Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas lights - Creswell, North Carolina 

Christmas Day Journey

When I was growing up, Christmas was a special time of year. Our house was alive with cooking and baking, decorating and the smell of fresh cut cedar.  My mother loved celebrating the season but her thoughts always turned to her aging parents and she longed to return to the house in the mountains where she grew up.

So every Christmas day until my grandparents died in 1963, we opened our presents, had a special Christmas breakfast and packed the car for the trip "home" to see my grandparents. In the 1950s, the trip took over eight hours and we would arrive after dark. Aunts and uncles sat in the overheated "parlor" to talk, while the cousins gathered in the kitchen, still warm from the fire in the cast-iron cook-stove, to compare Christmas bounty.

Later, we were all sent to sleep on cots or pallets on the floor in the attic room, warmed by the stone chimney that rose through the center of the house. I would lay awake in the dark and listen to the faint sounds of the grown-ups downstairs, and the winter wind in the mountains outside the single attic window.

But what I remember best about those Christmases was our small family, traveling together in the car along the two lane roads into the Virginia mountains. I remember the names of  the towns along the way:  Culpeper, Madison, Brightwood, Charlottesville, Waynesboro, Stuarts Draft, Greenville, Lexington, Natural Bridge.

Christmas decorations lit the way through each town, but the store windows were dark and the streets deserted. In the failing winter light, the road was lonely and a bit sad, but we were taking Mom home for Christmas.


Thanks for reading Photography In Place. We will be taking a short break next week, but will resume our regular publishing schedule on January 3, 2011. Hope you will stop by for a visit in the new year.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Cardinal and holly -Greene County, Virginia 

Best wishes for a 
Joyful Christmas Season
and a Prosperous New Year

Seasons Greetings from the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. Tomorrow we will publish our last post of 2010 titled "Christmas Day Journey."

We are going to take a few days off  next week, but will resume posting on January 3, 2011. Thanks for reading Photography in Place, and please stop by for a visit in the new year.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Service Station - Creswell, North Carolina 

The sun is low in the southern sky this time of year, and the light is good for photography throughout the day. Except for the cold, it is a great time to be out with a camera. Brooks Jensen, the editor of Lenswork magazine has some interesting thoughts on the subject in this podcast, Winter Light.


If you enjoy looking at old photos, take a look at this gallery of vintage Christmas photos on Shorpy. Click on the pictures in the gallery to see a larger version of the photo along with a short description. These old pictures are bound to bring back some memories of Christmases past.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

W.H. Snowden General Merchandise - Currituck, North Carolina

December 21, 2010

There are just four days of Christmas shopping left. There was a time when most, if not all Christmas shopping would take place in a  general store much like the one pictured above. It was certainly a simpler time, with no trips to the crowded mall, no need to visit dozens of stores to find the right gift. You just hoped that Mr. Snowden could keep a Christmas secret.

The Winter Solstice, the beginning of winter and the shortest day of the year in the northern hemisphere, occurs this evening at 6:38 pm EST. Worldwide, there are dozens of festivals and ceremonies centered around the beginning of winter.

In 2010, a rare Lunar eclipse accompanies the Winter Solstice. It was visible in North America and the western half of South America starting at 1:33 a.m. eastern time this morning.

Update: If you missed the eclipse last night, take a look at Ctein's Post Eclipse Report over on The Online Photographer for a description of the event and some great photographs.

Monday, December 20, 2010

View from plantation house - Somerset Place, North Carolina

This picture was taken from the third floor window overlooking the gardens at Somerset Place. In the middle of the 19th century, this view was no doubt very different, but the interesting thing to me is that it could have looked this way 150 years ago. Stand at this window today and there is nothing that would have seemed unusual or out of place in 1860. There are no power lines, automobiles, paved roads, parking lots or fast food restaurants in sight. Of course, the camera can be selective, but one of the pleasures of a visit to Somerset Place is that once you leave your car and walk into the compound, there is almost nothing that seems inconsistent with the period. It seems a place set apart.

See more about Somerset Place here and here.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Winter - Milltail Creek 

When I arrived on North Carolina's Outer Banks last Thursday night, the temperature was 26° F and Currituck Sound was fringed with ice. The weather conditions did not seem promising for another visit to the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge for further explorations of Milltail Creek in the inflatable boat. We had spent two days at Alligator River in October (see here and here) and wanted to make one more trip this year.

Friday morning was warmer, the sun was shining and there was little wind. With forecast temperatures in the mid to upper forties, we set out for the mainland with the boat in the back of the truck. When we reached the launching area at the end of Buffalo City Road, there were patches of ice on the ground, but the water was free of ice, and we launched the boat in the cold morning air.

