Thursday, June 30, 2011

Elkton Theater - Elkton, Virginia 

The Lost Communities of Virginia

In many ways, Elkton is typical of small towns throughout Virginia. Although it is no longer a business and commercial center, Elkton retains a sense of community; it is a place people call home. But many small towns are dying and many have disappeared with hardly a trace.

"The Lost Communities of Virginia project began with curiosity as Kirsten Sparenborg followed a green highway sign pointing to Eggleston and found a rural Giles County community, an elderly storekeeper, and the no longer obvious story of a once thriving springs and railroad community."*

From this start, the Community Design and Assistance Center at Virginia Tech surveyed more than 2600 communities, photographed 548 of them, and selected 30 representative towns to be included in the recently published book, The Lost Communities of Virginia. Black and white photographs document the present condition of the towns, accompanied by a brief history and interviews with the remaining residents.

An impressive amount of research went into this book, and the photography is excellent. The Lost Communities of Virginia is an ongoing project, and I hope to see more of this work in the future. For now, the book is elegy, memory and inspiration.

Lost Communities of Virginia by Terri Fisher and Kirsten Sparenborg - Albemarle Books - 2011

*The quotation is from the dust jacket

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Farm buildings - Elkton, Virginia 

One of the things I find interesting about small towns in the country is the way the rural landscape frames the town. Elkton is surrounded by farmland. Step out of the front door of a house on main street and you are on the sidewalk; step out the back door and you are practically in a barnyard.

Standing with my back to the town, I photographed these buildings just two blocks north of Elkton's main street.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Along the tracks - Elkton, Virginia 

On an overcast Friday toward the end of April, I drove west into the mountains, crossed the Skyline Drive and descended the western slopes of the Blue Ridge into the town of Elkton. I drive through Elkton frequently, but seldom stop. On this spring day, I had my camera and the whole afternoon to explore the town.

Elkton is located on the South Fork of the Shenandoah River. The town was known as Conrad's Store until the Shenandoah Valley Railroad arrived in 1881, built a passenger depot and named it Elkton after nearby Elk Run. The town took the name of the depot, and was incorporated as Elkton in 1908.

The Norfolk Southern Railroad still runs through Elkton, but the passenger station is gone. The group of buildings along the tracks in the photo above suggest that the railroad played a large role in the history of Elkton.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Friday, June 24, 2011

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Lilies - Nikon P7000

When photography is not the primary purpose of an outing, I enjoy having an unobtrusive camera with me to document my travels without having to fiddle too much with camera settings. So far, the P7000 has performed very well in "point and shoot" mode and it is nice to have the capability to easily take manual control of the camera when the opportunity for a picture that goes beyond the "I was there" snapshot presents itself.

The Nikon P7000 is a little larger than I would have liked; much too big to fit in a shirt or pants pocket. A small belt pouch will probably work, but is less than ideal. The larger size does have advantages though. The essential functions of the camera can all be set with buttons and dials on the camera body without delving into layers of menu choices, and the camera is  large enough to be easy to hold and to manipulate the nicely arranged manual controls.

I do have two complaints. Occasionally, the camera has difficulty focusing. All auto-focus cameras struggle to some degree in low light conditions, but sometimes the P7000, even in good light, just can't seem to find the focus. This is a known issues which was supposed to be fixed in the latest firmware version. After updating the firmware, the problem seemed to occur less frequently, but it still happens now and again. The good news is that the focus is quick and accurate 99 percent of the time. But that 1 percent can be a little frustrating.

Another issue that was supposed to be addressed in the firmware update is that in RAW mode the camera locks up for about 5 seconds while the file is written to the card. It is better but still slow after the firmware update. A faster card will probably help, but I am not bothered too much by this since I rarely do any "action" photography where shot to shot time is important. Still it is a bit of a nuisance. In jpg mode, the camera is very quick.

Overall, I am pleased with the camera and look forward to using it on my river trips this summer. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Last of the evening light  - Nikon P7000 

Two weeks ago I bought a new point and shoot camera to replace my aging Nikon Coolpix 4300 which I bought in 2003 and has served me well for eight years. While the majority of my photography is done with the Pentax K10D digital SLR, I use the point and shoot when it is not practical to carry around the larger and heavier DSLR.

An optical viewfinder was a necessity, because I frequently use the camera in very bright outdoor conditions and the LCD screen is just not useable under those conditions. I also wanted a relatively small and portable camera, capable of shooting in RAW mode, and with a reasonably long lens suitable for some limited wildlife shots, particularly when I am out on the river. So in the end, my choices boiled down to the Nikon P7000 and the Canon G12.

Nikon P7000 in RAW mode and processed in Adobe Lightroom 3.

After reading up on the two camera, there did not seem to be much difference so I visited ProCamera, here in Charlottesville for a hands-on comparison.  I liked the articulated screen on the Canon, but the Nikon had a longer zoom range. Bill Moretz, the owner and resident expert at ProCamera said that one could not go wrong with either camera, and after looking at both cameras I believed him. In the end, I choose the Nikon because it felt better in my hand and I liked the layout of the controls better (it was on sale too, which helped).

