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Archive for the ‘PHOTOGRAPHY’ Category

 

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You slide down the ladder, bump on the ground and there you are—whacked. Happens. So then you get up and hope the joints work. Yes, that’s me, Peter Miller.

So I have been Vermont Broke. The photography business internationally is in the dumps, thanks to some greedy CEO’s in the stock photo business. The digital revolution cut deep and Lord help us here in Vermont with high taxes, energy costs and escalating fees. And then those like me that live in a house built before the invention of insulation. Even food is more expensive. So it goes and God Bless the local food bank—thank you all!

I have to make changes and I have. Opened an Airbnb and squeezed my photo gallery into one room.  I call it The Squashed Gallery and I AM HAVING A BIG SALE, CLEANING OUT AND STARTING OVER AND THAT MEANS REAL LOW PRICES! Photos from $10 to $600 for real large framed ones. Discounts of up to 60 %. Framed photos, matted photographs in bins: Paris in the 1950’s, Margaux Vendange 1957, Vermont Icons, photos of Stowe and Waterbury, black and white and color. You should take a look at the photos in my Airbnb as you stroll through my guest rooms that, frankly, have paid for my mortgage (but not the rest of it all, god knows!). AND…30% off books including A LIFETIME OF VERMONT PEOPLE and I will autograph all.

SALE IS SATURDAY AND SUNDAY ALL DAY LONG. THAT’S DECEMBER 19-20.

First 20 buyers receive a copy of Nothing Hardly Ever Happens in Colbyville, Vermont, with essays and photos taken in the 1970’s before Colbyville became aesthetically sad. And back then instead of a new motel we had that fornicating pig.

Come to Peter’s Squashed Gallery on 20 Crossroad, just off Route 100, two houses south of Ben & Jerry’s and opposite the Hong Kong restaurant, less than one mile from Interstate Exit 10 on Route 100 heading towards Stowe. This Saturday and Sunday.

fred tuttle copy

 

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Peter Miller, Chambermaid

Peter Miller, Chambermaid

I just couldn’t afford it,” said Peter Miller, Former Vermonter of the Year and author of the  award-winning books Vermont Farm Women and A Lifetime of Vermont People.“My expenses were over the top and my income was plummeting. It became obvious to me that my house was a liability and I couldn’t afford to keep it and pay the taxes and energy costs. A real estate broker told me to sell and run.

“I don’t want to leave Vermont, I love it and it has been my home for 67 years, when my family moved to the state in 1947. So what to do?

The Vermont Room

The Vermont Room

“I changed my gallery into an Airbnb—four bedrooms, a small kitchen and sitting area and…get this…a library with nothing but my photo books in it. On the walls in the bedroom are framed photos I have taken in France and Vermont.

Peter's Squashed Gallery

Peter’s Squashed Gallery

“Then I turned a production room next to the Airbnb into what I call Peter Miller’s Squashed Gallery where every wall is crowded with photographs.

“I did this with the help of friends from out-of-state and from the sales of my latest book A Lifetime of Vermont People. However, the expense left me with a lot less than a person on the dole brings in from the government.

“Well, I’m getting by, sort of.  I have had guests from Costa Rica, France, Holland and Canada. They come for the beauty, the biking and the beer. They like the photos in the rooms and my inexpensive rates. I am barely able to pay my mortgage with Airbnb cashflow and hopefully my resurrected gallery will start covering some of my other expenses.

“So I have re-invented myself. No more international assignments for magazines and stock photography. I have a book to do over the winter called The Vanishing (or is it “Disappearing?”) Vermonter…an Endangered Species. I will photograph and interview a number of Vermonters and asked them what went wrong with our state.

I HATE WASHING SHEETS AND MAKING BEDS!

 

 

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So I have finished writing, editing and photographing A Lifetime of Vermont People. I have traveled through the pain of a book that had to be reprinted so it is over a month past its deadline.

So I wait. And wait. Time to get my psyche and body back in shape. Yesterday I went out to photograph just for the sake of it. Driving on the road to Stowe Hollow from Waterbury there is a hayfield that I believe belongs to the Lintilhac family. In middle of it is a blob of blue—a large tarp covers a pile of round hay bales that have not been wrapped. It would make a different photograph.

