Fruitlands is a Museum in Harvard, Massachusetts that I've been photographing on and off this winter (Website). A project I seem to have backed into somehow. Odd really.
Let me explain. Most ideas for projects and places to photograph hit me over the head. This one crept up on me.
Over the Christmas holidays, my daughter, granddaughter and I made an excursion out to the museum on a weekend afternoon. As we were walking from building to building I couldn't escape the openness of the place, its beauty, sitting just down from the top of a ridge, the whole place looking out on a vast expanse of New England. Later, during a crisis in my family of epic proportions, I found myself driving by Fruitlands on my way to another project every few days. I thought if I could make pictures there it would be good. The Museum is closed in the winter so I sought permission to photograph. It was granted and so I began. Many thanks, Fruitlands.
Note the square and black and white. I hate making a big thing out of a small one, but being able to work square and to see the edge of the frame accurately is a very big thing to me and both the Nikon and Sony I use allow this. This is a dream come true for this photographer. I can make pictures that fit into the mold poured years ago in series such as Nantucket, Yountville, Hershey, Portland starting in the early 80s. You'll see these if you scroll down to the bottom of the Gallery page on the site.
At any rate, this has been mostly a no-snow winter so the ground is bare, the trees are barren, the landscape is reduced and brutal. Odd for me, not knowing if this was working and the methodology supportive of the outcome. Initially, I wasn't sure if this was a project or not.
Well, it has become one now. Making new pictures has become an organic process for me, making photographs in projects or series. Partly intuited, partly thought through. The plan for this is to be a comparative piece. As a foundation, establish the severity of the grounds offseason in winter, then counter with flat out spring; lush, verdant and colorful, the remarkable transformation of the seasons.
Of course, there is still much to do. I will shoot a few more times under different light and different times of day as well. These are harsh pictures I know, but after all these years I have to trust my process. The thinking behind my photography can easily fall into a "what I am" versus a "what I could be" logic and not something I have an inclination to either change or spend time on at this stage in my career. Quite simply, this is what I do.
What purposes do these pictures serve? What are they about? The photographer Harry Callahan said this wonderful thing, “It’s the subject matter that counts. I’m interested in revealing the subject in a new way to intensify it. A photo is able to capture a moment that people can’t always see.”
My sentiment exactly.
Socka what? Sockanosset Boys Training School in Cranston RI. Now long gone and turned into some stores, a restaurant, and offices.
Evidently the school was built in the mid-1800s to house and train boys that were posing some difficulties for the state. Right up the street from a prison.
I would guess I made these about 2005. I have a friend who was living nearby and she mentioned that I might want to take a look at where the school was as the vines and brush were being cleared as prep for developing the site.
I remember I shot them once and blew it. Work this way and you can't have a frame that is out of focus. I just reprinted it at 45 x 34 inches as earlier ones sold long ago.
A note about size: while striking smaller, this image really needs to be large to see the subtleties in the variation of these three buildings. The grid is made from several rolls of 120mm film that I scanned then composited together to look like one roll of twelve exposures.
I am at the end of 1 1/2 weeks on Martha's Vineyard. House guests, great food, a three day Nor'easter, some work on the place and a few efforts at making pictures, as I have been on my own for the past four days. Back to the mainland tomorrow.
If you remember, last spring while here, I worked at Philbin Beach, where a stream was running down into the ocean, especially after it rained.
Some New Work
That stream this time, six months later, was not running down to the sea, but I found another one today, closer towards the clay cliffs:
Very often, after a storm, there is calm and today was exceptionally wind free. In contrast, this is what the south shore of the island looked like just a few days ago:
It was wild. The wind was coming from on shore so it whipped the water right off the top of the breaking waves.
There is a walkway to the beach from the parking lot at Philbin that is irresistible:
This isn't a camera review, but I did want to mention that I have been photographing with the Sony A7r mk IV this time here on the island and I am finding it really wonderful to work with. This is a far more mature and refined tool than the two previous versions. Mostly I am using the 24-105mm f4 lens.
The produce pictures are from the Farmer's Market in West Tisbury, the last market of the season.
I know, I am not breaking any new ground here but I am keeping my hand in and getting familiar with this new tool.
Trump made an appearance one morning at Lucy Vincent's Beach. No opinion, just the letters "Trump".
My friend Gail Hill was down from Toronto. Gail's a wonderful artist:
who greets you each morning on the Vineyard saying, "another perfect day in paradise."
And, you know, she's right.
I will miss the Vineyard until I return in the spring.
The third chapter in the book called Trees, Sand and Snow published in 2017.
The series is on the site here.
Introduction to the chapter:
I was a little shaken by the power of the two groups of pictures I’d made on Martha’s Vineyard that day. When back home in Cambridge, a few hours away from the island, I did what I have done so many times before: I worked the files. This simply means getting the pictures I made into the computer, working on them with a few types of software and printing them. The room I do this on at my home looks out on my condo’s tiny back yard and over a fence into my neighbor‘s, which is larger. One afternoon a few days before Christmas, as I was working on the photographs I’d shot from Squibnocket, I looked up from the computer monitor to see that it was snowing. This was the first snow of the season and, as it was cold, it was coming down in small light flakes.
I always love the first snow in New England, the clean smell of the air, the quiet it brings. As the snow started to stick and accumulate I started thinking about where I might go photograph that afternoon. I am still in a place where I am so appreciative of having this freedom to just get the camera and go whenever I want. I’ve been retired from teaching for 5 years. At any rate, I headed just a mile or so away to the City of Cambridge’s skate park, a new park for the city and built under the elevated Rt 93 as it comes down into Boston, across the river. I’d been photographing the park for some time, both with people using it and not. I knew this day with the snow sticking no one would be there.
