Getting Started, Installment #2
After my first wife and I divorced I moved to downtown Atlanta for a while. Photography was my haven, my release, my companion. It was the first time I had ever really lived alone. In my life I have only one real regret, which I suppose is not bad for a man my age. I was only three days past my nineteenth birthday when my first daughter was born. I missed a big part of her childhood. She was six when my wife and I split.
I left Georgia in 1974 and moved to Rochester, New York, hoping to attend RIT, where Barrie was going to school. In my first meeting with the faculty adviser there I was told they would allow me to skip my Freshman year based on my portfolio. I took a few night classes there but never really got enrolled as a full time student, much to my disappointment. I worked for a medical supply company and drove all over the upstate area delivering medical supplies for about a year and a half. My cameras always traveled with me and the changing seasons on the back roads of New York provided my initiation to the beauty of the upstate landscape. My image of New York, coming from the South, was much the same as many people who have never been here. I expected big cities, skyscrapers, traffic, industry. But the area was a total surprise. Rolling hills, lakes, gorges, farm land, orchards, woods, wildlife. Not what I imagined at all. I believe it was the New York landscape, the Finger Lakes, the Adirondack mountains, that inspired in me a love of nature I had never really known quite so strongly before. That and the influence of Neil Croom, a professor of nature photography at RIT. So my photography became more and more about nature and the landscape.
Barrie and I lived in an apartment on the ground floor of a large house on Brunswick Street in Rochester. The area is full of big old houses, devided and broken into apartments, mostly occupied by students. We could set up our darkroom in the bathroom with our enlarger in a closet off the hallway. We had black plastic covering the doorways at either end of the hall and over the bathroom window. It was pretty light tight and worked fairly well, unless you needed to use the bathroom. I began to shoot pictures for others during this time. Portraits, some product shots, an occasional wedding. Very basic stuff, but began to build a collection of nature material. Although Rochester and New York fed my creative self with imagery, from a business standpoint I felt isolated and confined. I longed for a bigger city. In 1976 we moved to Lexington, Massachusetts outside of Boston. We had been recently married and moved there hoping to build photography careers with a New England base.
Lexington was an upscale town with great historical significance, shot heard round the world and all, Paul Revere, the Minutemen. Our house was four houses up from John Hancock’s house. And here we were in the birthplace of liberty in time for the bicentennial. It amazes me to think back today and ask myself why I didn’t photograph everything in conjunction with that event. Instead I was shooting mushrooms and marshes and wildflowers. We received an offer and opportunity to do a book of landscape and nature photos while there and spent the next few years compiling images, traveling, and designing the book. In 1979 we published Coming Into The Light/An Invitation. The book was well received and won an award from Meade paper as one of the top 60 printed pieces for the year, and a distinctive merit award from the Art Directors Club of Boston. We didn’t sell a great number of the books, but it opened numerous doors for us as photographers eventually leading to work with Minolta Cameras, Fuji film, book and magazine publishers, a small show in Citicorp Center in Manhattan, and general recognition within our community.
While working on the book we traveled to Nova Scotia to take in a week long photo workshop on a Cape Breton farm. It was run by a photographic workshop organization out of Boston with a good reputation, but because of the unusually dry August that year, the farm well had dried up and there was no running water. We arrived early enough to claim a fairly nice room in the farm house, but late comers were relegated to camping outside. Bathing was done in a stream about a half mile up the road, and food from the gardens was running low so it was important to get to the dining table early. About four days into the workshop we skipped out and took a night at a motel a few miles away just to be able to get a shower and some good sleep. In spite of the situation, the image opportunities were good. We had a new yellow Dodge van at the time we had named Grover. Our best time spent there was an overnight excursion up through Cape Breton Highlands National Park with several other students riding in the van with us. We would drive a few miles and when the spot looked right, park the van and pile out with cameras and tripods, shoot for a while and pile back in and continue up the road. We drove up the west side of the cape that day, spent the night in the park, and drove back down the east side the next day to finish the loop.
The important result of the trip had little to do with photography, but instead more to do with friendship. It was in Nova Scotia that I met Mark who would become my closest and dearest friend. Mark lived in Brookline, Massachusetts. Was a psychologist and an amateur photographer. He had a great eye and took really nice pictures. We connected and began a friendship that would last about twenty years. Unfortunately we have drifted apart over the last several years, but we spent years sharing everything good friends share, marriages, divorces, school, children, moving, caring.
I suppose I hadn’t really anticipated when I began to write this blog, that it would be about anything other than photography. But my photography has guided my life in so many ways and lead me to so many important relationships and changes, that I guess it has to be about more than just images. It’s really more about life, and choices, and relationships, and adventures, and disappointments, and discoveries, and regrets. Funny how you don’t realize the impact something has had on your life until you sit down and really reflect.