So far I have only had time to take a few test pictures, but I am quite satisfied with the quality of the pictures from the P7000. Tomorrow I will have more to say about my first impressions of this camera.

Nikon P7000 - This is a jpg straight from the camera with no editing

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Field in the rain - Albemarle County, Virginia 

Over on the The Online Photographer there has been a lively discussion (here, here and here) about how photographs can best be cataloged and preserved in the digital world. Opinions differ on how to insure that photographs will survive and be accessible in the future, and on how many of the literally trillions of digital photographs in existence are worth saving.

For most of us, the photographs that will be valued in the future are photographs that show our families and how we live.  I have a couple of boxes of photos from my own family, most from the 1930s through the 1950s that I treasure for the story they tell of my family through several generations. And while physical preservation of these images is important, documenting their contents is equally important, for much of the historic value is lost if there no knowledge about the people and places in the picture.

So if you have a stash of family photos, make the effort to find out what you can about them while there are still people around who know and remember. One day, it will be too late to learn the history told in those pictures because the people who lived that history will be gone, and the photo, no matter how well it has survived, will lose its meaning.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Sunday, June 19, 2011

My father  - Pearisburg, Virginia 

Father's Day - 2011

This picture dates from about 1953. The young man is my father: the little boy, who appears to be tickled about something, is me. My dad may have just said something funny; he got that deadpan look on his face when he said something funny.

I don't remember the occasion, but the place is Farley's Wayside*, which is about 10 miles from Pearisburg, Virginia on Route 100, just at the foot of Cloyd's Mountain. The wayside was a large grassy area with picnic tables along Walker's Creek.  Back in the 1950s, the two lane road turned sharply just before you crossed the old trestle bridge, and it was famous for crashes.

Nothing made me happier than a picnic at the wayside.

*Somehow I imagine Mom calling me on the phone and saying, "No, honey, that picture was taken in West Virginia. Don't you remember?"

Friday, June 17, 2011

Inside the former woolen mills - Grottoes, Virginia 

After 1890 Grottoes (see yesterday's post) experienced rapid growth and by the end of 1891 boasted two brick factories, a woolen mills (which I suspect is the building in these photographs), a tile factory, a plaster factory and a blind and sash factory. An electric plant was built and streetcar lines were being laid.

In 1893, the Grottoes Company, which had promoted and built the town, experienced financial difficulty and Grottoes fell on hard times. Today the commercial core of Grottoes is gone, but it is an attractive and well-kept town.

The inside of the factory building which I photographed was empty except for a few odds and ends and an old car. There were no lights in the building, but the large windows provided adequate light to take some pictures, and a hint of how the inside of a building felt when windows were the primary source of light and ventilation.

Thanks to the Town of Grottoes website for the information in this article. A more complete history of the town is available here.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Abandoned factory building - Grottoes, Virginia 

Last month I drove through the town of Grottoes which is in the Shenandoah Valley between Elkton and Waynesboro. Unlike many small towns that were settled and grew up haphazardly, Grottoes was carefully planned and laid out in 1890. Factories were to be built between 1st and 3rd Avenue. Between 5th and 6th Avenue space was allotted for public buildings and the rest of the town would be divided into home lots.

This old brick building caught my eye as I drove around town. It was surrounded by a tall chain link fence but there was a house on the grounds inside the fence, and the gate to the driveway was open. A man was out on the carport grilling burgers and I pulled in, introduced myself and asked if  I could take some pictures. "Sure," he said, "the door on the far side is unlocked if you want to go inside."

After I was done, we talked for a few minutes. He did not know much about the early days of the factory, but thought it had been some kind of "silk mill." His father had purchased the building and house in the 1950s and leased space to various business over the years. The building is not being used now, and its future is uncertain.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

School room, George Washington and American Flag - St. Mary's County, Maryland

Flag Day - 2011

On June 14, 1777 the Second Continental Congress passed a resolution to adopt the flag of the United States. President Woodrow Wilson established Flag Day by proclamation in 1916. A few commemorative events will take place around the country today, but Flag Day, 2011 is likely to pass largely unnoticed and uncelebrated.

I think about my parents today. They grew up during the Great Depression, and graduated from high school to face the uncertainty and chaos of World War II. So many of that generation fought and died to preserve our freedom. So many of that generation are now gone, but I think of them when I see a flag flying.

Today the flag will fly over courthouses and schools and post offices across the land just as it does every day of the year. Sometimes we take it for granted, but look up at the flag today and take a moment to honor all the people who have stood proudly under that flag, and defended her, and loved her, and fought for her. May she continue to fly over a free people.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Friday, June 10, 2011

Along the tracks - Charlottesville, Virginia 

The view from 1983

The May, 1983 issue of National Geographic magazine, which I came across recently, led me to contemplate the changes that have occurred since its publication 28 years ago. If you are young enough, 1983 might seem like "ancient" history but it doesn't seem that long ago to me.