I arrived and the snow was slowly building up to cover everything and make the form, steps, ramps and curves disappear under its blanket. But not yet.
I started to work, much in the way I had photographed the laid bare sand at Squibnocket two weeks before. Just as I did then, I photographed the overall and then moved in to look at the small. Here I had to be careful and plan my approach so as to not find my footprints in my pictures. Pristine and pure, the skate park was becoming increasingly obscured by the snow falling. Time again played a part in the making of these pictures, the contrast of the exposed beach being covered over by the rising sea and the skate park disappearing under the blanket of snow. Just as the ocean had receded to show the sand below the snow was drifting down from above to cover the skate park that afternoon in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Time is a big concept in photography because often we freeze it in a fraction of a second to stop time and motion or spread it over a period of seconds or minutes to blur or make our pictures spread through time.
In conclusion, these three chapters called Trees, Sand & Snow exist due to time’s prevailing place in all things we do in this life on this planet. Reaching 70 years old, looking back at my career as a teacher, an artist and a father, the pictures I made on Martha’s Vineyard and Cambridge stand for me as symbols of, quite simply, the character of time through life.
Once again we start out with a wide perspective on a place:
Then move in to find hard concrete covered with the softest of light powdery snow, the metaphor of the uncovered sand two weeks before on the Vineyard inescapable, time doing its thing once again.
The shortest time period of all three bodies of work, all soon to be obliterated as the snow continued to fall, water in this different state but not so unlike the water covering the sand on the beach that day as the tide rose.
So, to finish these three posts: I had never made a book or, in fact, a portfolio of photographs quite like this, three disparate series of pictures connected by something like the way time was effecting each. Furthermore, it was up to me to write explaining what it was that I was doing, for I wasn't confident the reader would find the connections I was making without some help. Writing and photographs, not my favorite combination, for I much prefer the photographs standing on their own. But turning 70 years old gave me a little license to stretch my work and push it towards something less known.
I am most curious about how this work is received by you, my readers. Let me know, here.
And thanks for reading and subscribing.
A word about the status of the book. The bad news is the first edition is now sold out. The good news is that we are about to go into a second printing, with a couple of edits as improvements. We can take your orders via email to: Book Orders. The book will be signed and numbered. It will be $36.00 plus shipping.
The second chapter in the 2017 book called Trees, Sand and Snow.
The full series is: here.
The chapter starts with this introduction:
The same morning I’d driven to Chappaquiddick to make the “Trees” pictures I rode the ferry back to Edgartown and drove up island to the beach in Chilmark on the south shore called Squibnocket. The access to the beach is from a parking lot that sits right above it. Chilmark has two town beaches on the south shore, this one and Vincent’s Beach, famous for being nude at one end and one of the most beautiful beaches along the New England seacoast.
I wasn’t at Squibnocket to make pictures, but to give it a look, to visit an old friend, to watch the waves coming in and out and as a way to complete the sense that I was on the island, here for just the day before and this one in early December.
But things were different this day as the tide was unusually low, there was no wind and much of the sand was exposed, with small rivulets of water working their way down to the ocean at dead low tide, lower than I’d ever seen it.
Then ensued an internal battle with myself. After getting out of the car and standing above the beach looking down, seeing how special this really was, acknowledging that this beach laid bare was exceptionally beautiful and rare, I went back to the car, determining that this was too much, too cliched, too overdone as a topic for me to play a part. But then, in doubt, I went back to my perch to look down again and realized I’d be a fool not to have at this, to at least try to photograph this unusual exposing of a beach I’d been visiting since I was one year old.
So I did. I got my camera, headed down the stairs to the beach below and started photographing. As has happened so many times before, a world opened up for me.
These things, this way of photographing in series, forming a narrative, has a beginning and an ending too. Generally it is important to set the stage, to show something of the overall, then to move in to show details and make pictures that make analogies to bigger things by being of small parts of the whole. There were planal considerations to work with too, for all of what I photographed at the beach that day was at my feet, spread out in a wide expansive “ground” of sand and rocks and water. Although looking timeless, the characteristic of all that was before me, this world of incredible beauty and richness would soon be covered up by the ocean itself weighed on me as I worked. In fact, by the time I was finishing much of what I had photographed only an hour two earlier, was gone.
In this second chapter we have a different sense of the temporary, an extremely short life span of a tidal cycle compared to one of a time we can dream of but not witness, the life of the stunted oak trees back at Wasque. One, a beach on Martha’s Vineyard, laid bare due to the effects of the moon and sun’s gravitational pull on our planet and the other, a stand of trees nearing the end of their lives early due to erosion. One, measured by the span of a few hours and the other, by decades or perhaps centuries, we don’t know.
You can understand my reservation at making these pictures. As cliched as sunsets, cemeteries and babies. But I plunged right in.
But what a powerful metaphor this was. This sand laid bare by an exceptionally low tide in December. From the trees that would fall into the sea someday to this incredible beauty swept away in an hour or two.
Of course, writing this now over two years later my perspective has shifted. With that distance, are these pictures as emotionally charged now as they were back then? Are they no longer loaded with the back story of the rising tide, impermanence, the sense of impending loss? As it turns out, yes they are.
I wonder if you feel it too?
Next up: the third and final chapter from the Trees, Sand and Snow book called, Snow.