I thought about it overnight and decided I should take the photograph on a cloudy-bright day and I should do it in color.  Yesterday, my first time out from computer deadlines in over the year, I drove up to look at the blob in the field. I took my film camera, a Pentax 6×7 with a wide angle and short telephoto mounted on the tripod, and walked into the field. I stared at that blue tarp  from a distance. What am I doing, I asked myself. The tarp and haybales were on a small hill; the field dipped down in front and growing hay hid the base of the bales. So I decided to walk around it and find the right perspective.

What I was doing was photographing a green, amorphous blob in the middle of a field of green. It just doesn’t belong there. Perhaps I should photograph at dusk with black and white, make it mysterious, a UFO miscarriage.

The blue tarp ruffled in the wind. A sparrow sat on the top of the tarp, enjoying the view. It would fly off, then return, then hop to the summit.

I walked through budding milk weed, a patch of brilliant Indian Paintbrushes etched against the rich green of late spring, Buttercups were reaching  to catch the meager sun we have had.

The closer I moved to the blob, the more it morphed into an amorphous shape.

I walked to within 30 feet of the blob and put on the wide angle and waited patiently for the sparrow to return, which he did. He liked the view from the top.

A couple of dozen feet to my right a Bobolink attached itself to a stalk of hay. Obviously it had a nest there and was on guard. It flew off 40 feet and settled into the grass. I was waiting for the sparrow to return when the Bobolink impatiently flew back to its perch about the nest, then fluttered to the ground. Would have been a good photo with the right lens and camera.

My sparrow returned and I made a photograph. I circled the hay bales and on the other side the hay was exposed as the tarp did not reach the ground. I made another exposure, this one with Camel’s Hump in the background. I opened up the camera aperture to  have everything fuzzy except the blue tarp.

I completed the circle and walked down the hayfield and turned to look at it. I put on the semi telephoto, opened wide and again tried to blur the foreground and background. On one exposure I slowed the speed to 1/30th and knocked the tripod to create a blurred impression. Sometimes it works.

I walked back towards the car. My I am out of shape! Computers are killers. I was looking down, tripod and camera over my shoulder, and came across a lone buttercup rising out of some young ferns. So much rich green surrounded the yellow flower that displayed a flare of independence as it reached out to the sun. I took two photos and finished the roll.

I exposed two rolls, one in color negative and one Velvia 100, a transparency film. 20 frames. No, no digital on this trip. I’m tired of shooting pix and beaming them into virtuality.

I packed up and drove off. I’ll have the film processed in New York. You know, this photograph might be a bust but it was fun, I saw something that looked like it was an alien object and then I saw the birds, the new hay, the wild flowers and the beauty seen and smelled and photographed that said to me, yes, the memory of this is much more vibrant to my soul than the photograph.

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You Still Shoot Film???

Will and Rowena, Weston, VT. Photograph with Rolleiflex, 1960

Do you shoot digital?” is a question I am asked so many times. The reason is I shot my first film photographs in 1950. My first digital photographs were published in a 24/7 America, 2003. Took me a while to adjust.

Yes I shoot digital. And I also shoot film. I have a number of different cameras for films—A Leica M6; an old Plaubel with a fixed 47mm lens that shoots 2 ¼ x 3 inch format on 120 film; a 6×7 Pentax that makes a 2 ¼ x 2 ¾ inch negatives; a 6×17 (2 ¼ x 7 inch neg) Fuji Panoramic; a 4×5 Linhof, and a Nikon D90.

For digital I use a Nikon 700 system, which is 12 megapixels and I eventually will upgrade to the 800 system. I did have a Leica M9. I loved the lenses but not the camera. The battery was not powerful enough and the switch was too easy to go from off to on when putting it in the case. The higher ISO’s had too much noise but worst of all, it was not moisture proof. When I used the M9 in a snowstorm, water leaked into the viewfinder and fogged it. Focusing the 50mm 1.4 wide open for head shots, which I wanted to do for bokeh—out of focus background— was a hit and miss job. I didn’t consider the camera professional, so I sold it. Also, I felt uncomfortable with such an expensive camera hanging around my neck.

