Three from Nevada

I remain in travel mode and will be posting at length about my trip once I get back to North Carolina. Until then, here are three from Nevada, the only state in the Continental United States I had not been to. I love shooting from my car, often while moving down the highway. A giving-over to the photo accident.

Highway 95 South, western Nevada, 2015

Highway 95 South and Highway 266 West, Nevada 2015

Las Vegas, Nevada 2015

Deaths on the Highway


In Montana, it seems that all highway deaths are documented at the spot in which they happened. Most incidents are marked by a simple white cross - no name, no date, no reason why. Some are treated as they do in many other states with elaborate displays.  I suspect the anonymous signage is an effort by the State to remind drivers to be careful. 

I've been struck by the sheer numbers of them. On some highways there is a marker every few miles. Why? Is it the speed limit - 80 mph on the interstates, 70 mph on rural highways? Is it drunk driving? Is it from deer, antelope, or elk crossing the road? Or could it be fatigue - the long distances between places?

These photographs were made along a short section of Highway 12 in western Montana between Helena and Anaconda. 


Two Attempts


Some subjects are so well known, so iconic, and have been photographed so much it becomes next to impossible to do something different, unique. Here are attempts to do so at two of America's most noted symbols, Mt. Rushmore in South Dakota and Devils Tower in Wyoming.

Mt. Rushmore, South Dakota, 2015


I had been prepared to not be impressed with Mt. Rushmore. But there it is, an amazing sculpture, a great work of art. Unfortunately, most Native Americans consider it to be an insult, an offensive symbol of power and greed in a Sioux sacred place. The Heart of Everything that is.  As History tells us, the Sioux had been deeded the Black Hills in the Treaty of 1868. But when George Custer's first expedition to the area in 1874 discovered gold, the Treaty was torn up. We know how that worked out for Custer two years later, and for the Sioux later that same year.

Devils Tower, Wyoming, 2015

I was prepared to be affected at Devils Tower, and I was. Another sacred place for Native Americans, the place where White Buffalo Woman delivered the first sacred pipe to the Lakota People. This sculpture by Japanese artist Junkyu Muto, titled The Circle of Sacred Smoke, is one of Muto's International Peace Project pieces, which are placed in spiritually significant places around the world. 


Some of Thus Far

2,000 miles thus far. Many more to go.

With Cedric Chatterley, Sioux Falls, SD

At Cedric's Suggerstion, The Sand Bar, Merriman, NE. Still open and still serving a mean Coke.

Near Martin, SD

Highway 44, SD

Wounded Knee, Pine Ridge Reservation, SD

Wounded Knee, Pine Ridge Reservation, SD

Scenic, SD

Scenic, SD

Badlands, SD

Today, 20151007


Mr. and Mrs. Barden, Mt. Vernon, IL 2015 10 07

I met the Bardens this morning as I was leaving the Super 8. They were heading home to Champaign, IL. Mrs. Barden said she had met Mr. Barden after her husband died and they had been together for twenty-three years. She asked, "Are you a believer?" I said, "Yes, I was believer in people, but not in any organized religion." They accepted this and Mr. Barden gave me this cross. He made it and said he had given away over 11,000 of them. "Be careful on the road," he said. "There's a lot of crazy people out there."

The Cross in My Pocket, Mt. Vernon, IL 2015

Onward to Hannibal to pay a kind of homage to Mark Twain. I found him hawking water and food and generally supporting the town. Can I get an Amen to that?


     In the Mark Twain House, Hannibal, MO 2015


The True Meaning of Farm Aid


Farm Estate Sale, Bishopville, SC, 1987.

The adrenaline rush of last weekend's Farm Aid Concert in Chicago stayed with me for much of the week. Looking at, and editing, photographs from the concert brought back specific songs, their loudness and intensity, the push of the crowd, "Neil, do Harvest Moon. Please!" As exciting and pulsing as it was, and so different than what I usually photograph, it was quite easy to be absorbed in the celebrity of the day.

Farm Rally, South Carolina, 1986.

Eventually though, my thoughts returned to the people Farm Aid was established for in the first place. The mid-1980s were a critical time for family farmers in the United States. More family farms went out of business in the 1980s than in the 1930s during the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. African-American farmers in the South were hit especially hard by the politics of farm economics and many lost their farms. Farm Aid was born during this time and played an important role in funding non-profit farm advocacy groups and many individual farm mentors - advocates that helped thousands of farmers stay in business, stay on their land, and in many cases stay alive. 

Jim Smyre and Family Planting Tobacco, Harmony, NC, 1987

Jim Smyre and Family Planting Tobacco, Harmony, NC, 1987

For most of the 1980s and 1990s I worked on staff or on contract with a farm advocacy organization in Pittsboro, NC, the Rural Advancement Fund (now Rural Advancement Foundation International, One of my roles was to photograph and interview farmers throughout the two Carolinas about their changing relationships with their land. Many of the people I worked with had benefited from Farm Aid programs and some of them went on to become farm advocates themselves. 

At this year's 30th Farm Aid Concert, seven advocates from across the country were honored and had the opportunity to present something of their experiences working with farm families. These seven advocates from Kansas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina and Minnesota are the real heroes and the true meaning of Farm Aid.