The morning was quiet. There was no wildlife to be seen; even the birds were still. Along the swampy shore, the dull orange of the cypress and the evergreen foliage provided the winter color, more subtle but just as lovely as the lush colors of fall. The low winter sun came and went behind the thin clouds, making the scene look warm and peaceful one minute, cold and gray the next.

We stopped and ate lunch on a small clump of dry land at the base of a large cypress tree and enjoyed the quiet and a peaceful sense of being surrounded by nature. Other than our small boat, there was no man-made object in view.

By three o'clock, the sun was already low in the sky, and the temperature was starting to drop. For a few brief moments, the sun found an opening in the clouds, and Milltail Creek was flooded with golden light.  It was a perfect ending to another great day. 

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Somerset Place - Creswell, North Carolina

From 1785 to 1865, Somerset Place was one of the south's largest plantations. Today, seven original buildings remain, including the plantation home. Pictured above is the plantation hospital on the left, and a reconstructed slave cabin on the right.

A light rain was falling when we arrived at the site, and I photographed in the rain until I was too soggy to carry on. The winter light in the late afternoon was soft and the colors were enhanced by the rain. We were the only visitors and in the quiet and the rain, the nineteenth century seemed closer than the twenty-first.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Saturday afternoon - Washington County, North Carolina  

Last week I had the opportunity to spend a couple of days in North Carolina. Friday we made a winter trip on Milltail Creek in the inflatable boat, and I will be posting about that later. It rained on Saturday and we were not able to get out in the boat, so we spent the day on the mainland west of Manteo and visited Somerset Place, an antebellum plantation. The picture above was taken on the road leading to Somerset.

Please visit Photography In Place Print Gallery to purchase a print of "Saturday Afternoon"

Friday, December 10, 2010

Thursday, December 9, 2010

For The Birds . . .

I am not a nature photographer, but several times a year I haul out my tripod and cantankerous old 80-320mm zoom lens and take some bird pictures. This activity is usually motivated by a new visitor at the feeder, such as the recently spotted rufous towhee.

Photographing birds is not easy. Right off the bat, there's the problem of getting close enough. Even with a long telephoto lens, songbirds are small. Creeping up on birds is almost impossible so you sit around and get cramped and out of sorts before the birds decide you are a part of the scenery and come in close enough to photograph.

Cardinals turn up unexpectedly
 The next problem is getting the birds to stay still long enough to take a picture. With some birds, patience and anticipation combined with a fast shutter wins the day. Often enough, luck is your only friend, and with some birds, even luck is not much help. I have never taken an unblurred picture of the tireless and nervous titmouse. And even if the bird does stay still, camera shake at long focal lengths is likely to produce some blurry shots, and in all probability, the shot with the best pose and light will be one of the blurry ones.

Who's got the focus?
If that is not enough, consider the problems of focus. In order to minimize the effects of camera shake and flitting birds, you select a fast shutter speed. Working in natural light, this almost always means a fairly wide apeture which reduces the depth of field to somewhere around about 1/64 inch. What you get is a tack sharp beak tip in the middle of a vaguely bird-shaped ball of fuzz. And what about focusing? My sixty-some year old eyes are not too reliable, and the camera's auto-focus is not to be trusted. Just as I get ready to snap the shutter, the camera, whirring and grinding, shifts focus to a chinaberry tree on the other side of the yard. The bird flies away.

It is really all too much. So after a couple of hundred exposures, I put the tripod away and hope that luck will have intervened to give me one or two useable pictures. I am not a nature photographer, but I sure would like to have a nice picture of that towhee. I wonder if taxidermy is real expensive?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Abandoned camp - Milltail Creek - Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge

The photo above was taken during my trip to North Carolina in October. This building on the water's edge  was the only man-made structure we saw on Milltail Creek that day. It appears to be accessible only by water, and was probably a hunt club or fish camp. We did not attempt to go inside. The structure is partially collapsed and did not look too safe, and there were rusty nails sticking out all over. We kept our distance, not wanting to risk a puncture in the inflatable boat. There was a lot of swamp between us and home.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

C&O Freight house - Gordonsville, Virginia  

My visit to Mitchener Station in North Carolina (see yesterday's post) reminded me of the C&O freight house in nearby Gordonsville. In size and construction, the two buildings are very alike. The Gordonsville freight house is an old Chesapeake and Ohio building. It was moved about 200 feet to its present location 6 years ago and the local historical society is pursuing renovation, but there has been little visible progress. The track is part of the old Piedmont Subdivision, and is now leased by the Buckingham Branch Railroad.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Mitchener Station - Selma, North Carolina 

Last week I took a road trip to Charleston, South Carolina to see the grandchildren. Traveling south at this time of year is a bit like going back in time to the weather we experienced here in Virginia four weeks ago. The trees still had some color too.