Each camera has a job. The Nikon is used for journalism and any subject that is to be used for the web. It is also very, very good with noise and low light shooting with auto focus makes it a potent tool. I have two zoom lenses, expensive, but the rest are prime lenses, and some are manual.

When I convert digital to black and white I use Alien Skin, which is software for adding film grain to digital images. I prefer the grain of Tri X for most of my work. I like the feeling of gritty grain and the increased contrast. I did not use Alien Skin for the images used in my latest book, A Lifetime of Vermont People. The photos were scanned once by me, then put through a proprietary process for making duotones by the printer and then printed. I wanted maximum sharpness, brilliance and dmax and figured the image was going through enough without Alien Skin.

All digital and film images go through Photoshop. I use the software to clean the pix, enhance color for stock photos, and convert to black and white. I do in Photoshop what I did in the darkroom. I do not manipulate the images or background although have added the moon but it is always positioned in the photograph where it comes up. Basically, I want a simple photograph where nothing detracts from the reason why you took the photograph.

More of my work is becoming documentary—an honest record of the culture of our time. The Leica M6 is for personal work and for quick shots when I am using larger format cameras. The Nikon D90 is a back up for whatever emergency or requirement comes up that needs film.

I am, in many cases, switching to color negative and I scan edited negatives into the computer.  I like the softer palate and the ability to use Photoshop to leave it as color or convert to black and white. I use two Nikon 9000 scanners with Silverfast software and this is a very good scanning set up. I also have an Epson 700 flat bed, also with Silverfast. Almost all of my film work is now shot with 6×7 and larger format cameras.

And yes, I have a darkroom where I can make prints up to 20×24 if I have to, but prefer not to go over 16×20 size. Some fine art people collect only the old silver gelatin prints. I like the toning and the possibility to use older processing methods of making prints. I also make very limited editions with my darkroom prints. All this is personal and fine art type of photography. So why do I go to this trouble? I like to loupe a negative on a light table, you know, looking at the sharpness, the detail, the grain. Through a loupe I gain an intimacy with the negative. I like the sense of grain in a photograph and having a negative in my hand rather than a digital residing someplace in the clouds and who knows what is going to happen to digital images, the disks, and the machines they are not kept on? For instance, say a giant sunspot knocks out the electricity in North America and we’ll be lucky to have it back in a year? Be good to have a film camera, a cache of film and developer and a darkroom. Back to the dark ages, so to speak?

Yes, I must admit, prints made from a scan on a good machine have more dynamic range that a print made in the darkroom (usually). And I’m old fashioned. But let’s face it, digital has opened up a new realm to photography that is a blend of techniques, words, motion, film, color, black and white combined with the possibility of adding a dimension to the work. I’ll be dead when they finally figure it out and very few, usually artists, will be making wet prints—those made in the darkroom.

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In the November 27 Sunday edition of The New York Times, on the edit page, Lawrence Downes wrote a historically introspective piece titled Of Poor Farmers and ‘Famous Men’.

The essay was about the powerful book, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, by James Agee, a writer who one critic said wants to write the history of the world on the head of a pin. The photographs in the book are what endure in the mind—a series of black and whites images that show three sharecropper families entrapped by their poverty in Hale County, Alabama. The year was 1936. They photographs impart a desperate feeling of drowning with no air to suck in.

Fortune Magazine assigned this project to Agee and Evans. They magazine eventually turned it down (too artistic) and it was published in 1941 as a book.

Downes visited Hale County twice, once in 1973 and again this year. He found the book was referred to “…as that book.” The author’s thrust was an honest appraisal. According to Downes, one of Evans portraits of a Hale Country girl killed herself with rat poison. Others turned to prostitution. And there was incest and mental impairment, which one can also find in certain isolated communities in the mountains as far north as Maine.

Yet was it honest? The authors changed the names of the people and the towns to protect them from intrusion. Evans, according to Downes, allowed the people to “compose themselves” before the portrait and the interior photographs of their homes are so well designed it makes you wonder if Evans arranged the still lifes to be more balanced.

