Saturday, October 30, 2010

Reflections - Chicamuxen Creek, Charles County, Maryland 

Last week I spent a couple of days in the swamps of North Carolina around the site of Buffalo City. There is nothing left of this old logging town, but there are lots of waterways to explore and the weather was perfect. I will be posting pictures from this trip next week and hope you will stop by for a visit. Thanks for reading Photography In Place.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Marching into battle  - Battle of Stanardsville - Greene County, Virginia 

The reenactment of the Battle of Stanardsville took place in the afternoon and a large crowd stood on the sidelines and watched the battle unfold. A narrative of the action was broadcast over a loudspeaker. The presence of civilian spectators during a Civil War battle is not without historic precedent.

For example, on July 21, 1861, spectators from Washington flocked to Manassas to witness the first major engagement of the war at Bull Run. Several soldiers circulated through the crowd and offered commentary on the action, most of which took place out of sight. The presence of spectators at Bull Run was a reflection of the naive view of the coming war that was common at the start of the conflict.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Boy Soldier - Battle of Stanardsville -  Greene County, Virginia 

Estimates vary, but as many as one million boys under the age of  eighteen may have served in the armies of the Civil War. There are accounts of children twelve years old or even younger being present on the battlefield. Many ran away from home and lied about their age to join the fighting, but the the reality of a brutal war soon dispelled their boyish enthusiasm for war.


"As we lay there and the shells were flying over us, my thoughts went back to my home, and I thought what a foolish boy I was to run away to get into such a mess I was in. I would have been glad to have seen my father coming after me"  Elisha Stockwell, 1862

Quoted in The Boy's War by Jim Murphy
Clarion Books - 1990


 Photograph on the left is from the Library of Congress
Portrait of Boy Soldier  #LC-B8184-10573

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Battle of Stanardsville - Greene County, Virginia 

The re-enactment of the Battle of Stanardsville takes place on a field not far from our home. We can hear the cannons from our deck, but had never been to the event. I am not a student of the American Civil War, but my wife's genealogical research has piqued her interest in the period, and I thought that the re-enactment would be interesting to photograph, so last year we decided to attend.

We arrived several hours before the battle reenactment. There were displays of camp life and performers playing period music. There were horses with wagons and tents and open fires, but it was impossible to ignore the cars, trucks, horse trailers and food concessions that formed an unavoidable modern backdrop. The artifacts may have been authentic to the period, but in 2009 the atmosphere was carnival. In 1864, carnage prevailed.

The history of the Battle of Stanardsville is brief. In late February 1864, General George Armstrong Custer and 1400 Union soldiers conducted raids in the Virginia counties of Madison, Greene and Albemarle. On March 1, 1864, as he was drawing back from a raid on Charlottesville, Custer encountered J.E.B Stuart's Confederate cavalry near Stanardsville. The skirmish took place along the South River and ended with Custer retreating to Culpeper.


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Eight gulls - Chicamuxen Creek - Charles County, Maryland 

Gulls are not usually seen in the swampy creeks that flow into the Potomac. These gulls were probably seeking shelter from the cool winds that were gusting down the river from the north all day. The gull in flight passed on by without joining the sociable group perched on a log floating in the water.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Great Blue Heron (ardea herodias) - Chicamuxen Creek - Charles County, Maryland 

Blue Herons are common up and down the Potomac River. They are large and easy to spot, but it is difficult to get close. On a trip to Chicamuxen Creek last week, I took along a telephoto lens in the hopes of getting a good shot of this beautiful bird. Shooting with a long lens from a rocking boat is not as easy as I thought. The photo above is about the best shot of the day.

Herons wade in shallow water on their long legs and spear small fish with their sharp beak. The Chicamuxen wetland is typical of the environment preferred by the herons.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Chicamuxen Creek - Charles County, Maryland

Last week my friend and I took a late October trip on the Potomac River. The weather was nearly perfect, sunny with a cool autumn breeze that made a sweatshirt feel good. We took the small inflatable boat for a trip into the Chicamuxen Wildlife Management Area and next week I will posting some more pictures of this wetland from the trip. Also, we will be visiting the re-enactment of the Battle of Stanardsville, Virginia. Hope you will stop in and visit next week. Thanks for reading Photography in Place.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Amtrak Station - Charlottesville, Virginia

Charlottesville's Union Station was built in 1885 to serve the Charlottesville and Rapidan Railroad, the Virginia Midlands Railway and the Chesapeake and Ohio. This picture was taken behind the station, looking west along what used to be the Chesapeake and Ohio mainline to the coal fields of West Virginia.  Just beyond the station  the tracks cross the north-south Norfolk Southern mainline.

