Catch Up

It’s been six weeks since I last wrote on this blog and I must admit I’ve enjoyed the break. There have been a number of intervening life issues that have made writing difficult, notably Leslie’s recent hip surgery and the temporary loss of all our help around the place, which has returned me to “chore” mode. It's served to remind me exactly how much work the young people do while staying with us. Most agree to let me photograph them, which is a bonus for sure. Muses come in many forms, from many directions. But these are flimsy excuses for not writing. So, call it writer’s block, or whatever, but the reality is I just haven’t felt like writing.


Ekho Hawk, one of our great helpers and an incredible model, PawPaw, Madison County, NC, 2013.

The break has allowed me the time to ponder some of the good things that have come my way over the last year. There were one-person exhibits at Wake Forest University and the Carrboro Arts Center and group shows at Duke University and the Madison County Arts Council. And, with the help of my irreplaceable assistant Jamie Paul, my work has been included in a number of online photography magazines and websites including,,,, and


Chickencatcher, Samson, Alabama, 1994  from  Way of Nature, Way of Grace     

Chickencatcher, Samson, Alabama, 1994

from Way of Nature, Way of Grace  

And beginning on November 8, six of my photographs will be included in an exhibit titled Way of Nature/Way of Grace, by the Asheville Area Arts Council, at Pink Dog Creative in Asheville’s River Arts District. This show has been organized by my old friend, Ralph Burns, and includes the work of a number of fine photographers – Tim Barnwell, Steve Mann, Brigid Burns, Mike Belleme, Erin Brethauer, Eric Tomberlin, and others, a total of eighteen artists. It’s an impressive group and I’m proud that Ralph chose one of my images for the exhibit announcement. The show explores the unsettled, and often unsettling, relationship between humans and other life on our planet.

I expect to return to the blog soon.


Absent # 2

Having a black bear rubbing against your chest is a hard act to follow, but after leaving Ben and Debbie Kilham, I drove on to western Massachusetts to meet with John Freeman and his sister Jane. They lived on an amazing piece of land, dotted and marked with artifacts and burial grounds from native and settler times. They took me to the original boundary marker that deeded their land to a distant ancestor from Native Americans in the late 16th century. Like many ancestral and historical forests, the Freeman’s land is surrounded by development and they’re under increasing pressure to sell the property because of high land values and corresponding high taxes. I don’t like the word “magical” so much, thinking it overused and easy. But I did, in fact, spend a magical day walking with them and their friends, Archie and Dave, through a primordial landscape in the misting rain.


Top, John and Jane Freeman. Bottom, left, Native Donation Pile, right, John and Jane Freeman with Dave Beyor and Harrison Achilles.

I arrived home to an email from Apple notifying me of a potential hard drive crash and a need to immediately replace it. This is always disconcerting news if, as most photographers in the modern world do, you store your files digitally. That hard drive represents years of work. Thank you for back up – one of technology’s blessings. But my assistant, Jamie Paul, and I also faced production of a large number of prints for an exhibition at the Jameson Gallery at Duke at the end of November. The exhibit, titled Madison County Stories, presented new views of mountain life from myself, Duke University students, and Madison Middle School girls. The students had all participated in the Spring Creek Literacy Project; a summer program with the Duke students acting as mentors to the middle-schoolers in storytelling, writing, and photography. It was a big exhibit – 43 of my prints and 146 student pieces – and while my work was finished and ready to hang, the student work was still in the editing phase and had to be printed and put behind glass. But despite the loss of a week due to the computer repair, and some timely help from Kyndall and MaryRose, we got it finished and down to Durham on the Monday after Thanksgiving. It took us three and a half days to hang it, and the process was not without it’s own drama and intricate mathematical equations. The show looked wonderful and the opening was a big success and well attended. My friends Debbie Chandler and Denise O’Sullivan, who are Dellie’s grandchildren and noted ballad singers in their own right, sang and pretty much stole the show.


Kelsey, Paw Paw Creek, Madison County, NC, 2012, from Madison County Stories.

                              Top, Denise Norton O'Sullivan Singing in the Barn, Sodom Laurel, Madison County, NC, 1976, from SodomSong.

 Bottom, Debbie Norton Chandler Dancing at the Eno River Festival, Durham, NC, 1976, from SodomSong.


I can’t say enough good things about Jamie Paul. In addition to the great work he's been doing with me for the last eighteen months, he's also found time to produce a CD of his music, Let It Mend, which will be available for purchase beginning February 5th at


We decided on a quick turnaround and moved the show to Marshall for a January 18 opening reception at the Madison County Arts Council. Here, the exhibit presented different hanging challenges, and more limited space. Most importantly though, it offered the opportunity to present the work in the place it was created with the individual “artists” and their families in attendance. The reception was packed - teachers and administrators from the school system, politicians, and other members of the community, many of whom were in the photographs. It became more Homecoming than Art Exhibit, highlighted by the student's pride in seeing their work on the gallery walls.

Top, left, Kristina Dixon, right, Cassidy Belcher. Bottom, left, Brittany Norton, right, Makalah Creaseman.

All students are from Madison County Middle School.

