In the Woods

I spent several years living in Alfred, NY.

In Allegany County, Alfred is in a remote and undeveloped part of New York State.

Originally, I was overwhelmed by the prospect of living there, but also found an interest in the unique and rugged landscape of the region.  Periodically, I found inspiration in the land, fueling my photography.

These photographs were made largely during the spring of 2000, with an 8×10 view camera I bought from the photographer Nicholas Nixon. Amongst other things, these pictures were also a printing experiment – all are contact prints toned with thiourea (or thiocarbamide).

While making these photographs, I often went back to read the famous poem by Theodore Roethke, The Far Field:

I dream of journeys repeatedly:/Of flying like a bat deep into a narrowing tunnel,/Of driving alone, without luggage, out a long peninsula,/The road lined with snow-laden second growth,/A fine dry snow ticking the windshield,/Alternate snow and sleet, no on-coming traffic,/And no lights behind, in the blurred side-mirror,/The road changing from glazed tarface to rubble of stone,/Ending at last in a hopeless sand-rut,/Where the car stalls,/Churning in a showdrift/Until the headlights darken.

I never ventured too far from my house or car, mostly photographing in the tangles of branches and wild-flowers along the highways and creek beds.

At the field’s end, in the corner missed by the mower,/Where the turf drops off into grass-hidden culvert,/Haunt of the cat-bird, nesting-place of the field-mouse,/Not far from the ever-changing flower-dump,/Among the tin cans, tires, rusted pipes broken machinery,-/One learned of the eternal.

The camera I bought from Nick has its limitations, fixed to only shoot horizontal images.  And the only lens I had for it was too small – more for a 4×5 than an 8×10 – making it easier to photograph close-ups, rather than broad perspectives of the landscape.

I learned not to fear infinity,/The far field, the windy cliffs of forever,/The dying of time in the white light of tomorrow,/The wheel turning away from itself,/The sprawl of the wave,/The on-coming water.

The thiocarbamide toner was interesting and fun to use.  It was erratic, and hard to do the same thing twice, but offered lovely, rich tones.  Perfectly imperfect.

All finite things reveal infinitude:/The mountain with its singular bright shade/Like the blue shine on freshly frozen snow,/The after-light upon ice-burdened pines;/Odor of basswood on a mountain-slope,/A scent of beloved bees;/Silence of water above a sunken tree:/The pure serene of memory in one man,-/A ripple widening from a single stone/Winding around the waters of the world.

The Rothke poem is also lovely, with wonderful metaphors about landscape, seasons, and self.


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