Monthly Archives: August 2006

Hancock and New Ashford Cemeteries

I seem to have gathered a small library of atlases for the Commonwealth project — five atlases that show all of the streets in Massachusetts circa 2004, plus some that aren’t passable anymore, and a larger scale topographic atlas. My street atlas of western Mass showed seven cemeteries on the main road through town. I could only find two, but then again there are only five or six roads in town; Hancock is very small. The one cemetery in New Ashford, though very easy to find, was quite overgrown.

The three cemeteries I did visit had a few spectacular names:

  • Patience Rogers (♀ — wife of Rev. Rogers — died 1791)
  • Habkley Boon (♂ †1854?)
  • Ruhamah Boon (♀ †1861)
  • Hon. Rodman Hazard, esq. (♂ †1843)
  • Phinehas Palmer (♂ †1855)
  • Harty Phillips (♀ †1852)
  • Loesa Laphan (♀ †1917)
  • Emeline Whitmarsh (♀ 1821-1876)
  • Reuben Ely (♂ †1799 Æ 90)
  • Minerva Smith (♀ †1842)
  • Heman Ely (♂ †1804 Æ 28)
  • Isabel Sweet (♀)
  • Perly Ingraham (♀ †1810)
  • Prudence Parington (♀ †1826 &AElig 17)
  • Mercy Jordan (♀ †1841)
  • Elmer Knox (♂ †1805)
  • Wanton H. Pettit (♂ 1833-1917)

The thought of the grave & of death
Had no fearful effect on his mind.
But calmly he yielded his breath
His Spirit to God he resigned.

Happy soul thy days are ended.
All thy mourning days below
Go by Angel guards attended
To the Arms of Jesus Go.

Memento Mori. Deposited here is the infant remains of Mary Vesta aged 6 years and eleven months.

Posted in Burying Grounds | 1 Comment

Photo Envy

Mitch Epstein, Amos Coal Power Plant, 2004

I rarely wish that I had created a particular photograph, but I do envy Mitch Epstein for this picture, which is part of the ICP’s upcoming 2006 Triennial.

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Fire blog

Anyone who wants/needs to stay up-to-date on the Jackson Canyon fire in Casper can follow the Star-Tribune’s Blazeblog. That is all.

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Artist’s Statement — “High Tension”

In the Commonwealth of Massachusetts more than six million residents occupy only 7838 square miles of land. Humans suffuse the landscape, creating a mosaic of housing, farmland, and natural space. I travel to see and photograph what our built environment in this narrow sliver of America looks like and how we relate to our natural spaces and to each other. Most of my recent work examines tensions and transitions at the nexus of different land uses.

A scarcity of land available for new development in Massachusetts (partly the result of peculiar zoning regulations) has driven up the price of traditional suburban homesteads, both old and new. But the desire for home ownership and the dream of social mobility remains untempered by the high cost, leading many new homeowners to look at lots once considered marginal. For instance, a surprising number of upwardly mobile suburbanites have built their starter dream homes abutting power line corridors, sometimes with the poles in their front yards. The “High Tension” series is an on-going visual exploration of what happens when NIMBY meets an actual backyard.

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The mountain just outside of town where my mother lives is on fire. Last night she said her hubby was out looking at the blaze (hopefully from a safe distance) which had left the town covered with ash Tuesday morning and blackened the sky the rest of the day. This morning, the fire made the Times.

CASPER, Wyo., Aug. 15 — Thousands of residents were evacuated on Tuesday as a fast-growing wildfire, ignited Monday by a lightning strike, threatened high-altitude homes and populous subdivisions.

More than 8,000 acres had burned by early evening on Tuesday as the fire swept across Casper Mountain, a heavily forested peak of more than 8,000 feet just south of Casper. It is dotted with an estimated 800 homes, 150 of them year-round residences.

The fire then swept down the mountain toward subdivisions west of the city, which has about 50,000 residents, officials said. One mountain home had burned as of late Tuesday afternoon, and more than 300 were threatened on the mountain’s top and north slope. . . .

On Tuesday, two helicopters and two slurry bombers were assisting the firefighters, and any fire trucks that could be spared were rushed to the fire.

Earth graders, bulldozers and old military vehicles were also pressed into service, as were large tank trucks that hauled water from hydrants at the base of the mountain to fire trucks on top. . . .

[Stacey Scott's] son, Joe, drove to view the fire on Monday night and described the scene: “There was a line of fire nearly a mile long of burning sage with flames 7 to 15 feet high. I was a mile away, and we could hear the roar. At first we thought it was a helicopter. Then we realized we were listening to the fire. . . .”

