When I was a child we moved into a ‘development.’ It was the 1960’s and these new homes sat of two acre lots carved from an orchard. They featured hardwood floors, solid six-panel doors and wall paper (a modern luxury that seems to have given way to Martha Stewart paint schemes and stenciling just below the ceiling.) We joined 4-H and bought sheep and horses. There was no place at home for them so we boarded at the abandoned barn of the farmer who had sold the orchard.
When I reached high school I discovered the magic of photography. The progressive regional school, recently built near the neighborhood, was staffed by young, teachers who offered classes and after-school activities that were just beginning to be recognized as important in the early 1970s. My class was assigned to pick a current song and do a photo essay based on the words. I chose Neil Young’s “Old Man.” I took my first SLR camera and set out to do justice to the lyrics. Later, I pasted the photos to a cardboard three-fold frame and painstakingly hand wrote the words next to them.
The first glimpse of those sheets of photo paper floating in the fixing bath had a strange effect on me. I felt time had stopped and I captured what my eye had seen forever. Though the negatives are long lost, those first grainy images lead me to this point where photography will always be a thread in my life. I will try to show you the images with words…
I photographed the elderly gentleman farmer, from the knees down. His feet were shod in worn but polished and neatly tied, sturdy Oxfords. The rough wool of his pin-striped serge trousers was the perfect texture to sooth his marmalade cat who rubbed against his shins. His wooden cane was gnarled but straight and mirrored the striped of his thick wool pants. Though his face was never revealed in the grainy print, his persona was clear.
I’ve been first and last
Look at how the time goes past.
But I’m all alone at last.
Rolling home to you.
Old man take a look at my life I’m a lot like you
I need someone to love me the whole day through
Ah, one look in my eyes and you can tell that’s true.
The other shot etched into my memory is of the weathered windmill that stood at the bottom of his field. It ran the pump in the well-house before there was running water from the town. The weathered, gray shingles were curled and the structure tilted slightly. Color would not have improved this shot in any way.
The cover of The Sun magazine this month reminded me of what those photos felt like as I birthed them in chemicals. What I would give to see that sheet of cardboard again…