So was this documentary raw and honest, directed documentary, or was it art, recreating a sense of their economic and social status as Shelby Lee Adams did in his Appalachian series? Does it imply that many outsiders use smoke and mirrors when they depict a class of people who they believe are socially below them?

This brings me to my book Vermont People that I published in 1990. Like Agee and Evan’s book, 13 publishers turned mine down. I had to re-mortgage my home and self publish it.

Vermont People was an instant success;  there were huge photo layouts in the press and a couple of times I was called Vermont’s Walker Evans. The first edition of the book sold out in six weeks and it went on to multiple editions. 15,000 were printed before I pulled the plug.

Some think my book shows poverty and a backward type of life. At least this was the opinion of a number of tourists. Most realized what I had produced was an insight to rural Vermont. What I finally understood is that I had documented, in words and photographs, Vermonters who understood their way of life was in transition. I captured a dying, but vibrant culture.

Vermonters wrote and thanked me for recognizing them, that Vermont was more than fall color, red barns, and green pastures. One old Vermonter came into a bookstore in Burlington, where I was signing books. He was dressed in red and black checked wool jacket and matching jodhpurs, long lace boots rose to his calves and a red peaked hat with tied up ear liners, was tucked over his grey hair. “I want to shake your hand,” he said. “Thank you.”

Now I am updating this book with what I call “A Lifetime of Vermont People”.

Some of the pre 1990 photos, the iconic ones, will remain. I am adding 40 new portraits. Included will be writers, artists, professors and, good grief, a governor (but it is a very funny picture).

Perhaps the purity of the first book will be shaded but I like to think this book, much less in talent than Agee and Evan’s Now Let Us Praise Famous Men, is a recognition that our state is a good place to live because of the character of the independent Vermonters. They created our way of life. Below are cover tries. Which do you prefer?

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September 11, 2001. Colbyville, Vermont.  333 miles north of Manhattan.

“Something awful has happened! An airplane hit one of the Trade Towers!” yelled a friend through the darkroom door. I was making prints for a book on Vermont farm women

I rushed upstairs and watched the Trade Tower burning. Then I saw the other plane hit the second tower. I could feel the terror in the airline passengers and the people in the tower, watching, perhaps not believing, what was happening. A spurt of flame blew through the tower. Fire, smoke and then the Towers crumbled, as if they were sand castles built too high. I didn’t say a word and watched the television for the rest of the day.

As a journalist and photographer, I should have rushed down to Ground Zero to photograph the tragedy. I didn’t. I couldn’t go down to document this loss; to take heroic photographs of tragedy, for the destruction of the towers and the death of so many people lay too monstrous in my soul, torturing my psyche. I crawled into myself.

For seven years, from the late 1970s to the mid 1980s, I lived in Manhattan and photographed the Twin Towers­—Winter, summer, spring, fall,  at dawn and at dusk. From the plaza below the Trade Towers, looking straight up, from the top looking down at Manhattan glowing with hustle, the north to the Empire State and to the south the harbor, blue and serene at dusk. I photographed the Towers from the Statue of Liberty, from Brooklyn, from the Empire State Building, and in New Jersey from Liberty State Park, the World War II ammunition loading pier in Bayonne, and from the Colgate building, then a hangout for winos and druggies  (I carried a pistol in my camera bag). . . from Steven’s Point and Weehawken, where Burr killed Hamilton in a duel. From that vantage the two towers blended into one.  My photo agency, The Image Bank, sold these photographs all over the world.

My favorite spot was at the end of the ammunition pier in Bayonne that extended over a mile into the harbor, and you could line up the Statue of Liberty between the Trade Towers. I went out there at dawn and watched the sun rise over Manhattan, light changing from grey to blue to pink. Once I stood behind my camera from dawn until midmorning on an August day that would turn humid-hot and I watched the light change, until a haze of heat whitened the towers. Helicopters, halfway below the towers’ summit, buzzed back and forth and nearer to me seagulls glided. The scene was diaphanous, gossamer delicate.