The articles about Henry VIII's Lost Warship, Tasmania's Wild Side, or the Wonderful Brooklyn Bridge would not seem out of place in the current issue of National Geographic, but  the advertisements provide a glimpse into the world which in 1983 was on the brink of the technological changes that would carry us into the 21st century.

A two page advertisement for Bell Systems articulated their vision of the "information age," which was in its infancy in 1983. That vision foretold the role of personal computers and hinted at the capabilities that we now realize with the internet and related technologies. In 1983 all this seemed, if not far-fetched, far in the future.  "Receive your mail electronically. Transmit a report to your office in a matter of seconds. Your computer will even correct any spelling mistakes all by itself." A brave new world.

Out with the old. "Oh! The pictures you missed before the Kodak disc." An innovative product promoted on the back cover of the magazine, the Kodak Disc camera never caught on. A two page full color ad for Kodacolor VR1000, "The color film that almost sees in the dark." seems almost quaint. Who could have guessed in 1983 that film would be a niche product  in today's digital world. Sony has a full page ad for the Betamax system, which lost the battle to VHS which in turn, lost the war to digital media.

Some things are still the same though. A two page ad for Martin-Senour paint promises "All the colors of America in a can." As far as I know, there is no digital substitute for a can of paint. Not yet anyway, but who knows in another 28 years.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

View from the alley - Charlottesville, Virginia 

A couple of years ago, I had the idea that photographing houses and other buildings from the back would be an interesting project. I took a few "from the alley" pictures like the one above (taken in 2008)  and that is far as I got.

Yesterday, over on foto shoebox Robert posted a picture taken from the back of a house. He called it 'Round Back and it inspired me to revisit my attempts at photographing the wrong side of things. Take a look at 'Round Back; I still think it would make a good project.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Green Anole - Vicksburg, Mississippi

One morning while I was in Vicksburg, Mississippi, I was walking around in the yard with the camera and spied this lizard on the side of a tree. He was a handsome fellow and posed for me for a long while. Occasionally he would bob up and down on his front legs and display his bright crimson dewlap.

The green anole (anolis carolinensis) is the only species of anole that is native to North America. They are often referred to as chameleons, and chameleon-like, they are able to change color in response to the environment, but they are not closely related to true chameleons.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Sunday morning - Greene County, Virginia 

Even though the Summer solstice is a couple of weeks away, summer is in full swing in central Virginia. After two nearly perfect June days, with plenty of sunshine, dry air and pleasant temperatures, yesterday morning was overcast. The light was pretty good though, and there was no wind, so I though it a good morning to walk around and see what's flowering. 

 This blue flower is a perennial hybrid geranium called  Rozanne

 The oak leaf hydrangea that we planted several years ago is full of lovely white blooms. Hydrangeas are a somewhat old-fashioned plant. My grandmother had them in front of her porch; we called them snow-ball bushes.

This is a pink honeysuckle, with a Japanese maple in the background. Wild honeysuckle is abundant in this area and smells wonderful this time of year. We planted this pink honeysuckle, and it is threatening to take over.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Gayle's Quick Stop - Port Republic, Virginia 

Thoughts on color . . .

Even though experiments in color began shortly after the invention of photography, color photography did not take hold until well into the 20th century. Kodachrome was introduced in 1936, and color negative film was developed and refined during the 1940s. Even after color film and processing reached technical maturity, "serious" photographers continued to work in black and white. It was not until the early 1970s that the color work of photographers like William Eggleston and Stephen Shore began to receive critical attention.

I have been shooting color almost exclusively this year, trying to learn to use color effectively after years of black and white. My interest began with landscapes. The truth of the matter is that I don't have a particularly good eye for black and white landscapes, but I find I respond to color in the landscape. Learning to see and use color in landscapes has increased my interest in color for all kinds of pictures. Suddenly I see color everywhere.

At this point, I am wondering if one can do both color and black and white. Making a conscious effort to use color has changed the way I look at things. Is it necessary to make a choice? I have shot only one roll of black and white film this year. Maybe it is time to throw the Pentax MX and a couple of rolls of B&W film in the car and see how the world looks in black and white again.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

South End Convenience - Town of Shenandoah, Virginia 

The first picture of the day is always the hardest. This little convenience store caught my attention as I drove into Shenandoah; there was a parking lot conveniently located across the street and  I stopped. A light rain was falling. I sat in the car for a moment, reluctant to get out in the rain but I knew that if I did not start photographing, I would end up turning around a driving home empty handed.

The building looks like it may have been built in the 1950s but I know nothing of the history of this store except that it reminds me of the small stores I remember growing up with. 

Later that afternoon, the rain stopped. Sunlight broke through the clouds and swept the valley floor, the rain-washed air was cool and clear and the mountain tops were shrouded in mist. I took pictures until it was too dark to see.