ImageGuy

My photography, my art, my thoughts.

Category: relationships

Thanks, Grandad.

Webb Moses Alred was a barber and he was my grandfather.

WM Alred in uniform

I don’t remember “WM” as he was called and seldom heard my mother speak of him. He died on March 12th, 1954 of a heart attack. I was 4 years old then. He and my grandmother, who we called “Big Mama”, had divorced by that time. He had three children, my mother being the eldest, followed by WM Jr., and Betty. I always had the impression that he was a stern man with a temper, but that was just my impression. I never had the chance to really ask my mother what he was like.

My mother kept scrapbooks. Large scrapbooks as I recall. I believe my oldest sister ended up with them since she has sent me a few old photos from time to time. Oddly, the only family scrapbook I came to possess was my grandfather’s. It was somewhat sparse in what he had collected, with a number of empty pages at the end, but I recently took it out and removed all the photographs in order to restore them digitally and preserve them, since the old acidic paper they were pasted to was taking its toll on them. In taking them out I began to realize what a treasure I held.

WM Alred portrait #1

There were the photos of WM himself. Portraits he had posed for at various times in his younger years. I was struck by the incredible beauty of these images. He was a handsome man with a stern face. In two of the pictures his hair was noticeably neat. To be expected of a barber. The earliest image was in his military uniform. World War I vintage. The other two in suits. I couldn’t help but stare at these images, their richness, their classic poses, the character in his face. They were mesmerizing.

WM Alred portrait #2

Woman and girl

There was also a picture of very old vintage of a woman and child. I can only imagine who this might be since there is no note on the back, but I assume it was his mother. Maybe a sister and niece. I just don’t know. Then there was the photo of the old man standing by a grave, piled with large rough stones and adorned with a simple basket of flowers. Again my guess is that it was his father at his mother’s grave.

man and grave

There was only a handful of pictures representative of his family, my grandmother at various ages, my mother, my aunt and uncle, some of babies, mostly me and my brother and two sisters. A picture of my mom when she was probably 19 or so, and one of her with him where she appears to be pregnant.

Young Hazel

Mom and her dad

But the majority were of his son, Webb Moses Jr. who we called Uncle Jim. There are several pictures of him as a boy and in his Navy uniform. There are letters home from the Korean War and a map of the war zones cut from a Life Magazine. There are his selective service registrations and draft cards. It’s obvious that he had a special relationship with his son. There are also several pictures of my Aunt Betty, his youngest, who he seems to show great affection as well.

Jim on tricycle

Jim in uniform

Betty school photo

The big surprise for me as I looked at these images more closely was what I discovered among the pictures of my mother and father. One of the first images in the book was a picture of my mom and dad, neatly dressed, standing in an office with another couple. The ladies are wearing corsages. After removing the photo from the page in the scrapbook, I read the back. There’s a note there from my mother. The man on the left was my father’s best friend and best man, and the woman on the right, my mother’s maid of honor. The photo was taken in the judge’s chambers on the day they were married.

Mom and Daddy's wedding day

postcard from Yosemite

There was also a postcard next to the wedding photo showing a car driving through the opening under a giant redwood tree. I removed the postcard to find it was from my mother. She always had the most beautiful handwriting. It was dated July 16th, 1944. My father was in the Army Air Corps as a quartermaster at the time. They were living in California. Her reference to feeling fine was because she was pregnant with her first child, my oldest sister, who would be born prematurely in September of that year.

Mom and Daddy on the street

There were other pictures of my mother and father. A great one of my Dad leaning against a post in what appears to be Santa Fe or some other similar location. There are Native American paintings behind him on the wall. I love this photo for its casual feel and his long legs. He was well over six feet tall.

Daddy leaning against a post

There was a wonderful picture of my brother and sisters in a tiny wading pool in a back yard. Most likely our house in Cedartown, Georgia. And a couple of images of an infant that I believe is me. Probably the oldest pictures of me that are still around. The one I found most touching is of a black woman, most likely our maid, holding me. I know from the stories my brother and sisters have related that we had a few black maids when I was little. I remember one or two.

In the pool

Me with our maid

I treasure these pictures. They have been sitting in my closet in this old album for years, and I have not, until recently, realized how important and rare and beautiful they are. I have few pictures of my father. He died on April 30th, 1952, when I was only two and a half years old. So the images of him, and my mother, and our family together are my only record of his place in my life, however brief. I have no actual memory of him.

So I take this opportunity to thank Webb Moses Alred for saving these moments, for placing these ragged photos in that old worn album, and for whatever course of events happened to place these things in my care. Thanks, Grandad.

Copyright © George Cannon, All Rights Reserved

They were not for sale…they were for remembering.

Florida vacation was postponed. It’s cold there. At least for Florida. But even with the cool weather, I’m still disappointed that we had to wait. I’ll save my vacation time for later in the summer, but could have used the time to relax.

closed beach umbrellas

We didn’t decide to wait because of the weather, we’ve been there in February, but had to wait because my wife is in Connecticut taking care of her mother. She needed the vacation as much as I did, maybe even more, but as much as we’ve anticipated the day when we would have to deal with aging parents, we had hoped it would be later rather than sooner.