On the way back, I stopped for lunch in Selma, North Carolina. Selma is a railroad town that grew up around the North Carolina Railroad in the 1860s. Mitchener Station was built in 1855 and is thought to be the oldest surviving train station in North Carolina.

The outskirts of Selma are littered with fast food restaurants and the kind of growth that is common along Interstate 95. But the town itself is well preserved and has a nice "small town" feel.  For an ongoing photographic journal of the town, visit Selma Daily Photo.

The day was cool but not uncomfortable and walking around town for a few minutes made a nice break from driving. These pictures of the station were made with the Pentax K10D. I also shot some black and white film with the Pentax MX but haven't finished the roll yet. After eating in Selma, I drove straight through, and got home in Virginia just after dark.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Monday, November 29, 2010

Airport Hotel, Charlottesville, Virginia 

The Airport Motel had already been torn down to make way for a Walgreen's Drug Store when I took this picture of the sign. When we first came here more than twenty years ago, the motel was already old and run down and renting rooms by the week. It was a low, white block structure that sat on a bank above the road. The bank was cut away and this corner today bears no resemblance to the corner occupied by the Airport Motel. The old sign was taken down shortly after this photograph was made.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Do not - Remington, Virginia 

I have a particular fondness for photographs that include signs and next week we will be looking at some pictures where signs play a prominent role. I hope you will stop by for a visit. Thanks for reading Photography In Place.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving morning, 1959

Before dawn, Dad and I sat in the kitchen, dressed in our warmest hunting clothes. The coffee pot was burping on the stove and we ate breakfast in a hurry. We wanted to be in the woods at first light.

In the woods near our house was a large sawdust pile, surrounded by stacks of rotting slab-wood. It was a good place to hunt and after breakfast we set off in the cold morning air together. I was twelve years old, and happy to have Dad all to myself for a few hours.

We split up when we got to the sawdust pile. I found a spot on a slight rise and sat down to wait for daybreak. The cold air settled around me. I could hear Dad moving on the other side of the sawdust pile.

It was going to be a good Thanksgiving. My grandmother was staying with us for a few weeks. When I was a small child, I called her Dash. Nobody knows where that name came  from, but it stuck. After my grandfather died, Dash moved around, staying with family members, making on and off attempts at housekeeping and being always unsettled. I loved Dash with all my heart and was overjoyed when she came to stay with us. Our small kitchen never seemed as cozy and happy as when I would come home from school and find Dash helping mother prepare supper.

The sky behind the trees on the ridge was getting light.  I sat and watched the sun struggle to shine through a thin layer of gray clouds. It always seems coldest right at daybreak. The Tastykake jingle kept going through my head. My mind was not on the hunt, but on our Thanksgiving dinner. My anticipation was heightened by the cold morning air.

Later that morning, I heard Dad coming through the woods. I could see his red and black flannel hunting cap.  The ear-flaps were down.  I walked around the end of a slab pile and met him under a large beech tree that had been left by the loggers. The squirrels had been cutting beech nuts and the ground was littered with their feast.

    "Did you see anything?" Dad asked.
     "No, sir."
     "Me either. Cold?"
     "I'm OK." I thought about Mom at home in the warm kitchen preparing our Thanksgiving dinner. I wondered if Dash was in the living room watching the Thanksgiving Day Parade on TV.
     "Well, I'm about to freeze to death." Dad said.
     "Me too."
    Dad jacked the shells out of his unfired shotgun. "Come on," he said. "Let's go home."

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

George Gilmore cabin, 1873 - Montpelier, Virginia 

George Gilmore was born a slave in 1810 at Montpelier, the home of James Madison, the "Father of the Constitution" and 4th President of the United States. At the end of the American Civil War, Gilmore was freed and in 1873 he and his wife Polly built this cabin on land leased from Dr. James Madison, President Madison's great nephew. Archeologists believe stones and timber for the construction of the cabin may have been salvaged from an Confederate encampment that previously occupied this site.

The Gilmore family prospered and in 1901 purchased 16 acres of land surrounding their home. George Gilmore died in 1905 at the age of 95 and members of his family occupied the cabin into the 1930s.

