Topic: Penland (11 posts) Page 2 of 3

Penland One 2014

If you've been following this blog you know I have been headed to Penland in North Carolina to teach for two weeks. I arrived yesterday and after unpacking, settling in and having dinner went to a local rodeo in a Burnesville nearby with friends. 

Where we saw locals and their families having a good time. One of the highlights was to place a young child on the back of a sheep and see how long your kid could stay on as it tried to buck them off. The answer is: not very long.

Mercedes was there with us:

This is the third year I've taught at Penland and Mercedes has been my studio assistant each time. She has a way of making all things possible and is simply the best. I wrote a profile of Mercedes a while ago: here. In September she will start a three year artist in residency at Penland.

This morning we headed to Spruce Pine, which is the nearest town of any size, down in the valley where the the freight trains rumble through. For the past two years I've photographed in town every morning before teaching, sometimes bringing a few students with me and sometimes not. Those series are here: Spruce Pine 2012 and Spruce Pine 2013.

Mercedes and I photographed in the most industrial and commercial part of the town,

where, on the one hand you could say that it was a visual desert, devoid of value or aesthetic. On the other: that it was an honest place devoid of anything but function and necessity, where beauty snuck in and prevailed despite the best intentions.

 I was able to get above the one or two story shops and buildings to point down.

And came across an old pickup truck that was decorated....

and where Barbies never die,

and where I found, finally, a little bit of Southern Christainity:

Sometimes the job seems clear to me. Just photograph something cleanly, without too much pretention, assumption, art or contrivance. Often our job is to impose as little as possible. Get in, get out and move on.

Structurally, I am going to try to post a blog a day while here, counter to what I said before I left home. The effort is to try to bring you into the class a little and to share with Penland students this process of combining pictures with words as description. We'll see how I do, as it will get very busy as soon as students arrive.

Stay tuned.

Topics: Penland,Color,Digital

Permalink | Posted May 25, 2014


I usually use Hotwire for booking where I'll stay when traveling domestically. Hotwire is the one that doesn't tell you where you're staying until you've booked it. This usually works out okay but it does get you into some places you'd never come across on your own. Last night's was a good example. I spent the night at the inn on the campus of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, VA. Yes, the university has its own hotel. As it turns out graduation was last weekend and summer semester doesn't start until Tuesday so the gap means an empty hotel and hence Hotwire's rate of $66 a night. BTW: Virginia Tech is the school where one of the largest shootings in US history happened six years ago. 32 people were killed. It felt a little odd to associate this school, the largest university in the state, with those killings but how else would we know about it? Through a tragedy, of course.

I checked in early so was back on the road in late afternoon, cruising around the countryside and looking for pictures. After about an hour I came across a huge single story building under construction out in the middle of a pasture.

All shiny and reflecting the sun's light, with a glass roof, this was, you guessed it, a greenhouse tomato building. There were only a few workers still on the site this late in the day. I stopped by the trailer to ask for permission and the man's response to my question about photographing was not "what for?" but "how many?" This seemed odd to me but I thought possibly it was because his English didn't seem very good. I said 10 or 15  and he said "okay".

This was a tomatoe growing facility of almost unimaginable proportions. As large as 40 acres in size this is how our year round vine ripe tomatoes are being grown. The NY Times has a nice piece on the industry: here

Once this superstructure was in place the crew would install concrete slabs around the exterior.

These are just really snapshots, pictures made while traveling to my destination at Penland this weekend. But things do seem a little skewed to me. We build temperature controlled warehouses in rural Virginia to grow millions of tomatoes under controlled conditions with a non English speaking Mexican construction crew presumably because we can and because the profit margin will be high. You know the tomatoes, the ones you can buy still on the vine, bright red with tough skins, genetically modified and available year round, thought of as being "better" than the hothouse ones that are even tougher. I guess that in some ways we are an advancing species, able to do incredible things like grow tomatoes year round, but has this really improved our way of life? Because we can, because we possess the technology to be able to do things does it mean we always should? Bottom line: the demand is there and money to be made. 

I could go on a rant here but will restain myself.

Arrive at Penland later today.

Topics: Penland

Permalink | Posted May 24, 2014

On the Road

Let's be clear: driving long distances can really suck. I drove today from Boston to Hagerstown, MD and it took all day. 

What's bad: trucks, construction, bad drivers, accidents, trucks, people who hog the left lane, trucks, and oh yes, trucks. Makes you wonder how much of what we buy and consume is brought to us by trucks. Must be huge.

What redeemed today's trip? The weather. It went from cloudy to major rain and cloudy again, on and off, all day. High drama kind of rain where you really can't see anything in front of you because it's coming down so hard.