It’s good to have work. Assignments, lectures, exhibits, and grants pay bills and provide time to work on personal projects. I’m very fortunate to get to do what I do and I’m grateful for it. Additionally, my work often takes me out to the wider world, to places and with people I would not normally have the chance to see or meet. Throughout my career, photography has provided open windows to diverse, beautiful, inspiring places. I love that that is the case. These trips help me understand that people everywhere are much the same – kind, generous, and helpful – while also possessing strong differences of opinion, speech, and manner. We live on a wildly diverse planet in a wildly tumultuous time. It would seem that flexibility, tolerance, and an ability to adapt will play increasingly important roles in our lives.

Absent # 1

I have been mostly absent from this site since the end of October and I apologize for my longer-than-anticipated leave. Jamie, the young man who works with me, has counseled me about the pitfalls of electronic media. Rule # 1 is not to be absent from your site for very long because people will forget about it, and you. I’ve broken this first, elemental rule.

But in my own defense, it’s been a busy, hectic stretch of time. It began in mid-September with a weeklong trip to Kentucky and Mississippi for the American Forest Foundation. In three different locations, I photographed landowners who participate in the American Tree Farm System, picturing their involvement with their land and forests. Near Bardstown, Kentucky, I spent the day with two Trappist monks, Brothers Conrad and Bartholomew, at the Abbey of Gethsemani. We spoke at length of faith and forests as we walked and rode through the 2,600-acre tree farm they share with other resident monks. At one time over 270 monks lived at the monastery and it operated as a farm, producing most of what the monks consumed, as well as, world-famous fruitcake and cheeses. With fewer than 50 monks now, the farm mostly produces trees, which are managed for production and retreat. The Abbey was home to the Catholic scholar and writer, Thomas Merton, who I know from my Catholic youth. It was an honor to see his home and the spot that inspired much of his writing.

 Top, The wall of Thomas Merton's House. Bottom, left, Brother Conrad, right, Brother Bartholomew. 

That six-day trip was followed soon thereafter by a presentation at Wake Forest University. My talk and accompanying exhibition in the University Library was part of a larger event surrounding the screening of the film, Over Home: Love Songs from Madison County. The film, by Kim Dryden and Joe Cornelius, looks at the evolution of a cappella ballad singing, for which Madison County is a source community. Sheila Kay Adams, the county’s gifted balladeer, storyteller, and writer, is the protagonist in the film and an old friend. I came to the project through my early (ca. 1970s) photographs of singers and musicians in the Sodom community of Madison County, some of which are used in the film, and my continued documentation of the county’s lifestyle and changes, including images of music and the arts.

 Sheila Kay Adams, Sodom, Madison County, NC, 1975, from SodomSong.

From Winston-Salem, I continued on to Duke University and a series of classes, workshops, and lectures as part of my role as a Visiting Artist for the current school year. One of the lectures was at Perkins Library in the Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library. The Library has a significant archive of documentary photography and will eventually house my archive. It’s a perfect venue – small (seats 75,) intimate, couches and comfortable chairs, and good sound – and it was full with a nice mix of students, faculty, and staff. My talk was titled, Bloody Madison, ShatterZone, and the Jewel of the Blue Ridge, and looked at the demographic, cultural, and environmental evolution of Madison County.


 Greg Mosser Singing at Jamie Paul's Birthday Party, Marshall, Madison County, NC, 2010, from ShatterZone.

I returned home for about eight days and then left on a ten-day trip for the Forest Foundation. This trek took me to the northeast and work with another group of tree farmers. My first stop was with Mike and Vivien Fritz who live just west of St. Johnsbury, Vermont, on a beautiful piece of land they’ve groomed with twenty-five miles of cross country ski and snowshoe trails that are open to their entire community for use.

From the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, I drove through the White Mountains in New Hampshire that boast Mt. Washington, second only to North Carolina’s Mt. Mitchell as the tallest peak east of the Mississippi River, and onto the North Family Farm in Canterbury, New Hampshire. Tim Meeh and Jill McCullough’s place had been part of the original Canterbury Shaker Village that dated back to 1792 and the landscape remained rich with the Shaker’s presence – stone walls and boundary markers, mill traces. Tim’s father bought the place in 1950 and it has been a family farm since then. Tim and Jill make syrup from 2,000 tapped maples, sell hay and firewood, and operate completely by wind and solar power. I stayed in their basement apartment for two nights and we found much in common from our present lives, as well as, a shared past from the late sixties and early seventies. It is so nice to be on the road and wind up in a place where you immediately feel at home.


Top, Tim Meeh & Jill McCullough. Bottom left, Replacing sap lines, right, their barn.

From the Shaker Village, I drove across New Hampshire, which isn’t very far, to visit with Ben and Debbie Kilham on their Tree Farm near Lyme. The Kilham’s also make maple syrup, and operate a small saw mill, but Ben is mosly noted for his work with orphaned black bear cubs. He is the state’s certified bear rehabilitator and often has as many as twenty bear cubs roaming in a fenced eight-acre lot behind his house. This stop featured my first, and probably last, opportunity to have a 100-pound cub rubbing its back against my chest. Ben is doing amazing work with orphaned cubs, all of which are released into the wild, and his long-term studies of black bear behavior have broken new ground in our understanding of these incredible creatures that, as Ben’s research has discovered, share more traits with humans than one might imagine. 


 Top, Ben & Debbie Kilham, Middle, left, Discovering a bear den while in the woods marking trees, right, Ben and his sister, Phoebe, walking to the food plot, Bottom, Ben feeding his cubs.

Over Home: Love Songs from Madison County

This post will be followed in a couple of days by "Absent #2."