Archive for March, 2011


Compassion = Understanding?

Magnum photographer Eve Arnold from her book Retrospect: “If the photographer is interested in the people in front of his lens, and if he is compassionate, it’s already a lot. The instrument is not the camera but the photographer.”

For a very long time I have wanted to photograph elements of our existence on earth that are troubling, unsettling, even tragic.  There are many reasons to do this that probably only make sense to myself.  I expect to learn a great deal more about my own motivations as the work progresses. I made a beginning last October with my trip to Eastern Europe. I’m taking another step now even as I develop a deeper project for the work in the Czech Republic.  To say that it’s a departure from the equine photography is an understatement, but there is a uniting theme: I am interested in what is happening in front of my lens.

The suffering happening in Japan is mirrored in so many countries today. While the story is unfolding there and creating fear and apprehension for millions around the world, it offers us the chance to check-in with stories in other places…places that have experienced continual suffering and loss. Haiti is just one place on our planet that fits that description.  With Grace and good fortune I’ll be going there in June to help several families and to photograph the stories I find. I’ll begin my self-assignment now and learn as much as I can about the history of the land, the literature, music, and culture of a people whose history stretches far across a divide hewn by violence and fear.  Often this violence came at the hands of “Men of God”. And yet, blessings and goodness have also been offered from other good men. And there is one of the least understood aspects of the human personality: the capacity for unspeakable evil matched with the ability to offer Grace and compassion in its presence.  I offer the photograph today not in judgement or evangelical spirit. I offer it for us to consider and understand the burden and connotation that human beings attach to a symbol.  As potent a symbol as has ever been created, the Christian Cross has the power to divide, to call out, to separate, to OTHER~ more than any other banner, flag, or nation’s symbol. I understand our need to “tribe” ourselves, perhaps these days, more accurately BRAND ourselves. But must it be blindly? Always? Yes, I’m painting with a broad brush. I know that.

This photograph is as powerful for me as any other I’ve ever made. It makes me think. It stopped me in my tracks when I saw it ~ as it seemed totally out of place in the Small Fortress at Terézin.  And when I made time to work on it I knew I wanted to emphasize the qualities I saw in it.  I won’t describe those as I don’t want to prejudice your seeing of it. I’m interested in what you think.  Your point of view matters to me.


Middleton Place, a national treasure

It’s been a very busy time, and one marked by illness as well, so the blog has been neglected. Sorely. Here are images from a working trip to Florida, with a stop at one of my favorite gardens in South Carolina: Middleton Place. Prior to leaving West Virginia (it was a road trip) I checked the weather and the forecast promised fog!  Driving in to Walterboro near midnight I encountered HEAVY fog.  I was so excited I could barely sleep. But I was up at five the next morning for the drive on in to Middleton Place and a few happy hours of shooting ensued.  If you are interested in history, in gardening history, or simply enjoy tranquility and a gentle, restful landscape (though with a hint of Southern moss-draped mystery), I urge you to visit this jewel in the Carolina low country. All but the last of the photographs below made with the kind permission of Middleton Place.

Of course the fog and atmosphere had me thinking about layers and textures. Some of the images I prefer ‘straight’, while others I enjoyed layering with my favorite Fly Paper Textures. What stays with me though is the experience of having been there and walked in the vague, vaporous layers of history, place, and moment.

The last photograph is a challenge.  Which of my readers can identify the scene in the last image?  Thousands of people have seen it in photographic form, hundreds certainly have studied it.  I just happened upon it on a Sunday morning when some strange otherworldly force twisted my head hard to the left and BAM! So here’s the hint: I jumped out of the car to make the image but had no time to wait.

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March 2011
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