Paw Paw, Madison County, NC 2016

It's been five weeks ago now that I took a walk thinking redbuds.
It's not like me to do that,
 go out with camera in hand and nature in mind.
I've not been much of a landscape photographer.
People and culture have been my thing.
But it was a vibrant spring day,
bright and crisp and
the redbuds were waiting patiently for me.

I've long thought it trite and repetitive to do this type of picture.
It's what we see in camera club contests and
postcard racks, 
on facebook. 
But here I was.
In the woods,
searching for the mix of angle and light,
how is it I've not photographed such beauty before?


Doe Branch Ink

Looking forward to this workshop with my long-time buddy and work partner, Charlie Thompson, in an absolutely stunning location. Not to mention that Jim and Deborah are the best hosts one can ask for. 

A Week of Images, Ideas, and Inspiration

Sunday June 12th to Saturday June 18th - register now!

We're pleased to announce that long-time collaborators Rob Amberg and Charlie Thompson—with deference to Agee & Evans and other documentary teams who have worked to bring stories to light—will be at Doe Branch Ink to lead a workshop on documentary fieldwork. There are a few spaces left, so be sure to claim your spot today.

Not so much a technical workshop as a discussion on the documentary fieldwork process, Amberg and Thompson will lead discussions about how to conceive and plan projects, meet and cultivate collaborations with interlocutors in the field, collaborate with other artists without coming to blows(!), and take your work to larger audiences as articles, books, exhibits, and more. 

Rob and Charlie encourage participants to bring your own ideas and projects to the workshop, and they'll ensure plenty of time for reflection and deepening your work. They plan to workshop their own project in progress: a retrospective on their 30 years of work in rural America, on farm advocacy and the culture of agriculture, including the portion of their work sponsored by Willie Nelson's FarmAid.  

They'll also organize field trips to local sites, photo talks, film screenings, and focused discussions of the leaders’  work will make for a full and rewarding week. You can read more about their workshop and our other spring / summer offerings at our new website.

About the Artists
Rob Amberg is an award-winning photographer and writer who has made Madison County, NC his adopted home for going on four decades. His books include Sodom Laurel Album and The New Road: I-26 and the Footprint of Progress in Appalachia. His photographs are part of the permanent collection of the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Duke University. 

Charlie Thompson, a writer, filmmaker, and photographer is a member of the Anthropology Department at Duke University. His most recent books include Border Odyssey: Travels along the US/Mexican Divide, an ethnography and memoir about his 2,000 mile journey through the borderlands, and Spirits of Just Men:  Mountaineers, Liquor Bosses and Lawmen in the Moonshine Capital of the World, an inquiry into his ancestors' roots in Franklin County, Virginia.  


Deborah and Jim

A Community Coverlet


Quilt Presentation, PawPaw, Madison County, NC 1983

Back in the olden days,
(Oh, how I love being able to say that)
 new people moving into Madison County
began a tradition of making and gifting quilts.
For weddings, or new babies, or friendship.
Receiving a quilt meant a certain acceptance.
An embrace.
You were part of the community.
A member of the tribe.

It's a tradition that continues with young people today.
And I think, how rare is that?
Except in places like ours.
Small, close knit, and hands on.

In this photograph Vicki Skemp, aka Vicki Lane, is
thanking her neighbors and friends for the
20th Anniversary Wedding quilt
presented to her and her husband John.
It's a Sister's Choice pattern, 
organized by Vicky Owen and Fay Skemp Uffelman.
It was a potluck day, of course.
This one held at Wayne and Fay Uffelman's farm on Paw Paw Creek.



For Governor McCrory


Big Pine, Madison County, NC 


Our two-seater, useable by all, no questions asked, no ID required, no confusion, no stupidity. Governor, quit pretending you know what's best for our state, and for us. You don't. Do us a favor, gather your minions and just leave in the dark of night. You should be ashamed.
We are. 



photo+craft, hosted by Warren Wilson College, is an unprecedented community arts event happening March 31—April 3, 2016 at multiple venues in downtown Asheville and the River Arts District. Through exhibitions, talks, film and panel discussions, this cross-disciplinary festival explores visual and material culture in the 21st century by examining intersections between photography and craft.

Included in the notable list of presenters is my old friend, Harvey Wang. I first met Harvey in Madison County in 1976 when he was doing a project for a senior project. At photo+craft Harvey will be showing and speaking about his latest film, From Darkroom to Daylight, an exploration of the evolution of photography with twenty masters of the medium.


As part of this event, I will be showing photographs with Asheville photographer, Tim Barnwell, in the Revolve Arts Space in the Cotton Mill Studio at 122 Riverside Drive in Asheville. The exhibit is titled Hands On and includes work Tim and I have made over the last forty years.


Josh Copus Firing His Kiln, Lower Brush Creek, Madison County, NC 2015
Hands On, Revolve Gallery, Asheville, NC


A Walk's Treasures


Paw Paw Creek, at Anderson Branch, 030916


One of my walks last week yielded a bounty - a mini fridge, a shop vac and TV, a clothes dryer, bedsprings, and should you be hungry, a rotting goat. It's easy to be angry at this wanton disregard for our environment and the accompanying belief that the land is big enough to absorb whatever we throw at it. And I am, angry.  


Paw Paw Creek, at Anderson Branch 030916

Anderson Branch Road, 030916


Upper Paw Paw, 030916



But I also remember a time many years ago when I first started hanging out with Dellie Norton. This one particular day we went to visit one of her relatives - a short drive and longer walk into a deep holler, following a boldly flowing creek. A small, broad valley with a patch of waist-high tobacco alongside a significant garden, a log cabin with wrap-around porch and smoke rising from the chimney - it couldn't have been more idyllic. We forded the creek, stepping gingerly on wobbly rocks and there we came face to face with the household dump site - an enormous pile of milk jugs, disposable diapers, tin cans, clothes, tires, and appliances - all spilling from the road and into the creek. 

The very idea of trash was a relatively new concept for people like Dellie. Her's was not a throw-away culture. Use and reuse was what she lived by. But the arrival of modern culture to the mountains brought plastic, more packaging, and more waste. The thought of hauling it to a landfill and paying money to throw it away made no sense when it could simply be thrown in the creek where the next heavy rain would wash it from sight.


Upper Paw Paw, 030916


Upper Paw Paw, 030916

Now, some forty years later, I want to believe people surely know better, that we've learned that plastic and electronics don't simply vanish in the soil, that tires don't recycle in creeks. But evidence from my walks says, "no, we've learned nothing." Makes we wonder if it's not my anger that's misplaced. 

That I should think instead of A Boxspring's Memory. Bits of cloth, cotton stuffing, invoices, a pair of intact panty hose, lacking only a good washing. And stories. Stories from the boxspring itself, of bouncing and creaking, of rust and decay. And stories from the owners of such things - My life with Boxsprings. And maybe from the imaginations and memories of people who see these pictures. It's what pictures do.


Assholes abound


Anderson Branch, Madison County, NC 2016

I just want to give a big shout out thank you to the asshole who tossed these two TVs off the side of the road on Anderson Branch. Now, should I get bored on my walk, I can stop and imagine the inanity I could be watching if I only had a half-mile long extension cord with me. Throw your shit in your own backyard, or better yet, the landfill, but not in mine.