Marcia and Tessa

We could tell my mother-in-law’s condition was deteriorating when we were there over Christmas, but calls from a couple of her close family friends brought the news that they were worried for her and the decision had to be made to start helping her more directly to simply deal with everyday life issues.

So my daughter and I stayed here while my wife is confronting the unpleasant circumstances of doctors, and lawyers, and accountants, and a mother who is confused and ill and irritable, but at the same time thankful for the assistance. My wife is not the nearest offspring. There are two brothers that live within minutes of my mother-in-law. But my wife is the eldest child of five, and feels and accepts the responsibility the way it has always been thrust upon her in her family.

yellow tulips #1

pillow and blanket

So I have been here thinking about memory. And losing one’s memory. And losing those memories of our lifetime. And I am glad I am a photographer and have spent so much of my time documenting various phases of my life. So many of the images I have recorded are meant to be a record of who I was at the time, what my life was about, where I have been and with who.

Lulu kitten

guitar

That’s what we do as image makers. We create memories to hold on to. Points in time, reminders of people, and places, and events. But also of feelings, and loves, and hurts, and joys, and life. Lest we forget. A way to hold on to our memories and know how we got to this point in our lives and what has shaped us as friends and family members and human beings.

tools in the barn

rocks with graffiti

I began working this week on scanning some older photos shot in the late 70’s and early 80’s with my Polaroid SX-70. I shot hundreds of these, and have looked back through them a few times. I wanted to preserve some of these before they deteriorate and are lost. Many are pictures of dear friends from the past, and some are of people I can’t even remember. The great majority were of Mark, the closest male friend I ever had. We were very close back then and spent a great deal of time together. Sadly enough, Mark and I drifted apart, and have not spoken in over five years.

Mark

room at Holiday Inn

It seems almost all of the others in these photos have also passed out of my life as well. Our lives change, people come and go. For some, old friends last a lifetime, and for me, they seem to have moved on, or I suppose, I have. They are replaced by others who will share another part of our lives as we grow and change and create new memories.

Halloween costume

playing checkers

yard in Cayuga Heights

These photos were taken when I was becoming a professional photographer, but they were not my professional images. These were more personal, more intimate, more about my art and my personality. They were about my spirit and my passions and the beauty of my experience. They were not for sale. They were for remembering.

eggs and onion

Adirondack chair

horseshoe crab

My mother-in-law’s house is filled with memories, memories of her family, photos, Native American objects her father collected, antiques acquired over years of hunting and dealing, stonework around the mantle done by a family friend, shrubs she has tended and pruned for years. But in the last few years it has also become cluttered with other stuff, useless nick-knacks and extra dishes, baskets and spare chairs, books that will never be read. It’s so symbolic of her. So symbolic of the breakdown of old age. I wish for her the uncluttered house and mind, the comfort of the memories and the safety of her home, the simplicity of only what is needed to survive with joy day to day, the warmth and beauty that was there when I first walked into her house, before my wife and I were married. For the past slips away as the memories go and we are left with our pictures and our treasures and our clutter and those who love us to remind us of who we are and how we got here, and that our lives and our experiences have meant something.

beach

yellow roses

sky and clouds

All images are Copyright © George Cannon, all rights reserved.

A source of satisfaction…

Now that the ice is gone from the inlet and winter seems to have delivered its final blows, the rowing crews are out practicing every morning and afternoon and those who spend their summer days on the lake are thinking about boating season.

boat storage sign

For months the sailboats have sat on trailers and cradles with masts stored atop and bright blue wraps protecting them from the winter snows. The slips at the marina have sat empty and the docks have been idle and home only to the few gulls that stick out the cold months by the lake or in the shopping center parking lots.

boats and masts

gulls on the dock

One of my favorite photographic haunts at this time of year is the Ithaca Boating Center. Still quiet and yet to see the business of warmer weekends, the boats that have been stored there sit waiting for attention, under their tarps of blue and green and silver, like hibernating whales. Many of them older wooden crafts in need of scraping and sanding and fresh paint, showing the age marks of seasons in the water. There are also the fiberglass beauties longing for a good scrubbing and waxing to make them smooth and sleek as dolphins.

boat with ladder

boat and stand

boat with green tarp

There are boats on their last legs, and boats wishing for restoration. There are bits and pieces of boating detritus left behind from the disintegration of old boats no longer worthy of repair or salvage. They create a maze through which to walk exhibiting countless opportunities for abstract compositions of colors and lines and shapes and textures.

rustyboat

boat junk

pole motor

boats and tarps number one

boats and tarps number 2

boats and tarps number 3

The boating center itself is a great subject as well. The building has stood here for many years and been added on to with little attention given to architecture and more to function. The area is prime for development, having seen, in the last few years, the construction of a very popular restaurant on the point next door and a beautiful new health center complex across the street. The city has also been putting money into waterfront development.