The topography of our mountain and its foothills makes this fire especially bad. This Google map shows where I used to live. The fire is burning on the top and northwest sides of the mountain (at the bottom left of the map). The wind blows from the south and west, which is pushing it across grass and sage land toward the city without any real barriers to its progress. In a normal year, the vegetation is as dry as kindling in August, but my mother says this has been a drier and hotter summer than normal.

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Soth on Soth

Joerg Colberg talks with Alec Soth.

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The American Landscape

I already mentioned an exhibit of contemporary photography, at the Wadsworth Atheneum. But it actually has three landscape art exhibits currently on display: American Splendor, a fine collection of Hudson River School paintings; Eloquent Vistas, a traveling show from the Geogre Eastman House with about 80 photographs from the 19th century; and Shifting Terrain, a collection of contemporary landscape photographs.

As we walked into the gallery with the Bierstadt, Church, and Kensett paintings, Lisa took a deep breath and said, “It’s not real, but that’s okay.” She dislikes that the subjects are not true to life, though they want to be considered as actual views of the landscape; and I suspect she finds them pretty melodramatic, too. I noticed for the first time that the diffuse quality of light shares much with the way high altitude blue light affected orthochromatic film, giving the late afternoon light a gauzy glow. Nor had I ever seen some of them quite so similar to Currier & Ives prints of Americana. Of course, I had noted the morality play aspects — consider Thomas Cole — and the paintings’ links to empire, especially Church’s South American canvases and Bierstadt’s manifest destiny works. And I had read about them as transcendentalist masterworks and reactions to European landscapes, which are suffused with history and the presence of people.

But it wasn’t until Sunday that I started thinking (in the context of American painting) about how photography over the 100+ years since the Hudson River School has at first bolstered and later challenged that notion of the American landscape as ahistorical, timeless, permanent — even edenic. In the Eastman photos, Americans are presented as the first to make an imprint on the West. In tourism photos and survey plates, small figures, survey camps, and new railroads in the vast landscape show that while we may be newcomers, it’s ours. This is Leo Marx’s machine in the garden. By the time that Muybridge and Watkins were making their western photos not long afterward, our claims were secure, the frontier had closed, and humans disappeared from the frame. Viewing these images is an act of empire, too: “Let’s see our land. Let’s visit in our minds a place with us in it as we want it to be.”

The contemporary images show us what we’ve finally come to own and what it cost. But, as always, there are reactionary and romantic images made today that still suggest we yearn for the spirit — and the lies — present in the Hudson School paintings.

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And they’re off: Bill Sullivan

During the Weimar Republic, August Sander created portraits of typical Germans near Cologne. In these images the subjects pose for the camera, conscious that it was there but more-or-less emotionally detached.

Contemporary photographer Bill Sullivan channels Sander with a post-modern twist, appropriating the image of New Yorkers as they ride elevators, pass through subway turnstiles, and have their portraits drawn. In his large-scale photographs, the “sitter” is (as often as not) unaware of the photographer, bringing to mind questions about the use of one’s likeness as well as the omnipresence of cameras — rather different issues than Sander encountered.

I must really applaud Mr. Sullivan on the presentation of these images. I have never seen the gallery motif so well employed online. Installations of the “More Turns” series — both virtual and actual — take on the appearance of the starting gate of a horse race, which in a way is what the subway can actually feel like.

(Thanks to Conscientious)

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Shifting Terrain in Hartford

If you like landscape photography — especially the contemporary mode that redefines landscape away from grand scenic vistas, the sublime, and the picturesque and towards a more inclusive depiction of the human-altered environment that finds visual interest in mundane or constructed details — then get yourself over to the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut to see Shifting Terrain: Contemporary Landscape Photography. For once, a decent landscape exhibition.

Shifting Terrain is on display until November 5, 2006, and includes work from these artists:

  • Sally Mann
  • David Maisel
  • Edward Burtynsky
  • Justine Kurland
  • Rosemary Liang
  • Susan Derges
  • Tom Bamberger
  • Ellen Carey
  • Andy Goldsworthy
  • Patrick Nagatani
  • Simon Norfolk
  • John Pfahl
  • Bien-U Bae
  • Olafur Eliasson
  • Rena Bas Forman
  • Elger Esser

(I so wish museums would publish catalogues of photography exhibits. It would be easy: fewer than fifty pages of color plates, a forward by the curator, and a transcript of wall text. Easy.)

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The Historical Record

A bit more than five years ago I started earnestly keeping a journal of occurrences in my household, events at the office, and thoughts in my head. Now, despite having this public forum online, I still record most things in those unlined black notebooks. It has become an invaluable part of my “historical record,” if you will.

Shortly after I started journaling, the attacks of September 11, 2001, became the principal subject for a while. In fact, it’s quite interesting to look back upon the record and find where normality returned, where events other than the attacks and their aftermath started reappearing. (It was on my birthday in early October, by the way.)

Starting in a few week weeks, I will include some entries from my journal here. It may be interesting to remember how truly unusual and cataclysmic those times were — how different they are than now. I don’t know a person who doesn’t remember the shock accutely, and for most Americans alive today hearing “9/11″ will alway bring us to an uncomfortable place. Along with Pearl Harbor and the Kennedy assassination, it is one of those rare American occurrences with such power. But, contrary to what we are told by people in authority, looking at my journal it is clear to me that those attacks, the subsequent wars, and other threatening events have not changed us much as a nation or as individual people.

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Random photographs noted

Nikki S. Lee‘s new series Parts is part Cindy Sherman, part Nan Goldin. (via Modern Art Obsession)

What Susan Sontag did for photography a review of Susan Sontag and the retrospective of On Photography at the Met. (From the New Republic via Gallery Hopper)

Mud Mosques of Mali

I saw some of Michael Wolf’s large format, minimalist, large-scale photographs of Hong Kong Architecture at a gallery in San Francisco. So impressive.

Photographs of tourism infrastructure

Lens Culture website and web blog.

Rocky Schenck. . . interesting black-and-white photographs

Apple has a glossy new webvertisement featuring Magnum photographers and what they can do with Apple products. To paraphrase Lance Armstrong, “it’s not about the computer.” But the pictures are very nice.

Also Magnum in Motion and video podcast.

Lovisa Ringborg has nifty digital manipulations. So maybe the computer matters after all . . . (via Conscientious)

What happens when you superimpose all of the Bechers’ photographs from one series? Idris Kahn shows us. (via BLDGBLOG)

Coal Hollow and other features on The Photography Channel (via

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A good friend and blogher has tagged me to muse about books. Though I’m sure she didn’t mean it, I’m now feeling vastly inferior. She reads . . . a lot . . . important books and smart books like the kind I used to read. She studied English literature and poetry and is brilliant, though she’ll humbly and sincerely deny it. So what do I read now? Harry Potter and book club books and a ton of periodicals and teh Interweb.

Oh, and I like TV. Screenwriters (big and small) are today’s bards. Besides, there’s something satisfying about letting a certain amount of vapid, vicarious experience wash over me. It’s entertaining and soothes the bookish voices that clamor for attention. How can you not enjoy dramatic serials like “Deadwood” and “MillenniuM” and “Lost”?

1. One book that changed your life?

Um . . . the one book or just one of many? Well it could be the Bible, but that didn’t last. Or Dante’s Inferno, now that was a fantastic piece of poetry and something of a capstone to my undergraduate experience. Of course, Homer’s Iliad and Thucydides’ History of the Pelopenesian War helped me get the girl. But Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum was the first book I considered skipping work to continue reading — fortunately I was carpooling.

But Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions has had the greatest influence on me. When asked about modernity, Prof. Goldberg told me to read it, saying it was a book that every educated person should read. I had a hard time in school moving from orthodoxy to understanding, but Kuhn presented a new epistemological context that really, really helped me get along. If only I had read it in school.

Wow. This is proving to be rather difficult.

2. One book you have read more than once?

I think I’ve only read three books twice. (I live for the new.) Just before one member of our book club turned 30, we read Catcher in the Rye, which turned out to be a totally different book than when I read it at 15. To Kill a Mockingbird — another book club selection — turned out to be as wonderful as I remembered. And I don’t remember crying so much over Bridge to Tarabithia the first time around.

3. One book you would want on a desert island?

The Lord of the Rings.

4. One book that made you laugh?

Most recently, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Small details have me chuckling aloud.

5. One book that made you cry?

I wanted to cry whilst reading Anthony Wallace’s The Long, Bitter Trail: Andrew Jackson and the Indians, but only Tarabithia has had this effect.

6. One book you wish had been written?

The Promised Land: The Great Black Migration and How It Changed America by Nicholas Lemann. We need more books about race that challenge us to ask why we don’t want to get along.

7. One book you wish had never had been written?

The Turner Diaries, I suppose.

8. One book you are currently reading?

Melanie Light and Ken Light’s Coal Hollow: Photographs and Oral Histories.

9. One book you have been meaning to read?

Susan Sontag. On Photography.

10. Now tag five people

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