Topic: Shaker (4 posts)

The Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill

Near Harrodsburg, Kentucky there is a place that is so special and so wonderful you don't want to miss it. It is the largest of the Shaker Villages and is called Pleasant Hill. It also is an inn and a restaurant where you can sleep in a room in a Shaker building and eat simple and well prepared dishes in the Shaker tradition. That's exactly what I did a couple of weeks ago. I stayed and photographed late the afternoon I arrived, ate dinner there, then got up early the next morning, photographed, then had breakfast and headed on my way back home.

I've been to this incredible place many times over the years and first photographed there in black and white with a view camera in the early 90's. But my relationship with the Shakers goes back much farther than that. I was a student at Darrow School in New Lebanon, NY for my 4 years of high school in the 60's. Darrow is a boarding school on the site of the first Shaker Village in the US. I lived in Shaker buildings and played sports on fields that had been farmed by the Shakers. On Wednesday afternoons I practiced "Hands to Work and Hearts to God" as the student body maintained the school's grounds and buildings. I believe much of my aesthetic was formed there during those years. 

Photographing at Pleasant Hill for me has the feeling of being at a retreat or a respite from the frenetic, commercial and hassled life outside the village. Being at any Shaker site feeds my soul and brings me peace. Situated in thousands of acres of rolling farmland, the Village is true to its Shaker origin.

Shaker building interiors are just as special and pure. As the Shakers did not believe in procreation, they always kept the sexes separated so common rooms had to have two stairs and entrances. This led to some unique and beautiful symmetries.

But perhaps the crowning glory of this Village is the spiral staircases in the main building that now houses the dining room.

These two staircases that run up to the third floor are justifiably famous. They exist as a carpenter's tour de force of simplicity, purity, symmetry and design.

Should you wish to go it's best to make a reservation: Shaker Village at Pleasant HillIt is best to stay at the inn.

Topics: Shaker,Pleasant Hill

Permalink | Posted April 5, 2015

Not All Right All the Time

This is going to be one of those Neal venting blogs. No, not against the current state of photography on line where so much of it is so bad, or not against "authorities" who put out wrong information that is misleading and damaging, or not about landscape work that is oversaturated and over sharpened. No, none of those things. 

This one's going to be at my own self, as I have done almost nothing but print for two weeks since returning from Iceland. I have written recently about "mining the work". That phase when going through way too much work to edit it and get it  down to a manageable group of photographs that say something, that present work that is cohesive and direct. Mining Your Work

But this one is about once you get into making the actual prints, the decisions you make, the paths you go down and the final results once finished. Lots of chances to do this wrong! I feel like I've made many many bad decisions in printing the past two weeks. My error? I went down a path of size verses sharpening decisions that, looking back on it, mean that given the opportunity I went wrong instead of right. Now, after days wasted, I am back on track and printing well again, but really, you'd think I would know better.  I have wasted ink, paper and time and it ticks me off.

How can you avoid myriad pitfalls in making prints? If you know, drop me an email as this seems like a necessary evil sometimes. We certainly do need to look at different ways to present our work. And it seems a requirement to look at ways we can be better technically. This can be using a new or different tool, a plug in, a new way to get our pictures to look the way we want.

Very often we get into a "system" where we are practicing what worked before instead of tailoring the prints we make to the imagery we've shot. This can seriously mess up what we do as artists and makes our prints generic by holding them to some standard printing norm. That's probably not making art but making production prints. Not so good. I believe you should not be timid about making your own prints your own prints. In analog days we used to call this way of printing making an "expressive print". Still holds true today.

Now that I am back on track printing-wise I have been working with some interesting and new color palettes for me: some variations on green on some pictures from Iceland and blue and yellow  made just this past weekend. These aren't specific bodies of work that address only these colors but their color plays a large part. Am I colorist? I suppose I am.

from Iceland and:

from the Shaker Village at Canterbury, NH. Some of you know of my fondness for the Lensbaby and I have shot at the Canterbury Shaker Village many times but never with this most unique and unusual lens. The Lensbaby tilts and pivots, giving you the ability to specify where things will be rendered sharp and where they will not.

