Building a Story

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There are families that embraced photography wholeheartedly when it was introduced.  I think of them as being sentimental.  They understood that life was fleeting and it was important to them to remember moments in time.  Not all families are like that.  My father’s side was very sentimental and there are hundreds of old photos of my grand and great grands as well as my father growing up.  They go back even further to the ambrotypes and tintypes although those are fewer.  My mother’s side was not recorded quite as well but there is still quite an archive.

I have always been the “keeper” of the photographs.  When households were emptied the boxes of photos were brought to me.  I have closets full of boxes of photographs dating from the 1850’s to the present.  I have to say the advent of digital photography makes organizing and making sense of this archive much easier.

Recently I volunteered to digitize the photographic collection at the Rowe Historical Society.  I became a trustee and am hoping to organize their collection to give everyone access and help make sense of some of this imagery.  I have to tell you I’m extraordinarily happy that Rowe is an extremely small town.  I can’t imagine trying to make sense of a collection that is much bigger.

This was also self-serving in some respects – I wanted to see more of the photographs of Fort Pelham Farm back in the days of rolling fields and farming.  I was also in search of angles of the house from the south side.  I had never seen any.  The Wrights were photo centric people.  They were very social, had a wide circle of friends and family and took pictures at many occasions.  They also kept many of their photographs glued in albums.  This helps give a timeline to the images you are viewing. You have to be a sort of sleuth to figure out what is going on because all of the players are long gone and the names and dates often went with them.

Last week I scanned roughly 400 photographs from a few albums.  I haven’t taken the time at this point to really examine them.  There were a few that caught my interest because they were what I was looking for but an interesting thing has happened along the way.  Not all of the albums belonged to the Wrights but there were many photographs of Fort Pelham Farm in albums belonging to families I’m unfamiliar with. One of these albums was fairly well labelled as to who, what, where and when.   I pulled out the genealogy and realized just how many people were related to each other in town.

I think I love doing this sort of project because of the stories that form while you’re looking at the images.  The body language, the clothing, the history that is shown even though they weren’t aware of much of it at the time.  The stories grow as the collections come together.  It takes some patience and a good memory for detail to make this all work but the technology we have today makes it all so much easier.  With a little luck and some time this story should come alive and an archive will be available for everyone.

Take Your Camera for a Ride

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There was a time when I carried my camera with me everywhere I went.  You just never knew when a moment would arise.  These days I usually have my phone but the camera never seems to leave the table at home.  I’m fortunate to have a lot to photograph around where I live but there are invariably those moments as I’m driving that the light is so perfect, the situation begging and my camera is sitting on the table in the living room. Ugh.  The phone just doesn’t cut it.

Last night I was taking photographs for a dear friend.  The sun had just set over the mountain and it was the ultimate spring day.  The weather was perfect, just a slight breeze and the surroundings were defined by the noise – the decided lack of it.  Babbling brook, air flowing through surrounding pines, birds singing their evening song.  There was color everywhere.  The hundreds of shades of green mixed with some still bare earth or last fall’s leaves.  The fruit trees and forsythia showing off.  Bluets everywhere.

I don’t do photography like I used to.  Long gone are the days of proms, weddings and portraits but with that also went the urge to shoot – anything.  I try to make an effort to take photographs for this blog or Instagram but sometimes it just feels like too much effort.  It feels like I have to think too hard it seems.

When I was driving home this spot presented itself.  I heard “Stop! Just stop” in my head and I did.  I stood in the middle of the road and took a couple of frames (are they frames now?).  Got back in the car and drove home knowing that this would be a keeper.

I realized that I really need to just take my camera for a ride every so often – a little after sunset or before sunrise in the morning.  You see the most amazing things and they are quite often things that no one else sees or pays attention to.  So try it, you’ll be amazed at what happens.

 

 

Birds and Snow

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You can always tell when the weather will be bad by the number of birds on the feeders.  The chickadees demanded I put them up about a week ago while I was doing a walk about.  I relented figuring it was cold enough so the bears might have entered into hibernation.

Yesterday the activity stepped up and we all knew it was because a storm was coming.  They are much better forecasters than any human being (that and the joints were screaming).  This morning the snow started in earnest at about 9:00 and it went from nothing to blizzard almost instantly.

The birds continue to come, all varieties now, loading up.  Their feast for the holiday.

We have people travelling from all over.  Some are beginning to arrive, some I’m hoping will wait until tomorrow with the snow coming down the way it is now.  They predict up to 12 inches and at the rate it’s falling now I wouldn’t be surprised.

Here’s hoping everyone stays safe this coming long weekend and enjoys time spent with friends and family.  Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

For the Record

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There are times you do things that are uncomfortable for the sake of family and history.  For my entire life I was always the photographer.  I took the photographs because I always hated the way I looked in them.  If I took the photograph I would never have to be in it – for me a win win.