stands and graffiti

door and window

boatyard chairs

yellow dozer

window and guy wires
So this structure is one whose days are numbered. I feel a bit of nostalgic angst at the thought of this place falling to the wrecking ball. But one of the things photography makes you keenly aware of is the impermanence of our world, the passing of the old. Things you photograph today are gone tomorrow. You notice your surroundings more, so when something disappears it’s like losing a piece of the landscape that you had come to depend on. Like that feeling of loosing a tooth, that sudden strange newness of the hole that slowly is replaced by something else that eventually becomes normal and familiar.

vines and pipes

canopy wall

crusty rudder

I visit the boatyard frequently. I pass it everyday, sometimes several times. So it’s like an old friend even though I’ve never owned a boat myself. It has great variety and character. It feeds my creativity with its seasonal changes and its strange character and its slight neglect. So I document it, and linger about, feeling its spirit and history and extracting images that feel fleeting and hidden and satisfying. Come on Summer. It’s time to be on the water.

All images are copyright © George Cannon / All rights reserved.

Water, water everywhere!

The snow has melted. At least most of it has. There’s still some ice hanging in the shadows of the gorges and thick dirty piles along the creek bed at the park. But the streams are big, the lake level is really up. We’ve had some good rain and are expecting more today.

Frontenac Creek

Generally this is a love/hate time of year for me. I’m so happy to feel the warmth of the coming Spring, the sunshine after so many gray days. The days are getting longer and it feels so good to come home after work and still have daylight to enjoy. To not have to build a fire or carry out the ashes from the wood stove or to just be able to drive home without my jacket on and walk the dog without being bundled up. I walked out of the high school the other night after an event there and could hear the spring peepers. I love that sound as much as any sign of Spring.

duck in Stewart Park

On the down side, everything is wet. The ground is saturated and soft. There’s a layer of dirt on everything from the melted snow and the landscape is pressed flat. I’ve been pumping our cellar for two weeks but the water table is up as it always is this time of year and the water just keeps seeping in. We live in a Greek Revival house that was built in the 1820’s and the cellar is just old stone with large slabs of slate laid on top of dirt for a floor, so there’s not much to keep the water out save our submersible pump in the low corner. The water never gets more than a couple of inches deep in the low areas, but still takes weeks to dry out.

Upper Treman gorge

There’s a motto in Ithaca on bumper stickers and t-shirts everywhere, “Ithaca is GORGES”(a play on the word). And that’s the truth. The Finger Lakes area of upstate New York is blessed with a landscape so diverse and beautiful that is unlike anywhere else. The lakes lie in a north/south configuration splayed across the middle of the state. There are eleven lakes in the Finger Lakes group.

Cayuga Lake

Cayuga Lake is the longest and widest at 40 miles long and 3.5 miles wide at it’s widest point and is 435 feet deep at it’s deepest. Ithaca sits at the southern end of Cayuga Lake. The lake is fed by countless small and large streams which have cut beautiful gorges through the stratified rock over millions of years. Ithaca claims to have 150 waterfalls within a ten mile radius of the city many of which are quite spectacular, particularly at this time of year when the waters are surging. Taughannock Falls, just down the road from our house, is the tallest free fall of water east of the Mississippi at 215 feet, taller than Niagara Falls.

Taughannock Falls

Our house sits on the edge of a spectacular gorge that drops over 200 feet to the bottom from the edge of our yard, and at the south end of the property is a spectacular view of Frontenac Falls. This waterfall is one of the most beautiful, yet least known in the area because it is surrounded by private property and a large camp owned by the boy scouts.

Frontenac Falls

cabin at boy scout camp

Most of the other large waterfalls in this area are within state parks. So we are blessed with our own spectacular waterfall that roars in the spring and after any heavy rain. In the summer when the air is warm, with our skylights open at night, we can hear the beautiful sounds of the falls, spilling down the cascades to the creek below. From our back yard we can also see the lake and the distant east shore which catches the western sunlight at the end of the day and glows warmly as the sun disappears.

When I stand in our yard and look across the gorge, and down to the lake, or down onto the falls from our overlook, I can’t help but wonder how this area must have looked and felt when it was populated only by native American tribes. When the paths along the gorges were walked by bare feet and moccasins, when the points at the mouths of the streams were surrounded by native villages and the lakes were home to handmade canoes.

