We Are All Local - Little Worlds - At Paul and Laurie's


Paul (left) with Jim Hampton, Anderson Branch, Madison County, 2018.


Nia Cook.

Harry Rutten.


I've been going to Paul Gurewitz's house for dinner, parties, volleyball in the old days, 4th of July yearly, weddings, farkell, and just hanging out for over forty years. I've made a lot of pictures while there. But more recently, I've found myself shooting fewer photographs, just wanting to give it a rest and enjoy the company. And after a lifetime of making primarily people pictures, the photographs I am making these days are more likely landscapes.

At Paul's last weekend, a small group came over for pizza and pork, and music and singing. I had brought my camera, more out of habit, than with any intention to use it. So I was a little surprised when the light sucked me in; that soft evening light that happens around here, coupled with the softness of a young person's skin. Where's my camera? 

The light on Mr. Rutten was awful, but he got my attention with a version of The Lowland Sea that he just began singing acapella. I remembered the song from my time with Dellie Norton and her family in Sodom, who called it The Golden Vanity. Like Mr. Rutten they sang without accompaniment and somehow remembered the numerous verses.

And I'm just beginning to know this guy Jim Hampton. But he knew most of the words of my favorite Willie Nelson song, Hands on the Wheel, from the Red Headed Stranger album. It's kind of an obscure song and not many people play it. So, the fact he knew the song and could make a go of it helped turn the evening into another successful Gurewitz event.



We Are All Local - Little Worlds


Anna with Child, Little Pine, Madison County, NC 2018

I've had the good fortune to know Anna Woodruff since the day she was born, almost 38 years ago. And now look at her, almost barefoot, and certainly pregnant. And glowing. I have photographs of Anna as a young child, growing up on Big Pine, and she has that same irrepressible smile and openess in those images from long ago that she has today. I can't wait to meet her and Marco's baby. 

There is a long and storied tradition of giving quilts for births, weddings and friendship in our little Madison County community, one that has been ongoing for forty years. This quilt is not so much a part of that community tradition, but a gesture of love from Anna's sister, Jenny, and her close friend, Olivia Shealy. The design is called Bargello, a quilting term today that originated in Italy in the 17th Century as needlepoint embroidery. This was Jenny and Olivia's first attempt at using this pattern.

Quilts are not only physical coverings, but are also symbolic embraces from the community that made it. An offering of protection. Of warmth. Of comfort. What I love, as a person whose son received one of the first quilts made in the community, is the continuation of the tradition. That quilt from 38 years ago was organized by Anna's mother Libby. 

Marco looked at me, patted Anna's belly, and said, 
"Look what I've done, Rob."

I think of Joni Mitchell.

Olivia, Jenny, Anna, and Anna's partner Marco Buch with Quilt, Little Pine, Madison County, NC 2018


Moments of Clarity


Fireworks, Matt and Taylor's wedding, Old Ground Farm, Big Pine, Madison County, NC 2016

There was a moment in time recently when it hit me. I was at the Marshall Fashion show, photographing a swirling group of young people, modeling clothing made by other community members. So beautiful, and assured, and clearly in control. It was sweaty hot, the audience was packed, cheering wildly, moving too to Erich and Danni's driving beat. I thought, "I am really old and this is no longer my world."

I've had more than a few such moments of clarity lately; brief flashes of understanding in a world gripped by transition and disruption. As if to say, "So this is what the world will look like."

There was the bittersweet moment of Jamie's leaving. But, today, gone a week, he called and we chatted long, our normal weekly update for so long now.

The melancholy of my own children - the eldest clearly, and happily, on his own path in his own place. Child #2 taking the necessary steps we all know toward her own world. But me, thinking of times not long ago when it was the four of us here, always. And missing that.

Fay, the kindest of mothers-in-law, on her own journey, sometimes here, with us, but more often in her own world of increasing darkness.

The loss of relationships, once close, that have fallen victim to our disjointed times and a sense, an acceptance really, of who I am as a person. "How," I wonder, "did we ever stay friends so long?"

At Matt and Taylor's wedding party, it's light passing through a dress that first catches my eye. Like a moth, I'm drawn to such things. It blends with the flowing arc overhead, framing the music, highlighting the party. And then the gift arrives, the moment of clarity. It comes from stage left. Comfort for an old person that life will not only continue, but a particular community and way of life will also move forward.


At Matt and Taylor's wedding reception, Old Ground Farm, Big Pine, Madison County, NC 2016