From left, John Zippert, Epps, AL; Benny Bunting, Oak City, NC; Betty Puckett, Natchitoches, LA; Lou Ann Kling, Granite Falls, MN; Shirley Sherrod, Albany, GA; Mona Lee Brock, Durant, OK; Linda Hessman, Dodge City, KS. Chicago, IL, 2015.

top three photographs, Photograph copyright/Rob Amberg 2015.
bottom photograph, Photograph copyright /Rob Amberg/Farm Aid, 2015.

Farm Aid 30 - Chicago

I've been very fortunate throughout my career and I'll long remember last weekend's Farm Aid Concert in Chicago as one of the real treats. I'll be posting a page of photographs from the concert on my website next week. Until then . . .


Chicago, 2015

Just before John Mellencamp's Set, Chicago, 2015

Just before John Mellencamp's Set, Chicago, 2015

At the Hancock Shaker Village, Pittsfield, MA


P:ittsfield, MA, 2015

click to enlarge photograph

These rules certainly wouldn't fly around our house, except maybe the one about eating everything on your plate. We do like that idea although we sometimes overlook it, as when my mother-in-law leaves uneaten any onions or mushrooms she finds in the food. She simply hates onions and mushrooms remind her of liver, which she also hates. But we won't wake you at 6:30 for breakfast, won't restrict your visit to a few hours, and will allow you to sleep with the opposite sex. A rule the Shakers probably wish they could re-visit. And even tobacco is okay, not in the house, but around the place. So, come visit and as my friend Dellie would say, "just stay all night."


Little Granny


Berzilla Wallin, Sodom, Madison County, NC 1975

Little Granny they called her. And,
by the time I met her in 1975, she was 83, and truly little.
Married to Lee, a job in itself from what I understand,
although I never met the man.
Mother to ten kids, I believe, might have been twelve.
She was a farmer and singer of the old ballads.
The whole family sang as did most families back then.
But the Wallins got some notoriety from it. 
Pictures on album covers. Collectors. Young people coming around.
Invitations to sing at big places.
Sons Jack and Doug had their own album and
Doug was something of a legend.
Many consider him to be the best, period.
But he'd tell you he got it all from his mother,
Little Granny, the Matriarch,
his best friend he told me many times,
who he stayed with 'til she died,
never marrying,
never  spending a night away.




Birmingham, AL 2015

This post contains language and thoughts some people will find offensive. I apologize for this as I've tried to be both tolerant and accepting in my blog posts and keep my bad language to a minimum. But the reality is, I'm tired. Tired of what, you might ask? For starters, I'm tired of stupidity and ignorance. I'm tired of racism. I'm tired of people not recognizing the basic humanity of ALL people. I'm tired of war. I'm tired of greed. I'm tired of drama. I'm tired of hearing how exceptional we are as a nation. And I'm tired of myself for not saying enough about any of it. 

This past weekend a friend from Durham spent the weekend with us in our apartment. Her son was a newly enrolled freshman at Mars Hill University and she was delivering him to the campus for the start of the rest of his life.

Upon arrival at his dormitory, they met his new roommate and the roommate’s parents who were from Charlotte and appeared to have money. Unpacking and getting settled in the new environment, our friend and her son were taken aback when the new roommate’s father scolded him that he was not allowed to hang his, yet-unfurled, confederate battle flag in the dorm room. Nothing further was said by anyone.

Later, as they lunched together in a Mars Hill restaurant, the roommate’s mother joked that the required Sickle Cell Anemia test was pointless for both boys. She remarked that if their son were at risk of having that disease, he might be eligible for more financial aid. Taken aback yet again, our friend and her son sat silent and dumbfounded by the  racist comment. At that point, the roommate looked to his parents and asked, “Should we tell them about the Canadians?” “Oh,” answered the mother, smiling, “Instead of saying African Americans we call them Canadians.”

Our friend was clearly baffled not only by the blatant intolerance and ignorance, but also by the other family’s assumption that because our friend and her son are white it was acceptable to share their racism in such an open manner. She was also upset with herself for not knowing what to say in response, hoping her silence would communicate her disapproval. 

My suggestion was this. "Next time it comes up, I said, you should affect your best southern drawl (she has roots in New Orleans) and say with syrupy sweetness: 'Why, Canadians, that is so smart and subtle. Who would possibly know what you’re actually saying or implying? We’re not so subtle or politically correct in our family. For example, when we encounter white racists and their code words, we simply call them what they are – Fuckin’ Crackers.”


Seldom Scene - Bonnie Chandler's Cookstove


Bonnie Chandler's Cookstove, Rice Cove 1976

My first years in Madison County, this was an universal and welcoming sight in most county homes. Still warm from morning biscuits and gravy, dinner and supper warming still. Pots with bubbling beans, both pinto and green; potatoes, creamy and rich with butter; applesauce; and water for coffee and washing. People who have eaten a meal prepared on a wood cookstove all utter the same thing: "It's the best eatin' I've ever had." Certain homes in Madison show this scene today, but not many, they are hard to find. Cooking on a wood stove is a lost art, one not taught in school, or by grandmothers anymore. There's smoke and ash to deal with, the time it takes for the stove to heat up. And keeping cookstove wood on hand is a chore most people shun, it's so much easier to just turn that knob and watch the eye get hot.