A little over a month ago I decided that I needed to have a family portrait taken – for many, many reasons.  I think everyone needs to do this, if for no other reason than a record for future generations.  I have uncovered photographs in my attic clean up of my great grandparents weddings, or them with their siblings and mother.  Photographs taken around 1900 – over 100 years ago – that give me a little glimpse of their lives.  For me a gift.  Having this portrait done was my gift to grandchildren and great-grandchildren yet to be born.  A little piece of my life.

There was a lot involved with this whole plan on my part.  First and foremost was the photographer.  I messaged an old friend with the request.  His work is something that I have admired for a long time and he was one of the very few I trusted with photographing me. (It’s all about me you understand, I knew everyone else would look great).  I’ve known Joe since the early 80’s, there is no one I would trust more with this photograph.

It was also important to me to have Scott be photographed with us.  Although he is a new-found member of our family he is one that has been fully embraced.  It was also important to me as part of the record that he be involved.  My only regret about it is I have to tell people who he is – over and over.  In years to come he will just be my son and my daughters’ brother.  He is one of us, he just came late to the party.

The appointed hour came and we met Joe of Josephs at the appointed hour at Forest Park in Springfield, MA.  We have a history of photographs in this park and it seemed the perfect setting to me (even though Joe thought Fort Pelham Farm was where it should be – another time maybe). We had a great time.  Joe was entertaining and comfortable in his work.  He also did an amazing job and it was everything I hoped it would be.

I looked at 176 proofs today.  What I was struck with is how old I am.  In my head I will always be around 27 but in the photographs I am an older woman.  I know it’s me but I’m shocked in a way at how old I really am.  Having my adult children around me just brought it home.  They all have lives quite separate from mine.  I see little glimpses of them as children but my days of parenting children are sadly over and have been for quite some time.  It’s all a little bittersweet.  The record has been made, we all look like we still love one another.  I know at this point that the likelihood of this happening again is pretty much nonexistent.  That’s okay.

I can take these photographs and enjoy them for the moment that they captured.  A beautiful fall afternoon, warm with a slight breeze, spent laughing with the people I care about the most.  Maybe 100 years from now someone will find a few photographs in the attic and glean a little about the people in this little family group.  I hope it just shows them how happy we were on this afternoon and that we care about one another.

 

 

Hand Made

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Yesterday the weather wasn’t conducive to gardening, or much of anything outdoors.  Although there was plenty to do in the house (like vacuuming) I decided to finish up the project on the loom.

This is a 72″ runner with a linen warp and wool weft.  I made it for a friend of mine who has been one of my weaving cheerleaders since the beginning.  She has an older home and her love of blue and white traditional overshot drove the project.  I told her last year that I would make her something and that’s what lead me to the linen warp.  It was an experience.

These are my favorite projects, the ones I make for particular people.  It’s a different kind of effort.  As I said before it’s really the process not the project. Once it was off of the loom, fringed and wet finished I photographed it and then folded it and got it ready for presentation.   The gifting is my favorite part.

The end of last year I was weaving some beautiful twill towels with the intention of gifting one of them to one of my biggest cheerleaders.  The intent was Christmas as he wondered how he could get on my Christmas list.  Well, as usual, life got in the way and they weren’t ready by Christmas, or by January.  His health took a turn for the worse after the holidays and in my heart I knew this was the end.  It all but stopped my progress on that project.  It came to a screeching halt actually.  He passed away in March and with that I had to change my entire mindset on those towels.  I did finish them and gifted them to my oldest daughter – they were her colors.  In weaving the last of the warp though he was constantly on my mind.

I don’t know how to explain what happened when he died honestly.  The week after his death I was a total mess, trying to find meaning in what had transpired surrounding it.  After his memorial service I was at total peace.  Not just peace with his passing, peace with everything.  It was as though the moment he died he took all of my lifetime crap with him when he left.  I just had to be quiet enough to see it.  Now I always knew we had a connection and over the past year or two he was more than ready to lend an empathetic ear but this was unexpected.  There is no other explanation, the calm with my life came when he left.  Thank you.

The loss of a dear friend, in the middle of a project like that gives urgency to finishing things when they are made directly for someone.  I really want this to go to its intended home.  Although I have never seen her table I imagine it laying there and the pleasure it will give to its recipient.

Last year, after winning a blue ribbon on an overshot throw at the Eastern States Exposition, Paul wrote on my post about it.  “Hands made this. Hands were used by a person. A person made this. It holds and conveys the sense and feel of those hands and the spirit of that person. Yes, it is beautiful.”  There are people who intrinsically understand this about things that are hand-made.  Maybe it comes from making art of your own because I know many people who don’t get it.

