Tag Archives: photography

Gone to Pieces

The decay and ultimate demise of a wooden fishing boat is a sad spectacle, although fishermen themselves generally are not very sentimental about their boats. Fishermen value a boat as long as it can do the work that it was built for. When it can’t, a boat has no value and is often stripped of its hardware and craned ashore where it can be taken to the dump. In the past, a fisherman might abandon a boat in a marsh or even burn it.

I first photographed the Linda in 1985. In that photo (below), she was tied up at the dock of Luther L. Smith & Son fish house in the Down East town of Atlantic in North Carolina. She was built by Ambrose Fulcher of Atlantic in 1939 as a runboat for the long-haul fishing trade, but she also shrimped (as can be seen by her shrimp nets), clammed and crabbed. She was a versatile boat.

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Linda (at dock) in Atlantic NC in 1985 (all photos © Lawrence Earley).

Twenty years later (2005), I photographed Linda again at the Smith fish house. In the photograph she is obviously near the end of her working career.

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Linda in 2005

I photographed Linda from 2005 until 2011 as she literally went to pieces. Her bilge pump failed in 2007 and in 2011, she was destroyed by Hurricane Irene.

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Linda in 2006

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Linda in 2008

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Linda in 2010

Battered by the sea and by storms, wooden fishing boats have only a limited lease on life. Linda had unusually long and useful life on the water—a workboat built in 1939 is lucky to have lasted as long as she did. But she will be remembered. Like all old workboats, Linda played an important role by linking people, families and communities in a web of stories and memories. The stories and memories associated with a boat are like family tales told around the dinner table and passed down from one generation to another. They are as important to community life as family stories are to family life.

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Linda destroyed by hurricane in 2011

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Sunday at the Park in Raleigh

On a walk from my house to the campus of Dorothea Dix hospital in Raleigh N.C. a couple of weeks ago, I discovered this group of painted plywood figures erected in the wide open spaces of the central lawn.

© Lawrence S. Earley

© Lawrence S. Earley

It was an almost perfect replication of Georges Seurat’s “A Sunday on La Grand Jatte” (below). A couple of the people in Seurat’s composition are missing to the right of the foreground couple, and the spacing between that couple and the figures on their left could have been better, I think. But the organization of the figures matched Seurat’s remarkably well.

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courtesy Wikipedia Commons

I would have loved to know why they were there. It was a little eerie—all those figures, so artfully arranged, but with no explanation as to why. I took a photo with my iPhone and continued my walk. A few days after I made the photograph the figures were gone.

I’ve looked at my photograph quite a bit since then. Someone had taken great care to carve the figures to match Seurat’s composition, to paint them very carefully and to space them almost exactly.  You don’t just do that for fun.  Perhaps they had been made as a background for an outdoor theater presentation of Sondheim’s “A Sunday in the Park with Georges.” Perhaps a dance troupe could have danced through the figures. After the performance, the pieces were left to be picked up later. I’m sure it was something like that.

I could probably discover what they were doing there with a phone call or two, but I’m not sure I want to know. I like the mystery of it. Here today, gone the next, my photo the only evidence of its existence. There are a lot of possible explanations, including, of course, space aliens. They always seem to represent the best explanation for things that are hard to understand.

If I had a truck and made a few trips, I could have picked up the whole bunch of figures myself, although I’m not sure what I would have done with all the pieces. Maybe I’d keep the couple on the right, put them out in our garden. Maybe the little girl running. But I really didn’t think of doing that, although someone else might have. An eccentric drug king with a yen for Sondheim, for example, stole the pieces and had them reassembled at a large estate in another country. I think that’s pretty unlikely, but you never know.