Cayuga Lake

There are 128 species of fish in these lakes and the area, even with modern development, still supports white tailed deer, black bears, coyotes, fox, beaver, and other wildlife, hawks, eagles, falcons, herons, geese, vultures, owls and all manner of other species. At the top of Cayuga Lake is a giant wetland, Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge, that fills with migratory birds as the seasons change and is a nesting area for bald eagles and countless other birds.

ducks at Montezuma

observation platform at

heron at Montezuma

The lake is a beautiful summer playground. Sailboats, fishing boats, powerboats, jet skis (not my favorites), and wind surfers scatter across the lake from one end to the other. The inlet on the south is the home for the rowing crews of Cornell and Ithaca College and often hosts competitions on weekends, but is almost always graced by some crew practicing or perhaps just a lone rower in the early morning light at sunrise. The boats are out breaking up the ice as soon as the temperature begins to rise in the spring to make way for the long thin skulls. Ithaca also has a Dragon Boat club and these boats are often seen rowing down the inlet and out into the lake in the afternoon sunlight.

mast reflections

rowing on the inlet

dragon boats on the inlet

We are blessed with abundant water. Our area depends on the tourist and vacation dollars in the summer. Our lake changes with every season and every morning sunrise. Sometimes covered in fog or still as glass, other days tossed with waves and sprinkled with sailboats. The gorges are richly carved sculptures, lush and green with ferns and moss, surrounded by deep woods and spider webbed with wonderful walking trails.

Upper Treman Gorge

It was this landscape that brought me to Ithaca in the first place. The streams, the waterfalls, the lakes, the damp earth, the woods and the wildlife. It is a place of great beauty and spiritual energy and many who come to visit or go to school never leave. It’s no wonder.

All images are copyright © George Cannon / All rights reserved.

Let There Be Light

I’m not sure what the draw is for me, but as I look back at so many of the pictures I take, particularly the urban landscape type of pictures, an amazing number of them are of windows. When I looked back at my post of images from Willimantic, CT, most of the pictures contain or are about windows. So I began to think about windows and what they represent. Why we photograph them. What is their symbolism?

Window with pigeon

Barn with window

window with poinsetta

Windows began as holes in the walls of dwellings to simply let light and air in. It was the Romans who first began to actually glaze windows. But it was the era of the cathedrals that made the window something special. Large openings in cathedral walls needed glazing, but large pieces of glass were not available. So the windows were filled with a mosaic of glass pieces assembled with lead strips in between. This not only allowed for the glazing of extremely large areas, but also for the church to inspire and teach and pictorially put forth imagery and symbols of the faith for those who could not read. The windows were seen as the sources of “light from heaven”, or divine light. They also illuminated these huge cavernous structures with great beauty and color which helped to add great interest to the attendance of church services. They were a place for the additional expression of early Christian art by the craftsmen and artists of the times. As time has progressed, the stained glass window has changed in style with the architecture of the current age but has remained a mainstay in the church. It has also been a point of beauty and decoration among homes and larger buildings over the years.

Whatever my attraction is to windows, perhaps that is part of the reason I not only have photographed them so often, but also chose the field of stained glass art as a business for about twelve years of my life.Stained glass window with grape vines

Boatyard window with back light

Window at the Pink Palace

Windows are places of inspiration for many. They represent many things in our lives. “The eyes are the windows to the soul”. Windows are the divider between our private lives and our public. They are the source of light and the point from which we see the world, while protected within our dwellings. They offer a way to bring nature inside. “The picture window”. The framed landscape that is ever changing.

cat in the window

the groom at the window

curtains in the breeze

Many great poets have written about the view from a window. Carl Sandburg, for instance, has poems about what he sees and how he’s affected by the view from his window. In paintings by Vermeer, soft window light provides the illumination, but the open windows themselves represent the entering of outside temptation. Windows in art are often used to create a sense of depth, to frame a picture within a picture.

laundromat in Trumansburg

window on Corn St.

window with flowerbox

But they also symbolize many things. Curiosity, mystery, vulnerability, awakening, freedom, the vision of that which is unattainable, voyeuristic pleasure, our separation from the outside world, the place of invasion, the place of welcoming, the entrance to the bed chamber for the secret lover, the point of fear for the lonely child at bedtime, the place to leave the candle burning for the wayward soul.

umbrella at the cape

wall with window

abandoned house

Windows are not only for looking out, but for looking in. The shadows dancing on the shade at night, the warm and happy lovers dining while the estranged stare yearningly in from the cold outside, the child wishing for the ultimate Christmas toy or the passing office worker staring in at a pair of red pumps still three weeks pay away, or the young couple gazing in at the engagement rings at the jewelers. Windows are art. They are for the display of our desires. They are there to tempt us and tantalize us, while keeping us safely segregated.

window at Joes

Store front in Interlaken

gas station on I-81

window in downtown Ithaca

A partially open window is an invitation. Windows hide what’s inside, they are places of discovery. “The window to the mind”. Windows are places of vulnerability. An opening in a wall, a place where we can be seen and discovered. Windows stimulate our curiosity. Windows offer a view of what is outside. Outside our personal existence, outside our own experience. They are a place of fantasy, like Wendy leaping out the window with Peter Pan. A broken window is a symbol of a violation, or abandonment. A barrier that has been breached. Why are windows such targets for children’s rocks and wayward baseballs?

budwiser sign

window in Rosemary Beach

trailer window in Watkins Glen

stairs and broken window

These are all reasons, I suppose that windows are such an attraction for me. I am constantly seeking images that offer a story, images that allow me to imagine. What lies behind, what story exists on the other side of a window? Windows are a natural picture frame. What better place to look than through a window?

