Friday, May 28, 2010


PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: Poised on the west edge above a long, broad valley, these tile silos preside over the ruins of an old dairy farm and acres of cultivated fields. TODAY'S has been here before. "In Blazing Soy" and "Forsaken Acres" were made last fall just after the first frost when the fields of soy had been shocked to yellow. Yesterday's image, taken on the same December shoot as this one showed the farmer's abandoned home.

Travel in the valley moves north-south. Steep walls to the east and west isolate a ten-mile corridor of unhurried hills. In winter it becomes a hall where flocks of snowdrifts loiter and romp, but the snow is long gone. For the past week it's been part of my regular beat. There are half a dozen farmsteads of interest along the edges, and cows graze in pastures bordered by brown fields of newly planted corn or long grass ready to be mowed; the patchwork hills roll gently now like a body waking from sweet dreams.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Mulberry House


Once a home,
a place,
wet dishrags, heavy traffic.

Now a house,
Just space.
Rooms and doors, windows and walls, cellar, attic.

Monday, May 24, 2010

White Silence No.3



A silence
so hollow and heavy
even the mice tiptoe
while a herd of flying horses
stampede soundlessly
through the parlor door,
palpable vacuum.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Forgotten Secrets


Furious whispers
scratch and sibilate
their voiceless terrors.

One can almost hear them in rooms such as this.
My feeble ears lean to listen
even as my feet itch to leave.

What forgotten secrets
lie in the cubbies
where the silverware still spoons;

and there in the sink,
what mute shards of conversation
stain the dishes from the last supper?

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Morning Movement

PAUL STRAND: "I go and get the camera and do it. Photography is a medium in which if you don’t do it then, very often you don’t do it at all, because it doesn’t happen twice. A rock will probably always be more or less there just the way you saw it yesterday. But other things change, they’re not always there the day after or the week after. Either you do it or you don’t. Certainly with things as changeable as sky and landscape with moving clouds and so on, if they look wonderful to you on a certain day and if you don’t do it then, you may never see them again for the rest of your life. So as a photographer you become very conscious – at least I do – that everything is in movement."

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Milk of Contentment

HENRI CARTIER-BRESSON: "We seldom take great pictures. You have to milk the cow a lot and get lots of milk to make a little piece of cheese."

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: The Dream of Carnation Farm

E. A. Stuart found added butterfat in contentment and founded Carnation. He sold us a life style with our morning coffee, and many followed to the Pacific Northwest where happy cows grazed lush meadows, but who are these ungulates whose contentment we emulate before we hurry off to work, and whose milk we now powder and can and send over the moon? We have lived with them since the dawn of civilization, and I'm not sure we've learned a thing. What do they think about when I pass with my tripod on my shoulder or when I follow their worn path and set it in their pasture? They turn their heads and watch, and some walk over, and I'm not privy to their secret glances or to the politics of the herd. When the weather is brisk and they're charged on cowgetations one, wise, old Jersey may moo horsely and then so many faces turn and hundreds of eyes track my every step.

It's a bit unnerving because I know it's important, that bovine knowledge they are sharing, but I know they mean no harm to a lone photographer with a feather in his hat, retreating up the hill. They're wise to the ways of the pasture. When I look back many have put their heads back down and returned to ruminating herd hearsay: the poor quality of clover this spring, the disgracefully low price of Grade A Prime, the best way to instruct young calves about the electric fence, and why Elsie's stopped grazing with Bess.

It was 1907 when E. A. Stuart proclaimed the virtue of contentment. When asked how he came up with the name, "Carnation," he said he got it from a cigar he used to smoke.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Times Revenge

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL - Where do our ancestors go when the past has been vandalized, disfigured and spoiled? At the end of the landing I pushed open a door and looked hesitantly into another room. From here to the river is farmland. The same families farmed here in the 18th century. Most of them rest in a cemetery nearby.

Amid the hall's gloom I stood on a pile of something, I wasn't sure what, preferred not to look, stuff. Stuff and clutter made it hard to stabilize the tripod. If I was careful not to move, the tripod would be still. I focused into the room toward a rusty box spring piled with soiled clothing and farther on into an empty closet. An old television lay on its side and a window fan. I bet it got hot in there on summer nights. But the picture wouldn't resolve.