Topics: Shaker,Iceland

Permalink | Posted August 26, 2013

Canterbury Shaker Village 2011

I am on a mission to bring to the front work I've made over the years that is unseen, unpublished and unshown. The work I did one foggy morning in August 2011 of the Canterubury Shaker Village in Canturbury, NH would need to be included in this group.

I go way back with this small Shaker Village that is a museum. I met the last real surviving Shaker,  Sister Emma, about nine months before she died in the early nineties. Back then I did some pro bono work for the museum, making a poster for them and I donated a portfolio of black and white prints I'd made in the mid nineties for their collection. The location is about 30 minutes north of Concord and I often stop by if driving past. It is on the top of a hill, surrounded by fields and is simply a wonderful place to be, let alone photograph.

I arrived early one mid August morning in 2011 with everything wet and the top of the hill enshrouded in fog with the sun working to break through the cover as I continued to photograph.

In Elin Spring's interview of my work a couple of weeks ago she asked why I would rephotograph something (Elin Spring blog). How can you not? Because it is fascinating to see what stays the same and what changes. Because I can go back to a familiar topic and reinvent it or re-realize it. Because, which is the case here, I can shoot it in color verses the black and white pictures I made twenty years ago. All of those and more. 

The pictures embody a now classic way in which I work: the walk around, begun as a process over thirty years ago. Simple enough: park the car, put a camera with a lens on it in my hand or over my shoulder, walk around taking pictures as I go, looking for the next frame as I make the present one, a picture leading to the next picture in a kind of quiet choreography of movement, looking, thinking, moving in and out, peering around a corner or turning around 180 degrees to see what I've just done from a different angle. I think of this as a meditative experience, relaxed and easy, but very intense as well. A couple of hours can go by in a moment. In this case the staff can arrive as the museum prepares to open and people come to see the buildings and exhibits. Just as I was finishing. Nice.


At any rate, I will shut up and let you take a look at the pictures:

There's a stillness and quiet to these pictures made before the museum opened that morning that I like. The prints are muted and there are no brilliant highlights as the area was foggy. As I continued to work, the sun was starting to push its way in and provided soft shadows.

There is simply nothing better than rural New England in mid summer in the early morning as trees are dripping with dew, the air is still and the sun is starting to break the cover apart, promising another hot and indolent day.

The full series is on the site here.

Suffice it to say that my creative sensibilities align with what the Shakers did, how they lived and what they made. I can take it farther by  saying that the Shaker's philosophy and artistry was instrumental in forming my aesthetic as I attended the Darrow School in New Lebanon, NY for my four high-school years. Darrow is situated at the first Shaker Village in the United States formed by sister Ann Lee.

Topics: Shaker,Darrow

Permalink | Posted July 3, 2013

Darrow School

This past week I was back at my high school in the Berkshire Mountains, meeting with students, showing them my work and talking with seniors about applying to colleges to major in photography. I looked at portfolios and critiqued printing as well. Darrow is  a small preparatory school located where the first Shaker Village was built on the side of a mountain in New Lebanon, NY. This is a picture I took the first morning from the same spot where I stood  47 years ago in June of 1965, with my sister and parents, proudly holding my diploma for all to see.

I am sure many of you have had this same sensation, that to be back in a place where you lived and studied and played so long ago is very strange. To the left of this frame is the football field where I dislocated my shoulder in my sophomore year. I can still feel the bump. 

I stole away for an hour or so the first morning and made these pictures in Great Barrington, about 30 minutes away:



The last morning I was there I drove over the mountain and headed towards Pittsfield, MA. These were made at the Hancock Shaker Village. This is the village with the famous stone barn. I believe that living for four years in a Shaker building and going to school on the  grounds of what had been a Shaker community influenced me and my aesthetic greatly. 

I really enjoyed working with the kids at the school. They were bright, motivated and curious about what I do and what I have done during my career. I stayed with Nancy Wolf, who is the long-term head of the school and is retiring after 11 or so very good years. She has done a wonderful job. The school is now a first rate school.

Topics: Darrow,Shaker

Permalink | Posted November 9, 2012