Florida yellow house

rusty window

At A Window

GIVE me hunger,

O you gods that sit and give

The world its orders.

Give me hunger, pain and want,

Shut me out with shame and failure

From your doors of gold and fame,

Give me your shabbiest, weariest hunger!

But leave me a little love,

A voice to speak to me in the day end,

A hand to touch me in the dark room

Breaking the long loneliness.

In the dusk of day-shapes

Blurring the sunset,

One little wandering, western star

Thrust out from the changing shores of shadow.

Let me go to the window,

Watch there the day-shapes of dusk

And wait and know the coming

Of a little love.

Carl Sandburg

All images are Copyright © George Cannon, all rights reserved.

And that has made all the difference.

Yogi Berra, in all his wit and wisdom, once said, “If you come to a fork in the road, take it.” More than likely a reference to Robert Frost’s sentiment in The Road Not Taken. And Thoreau once wrote, “When you think your walk is profitless and a failure, and you can hardly persuade yourself not to return, it is on the point of being a success, for then you are in that subdued and knocking mood to which Nature never fails to open.”

It doesn’t matter whether my walk is a nature walk or a city walk or a drive through the rural countryside, if I can simply go about my explorations with sufficient openness I will usually be rewarded with images I like and didn’t expect. When I take a road trip by myself I usually try to allow some extra time so that I might take myself off the beaten path and travel the back roads for a while. I’ll take a random exit off the interstate to drive the two-lanes for a while in search of photos and experiences that are easily missed when driving the expressways. These excursions have produced important images for me. I particularly remember stopping on the roadside in the Catskills one day on my way back from New York City to photograph a group of fall trees by a small pond. The image later was translated into a stained glass installation for a client in Binghamton.

My Sunday morning photo excursions have often proven to be the most profitable for surprises. I took a trip one day in the mid 70’s to Lawrence, Massachusetts.

Park in Lawrence, MA

I had never been to Lawrence before. Nor did I plan to go there. It was simply a Sunday morning wandering and that fork in the road ended up there. It was also one of those Zen types of photo shoots where everything happens in a single role of film. Almost every image I shot that day was a “keeper”. I love those days.

corner building

street scene, Lawrence, MA

Lawrence is on the northern outskirts of Boston on the Merrimack River. It was once a thriving mill center for textiles and was the site of the Bread and Roses strike of 1912 when numerous arrests and many deaths of striking mill workers, including many women and children, eventually led to higher wages for all New England mill workers.

Keep Off The Gas

doctor's office

car in alley

The town saw a decline in the 1950s with the closing of many of the mills. When I was there the population seemed to be mostly Italian but today it is heavily Hispanic and the site of redevelopment along the riverfront since about 2000.

tailor shop

Bea's Diner

storefront icons

The day I walked the streets of Lawrence the town was quiet and the streets were empty as they often are on a Sunday morning. I could occasionally hear music from open windows and smell breakfast cooking in the triplex apartments and houses along the city streets. I could imagine the families rising slowly, prodding the children out of bed to prepare for Mass. The storefronts were closed and many were vacant in the slack economy. The buildings and storefronts had the look of a city that had changed little since the 50’s.

Alive with pleasure

alleyway

church bingo sign

I love the feel of the aging mill town, the ethnicity and culture apparent in the stores and the neighborhoods. The backbone of blue collar America. The descendant families of migrants from Europe and the more recent influx from Latin America and the Caribbean. Lawrence had a very similar feel to that I experienced in Willimantic, CT more recently.

Italian horns

storefront with fur coat

Cadillac in the window

It’s important to take that fork in the road. To divert ourselves from the normal everyday path to keep from getting complacent and bored. Walk a different path to work, take the next left. When in search of visual rewards the familiar often hides new visions. Can’t see the forest for the trees so to speak. It becomes necessary to shake up our everyday experience and feed it with new pictures, new roads to someplace we’ve never been before. Whether across the ocean or simply across town doesn’t matter. There’s always somewhere we’ve never been and pictures to be taken.

All images are copyright © George Cannon / All rights reserved.

Congress of Oddities

I’ve always had a fascination with carnivals, sideshows, local fairs, and the people that travel with these shows.

Congress Ticket Stand

We have a small local fair in our town every year in August accompanied by parades and demolition derby and fireworks and all the excitement of kids and community. I remember going to the Topsfield Fair near Boston one year and watching the young barker who stood on the stage shouting to the scattered small crowd, “Cinema 1-8-0, come on in, 1-8-0.” We walked into the inflatable movie-in-the-round, no seats, standing on the dirt floor, to see a primitive version of Cinemax. About eight people standing inside, watching some poor quality action movie that was supposed to make you feel like you were there. It did sort of get you swaying with the action. It lasted about 5 minutes, then the show was over.