I pivoted to look around the room. Still standing on the uneven mess, I reset the tripod, poking the leg deep to get to solid floor. Once it was absolutely solid I exposed the series of nine photographs that make up this image. Whoever lived here last left in a hurry. Now it's abandoned and left to fall. Is this the image of the present overrunning the past? Is this how it always looks when the new wave rolls over the old? I was pleased at the thought of the image my exposures would make. I reached down to fold my tripod and noticed among the trash I'd been standing on a hugely oversized, manila envelope, "PHOTOGRAPHIC IMAGES HANDLE WITH CARE"; the return address included the name of a saint and the word, "Hospital." It's the kind of envelope one doesn't want to have. In it were the answers to questions long moot, and I dared not look inside. I shouldered my tripod and hurried down the stairs. I was suddenly uncertain who really was doing the haunting. Then I saw another shot and redeployed the tripod legs.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Unplugged Revisited

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: Three friends, all photographers whose work and judgement I deeply respect, wrote to question my preserving the color in the window area of this photo. I've been reminded that my wife was probably the first to raise the issue. Keeping color there had seemed like the right way to put a bit of spotlight on the flag or at least make sure it would be clear to those who looked. Two of my friends thought that the flag was not what the image was about. True, it's a detail that adds mystery and ambiguity, but what is the subject? The stove? The secret behind the wall? A dialogue of interior and exterior?. Experts' advice, even Jane's, is of limited value to me until I understand and feel the truth of it myself, but how could I refuse a little help from such friends?.

You never know what it looks like from another part of the hill until you stand there. To my surprise and delight, when I made the whole image b&w the stars of the flag became much clearer. More importantly, I realized how cluttered that section of the image had been. Because I took pleasure in the detail of the window lock and the round, cotton shade pull (Which of us doesn't have the feel in our forearm and our finger tips of pulling on that?) I had overlooked the clutter in the area of the image on which I was focusing such attention. The switch to b&w reduces both clutter and attraction, but the effect of the shot still seems to me to rest on the balance between inside and outside. For me it is important that the brightness of the outside be pressing against the dim of the interior. One of my critics cautions, "A whisper, not a shout." In fact, shouting about such a detail no feels gimmicky.

Friday, May 7, 2010



Beef Stew, A Recipe

The recipe begins
in the garden
with the planting of the carrots
and peas
and tomatoes.

It includes silage and a slaughter, and
the felling of some trees
and the sorcery
of the spice garden
and a pot.

Add family and
let it simmer till it's done.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Steeple's Ascent

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: On the outside the white spires of New England's Congregational Churches are sedate, classic profiles; emblems of order. Only inside does one find where furies prowled and hand-hewn heft that endured their rage. What echoes resonate still in this ancient chamber?

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

EXHIBITION OPENING SATURDAY, 11:00 AM to 1:00 PM, Gunn Memorial Library: Click here for info.

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: The road that crossed Main Street at the crossroads in the woods outside Walpack was just a narrow, cinder, forest road. I followed it in both directions later in my visit. It parallels the main valley road but on the east side of the valley. Along it are occasional farmsteads, homesteads and isolated houses, all abandoned. Many of the barns were large with hand-hewn beams and pegged bracing, the careful work of early, local craftsmen. The roofs were gone in all and hay loft floors were often rotting. The previous two images were of a farmstead along this road. The barns in this photo were on a different road but similarly fated.

Most of the abandoned houses were old. One fine homestead of stone dated to the 18th century, but there was also a yellow wreck of a raised ranch right out of 1950s suburbia. One wall had fallen away so I could look in, but one look at the outside, and I knew how the rooms lay. Beyond the fallen wall was a row of white, metal, enameled kitchen counters and cabinets, and I could see through a door into the living room where the floor had decayed, and there was a hole into the garage below, and the ceiling above was similarly compromised. Behind the wreckage I could see the mahogony stair railing and a staircase still ascending to the second floor, balusters and banisters still polished.

In the front of the house I could make out the rebellious remains of what had once been formal shrubbery. I climbed a bit of the hill behind the house to see if there was shot back down. To my surprise, nestled in the brush and hugging the vanished yard was an in-ground swimming pool filled with a dark, soupy brew; the pool was about to be swallowed by encroaching forest. What young family had abandoned this woodland paradise?

From time to time throughout the day I did see other people, mostly fishermen, but they didn't allay my sense that I had strayed from my proper century and was haunting someone else's. The fisherman were, after all, visitors like me, but unlike me, they stayed close to Flatbrook and never conversed with the natives. Near the end of the day it was a relief when my friend, Gary, joined me shooting at this abandoned barn not far from the crafts center. When visiting another century, it's safer to go with friends.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Spring Comes to Peters Valley

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: Yes, live people! That would not be the case further down the valley as I began my explorations. The valley runs north-south. I followed the road south. The main street of Walpack crosses the valley at its midpoint. My road was elevated, so I saw Walpack on the valley floor before I reached it. It was gleaming in what was left of morning light, a steeple and a bell cupola at the end of a tree-lined row of tidy buildings. The setting was beautiful. To the north and south of the town there are fields and swampland, and with the rolling eastern slope of the valley as a background and everything dressed in early spring color, I tried several times to make a picture, but the town never quite showed up in the images.

