The Meaning of a Photo

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While I took time adjusting the original of this image  (iPhone 7Plus) to make it look as I wanted, it was what I saw in front of me that was most important. What it meant to me. As I’ve grown older, with health issues, I’ve become more introspective and when I see something like this dirt road winding toward the distance, I think about “paths” in life each of us have been given. We just don’t know what lies around the bend, so why do we spend so much time thinking and worrying about it?

Photo Journalism

I’ve been blessed with professional opportunities in my life that were, on the whole, very satisfying. After almost thirty years doing one thing, I took on a second professional career for twenty more, but in an entirely different direction. It wasn’t long after when I realized I had certain creative skills up until then dormant. Skills such as desktop publishing, photography, graphic design, and lastly researching and writing original articles. It was the latter task I enjoyed the most, because I found it both challenging and fun to “tell a story” mainly through the use of photographs. Now that I’m fully retired, with time on my hands, I enjoy going back to those photo journalism days, using this Photoblog versus a printed magazine to share my work.

MEMORIES INSIDE

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On a whim one day, just to see what might be along a single-lane, winding road near Stuart, Virginia, I drove along looking for photo opportunities. I was quickly rewarded by finding these old farm buildings and pulled off the road to take a closer look. As luck would have it I saw a person loading items from inside one of the buildings into a truck. He saw me too and at first I thought he was going to tell me to stay away, but he didn’t. He walked toward me, spotted my camera and smiled, telling me to make as many photos as I wanted, since he was a relative of the people who once lived there. He added he was getting rid of lots of accumulated junk from inside the buildings and instructed me not to go inside or get too close because the structures weren’t safe. Being busy he didn’t say much more other than to briefly recall his joyful days as a young boy when he’d enjoyed visiting the farm, given there was a very nice swimming and fishing lake directly across the road near where I’d parked my car.

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Whenever I find places such as this, I can’t help but think of all the memories involved, hidden except to those who experienced them. I wish the man had not been so busy because I had a lot of questions. Such as how old the place was, how many had lived there, what sort of farming was performed and for how many years, and lastly when did people move away for good, and why. But the main thing on which my mind focused after the man drove away in his fully loaded truck, was an inviting open door on one part of the house. It was dark and rather mysterious inside from what I could see from where I was standing.

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I had an urge to go inside to find out more, but being the sort of person who follows instructions, and mainly fearing the moment I’d do that, the man I’d just met would suddenly return and toss me off his property for trespassing.

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There was a better solution. Since I had a telephoto lens on my camera I was able to get a closer look. The inside walls appeared to be paneled, and the ceiling had been painted green. There was an upholstered chair near the door at the left, and on the right what looked like a portion of a toilet basin. Maybe both had been temporarily stored there to be hauled away later, but it was the condition of the walls and ceiling that made me think it hadn’t been that long since it had been occupied. The metal roof supported that conclusion. I could have lingered with my camera, recording various other aspects of the buildings in front of me, but decided instead to go across the road to walk around the lake a bit … wondering as I did how many fish had been caught there over the years.

While driving home I realized how much “history” is around us in the form of structures such as this old farmstead. It might take a drive down some strange road, or a hike into the backwoods to find them, but they are there. Just waiting. With memories inside.

Addendum:

Sadly in my opinion, a question many in the publishing business today ask is whether or not photo journalism as we once knew it is still relevant. Once, popular publications such as Life Magazine and Look Magazine demonstrated the powerful effect of photos to a story. Life Magazine’s coverage of World War Two, for example, was highly regarded. In a February, 2017 article in the New York Times, Donald R. Winslow, editor of the National Press Photographers Association’s News Photographer magazine and website writes about the status of the profession today. “Photo journalism used to be incredibly prestigious and a much sought-after profession. The overall devaluation of photography that started years ago [film to digital] ran concurrent with the gradual demise of newspapers, which ran concurrent with the rise of the internet, which ran concurrent with the use of video, and it was a long, slow, critical illness for photo journalism. In history there have been professions that basically disappeared. There’s still a few chimney sweeps around, but not like there once was. The question is, what will photo journalism evolve into, and can someone earn a living doing it? Or is everybody now a photographer [using their iPhone], and like everyone thinks they are Ernest Hemingway just because they have Microsoft Word?”