Lucky's New Orleans

Midway and stand

Back in 1973 I went out to the fair grounds in Atlanta where every year they held “The Great Southeastern Fair”. It was one of those days when everything sort of went right photographically. I shot only one roll of Tri-X and when I processed that one roll of film I liked just about every shot. That’s a rare thing. That’s a special day.

It was a large midway with plenty of rides. Atlanta had a fairly large wooden roller coaster back then. Nothing like Coney Island or the huge hang-beneath twisters of today, but enough to give you a thrill. I went on a Sunday morning, before the fair was open. I wanted the feel of the fair without the lights and the noise and the crowds.

Tent and Roller Coaster

Midway with freaks

I wanted the feel of the fair the way the carnies see it in the off hours, before the gates open. The litter from the night before still lay on the pavement. A small crew of prison inmates swept while a guard watched and supervised. Tents sat closed, rides idle. Banners rolled and ticket booths empty. There was no smell of cotton candy or grilling sausage or diesel generators. Barkers and ride attendants and short order cooks slept in their trailers and truck cabs after being up till early morning and probably hitting a few shots and cigarettes before turning in.

truck and flag

It must be a really hard life. Long hours, small pay, trying night after night to get people to stop and pay money to play games that look easy but are designed to help you loose. To win a stuffed animal for a girl friend or small child. The lights and bang and clatter of the rides, the hiss of the hydraulics and rumbling of the generators. Watching people pass time after time looking for something a little more thrilling, while selling, coaxing, goading them into letting go of one more dollar. Every night for two weeks, rain or shine, then tear it all down and drive it somewhere else, only to do it all over again. A gypsy life in a caravan of amusement and fast food and con games and freaks. It’s the world of Dianne Arbus.

Girl Goes Ape

Born Backwards

I walked through the midways and thought about the sideshows, the people born with deformities and the performers of the odd and bizarre. How does a girl “go ape”? How can a person hammer nails into their head? Realities of life! Born Backwards! What would these lives be like if they had not joined a freak show? Is it a comfort to travel with a band of misfits so that one feels a little less like a freak and a little more like a star. Is it an ego boost to bring in a good crowd, or just a long days work resigned to the humiliation of crowds staring and pointing and talking under their breath like you were some zoo animal. Maybe it’s just the resignation that this is a productive job and a way to earn a living in a society that would pay to look at you, but not hire you or train you for anything else.

children playing

tent city

There were a few people about that day. The guy with the wooden leg, the black woman sweeping the driveway, the souvenir man, the cook having one more cigarette before firing up the grill, and of course, the prisoner chain gang. There were kids playing inside the public restroom building and a few people tending to animals in the farm sheds. But the midways were like a boarded up ghost town. A village that would spring back into life with the chime of the noon clock. In just a matter of hours, you’d be elbow to elbow with thousands of other people. But for now, it was ghostly quiet.

pig

I love places like this. Places of imagination, a thousand stories, of texture and shadows, and people’s lives painted on the canvases. It’s rich with Americana. It’s a story waiting for a storyteller.

souvenir man

All images are copyright © George Cannon / All rights reserved.

Mall Walls

I have the privilege of working in an art museum at a university with a school of architecture. The building I work in was designed by I. M. Pei. He is probably best known for his glass pyramid at the Louvre. But he has done numerous other buildings of note including the Bank of China in Hong Kong and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio. And of course, as I said, the building I work in, the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art at Cornell University. The Cornell campus is noteworthy for being quite old and having a range of truly wonderful architecture, but also some really questionable architecture that is not that pleasing to the eye.

Bucher Drive

When I was about eleven or twelve, I wanted to be an architect. I spent hours drawing and designing houses. I grew up in a two bedroom house on a dirt street with five other family members. Maybe it was the modest abode I grew up in that stimulated my desire for something more grand. Maybe it was the old Victorian mansions along Candler Road in Decatur, Georgia where the heirs of the Candler Coca-Cola fortune lived that gave me an appreciation for architectural history and design on a larger scale. I saw the city skyline of Atlanta growing higher and higher and always loved the drive to downtown through the posh neighborhoods of Ponce de Leon Avenue or the back roads of Buckhead.

abandoned house on Ponce de Leon

It was this desire to be an architect, I believe, that started my growth as a visual artist. My mother was very artistic and sketched and designed, although her life did not allow for the full expression of her artistry except for, perhaps, through her flowers, her roses mostly. I took classes in drafting after high school, but the need to support a young family curtailed my ambitions for college. So my needs to express myself visually turned to photography. And as a result, much of what I shot then and what I shoot now revolves around architecture. I love the line and form, light and shadow, texture and presence of impressive buildings. But I also love the experience of architecture in disrepair, the abandoned house, the collapsing barn, the aging industrial complex. So, the urban landscape. I am intrigued by the juxtaposition of good architecture against bad, old against new, the craftsmanship of the past against the ticky-tacky mundane boxes of today.

