves on.

Timing is everything. I entered the field at the southeast corner because the sky. though constantly moving, is unmovable, and it told me to. The clouds felt tentative, quickly shifting. Would a few rays of sun break through? I watched the shifting cloud shapes watching for openings, and grabbed the few brief moments provided. In this exposure a bit of sun has just reached the first building, with the dark roof. Moments later the light reached the gable of the main barn and brightened slightly, enhancing the shadow under the roof line and causing the front walls to glow softly. It was a calm moment except that the clouds were no longer right. No matter; the tentative light of this first exposure also characterizes the moment. I call that, "catching the falling leaf," or at least whatever piece of it you can get hold of. When shooting landscapes I find the farther back one pulls the camera's eye, the harder it is to capture that falling leaf, but sometimes my pleasure comes in standing back.

I'm glad to have this shot as the small building with the light gray roof is precarious. It may not last the next winter. The loss of the building means little to the owner of the property, but to me it is an important dancer gone. Timing is everything.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Sun Spots

HARRY CALLAHAN: "I feel a little bit like a painter. A painter applies brush stroke after brush stroke, working toward something. It's just a matter of knowing when to quit. You know it's in there somewhere."

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: Back at Beardsley Farmstead this September I saw this late summer whirl, and I remembered images I made right here in 2008 (1), (2), (3), in the middle of winter in a snow storm. The painter, "applies brush stroke after brush stroke." The photographer shoots image after image, experimenting and refining, reaching after the potential that made him stop and shoot in the first place.

The recent series of blog entries was an attempt to sample some of the new farmsteads visited and photographed this summer. Reviewing those shoots and looking closely at some for the first time was overdue. As expected there are many photos I hoped for that proved to be, "not quite," even after I tugged at them in Photoshop in every way I could think of. As always, there were also days that yielded several images worth "developing." However, it was the old sites, farmsteads I'd shot last year and some the year before, that produced the majority of the best shots. New farm sites like Blueberry Hill, Smithfield Guernsey, Salmon Kill Hollow, Hammertown Road, Cream Hill, Sedgwick Hollow and others have potential not yet realized.
•What do I learn from returning to the same sites that makes results improve with time?
•How do I approach familiar sites differently than sites which are new?
•How familiar is familiar?

I came here because I knew the field would be "ripe," and the afternoon sun would make it glisten. I knew that even with my ladder the angles from the top of the field, between the rowed trees, would be tough. When I failed, I knew to check the garden. I noted one of the outbuildings had fallen down. I would have stayed longer, but I wanted to get to one of the new sites.

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This is one of those images that needs to be seen large. Click the image above to enlarge.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Quonset Barn & Swamp Foliage

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: "The Road from Sedgewick Hollow," Part 2

I knew I was heading toward a dead end. Not finding an outlet ahead and forbidden to make a u-turn, Gidget was near to having a nervous breakdown. She kept plotting the course over and over again, continually repeating, "Recalculating!" Moments later the road ended in a farmyard and I found my car surrounded by howling hounds. This was not the way I had hoped to introduce myself to Aunt Josephine. As they often do, the public road had turned private without warning, and I struggled to turn my car without squashing any of the pooch pack. Then Aunt Josephine appeared, running from the house and waving her arms. No. running is the wrong word. She moved as if her hips were frozen across, and the waving arms might have been unsteadiness, but she was moving fast, and I was surprised at how quickly she was beside the car. She was shouting something, and as I was backing to leave I simultaneously did my best to lower the window and the radio so I could hear what she was saying.

"Stop, he'll run right under the wheels." She was already bent over and snatching a long and low brown dust mop of a dog from the ground and restraining him forcibly in her arms as he tried to sniff at me. The barking continued through my introduction and apology. The commotion had not kept me from noticing that, "the mother farm," was even more photogenic than the buildings across from the quonset barn.

She was a trim octogenarian. Her hair was long and straight, her cheeks hollow and pale. Her eyes were straight slits. If there were any curves on her they had long ago been lost in the baggy overalls she wore, but she finally smiled and seemed happy to chat. My repeated apologies eventually put her at ease, and half the dogs had stopped barking so I could almost hear what Aunt Josephine was saying. I got a bit of farm history before I put my question to her, "May I photograph these barns?"

There was a long pause and a breath, and she looked right at me and the pupils of her eyes narrowed. It was as if she was trying to look inside me and a century suddenly had flown between us. "No." It was a strange "no," - full of forced determination. Then she added, "but if you talk to my niece she can give you permission. She's away now but she'll be back tomorrow.

She seemed quite unaware that I might not know who her niece was or where to find her. I had to ask repeatedly until she finally said, "Well, she's just over the hill," and she pointed vaguely somewhere behind the barns. There was no road that way, nothing but woods. I think she quite expected me to set off into the woods on foot, but I finally made clear to her that I needed directions my car could follow. As it turns out, the niece lived back where I started, at the house across from quonset farm.

I puzzled over the meaning of her, "No," and the subsequent half retraction. I took a few days before I went to see the niece. I wanted to be sure aunt and niece had time to deliberate. When I drove into the niece's yard, there were no dogs, but immediately the niece came running from the barns in overalls looking like a slightly younger version of Aunt Josephine. Before I could fully get my question out she interrupted me, "No." Clearly the two had met and the issue had been decided. "No photographs," she repeated. I tried to make conversation and barely got out that I'd photographed the swamp, but she was already heading into the house. Her voice trailed as she went inside, "You can photograph the swamp all you want."

All the photos I've made of Great Hill Farm have been from the public road.