I would return to the pier on afternoons when a northwest front moved into Manhattan, bringing with it a clarity that sparkled, a deep blue sky and puffy clouds. The first day would be pristine, the second day lost a bit of that freshness, the third day turned hazy. I would drive through the Holland Tunnel to Bayonne, hike with a camera pack and tripod to the end of the pier, and set up the camera and wait, and every so often take photographs as the sun slipped overhead to western New Jersey, changing the light and color of lower Manhattan every fifteen minutes. After sunset I would wait until that magical moment when the sky turned a mystical blue and the Towers lit up, blocks of light and form against a backdrop fading from blue to black. Sometimes the full moon would rise over the Brooklyn Bridge and arc over the Towers. It was thrilling to watch the floors light up until the Towers became living, pulsing beings. To me they were vibrant structures of life. They represented what New York stood for—a jolt of wired energy, a tangible power with an intangible force.

The Trade Towers anchored the New York skyline and replaced the Empire State Building as the city’s prima donna. At the summer solstice, the sun was far enough north so that, when it set, and  if you were standing on the pier in Hoboken, it reflected directly off the Towers, turning them into golden, shimmering mirrors. The Empire State could never do that. The Trade Towers had a beauty that surged through my camera lens, to my eye, my brain, my soul, living within me. It was my sort of high.

For a while I lived at the corner of Spring and Broadway in Soho and bicycled throughout the city. The towers were my geographical index. I would bike serendipitously, looking for photo locations.

I returned to Vermont in the mid-1980s. In Manhattan the yuppies had moved in and buildings were being converted into coops and I, always subleasing, was kicked from apartment to apartment. Finally the rents climbed so high I said the hell with it. I kept my bicycle in New York, and would drive down, bike the city, a risk sport to me, and continue to visit those secret stashes where I would photograph the Manhattan skyline, and my Trade Towers. No matter how many times I went to a particular vantage point to take photographs, the light on the Towers was always different.

Linespace

Something shriveled in me on Wednesday, September 11, 2001.  I couldn’t do anything for the rest of the week. I moped in my home. On the weekend I dragged myself out, and with my Airstream in tow, drove to Benson, Vermont, where I photographed Jeanne Bartholomew, a farmwoman. It was a subdued day. The interview I had, and the photographs I took, seemed to be a relief for Jeanne and me. Neither of us had much to say about the Towers, and when we did, we didn’t look at each other.

I parked my camper in one of their hayfields that had just been mowed. On Saturday night, at dusk, I sat in a chair and watched four deer feeding on the upper edge of the field in front of the forest kept at bay by a stone wall. Night overpowered dusk, obliterating the deer. Then the stars came out, brilliant sparks on a cool black night

Morning fog evaporated into a brilliant Sunday canopied by a  deep blue sky. It was the same weather pattern they had in New York when the planes struck, the type of day I would say to myself, when I lived there, and looked at the Towers standing tall above the buildings in Soho,          “What a great day to be alive!”

It was so quiet in that Vermont field on this particular Sunday morning. No commercial or private aircraft were flying in the United States. Not even a wisp of a contrail. The morning sun was bright and dried the dew quickly. A couple of grasshoppers fluttered and whirred. The silence that was in the sky subsumed my soul and a dark void filled me. In midmorning, it was broken by the noise of a jet engine—a National Guard fighter from Burlington, patrolling the perimeter.

I cannot look at any photographs of the Trade Towers destruction, nor can I read about the pain of the rescuers or the survivors. I avert my eyes to these photographs and videos. I think of the people ground to ashes. The symbol of New York is crumbled.  I think of the beauty in my soul, molded by those photographs of the Towers, now devastated

For three years I would not go to New York. I read the stories behind the victims printed in the New York Times, but I never could read more than three before I was crushed by the hope and vibrancy killed on that day.

Something died within me. A friend suggested I seek counsel, but I can care for it in my way. I will go back to Manhattan and try to rid myself of this angst. I will visit Ground Zero, and walk along the bay to Liberty State Park and visit the ammunition pier, which I hear has been broken in two, and I will go to Hoboken and to Weekhawken and to Brooklyn, where I will watch the sun set and where the Brooklyn Bridge and the Trade Towers were silhouetted against the setting sun, only this time there will be a hole in what I see, and in my soul.