Read more about Montpelier and the Gilmore family here.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Winter comes to the mountains - Madison County, Virginia

Even though Winter does not officially start until December, Thanksgiving marks the end of Fall. The fields are barren, nights are getting longer and mornings are covered with frost. Soon gray clouds will climb over the mountains from the west, heavy with cold winter rains, or the first flurries of snow.

Thanksgiving is the time to store up the fruits of the season and remember the smell of autumn leaves, but the sun is pale in the southern sky and the mountains look lonely and cold through the bare trees.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Last surviving Japanese Maple leaves - Greene County, Virginia 

Heavy rain and wind last week stripped the Japanese Maple behind the house of nearly all its showy autumn foliage, leaving a fading red carpet on the ground, and a few leaves that somehow managed to hang on.

Next week is Thanksgiving, at least here in the United States. It is a holiday that celebrates the end of the growing season, gives thanks for the harvest, and anticipates the winter months to come. We will be observing the Thanksgiving holiday next week, all in black and white. Please stop and visit.

Thanks for reading Photography in Place.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Mel's Cafe - Charlottesville, Virginia 

"I am an amateur and intend to remain one my whole life long. I attribute to photography the task of recording the real nature of things, their interior, their life. The photographer's art is a continuous discovery which requires patience and time. A photograph draws its beauty from the truth with which it's marked. As soon as I find a subject which interests me, I leave it to the lens to record it truthfully. Look at the reporters and at the amateur photographer! The both have only one goal; to record a memory or a document. And that is pure photography."  Andre Kertesz

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Loading zone - Charlottesville, Virginia 

Today at work we held our Thanksgiving luncheon. Everyone brought a dish and we gathered in a large conference room, fixed up a nice table of food and sat down to eat together. It was a nice preview of the Thanksgiving holiday next Thursday

Without a doubt, eating is the most social of all human activities. We gather to eat at the family table, we invite friends to dinner, we attend church suppers and flock to the fish fry at the fire house. We eat with total strangers at restaurants and meet colleagues for lunch. We treasure our privacy in all things except eating. It seems a bit strange when you think about it.

The rather forlorn looking building in the photo above houses a small restaurant called The Flat: Takeaway Crêperie. It is literally a hole-in-the-wall. One orders through a window right there next to the gas meter and eats outside in public. I've not eaten at The Flat, but I hear that it is good. If you are ever in Charlottesville, give me a call. We will go there together and give it a try.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Maya - Charlottesville, Virginia 

The steady rain that fell today will bring down many of the remaining leaves. The road was covered with them as I drove home tonight. Autumn is drawing to a close, even though the Winter solstice is over month away.  It is still raining--a perfect night to listen to the wind and the rain and relax with a cup of hot tea.

It would also be a good night to delve into the box of old family photos. Years ago when I visited my aunt I would always insist on getting out her boxes and albums of photographs. She and I spent many pleasant hours with the fading and curled prints talking about the people and places that were, even then, passing into memory. Eventually the collection came to me and I never tire of looking at them.

Today I came across a blog called "Forgotten Old Photos."  It is a fascinating look at old photographs found in antique stores and garage sales. In some cases, family members are "reunited" with family photos that have been posted on this site, and there is often an interesting story attached to these found photos. Even if you have your own box of old photos, don't miss "Forgotten Old Photos."

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Two doorways - Charlottesville, Virginia 

Doors are perhaps the most common feature of buildings throughout the world. There are buildings without windows, but it is difficult to imagine a practical building without some sort of door. Doors exist in endless variety, from simple gates to utilitarian slabs to elaborately carved and paneled portals. Doors invite curiosity. Doors allow or deny access. Doors protect.

The doorway on the left caught my eye with its gentle brick arch and the trace of some earlier configuration outlined on the brick. The door on the right is set into the brick wall about two feet above the pavement. There must have been a landing with a step or two (or, as we say around here, a stoop) at one time. The stone sill and lintel contrast nicely with the surrounding brick. Both of these doorways open onto a side street and were most probably service entrances.

Pentax MX with Fuji Neopan Acros 100 black and white film.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Saturday, November 13, 2010

October Color- Greene County, Virginia 

I have mentioned Kathleen Connally's A Walk Through Durham Township (see link in sidebar) before and wanted to call your attention to what I think is an outstanding example of her work. (See it here) It puts me in mind of a 19th century landscape painting, the kind that you might find in an old English manor house, except for the power lines disappearing into the fog.