I grew up shopping at Belvedere Plaza, a strip type mall outside Decatur. These were the shopping areas of the future. The large department stores of the South were still king then. Sears, Belk’s, Penny’s, Rich’s. These were the mainstay stores. And there were the dime stores. Woolworth’s, W.T. Grant’s, and Richard’s. I remember going, for the first time, to Lenox Square in Atlanta. It was the first big shopping mall in Atlanta, and probably in the whole Southeast, where all the stores were grouped together in the middle of vast parking areas. Lots so big that areas were numbered and color coded, pink 22, green 18, so you could locate your car.

Lenox Square lot

The mall wasn’t enclosed then, but later would be. By today’s standards, it was small. Shopping malls today are huge compared to those days. They have grown in size, but in my mind, have not grown in style or design. Most are sprawling sterile architecture, huge in scale, and devoid of design. Warehouse type boxes dressed up on the inside, but poor visually on the outside.

Office Depot

And it is this very exaggerated staleness that attracts me to them as subjects for photography. I feel like they symbolize a lot about our culture, about what we find important. We drive to these massive parking lots, leave our vehicle, and move indoors to the controlled environment with facades decorated like a movie set. East Brook Mall

They stand monolithic with little adornment short of giant colored signs while we stream in and out like a colony of worker ants. I love malls for their blandness. I love their minimalist imagery.

mall wall 1

wall and 4 bushes

We have accepted dime store architecture as a standard. What will the architectural history books call this time? Where are the architectural visionaries of our current consumer world?

Boston Mall Wall

I have a category on my website I call Mall Walls. It is there that I am collecting my images of malls. I prefer to record them without people. The people are inside after all. I include large malls as well as individual stores. But they all fall into the same category as far as their architectural statement. This is an area with a lot of room for additions. So, let’s go to the mall!

red carts 3

All images are copyright © George Cannon / All rights reserved.

Waiting and Wishing for Spring

In upstate New York we’ve been in the grips of a deep freeze for about two weeks now and it just doesn’t want to let up. We’re fortunate here in the Finger Lakes that we don’t get that west wind off Lake Ontario and all the lake effect snow like they do in Oswego County. There’s been over 100 inches there in just over a week. But it’s cold. In the twenties today so somewhat of a warming trend, but will be back below zero on Tuesday night, so we’re not out of the woods. Our wood pile is getting low and will likely be exhausted in a week or two if I don’t call for another delivery.

reeds frozen in ice

My daughter is in Quebec this weekend for winter carnival with the French Club. The high there today is -10 degrees Celsius (about 14 F). She required a major wardrobe upgrade for winter attire before she left. She’s the kind of kid who wears flip-flops when it’s 20 degrees outside.

There was a blood drive in my town yesterday and I went to give blood as I usually do every eight weeks. And they told me my next eligible date is April 7th. I went to put that on the calendar this morning and realized that I’ll be in Florida by then, and Spring will be here. That’s only eight weeks away, 56 days. I can handle that. My wife’s amaryllis is blooming in the living room window. A beautiful trio of blossoms that remind us that this regeneration of life that comes with Spring is not far away.

Amaryllis

The first color of Spring to show here, as in many areas, is the forsythia. I grew up in the South where my mother called it yellow bell. Banks of golden yellow against the drab gray left behind by the winter. A splendid feeling of warmth after months of chill.

boat house and forcythia

And the bulbs come up. First the snow drops and crocuses, then the daffodils and the tulips.

yellow tulips

The trees begin to leaf out and blossom. First the willows, that always seem to be the first to get their leaves and the last to shed them. The cherry blossoms and tulip magnolias and other flowering ornamentals. The colors so absent for months, now showering down around us with every warm breeze.

pink blossoming tree

Then the maples leaf out and suddenly the woods are awash with that spring green that is unlike any other. There is almost as much color as in the fall, but in reverse, bursting with chlorophyll.

back lit maple

The gray and barren landscape littered with remnants of melted snow and sanded roads, wind-blown branches and leaves that seem so depressing in March, become transformed as the grass is revived and the trees bloom and the earth is renewed with life. A season of hope, of Nature’s promise. A time to breath a sigh and smell the air and shed the burden of winter.

bridge at Clogate

I long for Spring this time of year. With every blast of cold wind I must remind myself, 56 more days. I can deal with that. In 56 days I’ll be walking the warm beach. In 56 days I’ll smell the jasmine and be ducking my head under the wisteria arbor. In 56 days I will have weathered another season of snow and ice and be on the other side, loving the rebirth of the planet, the red buds of the Shenandoah Valley, the dogwoods of Virginia and Tennessee, the warm sun and sand of the gulf coast.

beach

Only 56 more days. I can handle that.