In the mid 1970s, I rode a steam excursion from Manassas to Charlottesville. The locomotive was taken off the train here and towed by a C&O diesel to the turntable in the yards just east of here and turned around for the trip back to Manassas. The only thing left of the once bustling  Charlottesvile rail yard is a coaling tower, which still stands along the tracks.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Magnolia House Hotel - Gordonsville, Virginia 

In 1840, the Louisa Railroad came to Gordonsville. In 1850 the Louisa Railroad was renamed the Virginia Central. The Orange and Alexandria Railroad joined the Virginia Central at Gordonsville in 1840, making the town one of the most important rail hubs in Virginia. Because of its strategic importance, Gordonsville was fiercely contested during the Civil War, but never fell into Union hands.

The Magnolia House Hotel, seen on the right of the photo above, was built in the early 1870s just down the tracks from the passenger station. The uniformity of architecture of the two houses next to the hotel suggest that they may have been built by the railroad; they look like "company" houses, but that is pure speculation on my part.

The Amtrak Cardinal passes through Gordonsville on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday but does not stop. The Gordonsville passenger station was torn down in 1978.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Depot - Rapidan, Virginia 

In 1854, the Orange and Alexandria Railroad reached Waugh's Ford, a small mill community on the banks of the Rapidan River, and the town became known as Rapid Ann Station.

The O&A Railroad was strategically important during the Civil War and was one of the most fought over railroads in Virginia. Union Calvary burned the original station in 1864. The depot was rebuilt and still stands very near the site of the original.

In 1903, the tracks were moved west, bypassing the town, which is known today as Rapidan.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Warehouse - Remington, Virginia 

This grain storage warehouse, built in the 1930s, is a testament to the importance of the railroad to agricultural commerce in the first half of the 20th century.

Remington was known as Rappahannock Station when the Orange and Alexandria Railroad reached the town in 1852. Control of the railroad and the nearby Rappahannock River was heavily fought over during the Civil War, and the town suffered extensive damage. The name was changed to Remington in 1890.

The tracks of the Norfolk-Southern Railroad pass through Remington today, but trains no longer stop.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Kansas City Southern rail-yard, Vicksburg, Mississippi

At daybreak, I arrived at the KCS rail-yard in Vicksburg, Mississippi. The morning was clear and cold. I met a railroad worker coming to work with a styrofoam cup of coffee steaming in his hands and we chatted for a few minutes. The yard foreman, he said,  was not in yet, but he thought it would be alright if I walked around and took some photographs. It was Christmas Eve, 2007.

About an hour later, the yard foreman came over to where I was shooting and asked if I would come to the office with him and sign a release form. From the windows of the elevated office, I could look down over the entire yard. One diesel locomotive was starting to switch some cars, but otherwise the yard was quiet.

Many years ago my wife's grandfather worked for the Illinois Central Railroad in this same yard. Although I never knew him, I thought about all the Christmas Eves that he reported to work here, steam rising from the waiting locomotives and the smell of coal smoke in the clear  morning air.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Autumn on the lake - Greene County, Virginia 

I took a walk yesterday afternoon to a small patch of woods down by the lake, and took this picture of the trees across the water. There is still a lot of green in the woods and it makes a nice backdrop for the autumn colors.

Earlier this week I visited Urban Decay. To my surprise, Andy Morang was in Virginia recently and posted pictures of a Chesapeake and Ohio railroad depot in Lee Hall which is near Williamsburg. Check it out here.

It was a bit of a coincidence because I have been selecting pictures of railroad related buildings to post next week. I wll start off on Monday with a picture of a building located in the Illinois Central rail-yard in Vicksburg, Mississippi, Andy's home town.

Hope you will stop by for a visit next week as we look at five buildings, all located along the tracks, and all in black and white.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Makeshift fence and path - Ocracoke Island, North Carolina 


Photographers often feel compelled to apologize for "pretty" pictures. Beauty in art is out of fashion today, but the simple fact is that the world can be a very beautiful place. If some subjects seem banal through over-familiarity, it is all the more reason to look with fresh eyes.

Some forty years ago, I bought a recording of Johannes Brahms' youthful Serenade #2 in A, Opus 16 entirely on the strength of a beautiful landscape painting on the album cover. (This was in the days of vinyl LPs, when album covers were big enough to make an impression.)  For many years, the Serenade was about the only Brahms composition that I knew, and I loved it.

As I was driving to work yesterday morning in a steady rain, Brahms' Serenade #2 came on the radio. It was a cool morning and the heater was on. In the rain, the muted colors of the Autumn trees glowed. The familiar sound of Brahms on the radio mixed with the sound of the rain, and I felt like I was wrapped in a cocoon made of music and rain-washed color.