 

 

The Weather

Maybe it’s because I’m fully retired, with idle time on my hands, that I focus so much on the weather forecast. February and March have been rough months for us here in SW Virginia this year: below normal temperatures, lots of rain and some snow, and too many cloudy, dreary days that affected my attitude. Numerous smartphone weather Apps overload me with information. Long range forecasts depress me when they point to a continuation of bad weather. Today I’m in that predicament. The first day of Spring just passed and cold and snowy weather is predicted. This photo sums up my mood in that regard.

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I know better than to let this sort of thing affect me, but it does anyway. There’s a saying, “One can make their own weather … even if it’s in the mind.” I can’t control the weather but I can control how I react to it. The weather conditions and environment in the following photo is what I choose to focus on this week. How can I be any happier remembering that moment when I captured the image in Alaska last August.

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While in Alaska for a week, the weather was absolutely top-of-the-line. Mostly clear blue skies, long range views, warm temperatures, little if any rain, and total bliss as far as the incredible scenery was concerned. It was easy to be pleased with the weather then. What I have to do right now, dreary as it is outside, is to have the same level of joy I had in Alaska. Make my own weather.

A Good Dog …and a Cat

I can say with no hesitation that having a dog or a cat living as a part of one’s family can be both wonderful … and frustrating. First, we have to understand they are not human, even though many people treat them that way. Our family experience in this regard goes back a long way. Multiple dogs and cats. Sadly, the closer we become to them, the harder it is to deal with their departure … to Pet Heaven. By far our favorite breed of dogs is the Alaska Malamute. First we had a male, Nikki. He lived a good life, and lived with us while we were in the Army and afterwards, including a tour in West Germany. Second and perhaps Barb’s overall favorite dog, was our female Malamute Mystee.

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Mystee in her prime weighed between 75-100 pounds, and was a great partner with me on my daily jogs, out front on her lease leading the way, just like a good sled dog her breed can become. Nikki, being a male, was a more robust runner. I recall him leading the way on jogs up to ten miles each. He seemed never to tire, although I knew he was, tongue hangout out after we stopped. Shortly after Nikki passed away, we got Mystee as a very cute and furry puppy. As she aged, so did her legs. As did mine. So for many years we walked our neighborhood daily instead of jogging the same route. She loved to go. Walk or jog. It became a habit for her and for me. Then her rear legs eventually gave out, and she couldn’t go. That condition got worse, eventually leading to the tough decision to have her put to sleep. It was a sad day. Now, for us, it’s cats. We have two. One sleeps close beside me at night. Every night. This is Lucy.

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She’s the best cat we’ve had. Friendly to everyone, loving, and often demanding of attention. She can literally “stare me down” when she wants something. I’ve learned mostly what that can be. Food, fresh water, treats, or nice belly rubbing. She’s a great comfort to me.

So what have I learned from all this. Pets are cool. Pets are funny. Pets are fun. True, they often have accidents in the house of various sorts, but like I wrote above, they are “pets” and not human, so we can’t expect them to always act like we “think” they ought to. But, mostly I have learned that as we age, and become afflicted with various health issues, and become less active (like jogging), we can be comforted by having a pet or two around.

 

Making Old Buildings New

My prior post was about the decline of American industry and the remnants of associated buildings left behind. I saw lots of “beauty” in that regard, and decided while making those photos to take a look at how local community developers and elected officials have decided to improve on that situation. I recently began following a blog written by a couple living in Greensboro, NC who live in a renovated textile plant in that city, which is attracting many young people like them. I decided to take a look closer to home here in Martinsville, VA and what follows is what I saw recently.