What has happened? Is it desecration? Is it a loss of humanity and innocence, of an era in New York when America and I were supremely happy . . . and naive? Or is it a loss of beauty? I don’t know. I’ll go to New York sometime, but not soon, and try to put this death to rest.

………..

When I returned to New York, I looked down at  the hole at Ground Zero.  I stared at the wounded bronze globe from the Towers Plaza, now in the Battery. I took a boat taxi to New Jersey and walked along the bay to Liberty State Park. The ghost marina, the old factory buildings in Hoboken, the winos and druggies,  even the Colgate clock, have vanished. The shoreline is pristine, gentrified, clean, perfect and it does not feel right. I walked half way down to the Park , stopped, turned around and looked at  southern tip of Manhattan,  where the Trade Towers rose, surrounded by water. Now it appears as a flat shoreline.

“God,” I said to myself. “It looks like a cemetery.”

 

 

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Visions of Place

The Vermont Folklife Center (www.vermontfolklifecenter.org) in Middlebury has a photography show that includes myself, Richard Brown and John Miller. It is called Visions of Place and attempts to show how our photographs reflect the changing sense of what Vermont was, is, or will become.

Each of us has written a self analysis of what our photographs mean, what our statement is, etc. etc. frankly, I never thought of it but there’s always something we want to say. I only understood that recently while looking at some of my Vermont books. So this is what I have written, which will be on the wall of this show that opens at the Folklife Center in Middlebury June 10 and closes September 3.

************************************

Why did I buy a good camera with the insurance my mother gave me after my guns were stolen?

Darned if I know. I was 17. That was 59 years ago and I’m still at it. I first photographed the hillside farmers in Weston, my hometown. I liked them. Honest and look you in the eye. Good wit and storytellers. Curious. Intelligent. Observant. Love for the land. Vermont is divided into two: the hill people and the valley people. I am a hill person.

Photography followed me, or I should say it dragged me along, through University, Europe, the US Army, New York City and assignments around the world. Photography told me what to do with my life, told me I had to learn to write.

Eventually my soul took me from a high-charged life back to Vermont. I had teachers along the way—The University of Toronto Camera Club, Yousuf Karsh, the Signal Corps, the editors and photographers who I worked with at LIFE magazine. And then there was my own damned persistence that I learned from Vermont’s hillside farmers.

I made black and white images. Oh, I took color. Lots of it. That was a cash crop. But my love was the depth of feeling found in a black and white photograph, particularly when you read the history of a face.

I always photographed Vermonters. Rarely made prints, just stuck the negatives in a file cabinet. Made a print or two. That was until the mid 1980’s and one of my New York editors berated me for not taking responsibility for my talent, no matter how big or small.

So I put together the book Vermont People. Had half enough portraits and of course I had interviews too. I photographed a bunch more. That was in 1988 and 1989. Every publisher in Vermont turned down my book, because there was no color and it had portraits of Vermonters of no particular importance. I self published and increased the mortgage of my house.

Sold the first edition of 3,000 in six weeks. Went on to sell another 12,000 just in Vermont and published two more coffee table books on Vermont and its people. Vermont People is now sold out and I’m looking for a way to publish a new edition.

What am I trying to say with my photographs? Never really thought about it until I was going through my Vermont books and I realized that almost 98% of the people I photographed are self employed—farmers, loggers, sawyers, craftspeople, store owners, plumbers, carpenters, painters and freelancers. They rely on their wits, intelligence, common sense and hard work. They are independent, free, close to the land. They have few pretensions, are happy with their life, are in tune with the seasons and make a strong friend. They are frugal.

These Vermonters¬—these independent souls—are salvage. The banks shun most of them because, although they have strong assets in land, houses and honesty, they don’t have cash flow. If they end the year with too much income, they’ll expense it.

Whom do banks cozy up to? Any person with a guaranteed check, a pension and health plan and the back up security of a corporation, say IBM, Green Mountain Coffee, insurance companies, the layered bureaucracy of town and state government workers. Banks prefer that the people to whom they extend credit be pasteurized.

And what about the Vermonters that made this state what it is? As one writer commented about the people in my books, who are my friends:

“They are an endangered species, and Vermont is all used up.”

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