The morning was absolutely common-place, and completely beautiful. I wish I could have shared it with you.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Ocean side, sound side - Ocracoke Island, North Carolina 

Requiem for Steam

David Plowden's latest book, Requiem for Steam was released this week.

If you don't know Plowden's work, you should. He has spend decades photographing the vanishing remnants of America's great mechanical age with a poet's eye. Things that were a familiar part of the landscape in the first half of the twentieth Century are now gone, or changed beyond recognition. Requiem for Steam is part celebration of, part elegy for the steam locomotive, and a time in railroad history that came to an end in 1960.

The book opens with a long essay by Plowden, telling the story of long distances, run-down hotels in isolated railroad towns, days and nights haunting the engine houses and depots and rail yards photographing the end of an era. What we sense in the photographs is confirmed by his words: Plowden loved his subject, and was committed to it. As he describes his last ride in the cab of a steam locomotive, the sense of loss is palpable.

My favorite picture in the book is not of a locomotive or a long ago demolished station. It is a portrait of Ray H. Birkhead, an agent for the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad. He has taken his glasses off and is looking directly into the camera. The wall behind him is stained, and a bare light bulb hangs from the ceiling. The picture was taken on his last day on the job before retiring. I love this picture because ultimately, this story is not about iron, but about the flesh and blood that built and maintained, operated and loved the "iron horses" that would soon be cut up and sent to the scrap yard.

Mr Birkhead retired from the railroad after 60 years of service, in the final days of steam.

David Plowden, Requiem for Steam. W.W. Norton and Company, New York. 2010

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Approaching rain - Ocracoke Island, North Carolina 

It was the end of our day at Ocracoke, and we were hurrying to the north end of the island to catch the ferry back to Hatteras. There was no time to stop and take pictures, but the scene out over the ocean was compelling. A dark line of clouds almost touched the horizon, and the waves were breaking white on the beach. Luckily, I was not driving, so I stuck the camera out the window and did the best I could to photograph what was going on off-shore. Sometimes, you just take what nature offers.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Dunes # 2 - Ocracoke Island, North Carolina 

"We do not associate the idea of antiquity with the ocean, nor wonder how it looked a thousand years ago, as we do the land, for it was equally wild and unfathomable always"

Henry David Thoreau - Cape Cod, 1865

Standing on the damp strip of sand shared by the land and the ocean, looking toward land, we see constant change. Wind and weather, growth and decay, people and progress all shape and reshape the land from generation to generation. Turn 180 degrees, and we face the constant ocean. What we see is what a native American standing on this same spot 300 years ago would have seen. The sound of the waves, the line on the horizon where the water joins the sky, the heave and tumble of the water are all unchanged.

As we turn and walk away, the waves scurry across the sand to erase our footprints.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Dunes # 1 - Ocracoke Island, North Carolina 

The barrier islands off the coast of North Carolina are known as the Outer Banks. Ocracoke is the southernmost island and is accessible only by ferry. Last October I visited the Outer Banks and made a day trip to Ocracoke.

As a storm approached at the end of our day on Ocracoke, the dunes were illuminated by a lovely soft light, and the island was cleansed by sun and clouds and a fresh breeze off the ocean. For a few moments, it seemed as if the world was new, and God said, "Let there be light."

The first drops of rain fell as we rode the ferry back toward Hatteras, and then it was dark.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

At the ferry landing - Ocracoke Island, North Carolina 

Next week we will be visiting the North Carolina's Outer Banks. The pictures are from a trip to Ocracoke Island in October of last year. The Autumn light is wonderful on the Atlantic coast, and I hope you will stop by and visit.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Barn - Greene County, Virginia 

Subject or Photograph

This photograph was made in May, 2009 and has been in my rejects ever since. Image sharpness is something I don't worry about too much, but this picture is unacceptably un-sharp even by my admittedly somewhat low standards. Whether it was caused by missed focus, camera shake, or both I cannot ascertain. In addition, the composition is marred by the distracting diagonal line of tree-tops against the sky on the hill  behind the barn. Even worse, this was the best of a half dozen shots I took of the barn. I was not having a good day.

And yet, every time I come across this photograph, something draws me in, makes me linger. Perhaps it is the forlorn look of the barn surrounded by un-planted fields, or maybe it's the old cars scattered in the weeds. The subject speaks to me from this photograph. The subject, not the photograph, is important.

We strive to make the best photographs possible and often fail. But sometimes the subject manages to speak through an artistically and technically flawed photograph. And sometimes, a picture that is wonderfully composed and technically perfect fails to speak at all.