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For years I drove by a somewhat rundown brick building that once was home to the Martinsville Novelty Company. What’s a “novelty” you ask. Good question and certainly not something we see anymore with that title. Wikipedia defines this as “A novelty item is an object which is specifically designed to serve no practical purpose, and is sold for its uniqueness, humor, or simply as something new.” I remember as a kid seeing ads in comic books that touted many “novelties” each of which captured my attention. Anyway, I digress. Several years ago a developer purchased the building and turned it into a very nice apartment complex with lots of amenities. The adjacent parking lot was crowded the day I visited to make this photo. Success number one!

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Success number two. The historic Henry Hotel sat for years in the center of Martinsville, and served its purpose well. Then it closed years ago. Recently another developer gave the building a new chance in life. Martinsville’s Historic Henry Hotel is now The Henry, a 25-unit downtown loft complex. Small businesses were attracted and that has helped put a bit more vibrancy into the city, previously impacted by closures of many local major industries.

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Lastly, and perhaps most significant is what has happened to the main production facility for Tultex, Inc located here in Martinsville. The city was once referred to as “the sweatshirt capital of the world”, due to Tultex’s production of athletic and other popular lines of clothing. Then along came China to compete, and “boom” Tultex and many companies like it shuttered their facilities. The loss of jobs had a obvious significant impact on Martinsville, but left behind was a very large multi-story brick building. That changed due to forward-looking and wise action on the part of many people. A portion of the plant has been converted to office space with large meeting/conference facilities, that have over the past several years, added a lot to the community. Here’s what it looks like today in its new life.

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I’m proud to have been witness to the transformation processes related to each of the three examples I cited above. I already mentioned one such success in Greensboro, plus I’m aware of many other examples elsewhere in North Carolina and Virginia. It makes me proud to see what’s happening. We Americans are indeed adaptable.

Madison’s Dry Goods Country Store

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We live about fifteen driving minutes away from Madison, NC. The small town of about 2000 is located in the Piedmont Region of Virginia and North Carolina, and its downtown business district is a favorite place for me to visit. Always with my camera. In that regard I offer up Madison’s Dry Goods Country Store.  I love visiting and shopping in stores like this, and believe me I’ve been in many. The unique thing about here is the friendly atmosphere, and quality clothing and other goods sold, at reasonable prices. Here are some photos I made to give you a taste. If you are in Rockingham County NC,  I encourage you to visit Madison, as I did this past week, leaving with a just purchased nice flannel shirt and fleece vest. I’m ready for winter now!

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I’ve seen it … I’ve been there

Long term changes in global weather patterns is a popular topic of discussion today. First, this isn’t some liberal rant about “climate change.” I’m not smart enough to understand whether or not it’s all man-made, whether it’s a natural effect, or whether it’s a combination of both. I do know how it’s affecting those who live in the Bering Sea region and Alaska because I’ve been there (five times since 1999) and seen it first hand. In 2009, for example, my wife and I spent two weeks exploring via small cruise ship the remote Bering Sea region from Kodiak Island, to Dutch Harbor to Eastern Siberia in Russia. It was, to say the least, a trip of a lifetime.

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This is Savoonga, the only town on St. Lawrence Island, located in the northern region of the Bering Sea, and as far as I’m concerned the most remote town in the United States. Below is the U.S. Post Office, Zip Code 99769.

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Below are photos of a few of the Native Americans who live in Savoonga. They were “dressed up” and welcoming of our visit. They shared native foods with us. They also gathered with us in the high school gymnasium to share their joy in song and dance. These are proud and very wise people.

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While there we learned how much these Americans depend on finding and gathering enough sea life annually, as a primary food source. There was a small General Store that sold basic subsistance items, but each was relatively expensive given the need to bring supplies in via air and boat from the Alaska mainland. Seal and Whale meat was hanging in various locations throughout the town, drying to make it less prone to spoiling.