Low Tide at Pawleys Island

Some decades ago, when my wife and I began spending a week each spring at Pawleys Island, SC, my black and white photography feasted on the splendors of marsh, creek and beach. My three-ring binders grew fat with negatives and contact sheets of landscapes, seascapes and marshscapes. People were noticeable in my photographs more  by their complete absence. In recent years, however, people have begun to creep into my Pawleys Island negatives in greater numbers.Low Tide #22.tiff copy           I’ve increasingly spent my time photographing during low tide, especially at the inlets. These were the most dynamic times of the day, when the inlet waters gradually lowered and narrowed, and the beach widened as the tide fell. The broadening space attracted great numbers of people. Sometimes they walked alone, sometimes in twos or threes, sometimes bending over in a pose of thoughtful discovery. Some looked for shells, moving in a slow and almost dreamlike way. Others walked across the shallow inlet to reach the sandy islands that had formed as the tide dropped. Parents gathered with their small children to wade and play in the warm tidal pools that formed at low tide. The tide’s retreat from the beach had created a zone of contemplation, discovery and play.

Low Tide #19.tiff copyLow Tide #17.tiff copy            I became interested in the way the figures moved about, and especially in the relationships they formed with each other as they moved. A figure’s pose might suddenly echo another’s at some distance and that’s when I’d take the picture. Some figures passed completely unaware of each other but they formed an interesting arrangement. I’d look for those kinds of pictures, too.Low Tide #11.tiff copy 2Low Tide #6.tiff copy 2All Photos ©Lawrence S. Earley

I photographed these “Low Tide People” at a respectful distance, not so far away that they would be only dots in the picture, and not so close that my presence might interfere with their spontaneous movements. I wanted to capture them as figures occupying a large space of sky, sand and water.

Please view more photographs in this series at my photography website, www.lawrenceearley.photoshelter.com.

A House in Maine

A photograph may be a little more complicated than you think it is at first.

Maine-House001(grgam).jpgMaine House, ©Lawrence Earley

This is a picture I took about 30 years ago of a house along the Maine coast. It’s a small photograph, 5¼ in. x 8 in., made from a 35 mm negative, and I’ve matted it on an 11 in. x 17 in. board. It’s something that I enjoy looking at quite a lot.

I like the different tonalities in the photograph, first of all—the gray tones contrasted with the garage’s bright white and the stark black of the small racing horse medallion. I like the comforting way the dark tones of the foliage almost cradle and protect the bright garage. From one perspective, there’s a great deal of comfort imagery in the photograph: the fence enclosing the property from the front, the screen hiding the interior of the porch, and the aforementioned foliage surrounding the garage from behind. This seems to be a photograph of interiors, safe interiors, a place where you are protected from people like me, the photographer, viewing from the outside.

What else is going on? It’s got a nice, slightly off-kilter balance to it. It doesn’t particularly say Maine to me in a clichéd or trite way. What it evokes to me now (and perhaps when I took the picture) is a sense of a well-ordered space.  That sense of order is present in the photographic composition and it’s also in the space maintained by the people who live there. Perhaps the scene said to me, “What a nice place to live.” My wife and I had recently bought a house and perhaps I had the house on my mind.

I’d like to sit on that porch in the summer. Would there be a porch swing there? There should be, or a rocking chair, perhaps. Perhaps the chair makes a slight noise on the wooden floor as it moves. I would be reading poetry in this space, not that I read a lot of poetry but I think the silence within that space would reward a reading experience in which you pay attention to the words.

But isn’t there another way of looking at the photo? It’s not one that I was immediately aware of, but it’s there, I think. Couldn’t this be an image about fear? All the doors and windows and gates are closed. It’s a walled space, a walled castle minus the moat. Then there’s the fence with the sword-point tops; the closed windows of the building on the bottom left; the opaque screens on the porch; the porch protected by two buildings, each of them closed up tight. Couldn’t this photo be saying “Keep out!”? Despite the homeliness of their wooden construction, aren’t these solid structures like defensive walls?

This is a good example of how enigmatic a given image can be, like a Rorschach inkblot which you can read in two or more ways, depending on how you’re feeling at the time or on your basic personality type. If you flip back and forth between seeing the scene in the photograph as protective and comforting, or closed and defensive, it’s a little like the famous optical illusion in which you either see an old hag or a pretty young woman.

A simple photograph may not be so simple.