Thinking of Eudora Welty’s landscape triggered thoughts of my own. Growing up on a small farm outside of Shepherdstown, WV, shaped me in particular ways. It was a quiet place with 40 acres to roam that was bordered by larger farms on all sides. There was a marsh and stream on the front of the property that would flood in the winter and spring, thereby making a long walk to the end of the lane for the bus a soggy, cold task. There were woods at the back of the farm that remained mysterious, there was a spring on the north side that I was convinced was a haven for cottonmouth snakes (probably not, but still scary), and we had a great old barn with a hay loft and stalls beneath. While the memory of that landscape is clear, and dear to me in many ways, what I’ve realized is that my personality was shaped by this experience of place. By nature I was a quiet child, content to be alone. Having the farm to roam and explore encouraged that and it also insisted that I develop the capacity for introspection and long periods of solitary pursuits. Walking and reading became the rhythm of my life on the farm. Book in hand, dog at my side, off I’d go to find a place to settle for a while. My two favorite books: Frederick the Mouse, by Leo Lionni, and Harriet the Spy, by Louise Fitzhugh.
What does all of this have to do with photography? I think it’s central to who I am as a photographer. Harriet was insistently curious and engaged with the world outside her, but in a stealthy, analytical way. Frederick was consumed with “storing” the rays of the sun, the colors of the poppies, and the scents of the new-mown meadows to offer to his extended mouse family when the days of winter were long and bleak. I believe it’s essential to know your subject deeply to photograph it well, so I put the time in to educate myself about a place or place in time (The South, or Pre-War Paris, for example). But after all that work is done, I open my heart while photographing, to absorb the feeling and gather the sensory feast in front of me. It can be a solitary pursuit, but offering the harvest connects me to an ever growing community.