Two years ago, we lived in Burlington. Remember this snowfall well. Can feel the cold, the wet and the chill. Today, just a perfect 80 degrees. We had some rain and it went away.
So, Hilla Becher died at 81. She was too young. Another photographer who should have lasted longer.
What she and her husband brought to the party now seems banal and commonplace. But before them, people didn’t give the industrial plant any notice. We have all seen big building and smokestacks. Water towers in certain places are breeding grounds for microbial diseases. They not only saw the beauty in factories, silos and storage, they recognized them as art. Then they arranged them on posters, deemphasizing their importance, for a second, while heightening your interest in seeing what they saw. No one had done it like this before. And all our attempts are lame.
When I lived in Burlington VT, a town where the people were colder than the temperature, I wanted to shoot the Moran Building, a dilapidated structure on Lake Champlain. They had their people, their artists, their crew. Me. I just lived nearby, visiting everyday. Angry at the damage the plant did to the Lake and wondering if the next incarnation would make it healthier, I longed to get inside with my camera. One day I did. Just a short visit, enough to snap and show what I would do if given more opportunity.
The two recent UVM graduates, whatever Gov’t agency gave the money for coming up with a development plan and the fund raisers didn’t recognize my desire to contribute my work or my ability. They got people to paint images on the wall and make paintings. The architects sent me one message and probably went back to their photographer. I never heard from the Mayor or whomever controlled the art. One person told me I was on the team, though I didn’t get a jersey or a cup.
Never made it onto their list. Not a member of the inner circle of Burlington Artists. Didn’t work for the Free Press or 7 Days. Not a donator to BCA. Not sure they let people with attitude inside. They be happy with the same-old, same-old. So, we left.
The Bechers. They live within me, too. Taught me how to see, better.
I don’t do winter, well. Don’t ski. Don’t snowshoe. Don’t skate or play hockey. And I sure as hell don’t ice fish. I tried it once or twice when I lived in Salsibury, VT. My friends took me to their well appointed shack on Lake Dunmore. We drank beer, ate deer bourguignon, cooked to perfection on the site and laughed and told stories. Good friendship. But, every once in a while, we had to go check the lines. I held the flash light. Across the Lake, drivers did wheelies on the ice. We caught a few fish, little ones. The guys cleaned, cooked and ate them. Couldn’t wait to leave, though I admit I did have a good time hanging out.
Last great day, maybe; maybe not.
Jim O’Donnell, hobo with a car. Traveling through Burlington. Knows the street and its people. On his way to Maine. Has bags in his car where he sleeps.
Cheryl’s still on the steet with Ryan. Had her baby. Says she’s homeless and hungry.
Sam said he came from Maryland. Carried his bike on the train. Who knows? He slept on a picnic table.
A knock at the door Saturday brought bad news. Kit Stone, who lives above us wanted to know where Ann lived. Only four units on a floor in Westlake Residences. Hardly see neighbors, except when dumping garbage. Margaret Brown, Ann’s friend and exercise buddy had died from a fall in her condo. ME said she hit her head, fell and suffocated, according the Kit. Sad way to go, for sure. Before her time was consumed by loss of memory, organ eating bacteria, embolisms or gravy like blood. I’d mourn more, but I didn’t know her, except for a few hellos and good-byes. She never wanted to have a portrait. So, I don’t remember what she looked like. And I lived in the same building with her.
So, they tell you how folksy VT is, just a little community of like people living the dream. A way of life, special, they call it. I cannot tell you much about Margaret or about many people. Saw her recycling. Know she had a red Accura. Heard she was a doctor. This State can be impersonal. Lots of wide open spaces, canopied walks and only a few roads. People spend a lot of time commuting and attending meetings. Then they hunt, ski or ride their snow mobiles, if they hadn’t had licenses revoked. Kid’s sports dominate the fall. Festivals dominate the summer. Everyone rushing to go do something, somewhere. Never enough time.
Worry. Right now, I have my health and time. But it could change. I could fall. Need to be careful.
Nice place to do a crossword, eh?
One of my original guys. He’s back. So am I.
Not his real name, for sure. Had a following. Always a wise statement. Kind. Gentle. Smart.
When I walked the Lake Champlain Boardwalk, on one of our best days of the year, I saw him sitting in the same swing I shot him when we first met, all alone. I remember the guys with him. Three of them; one dead, two alive. And, I know where they are.
He appeared in my first show. Wants to see the photo. I had given him a print; who knows what happened to that? As to the future, who knows about that, either?
So, they say if you want to get a picture, find a place and sit there. Someone will come on the set to make it perfect. Photographers need patience and prayer. The camera has to be ready as does the confidence. Creativity on the run. Don’t regret not shooting. Always something happening. Keep seeing. Keep being creative. Sometimes, just the camera and the environment. Sometimes, angels from another planet.
I’m just siting around at North Beach this chilly April morning, with not enough clothes, seeing if I can shoot a selfie in not-so-good light. No one on the beach. No one on the swings. No one around. And then these women arrive. A photographer’s dream, I thought, a penguin and a zebra. Two beautiful babes on a beach in April, not drinking shots, rolling in mud or being ogled by post pubescent boys. Fellini. He would have understood. The light accompanied them, brightening up the sky, though not the temperature. Ancient aliens sans chariot. I pinched myself to make sure I hadn’t frozen to death. Life. There was life.
They were there on some kind of dare with a political flavor. Some guys challenged them to jump into the Lake, forgetting these are not the girls who went to college in the 50’s, and have every bit the courage, strength and wherewithal to do anything. And, there was something about nominating someone for something. They brought along a videographer, the type that carries a cell phone to document the action. They posed, nominated whomever for whatever and then ran into the water.
Water temperature had to be in the 40’s, maybe colder.
Not much time for or interest in a swim.
And then they were gone.
A guy stopped me as I shot. “Not a good day for photos, eh?” “Au contraire, monsieur [he wasn’t from Montreal], gray is the favorite color for photographers. I get to control the light. Actually, the scene could use some fog.”
I stood and waited for the snow to come. Maybe later. No one walking. Here, I live in one of the coolest and most desirable places, one calling out for attention and its empty. People want the reds and blues and greens. Oh, come to the Lake for its beauty. Let’s go leaf peeping. Nothing wrong with this.
So, I tell the guy my views. As usual, he disagrees. Just like a Vermonter. Every sentence begins with I like it or I don’t like it or I agree or disagree. I want it to stay this way forever. I liked it better when there was a swamp here.”
Just let’s say people still visit the Lake Champlain boardwalk and need to go to the bathroom. But the facility is closed. In Burlington, manners predominate. I never call a “John” a ‘Facility.” Sharon’s Mother used to call it a “pissoire,” which could have been the only french word she spoke. Well, they will just have to use the facility at ECHO if they have to go.
Getting a creamy can also be problematical.