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We were told how it has become increasingly difficult over the past several years to find enough whales, walruses, seals and other sea life to sucessfully hunt. For example, a single whale, captured and killed using harpoon and small outboard motor boats, might result in enough food for 100 people, for one year. Do the math to figure out how many whales must be found to feed a town of 700. Warming ocean water, the hunters said, seems to be the main cause of the reduced numbers of their usual and traditional prey. These are subsistence hunters. They waste nothing and take only what they need.

Another sight I’ve seen since 1999 is relatively rapid glacial melting, again caused by unusually warm temperatures. On our first visit to Portage Glacier south of Anchorage, for example, it was possible to see the glacier face on Portage Lake from the Visitor’s Center. In August 2017 I was there again at the Visitor’s Center, and the glacier had retreated so far back into adjacent mountains, one had to take a lengthy boat ride to see the face. I saw the same thing in Prince William Sound (August 2017 photo below). While many glaciers there are most impressive by their size, I note that they were much more impressive the first time I saw them.

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I recall when it was impossible for us to get as close to this glacier as we did this past August. That was because glacier ice clogged the bay almost to the point where I made this photo. I submit that warming temperatures are causing this.

Maybe we’re now going through another “cycle” that earth has experienced many times before. Large climate swings back and forth that may take decades to document. However, I’m weary of listening to and reading theories by so-called experts, and politically motivated bloggers who’ve never been there to see first hand what’s going on. I submit my “facts” observed over almost twenty years of “being there” are worth much more when discussing this situation. Blaming someone or some “thing” does little to help the Native Americans that live in these remote regions.

Another Reason

We’ve lived in Martinsville-Henry County Virginia for over 15 years. That’s pretty special, considering our 28-year career in the Army when we moved on average every 2-3 years. I love living where we do now, retired fully and enjoying it all the best we can, considering age and health concerns. My cameras help keep me focused (no pun) on what’s around me. This photo essay is about a very nice (and relative new) attraction in Martinsville. Another reason why we love living here.

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The items in the display represent many facets of the diversity of people and activities in Henry County … textiles, furniture, music, faith, farming, recreation, etc. The display shows a high level of creativity in how those items are presented. Thanks to all who designed and put together this creative artwork, and to those officials and others who made its public display possible. It’s great!

Exploring in Alaska

I’m no expert by any means when it comes to locations to visit in Alaska. However, I have been there five times since 1999 (most recently last month) and I’ve seen quite a lot of territory via air, sea and land transportation. I’ve traveled on 1-2 week small ship organized tours, organized land tours; and most recently on my own, unencumbered by departure schedules and limited time to devote to any single destination. We simply flew to Anchorage, rented a car and off we went exploring. Here’s a tip if you decide such an option is for you. Definitely drive about an hour north from Anchorage and visit the Historic Independence Gold Mine. I don’t believe it’s on most organized tour itineraries, and that’s what made it so special to me. The photos below are what we saw, spending a leisurely half-day walking around over marked trails, easy and less so. That afternoon we drove up the winding Hatcher Pass road to Summit Lake (another incredible destination not on your typical organized tour). I’ll post photos from there in a future blog post.

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Waiting for the Train

In the wilds of Alaska, it’s not always a simple matter to “get there.” A primary mode of transportation is via small “bush” and other forms of private aircraft. There are roads for vehicular traffic, but depending on where you’re headed there may be none. Then there’s my favorite form of transportation, Alaska Railroad. Major cities such as Anchorage and Fairbanks have large passenger depots, but at many locations, such as Girdwood where I was, with our daughter and grandson, it’s a “depot” in name only. Take a look and I think you’ll get the idea.

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Right on time, the trains Conductor stepped off, checked our tickets, and helped us climb aboard, and we were underway in less than five minutes. My main point here is to note that Alaska Rail stops at many locations much more remote than Girdwood. That says a lot about just how “frontier-like” Alaska is compared to much of the rest of the United States.