Thank you for reading Photography in Place. As a change of pace from all the woodsy scenes, next week we will be looking at photos taken of buildings in Charlottesville, all in black and white. I hope you will stop in and visit.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Civil War Monument - Vicksburg, Mississippi 

Veteran's Day - 2010

The last Veteran of the Union Army died in 1956. The last Confederate soldier died in 1951. Frank W. Buckles is the last living veteran of World War I and is now 109 years old. There are still many World War II veterans alive, but the day will come when the last of these brave men will also pass into history. It is fitting that we remember them, and their sacrifices, and honor the living and the dead.

Read the History of Veterans Day here.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Edge of the woods- Greene Mountain Lake, Virginia 

At the wood's edge, seedlings, saplings, and bushes flourish. Understory trees like the dogwood and persimmon reach out to the light. Wild flowers proliferate along roadsides and fence-rows.

Forest edges have increased dramatically since the pioneer days of North America when forests blanketed the country. As fields are cleared and roads are built, new forest edges are created, and the resultant "edge effect" has a significant impact on the ecology of the area. Somewhat surprisingly, forest edges tend to be beneficial overall, expanding the habitat for plants and animals that could not thrive in the shade of a mature forest.

About a year ago, a road was bulldozed through the woods near our home, creating a new forest edge. This photo was made as I stood in the dirt track and looked into the trees that, not too long ago, stood in the middle of the woods. The edge created by the new road is already beginning to change, and it will be interesting to see the "edge effect" develop over time.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

November Color - Greene County, Virginia 

Fall colors are still with us here in central Virginia. This photo was taken last Saturday morning from my front yard, using a long lens to "reach" the trees that rise along the lower slopes of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Monday, November 8, 2010

November  morning - Greene County, Virginia 

A bird flew into the window this morning. Molly raced across the room to see, her eyes suddenly bright with feline curiosity. The doings of birds fascinate and excite Molly, and she positioned herself in front of the window to watch.

Birds fly into the large windows that face the mountains from time to time. Often they recover and fly away after spending a few woozy minutes on the ground. But not always. I looked out the window at the sparrow  and knew she would not be flying away. She made her last flight toward the trees and mountains reflected in the glass. The unyielding reflection broke her neck.

My wife was still asleep as I put my shoes on and went outside. On the deck lay the sparrow, small and  beautifully made. In my hand, the brown body was still warm. Molly watched out the window.

Behind the garden shed, one slit in the earth with the shovel made an adequate grave.  I tamped down the soil with my foot and spread  brown leaves over the unceremonious grave. As I walked across the yard, the morning sun topped the hill behind the house and illuminated the leaves of the Japanese maple, brilliant red. In the house, the excitement over, Molly was back in her bed. We were, all of us, in our place.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Moon rising over Atlantic - Corolla, North Carolina 

Earlier this week, I mentioned Natty Bumppo in this post about the wild horses that roam on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Natty Bumppo, of course, is the hero of the five novels that make up the Leatherstocking Tales, by James Fenimore Cooper. The Last of the Mohicans (1826) is perhaps the best known book in the series.

What made me think of this as I was trying to slip quietly through the woods to get close enough to photograph a wild mare and colt, was this passage from Mark Twain's sarcastic and hilarious take down of Cooper's work:
"Another stage property that he [Cooper] pulled out of his box pretty frequently was the broken twig. He prized his broken twig above all the rest of his effects, and worked it the hardest. It is a restful chapter in any book of his when somebody doesn't step on a dry twig and alarm all the reds and whites for two hundred yards around. Every time a Cooper person is in peril, and absolute silence is worth four dollars a minute, he is sure to step on a dry twig. There may be a hundred other handier things to step on, but that wouldn't satisfy Cooper. Cooper requires him to turn out and find a dry twig; and if he can't do it, go and borrow one. In fact, the Leatherstocking Series out to have been called the Broken Twig Series."
The piece is called "Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses." Read the whole thing here.

Thanks for reading Photography in Place. I hope you will come back for a visit next week. We will be looking at some of the fall color back home in Virginia.

All of the pictures from my visit to North Carolina were taken with the Pentax K10D and the Pentax FA 50mm f1.4 lens. The 50 mm lens is a very moderate telephoto on the K10D (equivalent to a 75mm on a 35mm film, or full-frame digital). I thought the lens would be a good compromise, but often wished for something wider. I know I should be using a zoom, but for some reason I just don't seem to get along well with zoom lenses.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Reflections - Milltail Creek - Dare County, North Carolina 

The still, black water of Milltail Creek reflects the trees and sky with such an illusion of depth that the exact location of the water line on the shore is often hard to detect. Several times my eyes were tricked into thinking that leaves floating on the surface of the water were suspended in the air. Looking down, the surface of the water disappears and the boat seems to float in air with the upside-down trees and sky falling away below.