I was lost when I found this house. Headed east in North Carolina, toward Pungo Lake to observe the migrating birds, I missed a turn. I came to a crossroads, looked left, and there she was at the far end of a fallow field. Overgrown evergreens stood tall by the porch and it felt as if the house was trying to hide. I approached slowly, in part because I was sensitive to trespassing, and because I just wanted to visually absorb what lay before me.
The second shot was a bit closer, through raindrops clinging to a bush.
After hanging around the property for about twenty minutes I began to get more confident that no one really minded me being there, so I began to get closer.
It’s the pathos of things that draws me. I’m going to quote from a book called “Pouring Concrete” that my brother Ben “loaned” me a decade or so ago. “Zen Buddhists have a phrase – ‘the pathos of things’ – that refers to seeing the world in depth. It is the feeling we have when we look at something transient, perhaps a flower, and see in it something of the infinite. Anyone who spends time directly perceiving the world eventually experiences some sense of this pathos.”
Like many photographers, I’m drawn to ruin. It’s almost embarrassing how many photographs I’ve taken of abandoned houses. I even tried to make myself stop by creating projects that require me to photograph humans more.
But I can’t look away. The pathos, and patina. The intersection of transience and eternity. I like to imagine the sounds that might have been in the houses at one time. The lives lived out there. It’s mysterious and not mysterious. We come, and we go.
This barn sits on the bluffs known as “Sugar Hill” above the Clinch River just outside St. Paul, Virginia. It is located very near the site of a failed French settlement called St. Marie on the Clinch. So much history that we were never exposed to as children growing up in the Appalachian mountains. Kudos to the town of St. Paul for creating these walking trails and preserving the site.
For about a decade I’ve been traveling to Ocracoke once a year or so. It’s not the long history some folks have with this tiny little village but it’s enough that I have my favorite spots. At the end of the day, when the light goes golden I put my cameras in a backpack and jump on my bike. I like to find the Ocracats that hang out at the old fishing cabins.
I like the fading paint on old buoys and the grey boardwalks. I like the way the marsh grass waves gently in the breeze underneath a pink sky.
There’s no pretense here. The weathered patina is not some faux fashion look. It’s the texture of a place and a people who love the sea, who live by the sea, who live from the sea. There’s a long long history and I like to get quiet and see how much of it I can feel.
I grew up deep in the Appalachian Mountains, so the trappings of a fishing village are details I know nothing of. I’m enamored with simple things like old fishing nets, or abandoned ropes. And I’m infatuated with that rocking chair bathed in the setting sun. I think I’ll sit and stay a while.
I carry a small notebook detailing locations I like, so I can return when circumstances are optimal to make a pleasing photograph. But, sometimes you just know that “we may never pass this way again.” At least not soon. So you work with whatever lighting mother earth is providing at that moment. No amount of twirling my high end polarizer was going to cut this light back, and there was construction and heavy equipment in almost any frame I chose besides straight on. I clicked the shutter a few times, not expecting much out of the ordinary. Yet when I returned home and looked through my raw images I was taken by this one. I think the light at San Ysidro was just what it was supposed to be!
It’s a simple phrase really. To All Gates. But the connotations are endless. In this photograph is my oldest son Rob. In this photograph he is returning to Berlin after a short visit home. In this photograph he is pushing an oversized bag to the drop off window. The large bag contains two of his keyboards which he’s finally getting to have with him in his current home city. In this photograph you also see that he’s got one of his guitars. What you don’t see is the checked bag with an analog recorder he’s also adding to his choice of tools. He’s never wanted more than he could move across town in a taxi, so it comforts me to think he’s willing to admit that somewhere is going to be his home long enough to accumulate some stuff. He’s a brave and adventurous soul, and I’m trying to be a brave Mom, stilling my heart for another goodbye.
He’s been away from my home for seven years. I thought Asheville was a long way until he moved to the west coast, which doesn’t seem nearly as far away since he’s moved to Europe. He’s a composer. He’s composed an interesting life for himself, with interesting friends, interesting work and interesting places. He creates songs and soundtracks where ever he goes. He is not afraid of the uncharted. What else could a brave Mom hope for? Does the photograph show that?
The photograph does not show the tears welling up in my eyes, or the tightening of my throat as I swallow the surge of emotions surrounding me. But still I raise a toast “To All Gates.”
A house is a house. It’s a structure. Sometimes a house becomes a home. And sometimes a house becomes at home.
I was the last photographer to document the Crabtree Jones house while it was still at home on its original site. In the Fall of 2013 I drove up the long drive to the house one afternoon on a crisp Sunday. I cautiously unlocked the side door, pushed it gently open, and carried in my camera gear. I stayed there alone photographing until there was no more light to eke out. The golden Autumn light streamed in the lead glass windows the same way it had for more than 200 years. The last rays of the day filtered through 100 year old trees standing guard all around the proud place.
Raleigh’s historic Crabtree Jones house perched at the top of a knoll hidden from site from most of the world even though just a few hundred yards away were busy shopping centers and thousands of cars passing by on Wake Forest Road. But the house could not hide forever, and it narrowly escaped the wrecking ball after the beautiful land it had occupied for more than two centuries was bought by a developer with plans for hundreds of apartment units.
The house was moved to a new location early in 2014, but with this collection of photographs I seek to preserve the beauty that existed in the way the light fell on, around, and through the house in a certain place, in a certain time, in a certain way.
I felt the house was speaking to me as I photographed, and I hope you might hear, and see, some of what she had to say.
Which coast are we on, and what time of year is it anyway? Any guesses about where this is?
Click the link here to view a short photo essay from a trip to Portland, Maine. four days in portland
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