People of the Past – More Black and White

Most of the images that I post to my website or this blog seem to be without human presence. I don’t photograph people a lot and I admire very much photographers that shoot people a lot and do it well. It’s not as easy as one might think. Good people pictures usually require a connection between the subject and the photographer. My good friend, Frank Dimeo, is a wedding photographer extraordinaire and a great photojournalist. Frank knows how to shoot people. He knows how to bring out something from inside, how to communicate with them, how to get them to be their best for the camera. This is a real talent. It’s what made such people as Annie Liebowitz, and Arnold Newman, and Richard Avedon, and the like such stars in the photography world.

But I have shot people. A great many people. And occasionally quite successfully. I shot people more often in my earlier years as a photographer. And in going back over my black and whites as I have been digitizing old negatives, I’ve come across a number of people pictures that I had lost touch with. I said in my last post that I preferred to do my street photography when the streets were less populated, but that is not always the case.

woman walking dogs in Boston

A camera often makes you feel different when you carry it on the street. Assuming you aren’t in an area where you might feel threatened carrying a two thousand dollar piece of equipment around your neck, a camera can be a great tool for getting close to strangers. Some people feel you are intruding when you aim a camera at them, some don’t. Some like the attention. Some find you to be a curiosity. Some ignore you and allow you to become invisible. A camera often gives you an unstated license to go where you please, to approach almost anyone. I’ve seldom had people become irritated when taking their picture. Most take it as a compliment of sorts, that you find them interesting enough to make them the subject of your art.

street kid in Boston

Then there are those instances when people expect to be the subject of photographs, like weddings or large gatherings, parades, and sports events. These kinds of opportunities are the perfect place for candid pictures of people being themselves. Weddings in particular afford a festive crowd of people who’s inhibitions are down and who seem to revel in being the subject of any photograph.

wedding guests

When I lived in Atlanta, the Shriners held an annual parade on West Peachtree Street and such an event brings out the best in grown men who belong to clubs and organizations. There is a need for all of us, I suppose, to occasionally dress in costume and march in front of throngs of people. You’re never to old to play dress-up.

Shrine parade in Atlanta

The 70’s were a time of hippies and free love and drugs and war protests and rock concerts. I missed Woodstock unfortunately, was too caught up being a responsible young married guy and trying to keep from being drafted. But music was everywhere and Atlanta was a big city with it’s share of concerts in the park and music venues of all types.

rock festival in Atlanta, 1973

bearded hippie

I made a trip one Sunday morning to the fairgrounds in Atlanta where “The Great Southeastern Fair” was hosted every year. The whole carnival atmosphere is one that has always intrigued me. It seems like such a hard and lonely life for the carnival people. I met a man who worked at the fair and photographed him there. He was a moving hand and, I thought, a truck driver as well as a food vendor when the fair was open. I guess a lot of the carnies wear multiple hats. It wasn’t until I got back to the darkroom and printed this image that I realized the man had an artificial leg, the pale white shin showing above his sock and the knee hinge visible through his pant leg.

a carney

I’ve always loved the farmer’s market or the local street market as a place for candid people photography. Boston’s Haymarket was such a place and was always teeming with ethnicity and interesting faces. The bustle and crowds make it easy for a photographer to capture faces of common people whose stories could fill one’s imagination.

woman and child at Haymarket in Boston

But aside from candid photography or weddings or parades and fairs, I have also shot portraits and studio images of people. I worked in an area of Atlanta known as Buckhead in 1973 and had my haircut at a local salon there by a young woman. Susanne was about 19 and worked as a model when she could and cut hair the rest of the time. She worked with one particular fashion photographer in Atlanta and appeared on the cover of Atlanta magazine a couple of times. Young models, like young photographers are always looking for new portfolio material so with that mutual desire in mind, she and I did a couple of shoots together. Susanne was very natural in front of the camera so she made it easy.

Susanne Rose

I had a friend named Gene who wanted to be a fashion photographer. Gene knew many of the young models around Atlanta and introduced me to Melinda. Melinda did a lot of catalog work, but had been offered a job with Wilhelmina in New York as a hand model. She was looking for portfolio pictures that showed off her hands, so another great studio opportunity for us both.

Melinda studio 2

Gene agreed to stand in for me when I needed an additional prop for Melinda’s hands. Sometimes it’s far easier to be in front of the camera than behind it.

Melind studio 1

I had the great privilege to work for a week as an assistant to Eliot Porter at Anderson Ranch Art Center in Snowmass, Colorado one summer. Eliot had always been one of my idols and the finest example of the kind of landscape photographer I wanted to be. I subsequently traveled to New Mexico on a couple of occasions to visit him and there took a portrait of him and his wife, Aline, that is among my most treasured portraits.

Eliot and Aline Porter

Our encounters with people when behind the camera can be anonymous or can have an intimate connection. Regardless, they all touch our lives. They all have a story. They are all there at that moment in time, frozen by the camera and held forever. We are richer for knowing them. And they live on through our images.

All images are Copyright © George Cannon, all rights reserved.

%d bloggers like this: