Monthly Archives: July 2017

All Done Farming

Pretty much throughout the 5 weeks of driving to California and back I noticed decaying barns and extinguished farms, but it wasn’t until we crossed from Ontario into upper New York state today that I finally stopped to photograph some examples. This was the one that begged me to turn around and go back to capture its tragedy:

all done farming

The process of decay begins when the barn is no longer actually used for livestock, and in a few years it’s fraying around the edges, vegetation is overtaking the silo, and the roof starts to go:

all done farming

In about 10 miles on state route 37 there was a succession of examples of dashed hopes and blighted dreams, in a farming region that was probably pretty viable a generation [or maybe two] ago:

all done farming

all done farming

all done farming


And so begins another bottomless project, tentatively titled “All Done Farming” and already nudging thoughts in the direction of another transcontinental road trip next summer. More than 45 years ago I was hip-deep in research on agricultural transformation in Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley. I was glad to abandon the subject once the dissertation was done—far too much heartbreak in the lives of farm families. Infrared seems to capture the desperation best.


A few days ago I was standing at the confluence of the Platte and Missouri Rivers, in Plattsmouth NE, trying to figure a way to photograph the place. Here’s where a drone would come in handy, to gain Perspective on a very significant event (the joining of streams) that is happening in 2D, in the same plane I was standing on. The best I could do, and it was none too good, was to capture the sign that labels the place where Lewis and Clark’s expedition camped 213 years ago, surrounded by wolves:


The nearby field of sunflowers was more eloquent:



The subsequent trip across Iowa produced no photos, though I started to think about a collection of abandoned barns, and another of grain-handling machinery, in the style of Bernd and Hilla Becher. That would be another trip.

bricolage in Austin NV

My fascination with cemeteries continues, each locale presenting novel styles and unprecedented content, enlarging my sense of cultural and temporal variety.

Each image fits somewhere in an emerging construction, the outlines of which are pretty clear (having to do with the Memorial and the Marmorial: with both the impulse to Remember and the [seeming] compulsion to make the Remembering as permanent as materials permit), but the details of linkage and explanation unfold bit by bit, as more images join the corpus. I’m not sure what the ultimate destination will turn out to be for this project, and it’s possible that it is in fact bottomless, but it proceeds site by site, and insight by insight.

As with so many others in my stable of enthusiasms, this project asks the question: How shall we account for what we see, what we encounter? Each bit [image, text fragment, etc.] is a holographic fragment of a grand edifice, and each fragment is productively considered as fundamentally linked to every other. We may explore the bonds, the implications, the entanglements, but grasping the whole seems to be beyond our meagre and measly powers.

The cemetery (actually cemeteries: the Catholic Calvary cemetery and the Shoshone graveyard are adjacent but separate) at Austin NV (a 19th century mining boom town) includes these elements [click on an image to embiggen]:

Basque surnames:



Native American surnames:
AustinNV34 AustinNV33



people who came from far away (Cornwall, Scotland, named counties in Ireland):

AustinNV11 AustinNV14

AustinNV18 AustinNV48

the ever-present deaths of children:

AustinNV16a AustinNV10

AustinNV12 AustinNV3


evidence of active grave tending, next to the forgotten:


opulent displays imported from afar side-by-side with the most basic and temporary of materials:


AustinNV40 AustinNV41

novel iconography:
AustinNV44 AustinNV46

and sometimes bits of stories of the decedents’ lives. Google tells me that one young man died in a SCUBA accident in Monterey Bay, but was brought to Austin for burial:

that another man survived a gunshot wound to his throat when his cousin’s husband tried to shoot her:






And of course there’s lots more that I may eventually distill from the photographs I took during the visit to Austin cemeteries.

Onomastical exegesis

Some of the profounder truths/more ineffable mysteries lurk in how things are named. Why ‘toothless’ for this image, asks Bryan:

toothless 2xadj

Part of the explanation has to do with the momentary flash of inspiration to which I’ve learned to attend as I’m processing images, and which I am happy to identify as macchia (“the total compositional and coloristic effect of an image in the split second before the eye begins to parse it for meaning,” more fully adumbrated in a posting from four years agone, and thanks to Teju Cole for the word). “Toothless” was the macchia that breezed through my mind on first glance at the original image (the right-hand side of the composite mirror image above):

I see, or fancy I see, or saw and then couldn’t un-see an empty eye socket in upper center, and a jagged toothless black mouth on the left side about 2/3 of the way from the top… but as always YMMV. The symmetrical expansion of the original image reveals a very different face: the toothless mouth unfolds into a pair of black eyeholes, surmounted by a crown of vertical elements (feathers?), and susmounted by what seems to be a filigreed snout (which, John points out, isn’t showing any teeth, so still technically toothless).

John also suggested that the image might be flipped:

toothless 2x flipped
An altogether more vulpine visage emerges, not toothless at all, and the former feathery crown transmuted into a rather elegant broad-shouldered cloak.

It’s an essential component of the Homo narrans toolkit that things be given names to celebrate their essence, and perhaps to summon them (or protect against them) at need. But we must always heed Max Nigh’s Dictum: Just because we’ve named it doesn’t mean we know anything about it.