I will continue to weave and create beautiful things and giving many of them away.  I think a little piece of my soul goes with them most of the time and I gift to those that can see it.

Lomogram_2014-07-31_03-28-54-PMThe bonus on most weaving projects is I always warp a little longer than required so I can play at the end.  The photo above is a small table runner I made in a variation of the pattern and that one stays on my table.

 

 

Birds, Bees and Butterflies

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This garden was one we put in about 3 years ago (time all melds together at this point – maybe it was four years, maybe two).  It is pretty spectacular this year.  All of the plants have matured and I put in a few annuals that Bill brought up.  The best part about this garden is its attraction to hummingbirds, bees and butterflies.

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If you are within sight of this garden you can see it is a hub of activity.

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I was thrilled to see honey bees on a lot of my flowering plants this year, it’s been a while.

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There is always something to watch.

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I originally planted this for the color it would give our view of the back forty. When I sit in the Adirondack chairs and look over this garden I realize I planted the perfect wildlife garden.  There’s a hummingbird feeder that I have to fill every few days and I have seen finches in and out of it all day long.

There are also a critters that I could do without – chipmunks, red squirrels and woodchucks.  Although, truth be told, I love watching them too. They don’t really bother anything, they do dig holes all over the place.  If and when they get into the vegetable garden I might have a change of heart but for now I’ll share this beautiful space with anyone that wants to visit.

 

 

How We See

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My chicks are a month old now and a far cry from the cute, fuzzy little creatures they were in the first week.  The day after I arrived daughter Amanda spent some time in the room with the chicks and I took this photograph of her hands holding one of them.  It was around nine at night, maybe later and the chicks were sleepy and welcomed the warmth of her hands.

When I loaded the photo onto the computer and opened it in Photoshop it looked nothing like this.  In fact I had no idea it would turn into one of my recent favorites until I began to play with it.  All of the photographs I took of people holding chicks had to be converted to b&w because of the red heat lamp in use over the chicks enclosure. A big part of it was having a cooperative subject and I attribute that to Amanda having spent the last 28 years being photographed – a lot. She waited, holding that chick until I went into the house and got the camera.  And it was a one on one situation.  After some cropping and playing with levels this it turned into something I love.  It speaks to me of the kindness and tenderness that is Amanda, and I would recognize those hands anywhere.

The next day I took this photo.

140705 Andy holding chick (2)Nothing like the one the day before.  The quality of the material to begin was not as good but wow, I have to say I love this almost as much.  This was manipulated almost as much, didn’t end up with the same result – but look at that face.  This is my grandson in his first chicken experience.  After a little coaxing he reluctantly held that chick. Not the same hands, not the same feel but something that really captured the experience for me.

Photography for me, when it’s good, is most often times a happy accident.  The first image more so than the second.  They were totally different experiences.  The hands were something I saw, captured and manipulated into something I see as beautiful.  I worked towards that image in every aspect – it just so happens it turned out better than I had envisioned.  The second was a capture of a moment and his face really gives away his uncertainty with the situation. It feels like he was just holding that chick just for the camera, otherwise he might have been just as happy to leave it quite alone (or watch but not touch).

These are the times that I truly appreciate digital photography.  I never would have achieved these images if I had been using film – I probably could have but it would have entailed hours of frustration in a darkroom and then I seriously doubt they would have turned out this way.  These took a few minutes and some mouse clicks to make it happen.  Minutes later I’m sharing them with family and friends.

It’s all still pretty amazing to me.  I do think photography has been diminished in some ways because of it.  Photographers used to be artists and technicians, you had to know your craft.  Technology has made us old film photographers obsolete, we can now reminisce about standing in a darkroom for hours trying to achieve our vision.  In the same breath I can say it has set us free – we can envision what we want, capture it and make it our own with the click of a few buttons.  The one thing that has not changed for us is how we see.

 

 

Morning Walkabout

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This will be a photo heavy post today – just to give you a glimpse of the place right now.  It also serves as a record for me.

Each morning starts with picking up my handy bug zapper.  It’s deer fly season and this has proven itself to be a necessity.

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The patio garden – to my right as I cross the driveway heading for the back forty.  This is an old garden, a friendship garden with almost all of the plants coming from people we know.  My mother worked on this from the summer we moved in, 1967.  It’s going to be renewed this summer since the lawn is really creeping in at this point and things are really crowded.

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Towards the back of the garage there is the newest perennial garden and in the foreground is the raspberry patch.  The raspberries are in their third year and are just starting to fill in.

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We take the road to the back forty, we being me and the dogs.  They know the drill and love being out there.  On the right is the sawdust building for the sawmill.  I don’t think it’s a crooked as it looks in the photo but you never know.

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As I walk around what used to be the back pasture the dogs spend their time sniffing whatever went on the night before.

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From the same spot (more or less) looking towards a road that goes back into the wood lot.  There’s a branch that goes to a stump dump where I’ve taken some very nice compost for the garden over the years.  Everything about gardening is waiting – years not months.

The tete-a-tete chair my father made is up there and it overlooks the pasture back up towards the house.  It’s the perfect spot to drink a morning cup of coffee or that martini in the afternoon.

140624 (15)As I walk the perimeter I check on the berries, deciding what I will net this year so I get more of a harvest than the birds.  These are blackberries and the birds pretty much get all of them – they probably scope them out more often than I do.

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This is the view from the back of the pasture – the table was too worn out for the patio but too solid to burn so there it sits.  Just one more thing to weed whack.

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From the same spot if you turn around you look into the woods towards the wood lot – there are also some old, empty beaver ponds back there as well.

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Back up into the driveway I noticed that this summer is the summer of potted plants for me.  I love the way they look and I’m here to take care of them now.  This is the well by the driveway.  Years ago we replaced the wood cover with stone fearing our kids would climb up on top of it and fall in.  I think it might be usable in an emergency but I wouldn’t want to drink out of it now.

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This is the view from the patio, it overlooks the vegetable garden, the new garden and the raspberries towards the back forty.  I have annuals in pots as well and tomatoes and cucumbers.

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Yes, cucumbers.  I was skeptical at first.  Bill brought two pots of these up that he got from the plant gypsy we have come to the shop in Enfield.  I told him they would never grow.  How wrong I was.  Now I’m looking for the seeds for next year.

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Across from the patio is another perennial garden that has morphed into all kinds of things over the years.  It’s now overgrown as well but I love having the pots for color.  It is also a place for the birds that we can watch from the table in the kitchen.

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Another crazy potted plant.  Its in a pedestal pot so I guess I could take the hanger off of it now huh?

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Heading for the front yard and looking back over the gardens – this is the relaxation spot for every part of the day.  I swear people that drive by only do when we are sitting in those chairs.  I figure they think that’s all we do.

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This is the vegetable garden from the chairs.  It’s slow but steady this year, about a week to 10 days behind last years.  It’s been quite cool.

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But the potatoes are doing great!

This is what I look at every morning (even if it rains).  I check my plants, take a walk, play with the dogs all in about 20 minutes time.  It gives me time to plan my day.  Look around at what needs doing and try not to get overwhelmed by the list.  Prioritize.  Breathe in the fresh air, stand in the sunshine, hug a tree, center.

Abundance

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I walk the perimeter of the back forty a couple of times a day with the dogs.  It’s far enough away from any distractions to make the walk enjoyable for me as well as them.  One of our dogs, now elderly, is hard of hearing with bad eyesight and tends to wander in the road.  There are usually only a handful of cars that pass the house on any given day but this way I don’t have to worry and he can spend quality time sniffing whatever dogs with dementia sniff.

I’m constantly amazed at the things that grow back there.  Blackberries in abundance.  I never really get to harvest many of them because there are also birds in abundance – fruit is a big food source for them and I take whatever is leftover.

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Blueberries are everywhere around the edges of the mowing.  There is one large bush in the open that I net every year and it gives me a good supply of berries to freeze.  There is nothing like those wild blueberries in muffins on a cold, snowy morning in January I have to tell you.  There are bushes all over but this particular bush I reserve for myself.  It sometimes seems as if the birds are waiting when I go down to pick them thinking they’ll just help themselves while I pick.  It’s a quiet interlude I look forward to every summer just to spend time in birdsong.

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Then there is the pear tree.  The lone survivor of a number of plantings on a long ago Father’s Day.  This tree has come into its own in the past few years.  It’s spectacular in bloom and there have been years where I thought all of the branches would break under the weight of the fruit.  This, of all the “free” food that surrounds me, stresses me the most.  There is SO much of it. Pears are picky about when they are harvested and ripened and the frost freeze cycle of the end of season can mess you up in the timing of it all.  Did I mention there is SO much of it?  The past few years there have been enough pears to fill the bucket of the tractor three times over.  That’s a LOT of pears folks.  I can them, I eat them, I give a lot away.  I even used them as place markers on my Thanksgiving table with over 40 guests.  There is not enough creativity in the world to deal with this kind of harvest.  Hmmmm, pear cider . . .

Being surrounded by the bounty of nature (and perhaps the forethought of many now gone) is really a wonderful thing.  In the past couple of years that is how I’ve begun to think about the food I grow.  There is always the huge vegetable garden but I planted asparagus last year knowing full well that I would not be eating any of it until the third year.  The glory in it is the bed can be good for over thirty years.  It’s nice to know that someone will be eating that lovely vegetable in 2040 because I planted it.  To me THAT is food security even if it’s only for three weeks out of the year.