Did I make any pictures? After all, this is a photo blog. No I did not. But I saw some things that were picture worthy and went by a barn I'd photographed in 4 x 5 in 1969 north of New London, CT  off  Route 95. Still standing. Got me thinking, what has changed and what remains the same? Everything and nothing, I suppose. Funny to think that I was making that picture of that barn so long ago at the very dawn of my career and now I am going by it when you can count on one or two hands the rest of the years I have left, close to the conclusion of my career. 


Writing this the next morning from my motel in Hagerstown, MD. Headed down into the George Washington National Forest in Virginia today on my way to Spruce Pine, North Carolina. I've got some things I want to try out about foliage, and making pictures of it in layers. We will see.

Topics: Penland

Permalink | Posted May 23, 2014

Penland 2014

I am about to head off to North Carolina to teach for the third time at Penland School of Crafts (here). I am driving  from Boston, which is a trip I partly look forward to and enjoy and partly dread. Certainly the first leg or day of driving is more pain than pleasure: from Boston down through CT and through or around NYC, then on the infamous NJ Turnpike, down to DC and past that. Will spend the first night in Hagerstown, MD and then the second night close to Spruce Pine, the closest town to Penland.

Don't know about Penland? Just about the best at pretty much all of it. Pottery, glass, book making, jewelry and silversmithing, printmaking, painting, welding and on and on over a full summer of two week classes taught by some of the very best. 

Three excellent meals a day, a community of artists and crafts people of the highest order, a location up on a hill in the mountains. Penland is a place to create. What's not to like?

This time I am teaching a class in combining images with words. The class is called "Word/Image" and I am co-teaching it with Christopher Benfey, a wonderful writer.

This means that my work on the blog will be sporadic over the next couple of weeks. I don't know if the blog is going on vacation but you may see it popping up less often in your in box.

Topics: Commentary,Penland

Permalink | Posted May 21, 2014


A little less than a year ago I cooked up a plan to get a few archtectural photographers to join me in a spring class at Penland School of Crafts in Spruce Pine, North Carolina. The plan was to teach a one week master class in architectural photography. As I didn't know if this was even feasible I spoke to some of the administrators at the school when I was teaching there last summer and got enough of a supportive, but cautious, response to go ahead and ask Nick Wheeler, Steve Rosenthal and Peter Vanderwarker if they would consider teaching the class. Wait a minute: four teachers in one class? Yes, that was the plan. I wrote these three amigos and almost without hesitation, they were in. I asked them if they would co-teach the class, accept almost no money and pay almost all their transportation costs. Same response: they were in.

Nick, Steve and Peter had all coexisted and competed for assignments from clients in the Boston area for many years, were and are good friends.

Now I was in real trouble as I had to convince the school this was viable. As there had never been a class with four teachers, in fact, the school had never taught architectural photography before, there was some upstream swimming to do. To their credit the school proved flexible enough to allow us to move forward with one caveat, a big one: it would be up to us to fill the class. All four of us plus our two studio assistants, began to get the word out about the class. We printed posters, contacted the American Society of Architects, emailed schools, architectural firms, etc, to build enrollment in the workshop.

It clearly worked because by the end of February the class was over subscribed.

So, flash forward to the present. I am writing this today on the last day of class on April 20 after a very intense, fast and exciting week of immersion in all things architecture, photographic and creative with a group of eleven students that were wonderful, diverse, highly motivated and very interesting. Some were already architectural photographers, some were already architects, some were designers, one was a former lawyer turned teacher, two were a father and son, and so on.

4 Amigos: Neal Rantoul, Peter Vanderwarker, Nick Wheeler and Steve Rosenthal.

I introduced the workshop the first day by saying there were over 200 years of experience assembled under one roof at Penland for the class.

Some of the students listening to a presentation underneath Peter Vanderwarker's photographs.

We spent one day shooting exteriors on a trip to Asheville, about an hour away, and another working on interiors using artists' studios and homes nearby.

Liz Ellenwood (left) and Mercedes Jelinek (right), our two amazing Studio Assistants.

In case you haven't heard, Penland is one incredible place. Filled with artists and crafts people of all kinds, artists in residence and a facility that is to die for, it has got to be one of the very finest places to study visual arts, textiles, pottery, glass, metal, jewelry, film, photography, woodworking, printmaking and on and on in the world.

Nick Wheeler explaining something to student Pauline in Asheville.

What else can I say? I am proud to have been the glue that put the class together, I am proud to have the opportunity to teach with three of the very best architectural photographers on the planet, I am proud of the students and their accomplishments, I am happy to have had Liz and Mercedes on board, and I am very pleased to have been at the oasis of creativity that is Penland for a week in the early spring in the mountains of North Carolina

Topics: Penland,class

Permalink | Posted April 20, 2013