PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: The Drowned Lands Swamp Preserve lies along county route 3, near where it crosses Punch Brook, and the best view of the swamp is from the long bridge where the road crosses the brook and the swamp. Just now the swamp is ripening into autumn and the sun was finding all kinds of ways to make the textures dance.
It was not the first time I had tried photographing the old barns with the rusted roofs and wondered how to get closer. For that reason, it took me a moment to realize they were being upstaged by a splash of red like a feather duster. Whether or not the image has profound import, one of the pleasures of a day of photography is finding a spot of such rich resources: a pair of leading characters surrounded by a chorus of textures in a pleasing palette of colors, a nicely lumpy sky, and a guy in the light booth working the spots. I spent 30 minutes repositioning my camera to place textures and features in different relationships to the rectangle. Of many possibilities, in the end, I must choose one. One wants to say, it is the only possible one. Most of the time that's not the case, but one must process and finish it as if it were.
When I was done I again tried to circle the swamp on local roads to locate the old farm. I never found it.
PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: I took this photograph on Sunday at the Drowned Lands Swamp Conservation Area in Ancram, NY. It reveals no miracles and would win no prizes, but it is a good day's work, the best of the day's shoot, and merit's inclusion, therefore on "Today's" photo.
As a photographer, I find myself increasingly drawn to photographing situations of high contrast, situations where the contrast pushes the limits of my photographic technology. I suppose part of this urge is technical: Can I set the exposure precisely? Can I manipulate the RAW file so as to draw out everything that has been captured, and achieve the spatial/compositional effect desired? The lure is far more than technical, however. I like high contrast situations because light/dark is a recipe for drama and a structure for design. There is mystery in shadow and revelation in shine, and stories can flicker to life in the contrasting of exterior and interior; there is polyphony in the contrary tug of the thing concealed and the thing revealed.
So I was not disappointed when I followed the trail to the spot labeled, "overlook," and found only this paltry window on the valley and swamp. Though the view was barely photographic, I was drawn by the reach of the trees, of everything around me to grab as much of the sunshine as possible, and I would make what I could of the bit of poetry provided where the fronds and leaves edged at the light. No, the reach of it all came afterward; first was registering the violence of the diagonal slashes of the tree's trunks, and I set my camera to be sure I could include all three and composed the rectangle broadly. Only then did I consciously note how everything leaned together and how the tones had to be set.
PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: I thought at first it was an accident, cars stopped both sides of the road, but down below the road, at the back of a field he stood, as if amused by the crowd that had gathered. I'd like to think he was waiting for me, the guy with the tripod-mounted Nikon and 300mm telephoto lens, and I suppose it's possible that even the moose community has to put out a press statement, stake their claim to the area around the Shepaug Reservoirs, deliver their bit of PR. He was certainly a handsome spokesmoose.
I had just finished a full day of shooting, and in my mind I had put away my gear, even though the gear was in reality spread across the back seat. The inevitable decision: to stop or not to stop? I passed the crowd then rushed to park, grabbed my stuff, found a spot to set up; aim, focus, shoot, while the moose waited and seemed to be looking calmly from face to face among the crowd that had gathered. It was not entirely clear who was the more beguiled, the moose or us. He allowed me just enough time to get off three shots before he began slowly to walk away, frequently turning back to check the little pink faces of the natives on the hill behind him
The area around the Shepaug Reservoirs is a large natural preserve. There are two or three miles of forest to cross between the corn field and the lower reservoir, and the reservoirs are similarly buffered on all sides. There is room there for many moose and much else, but it is on the bleeding edge of sprawl and whenever there are such sitings, I think about how small that area is, and I feel the constant march of lawns closing in. Each year there are more small driveways burrowing into what was previously unbroken forest, cutting a nearly invisible tunnel ending in a clearing, house and lawn. We bore our way into the forest as surely as any beetle.
Alas, so poor am I as a news reporter and naturalist that I had to check with my daughter to be sure it was, in fact, a moose I had photographed. The truth is that he was probably lured out of his refuge, not to have his picture taken but by the ripe corn which will soon be harvested. I'm told this is also mating season when the bulls, normally solitary, go in search of mates.
PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: Follow the road north from Winchell Mountain, and you'll come to Ancramdale, the center of an agricultural community where farmers produce everything from milk and cheese to Alpaca yarn to aged meat and whiskey. I've been photographing farms and fields in the area since 2009, but yesterday Ancramdale farmers held a kind of "open house," and Jane and I went from farm to farm to learn about the area. This is Fox Hill Farm where the Lampman family have been farming since the 1880s. There was an established farm here before the Civil War. Today Fox Hill Farm raises and sells grass-fed beef and beef products. I took this photo several years ago, and I keep trying to get back to photograph here in the afternoon as the herd is brought across the street, into these fields for their fresh grass dinner.
PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: Climb from the Harlem/Route 22 Valley into the hills along its western side, and you'll find mostly horse country until you get up north near Winchell Mountain. It's the highest spot around, a broad spread of corn fields and grazing land for the dairy herds of Pleasant View Farm. Whether or not it is quintessential, this image is an unexceptional glimpse of quiet countryside; unexceptional except that readers of this blog who pass through the area will be trying to recall exactly where it is, and others will know it instantly. It is a place where you can often see people stop to take in the view or just let off steam. One might even put a dot on maps at this very spot and mark it, "Pleasant View."
Before I started photographing in this area I occasionally scorned the work of the Hudson River School painters, but the quiet grandeur they found here is irresistible. From this gap in the hills where the road passes near the broad top of the mountain, we can see across the Hudson Hills and past the great river to the Catskill Mountains whose crests are 30 miles away and the better part of a two hour, hilly drive. It is easy to forget that we are looking out across a scurrying suburbia of traffic lights, honking horns, and trips to the dentist. There, along the river's edge especially, the traffic snarls along Route 9 can be maddening.
Sometimes there are cows in this field. Though they might add to the composition, a look at the sky and you ought to realize that any cows in the field now, will be lying down beneath the trees, on the hill to my right, waiting for the weather to change and radiating karmic energy with, I'm certain, no notion of scurrying suburbia.
PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: A photographer friend once lamented to me not having found her, "Lone-Tree-on-a-Hillside" shot, and I thought to myself, I've shot mine, and it was true even though nobody had seen it but me. I'd shot it, but each time I tried to render it, the finished image fell short of what I thought it could be.
I shot this photograph in May of 2008. The tree used to stand across from Hanover Hill Farm, but the tree fell long before the barns burned. I had noticed the tree before the afternoon when it caught the breaking storm clouds. I set the image aside for further work as soon as I reviewed the day's shoot. It was not long after that when the tree fell. It's been on the workbench since while the landscape of which it was a part has vanished forever.
Of course, one can have more than a single, "Lone Tree," shot, but I've met more than one photographer who believed every serious shooter should have at least one. Classically, it is an exercise in cloud photography, at least once one has found the lone tree and the hillside.
PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: Many of the photographs I take are initiated by a tacit, "Once upon a time," and because they are photographs that capture an instant, there is often little narrative to color the melancholy initiated by that well-worn phrase. For me the melancholy of Hanover Hill Farm connects to the years in which my camera and I skirted its borders to catch its distant gloom, and to the years after the barns burned when I could get onto the property for angles on the ruins. This one was taken in December of 2011, and I recall the walk and my hope to capture a sunrise or sunset shot from this wrinkle in the corn field. Just at this point the land dipped and the wall permitted a view of the ruined house. I never did catch it in sunset or sunrise light before it was bulldozed. My "Once upon a time..." was filled only with land, houses and barns that clearly proclaimed something large and earnest once went on here, something that would have grabbed the attention of all passers by. That it was distantly visible from surrounding hillsides enlarged its mysteries. Occasionally I struggled to write down my, "What if's."
A year ago I received a call from a gentleman inquiring if I had any photographs of the farm. I guess he was a cattleman, knew the history of Hanover Hill and Peter Heffering who ran it. How between 1968 and 1973 Peter Haffering rented the property and established himself as a legend in breeding Holstein cattle, before taking his operation to Canada. The gentleman had contacted me seeking a suitable photograph as a personal memorial to Heffering's work. For him, this was sacred property. For me, learning a bit of the story and learning of the man's reverence deepened the colors of my, "Once upon a time..." though the image was already fixed in a place apart from Heffering's Hanover Hill.
You can read more about Peter Heffering and Hanover Hill: here.
I've been making photographs since childhood. Photography has become a way for me to explore the place I live and places I visit, but I know there's much to be seen in my own back yard. My favorite travel is through time.
This blog is a discipline and challenge to myself. However, I always welcome hearing how these posts touch those who visit.
I like to share, but please contact me for permission to download, print, or use my photos or original writings. All are copyrighted.