The post office was at the intersection of the valley road and Main Street, and I turned to explore Walpack. Main Street is lined with old trees and houses. Many have big front porches that mediate private and public space. Lawns are all mowed as if the the whole town shared a common lawn, and there are curtains and shades on many windows but no cars in front of the houses or furniture on the porches. Walpack is a ghost town. A historical marker in front of the old meeting house tells me that the township was formed in 1731. It tells me that once there were ferries operating between "Walpack Bend" and Pennsylvania. It also tells me that Anna Symmes, the mother-in-law of President William Henry Harrison, "is buried in the old Shapanack Cemetery."

I found that cemetery later on. It was not so much a cemetery as a spot in the woods with three surviving, readable stones and the stumps of perhaps twenty others buried under leaves, the markers long gone. The amazing thing is that although the residents of Walpack had been gone for decades, the town cemetery remains fully manicured and tended. I came on it a minute or two after leaving Walpack Center where Main Street dives back into the woods, zigs, zags, and crosses a one-lane iron bridge. There, in the middle of nowhere is a crossroad, and the town cemetery is on one corner. It's residents once filled the seats at the empty town meeting house I'd just passed. The cemetery has easily several hundred graves with the names of families who lived in Walpack from 1700's on to the present, only nobody lives in Walpack now. be continued

Monday, May 3, 2010

Brigadoon Farm

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: They called it Peters Valley, but it felt more like entering Brigadoon, the town in the Scottish Highlands that comes to life just one day every hundred years. Only I was visiting on an off year, it hadn't come to life, and the vacant buildings were crumbling from neglect. In fact, time did stop in Peters Valley sometime in the 1950s when the Federal Government bought the valley, started closing down farms and businesses, boarding up houses, and planning to put it all under water. Those who know the area know its history is richer still going back thousands of years, and distinguished by its physical isolation in the Poconos north of the Delaware River Water Gap. They also know that once the towns had been closed down by the Federal Government, and much of the population had moved on, the water project remained only a plan which was abandoned 30 years later. The dam was never built and the flooding never occurred, but the culture that had thrived in the valley since the 1700s was gone. Abandoned farms and houses lingered on.

Entry to my Brigadoon was over an old, privately owned, iron, one lane, toll bridge at Dingman's Ferry. No Easy Pass here. I had no idea that passage over the bridge was, in fact, entry into another century. I was meeting up with a group of photographers at the Peters Valley Crafts Center for a weekend of adventures, but I had arrived early, and I wouldn't see the others for 5 or 6 hours. There was an eerie silence as I drove into the little town clustered about what was once the McKeeby Store. I was struck by the quaintness of the place and that it lacked the tidied up look of so many places in Connecticut where the garden club is the custodian of Colonial appearances. This spot had escaped the world of vinyl siding and pastel. I was delighted to find people here; administrators of the crafts center signed me in and directed me to the house where I was to stay - live people!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Clouds Skimming the Hilltop

NOTE: Follow this link to an excellent article on my upcoming opening and exhibition at the Gunn Library in Washington, Connecticut.

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: This image could only be resolved through post-processing. It is made from two shots taken shortly before I abandoned Rabbit Hill for the light I thought I would find at the lake overlook nearby, While ambient light made the cornfield and barns plain to see, the bright sky meant an exposure too short to record the cornfield, hillside and barns cleanly. The sky is the result of HDR. However, the cornfield is a single exposure. I'd rather catch theater lights than resort to such processing.

3. PROPORTIONALITY: It only occurred to me this week that in choosing a location to shoot theater lights one must consider the relationship between the scale of the landscape and the scale of the potential light beams that travel across it. Of course we notice such issues when we see them, but my imagination missed this issue as I considered relocating.

I had been shooting from a location I'd never tried on Rabbit Hill (a spot down behind one of those wood piles). The location allowed me to frame two receding paths in my barn composition. To the left I wanted to lead the viewer down the small town road as it passed through the farmstead between opposing barns. The arrangement of buildings left a weak visible cleft where the road jogged oddly and disappeared, but well targeted beam of light might lead the eye and make the slot read. If it spilled softly into the foreground but left my lens in shadow, it would be perfect.

On the right side of the image one looked beyond the farmstead, across a valley at a narrow slice of ranged hills. Almost any beam that came through would give definition between the receding ridges on the other side of the valley.

When I took my position, this was not an especially unlikely alignment to occur, and almost occurred once, but the longer I waited, the more I became convinced that I had slid into one of those never-ending troughs of darkness mentioned previously, and that it might be that the good light was a minute's drive west where the road overlooked the lake. The overlook is quite dramatic and a famous spot for photos. Once there I suddenly understood the issue of proportionality. The openings through which the beams were shining were just as large as they had been earlier on the hilltop, but my panorama was so deep that when they fell on the hills on the far side of the lake they just looked like tiny, weird details, maybe stains. When choosing a location, the sky must fit the scape.