We Are All Local - Jerry

I've wanted to photograph our neighbor Jerry Moore for many years, but it's never worked out. We see each mostly on the road below our house, me walking, him riding, and it isn't often. And when we do meet up, I either don't have a camera with me, or he's in a hurry to get to his girlfriend's house in Asheville, or he just doesn't feel like it. But the other day I was at the bottom of our driveway on the last leg of my walk, and they stopped to visit. We caught up on neighborhood news, laughed a lot. Jerry's had some health issues lately - heart, diabetes - so my wanting to photograph him was weighing on my mind. I wanted some tangible memory. I had my iPhone with me and asked if I could make his picture. He joked about breaking my camera, but was more than agreeable. He did complain about not having combed his hair. His girlfriend said, "Jerry, you never comb your hair."

Jerry Moore, PawPaw, Madison County, NC 2017

I'm not sure which photograph I like better. Entirely different looks from the same face. I sense Jerry would like the color image. He's more open, positive, happy, flirtatious. The color makes him look younger. It is him at his most appealing. But I also know the black and white side of him, as real as the other. Darker, more suspicious, more hidden.

I like Jerry. I like the color Jerry and I like the black/white Jerry. I like the diversity he brings to my life. He helps me realize not everyone is like me and how fortunate I am to live in a place where I am reminded of that every day.

 

Jerry Moore, PawPaw, Madison County, NC 2017

 

On Sheila's Porch

 

On Sheila's Porch, Madison County, NC 07/09/16

I say to students, 
Look beyond the subject to the background. 
See that it's not interfering or
competing.
But rather, enhancing and completing.
Sometimes you'll be surprised
And pleased by what you find.

And so it was on Sheila Kay's porch.
Me, making portraits.
Her, on the swing.
Quiet, pensive, assured.
Dreamy.
Like the background behind,
A reflection of the reality before.
A contemplation of her.
 

 

The Magazine

 

In addition to the new "Goin' On" tab that we just included in the "Me" section of my website, today we're introducing a "Magazine" tab located in the "Blog" section of the site. This magazine is dynamic in that it will change regularly. This first edition represents a mixture of my blog entries that contain the tag "Appalachia." 

 

More Scapes

This week we've added more photographs to the Scapes gallery and invite all of you to take a look. I've mentioned previously my renewed interest in landscape photography after spending the majority of my career photographing people and cultural situations. Not only did I not do many "rock and tree" images, but I would regularly downplay their relevance. I'm not sure what has changed in me, but something has, and I offer these examples of a growing involvement.

robamberg.com/scapes

Cannon Beach, OR 2014

Cannon Beach, OR 2014

ShatterZone - Marshall, 1981

 

Marshall, Madison County, NC 1981

for Roger May

I've always wondered about billboards like the one above. Who are Linda and Eddie, and Edward and Tisha? We're invited into their lives, but to what end? We barely know them. What is the message here and what prompted it? What is the story? If it's truly a heartfelt tale of love and family, why is it voiced in such a public venue? And what of the postscript - is it more of an afterthought? And, ultimately, was the message successful? Did Linda keep the faith? Was she convinced of Eddie's love? Were Edward and Tisha left with a feeling of love from their father? Or were they all just words on a sign?

 

Adventures with Kate, Pt.1

 

Jamie and I have been working on website additions and redesign the past few weeks. This new gallery is the first of our published efforts. There will be more changes in upcoming weeks so keep your eyeballs peeled. 

click on photo below to view full gallery:

On the Road, PawPaw, 1993.

On the Road, PawPaw, 1993.

 

A Response

Yesterday, I posted a link on my Facebook page to an article written by photographer Roger May that deals with a confrontation between a photographer and residents of a small community in West Virginia. At the time of the incident, I wrote a response that was not published. I've included it here.

 

The Four Elements

Rob Amberg

For the longest time I’ve thought of photography as a dialogue between four distinct, and often competing, elements - the photographer, his tools, the subject, and the viewer. I’ve also come to understand that omitting or favoring any of these elements is riskier than it might appear.

I bring this up because I’ve been reading with interest two recently published articles about photography. The first, in the April 19 edition of the New York Times Magazine, was written by the legendary photographer Sally Mann and deals with the complex relationship between viewers of her art, the subjects of that work, and the maker of it.

The second article was written by photographer Roger May for the April 21 online edition of Photo District News. May details an incident in West Virginia where two young photographers, a brother and sister, were surrounded and confronted by angry townspeople who accused them of photographing without permission, visual theft, so to speak.

The articles are long, but well worth the time. They speak to issues that will only become more relevant as imagery plays a more significant role in our lives. They are linked below.

As full disclosure, I’ve known and admired Sally Mann and her work for over thirty years. I’ve known Roger May for the last five years and serve on the advisory board for his Looking at Appalachia Project.

Photography is unique in the arts for its dependence on an external reality in the making of the image. Quite simply, we have to have some thing to photograph. For most of photography’s short lifespan, the public has been encouraged to accept photographs as truth, that there is no difference between these superficial representations on paper and reality itself. “Photographs don’t lie, they’re just like being there,” is the constant refrain.

Photographers will be the first to tell you that photographs do lie. Made in an instant, they offer a fleeting glimpse into a framed landscape of life with nothing of the feel, smell, or touch of the real thing. Decisions about point-of-view, cropping, timing, detail and so many other variables are all controlled by the photographer and subject to his whims, prejudices, and cultural DNA. But even with this subjective mix of ingredients, we still assume, to the point of belief, that what is pictured actually happened.

Sally Mann has been dealing with this disconnect since publication of her book Immediate Family in 1992, which included nude photographs of her three children in romanticized landscapes. While Mann’s sensual images are exquisite renderings, moments in time, she maintains they are nothing more. But she has weathered scores of comments and letters questioning her motherhood, her common sense, and even her children’s likeability. At one point she was told by a FBI agent to keep a loaded shotgun close at hand should a persistent stalker choose to act. Talk about suffering for your art.

Roger May’s story from West Virginia is almost predictable in its telling and it seems that everyone involved was victimized by cultural insensitivities. One can only feel badly and scared for the two photographers. In our country we are allowed to photograph in public venues and would assume we’d be able to do so without threat. But the residents of any community should be able to say no to invasion by camera and be free from representation by people unknown to them, with agendas they can only imagine.

There is a moment from years ago. I had an exhibit at the old Asheville Art Museum of my early work from the Sodom community. I was intent on Dellie, the protagonist of my book Sodom Laurel Album, seeing the show. The appointed day was cold, gray, and threatening snow and she clearly didn’t want to go. But we stopped to eat dinner in town and the sky cleared some. As we walked into the dark basement of the Civic Center and into the Art Museum, she gave a hard look at a metal sculpture of a dinosaur in the lobby. “What kind of a place is this?” She questioned. But she followed me to the gallery, and once there, her mood lightened. At home with neighbors and kin, she became more animated and freely interacted with the pictures. “Why, Marthie looks worried about something. Somethin’ has give her the headache.” Or, “Thar’s Junior at the High Rock. He tried to hide and scare John Rountree when they walked up there. He was always doing stuff like that.” For Dellie, the photographs were personal and real, a part of her personal past, and less about art or history. As we were leaving, she said, “Those pictures were real plain. I knew them every one. But I just don’t understand why a place such as this would want a picture of me hangin’ in it.”

Photographs are ambiguous creatures, full of factual information and imagined meaning. When I began my career in photography over 40 years ago, I was told of societies that believed the making of someone’s photograph was akin to the stealing of that person’s soul. I ignored that maxim and thought it nothing but the superstitious belief of unenlightened people. But I’ve come to understand the wisdom in those words - that stealing souls is precisely what photographers do although they might call it something less inflammatory, like capturing someone’s essence.

Whatever we choose to call them, photographs are ubiquitous today and the number of photographs made daily is eye-numbing. Most everyone is armed with a cell phone and we’ve clearly become a visual society. But we have only an elementary understanding of the unique power of photographs and how they work. Photography has forged social movements, helped end wars and careers, and taught us about our basic humanity. As individuals, images have moved us to tears, to anger, to action, to purchase, to lust, and to remember. We don’t quite know how or why pictures spark this entire range of emotions, but we know that they do. Does it have to do with the photographer, or the subject, the composition and light, the viewer himself, or some combination of elements?

Until we - photographers, subjects, and viewers - learn to see and understand the workings and the doings of this complex mix of elements, we will continue dealing with face-offs in West Virginia and assaults on our cultural treasures.

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/19/magazine/the-cost-of-sally-manns-exposure.html?smprod=nytcore-ipad&smid=nytcore-ipad-share

http://www.pdnonline.com/features/Why-a-Confrontation-Between-Photographers-and-Locals-Turned-Ugly-in-Appalachia-13417.shtml

At Linda Hessman's

 

At Linda Creaseman's, with Farm Aid, Dodge City, Kansas 2015

Out walking while Charlie and Brooke do the interview with Linda.
In many ways these are my favorite times on these trips of ours.
The walks. Alone. Quiet. No thoughts of others. 
Some miles across an open field, pocked with prairie dog holes.
Moments without a schedule.
In a new place. One where I've never been.
Alert. Allowing life to come to me.

 

Appalachia Now

I'm pleased to have one of my photographs on the cover of this new Anthology of Appalachian short stories published by Bottom Dog Press. The photograph of Natassia Rae is one in a new series of portraits I'm doing of some of the young people who have come into our lives over the last few years. This is a dual honor for me - having my work associated with this wonderful group of authors and an exceptional small press, and, the opportunity to spend time with an amazing group of people far younger than I. 

Appalachia Now

Short Stories of Contemporary Appalachia

Editors: Larry Smith and Charles Dodd White

Just Out ~ June 2015

Authors: Darnell Arnoult, Rusty Barnes, Matt Brock, Taylor Brown, Chris Holbrook, David Joy, Marie Manilla, Charles Dodd White, Mesha Maren, Carrie Mullins, Chris Offutt, Mark Powell, Jon Sealy, Savannah Sipple, Jacinda Townsend,  Meredith Sue Willis

Appalachia Now is an essential and necessary collection of stories. For too many, the people of Appalachia are little more than stereotypes. Appalachia Now undoes that injustice by representing the real people of Appalachia today without forgetting that we can’t help but be shaped by our geography. Appalachia is as much a character here as are any of these diverse, complex, troubled characters. This collection is a delving—an invitation into a world often represented by pop culture, but seldom as authentically nor as skillfully as by the writers herein. ~Jeff Vande Zande

“The geologic entry to the Appalachian foothills… had a foreboding quality, a warning to travelers that the world beyond was very different.” So states Chris Offutt in his story, “Back Porch.” His and other stories collected in Appalachia Now serve to hammer the point home like a coal miner’s pick or a fist to the jaw.” ~Christina Lovin

178 pgs. $17 from us direct.

 *This book is a follow-up to the best selling Degrees of Elevation anthology published by Bottom Dog Press in 2010.

  • $17.00

From Lee's Levee

 

From the Levee in Lee Walker's Front Yard, Ninth Ward, New Orleans, LA 2015

Sometimes, when a photographer is lucky and standing in the right spot, when his timing, too, is spot on, he can produce an image that causes a viewer to look twice. It often has to do with framing and point-of-view, and how you transform a three-dimensional subject into a two-dimensional representation on paper or screen. It's part of the magic of photography - the ability to make someone ask, "What is going on here?" 

I love pictures that are based in fact, that are believable. I want to come away from a picture and assume what I've just looked at actually happened and has an identifiable reality. But I most like photographs that tell stories, ones that take that reality, that evidence, and give it a twist, a blur, a ghostly presence that encourages more stories, new perspectives, and perhaps different ways of seeing well-worn subjects. 

Click the photograph to enlarge, it needs to be big.

 

When a Place Reminds You

 

Highway 212, Olivia, Minnesota, 2015

This for my friend - tie and vest maker, country girl, part of the family - Olivia Shealy. As we drove through this small town in western Minnesota, I could only think of you. It's the Corn Capital after all and you're kind of corny. And I'm sure you grow corn in your garden. We all do. And I think I once saw you wear your hair in a fashion similar to the ear on the building. But I don't know. I think I just saw the name of the town and thought of you, and that was gift enough. 

 

Jamie

 

Jamie Paul, in my studio, PawPaw, Madison County, NC 2013

It's a rare thing when a person enters your life who profoundly influences you toward new thinking and action. When that happens in one's later years, with the tendency to become fixed in our ways, it's even better. And when the person is young, more than half your age, that's the sweetest of all.

I'm not going to list the details. To do so would make this an extra long post and one of the things Jamie keeps hammering in my head is to keep these ramblings of mine short. The secret is in the edit. 

Thank you, Jamie.

Oh, yes, jamiepaulmusic.com

 
 

Jamie at Old Ground Farm, Big Pine, Madison County, NC, 2013

 

Walking near Granite Falls

 

Walking near Granite Falls, Minnesota, 2015

High overhead it's bright sun.
Flattening the already flattened landscape.
So subtle a rise just ahead. For an instant,
it's enough to cut off the distant horizon.
1/250th of a second worth. 
I'm more interested in the landscape than I used to be. 
For years it was always people. 
People doing this, people doing that.
But lately, it's the land that has caught my eye.
And held it.  

 

Pictures and Words

 

At the Democratic Party Fish Fry, Marshall, Madison County, NC 1990

This has long been one of my all-time favorite pictures. The way it moves. The moment in time. The gesture and posture. The audience. The framing. Loose and spontaneous. 

I will be leading a workshop at Doe Branch Ink, just off of Big Pine, in Madison County, NC, from June 14 to June 20. The workshop is open to anyone, but would be especially interesting for both writers and photographers. The setting is ideal - quiet and stunningly beautiful, with perfect hosts and good grub. You will sleep well and be stimulated to be creative.

People have asked what I plan to do, or teach at this workshop. My work is largely about place and man's response to particular spots in the world. It is also about time and how time affects those places and communities. I tell those stories about those subjects with pictures and words. I find myself consistently fascinated by the joining of the two mediums. How words can complement a photograph through an extended caption, or a poem, or with no words at all. And how an image can inform a story with documentary fact, or an individual point of view, or surreal renderings of reality. I think about this stuff a fair amount, as sick as that may sound.

My hope for the workshop is for a healthy ongoing discussion and that participants come away with new ideas, new work, and a new appreciation of time and place. 

          http://doebranchink.org/






 

Land Such As That

 

Eastern North Carolina Farmland, 2015

Traveling in eastern North Carolina with Farm Aid, it's easy enough to notice the soil down here near Tarboro is unlike ours in the mountain west of the state. On North Carolina's coastal plain, the dirt is rich and deep and loamy, teeming with nutrients, both present-day and millennia old. It's not unusual to find bits of seashells or even maritime fossils from a time when the ocean covered the whole region. Fields are big and flat enough to lay a level to them. One farmer we visited asked me, “Do you have many rocks up your way?”

“Rocks,” I answered. “That’s what we grow best in the mountains. Rocks. You can plow a field in an hour or two and then spend half a day hauling rocks to the edge of it. Disc it the next day, get a little rain on it, and you’ve got a whole new crop, without adding any fertilizer.”

“I wouldn’t know what to do with land such as that,” he said.

 

Blurred Memory

 

Highway 111, eastern North Carolina, 2015.

When I was a young boy my family would take trips to the beach in Florida. My father insisted we leave early in the morning to beat the DC traffic and the afternoon heat of southern summers without air-conditioning. We would drive on Highways 1 and 301 through Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia.

I liked riding shotgun and my memory is of my face pressed against the side window, making imaginary pictures of the blurred, yet coherent landscape with a simple blink of my eye; images fixed in a particular spot while seamlessly moving through it.

Traveling through eastern North Carolina this past week, on Highway 111 between Tarboro and Oak City, documenting the lives of farmer advocates for Farm Aid, my mind drifted back to those drives almost sixty years ago. What’s changed since then? And what hasn’t? What remains familiar? And what is now foreign? The sky, the smell, and the open and expansive topography are as if they’ve stood still in time, the same as I remember. But those constants are but a background to a new and changed landscape with fewer people, boarded up towns, and huge farms, one unlike my memory of a faded past.

 

SS #4

 

SS #4, PawPaw.

There were many times in my career, applying for grants or fellowships, when I would make color transparencies of my black & white prints.  The slides offered the opportunity to blow the images up to giant size on the wall or screen and also to throw the projected image in and out of focus to see what the abstraction might resemble. I loved watching the picture move from sharp to blur and back sharp again, the scene changing from two-dimensional reality to streaks of light and dark.

These screen shots I've been posting the last few weeks are similar to the others in their desire to leave the realm of the known.