Pentax K10D (digital converted to black and white in Photoshop) 

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Farm buildings - Madison County, Virginia 

"I spent some part of every year at the farm until I was twelve or thirteen years old. The life which I led there with my cousins was full of charm, and so is the memory of it yet. I can call back the solemn twilight and mystery of the deep woods, the earthy smells, the faint odors of the wild flowers, the sheen of rain-washed foliage, the rattling clatter of drops when the wind shook the trees, the far-off hammering of woodpeckers and the muffled drumming of wood pheasants in the remoteness of the forest, the snapshot glimpses of disturbed wild creatures scurrying through the grass--I can call it all back and make it as real as it ever was, and as blessed."

Mark Twain - Uncle John's Farm

Pentax MX - Fuji Neopan Acros 100

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Outbuilding - Greene County, Virginia 

Over the years outbuildings have been an important fixture of rural homesteads and farms. There were smokehouses for preparing and storing meat, granaries to hold grain and feed, dairies for milk, ice houses, dovecotes, chicken coops,  laundries and of course privies. Today, many of these small buildings have fallen into disuse as rural life has adjusted to the modern world.

Barns, complex and expensive were likely to have been built to a proven and successful pattern. Small outbuildings however, were often hastily constructed from whatever materials were at hand. The "grass-roots" vernacular architecture of outbuildings is as individual as the farmers who built them.

In this area of central Virginia, white outbuildings are not as common as one might think. Most surviving outbuildings are a natural weathered gray, or painted a dark color. At one time whitewash was a practical and inexpensive way of protecting and beautifying rural structures. Does anyone still use whitewash?
"Saturday morning was come, and all the summer world was bright and fresh, and brimming with life. There was a song in every heart; and if the heart was young, the music issued at the lips. There was cheer in every face and a spring in every step.

"Tom appeared on the sidewalk with a bucket of whitewash and a long-handled brush. He surveyed the fence and all gladness left him and a deep melancholy settled down upon his spirit. Thirty yards of board fence nine feet high. Life to him seemed hollow, and existence but a burden. Sighing, he dipped his brush and passed it along the topmost plank, repeated the operation; did it again; compared the insignificant whitewashed streak with the far-reaching continent of unwhitewashed fence, and sat down on a tree box discouraged."
Mark Twain - Adventures of Tom Sawyer
Pentax MX - Fuji Neopan Acros 100

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Country store - Madison County, Virginia 

 One thing leads to another . . .

A couple of weeks ago I set out to photograph the Oak Grove Baptist Church in Madison County, Virginia. I had seen pictures of the church, and although the building itself is unremarkable, there is an interesting history associated with the church dating back to the Civil War.

The map suggested that the church would be well lit in afternoon sun, and it would have been except that the church did not face the road as I expected. Instead, the side of the church was illuminated by the sun and the front was in deep shadow. It would be a morning shot for another day.

Driving on down the road, I was surprised to come upon the Mt. Zion Baptist Church, which I had never seen before. By now, the sun was getting low in the sky, but I stopped and took some photos. Quite by chance, Mt Zion became church number 31 in my series of 31 white wooden churches (see A Month of Sundays).

After photographing Mt. Zion, I consulted my map for a "short cut" that would be interesting and head me in the direction of home. On a road I had never before travelled, I came upon this old country store, illuminated by the last rays of the sun. I had about 5 minutes to photograph before the light was gone.

Things don’t always work out according to plan, but sometimes one thing leads to another, and we are rewarded with the unexpected.

Pentax MX - Fuji Neopan Acros 100

Monday, October 4, 2010

General Store - Uno, Virginia 

Uno, Virginia is made up of a road sign, that simply says "UNO" and this abandoned store. There is also the Main Uno Baptist Church, but it is nearly a mile further along the road. Local story has it that Uno got its name during the bootlegging era when moonshine whiskey was available here. When asked where he was going, a thirsty man would reply, "you know . . ."

Uno is located in Madison County.

Update: A friend from Madison County writes that this used to be the Horace C. Weaver general store.

Mamiya RB67 with Fuji Neopan Acros 100.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Friday, October 1, 2010

The last of September - Greene County, Virginia

Having completed the Sunday morning series of 31 white wooden churches, I will not be posting on Sunday for a while. Starting  Monday, instead of posting in the evenings, I will post at around 8:00 (Eastern Daylight Time) each morning Monday through Friday.

I have been photographing old buildings again. Next week I will be posting pictures of a couple of old country stores and several other buildings that I found interesting, all in black and white. Hope you will stop by and visit.