Madison County Music


87 year old Ralph Lewis at the Fiddlers of Madison County show at
the Madison County Arts Council this past Saturday.


                                                           11 year old Rhiannon Ramsey, the youngest of Madison's fiddlers.

Dog Daze


Dog Daze, Marshall, Madison County, NC 2012

Born and raised in the suburbs, I don’t believe I had ever heard the term “Dog Days” until I moved to Madison County and heard farmers speak of them. They, of course, refer to the hot and sultry days of summer, usually in July and August, which around here meant tobacco time.

But according to Wikipedia, the term originated with the Greeks. The Romans would sacrifice a “red” dog every spring to appease Sirius – the Dog Star – which they believed to be the cause of the hot weather. The Dog Days were widely believed to be an evil time when the sea boiled, dogs grew mad, and men suffered from fevers and hysterics.

Well, my hometown of Marshall, in its post-tobacco present, has added a new twist to the definition and Friday, August 8 at 5 pm, marks the 7th Annual Dog Daze event in town. The event features music, food, and art walks with the main attraction being the Parade of Dogs from the island to downtown, which begins at 6:30.

Dog Daze is one of many quirky, playful and artistic happenings that seem to have overtaken Marshall in recent years. Scores of new people, bars, music, bakeries, bicycles and galleries have brought new life to our town, which had been languishing and mostly vacant for the previous three decades. There are people in the county who do not like the changes and I can understand their difficulty accepting what appears to be a foreign invasion. But evolution is never easy or smooth and if communities are going to thrive, evolution is inevitable and should be welcomed.  


Catch Up

It’s been six weeks since I last wrote on this blog and I must admit I’ve enjoyed the break. There have been a number of intervening life issues that have made writing difficult, notably Leslie’s recent hip surgery and the temporary loss of all our help around the place, which has returned me to “chore” mode. It's served to remind me exactly how much work the young people do while staying with us. Most agree to let me photograph them, which is a bonus for sure. Muses come in many forms, from many directions. But these are flimsy excuses for not writing. So, call it writer’s block, or whatever, but the reality is I just haven’t felt like writing.


Ekho Hawk, one of our great helpers and an incredible model, PawPaw, Madison County, NC, 2013.

The break has allowed me the time to ponder some of the good things that have come my way over the last year. There were one-person exhibits at Wake Forest University and the Carrboro Arts Center and group shows at Duke University and the Madison County Arts Council. And, with the help of my irreplaceable assistant Jamie Paul, my work has been included in a number of online photography magazines and websites including,,,, and


Chickencatcher, Samson, Alabama, 1994  from  Way of Nature, Way of Grace     

Chickencatcher, Samson, Alabama, 1994

from Way of Nature, Way of Grace  

And beginning on November 8, six of my photographs will be included in an exhibit titled Way of Nature/Way of Grace, by the Asheville Area Arts Council, at Pink Dog Creative in Asheville’s River Arts District. This show has been organized by my old friend, Ralph Burns, and includes the work of a number of fine photographers – Tim Barnwell, Steve Mann, Brigid Burns, Mike Belleme, Erin Brethauer, Eric Tomberlin, and others, a total of eighteen artists. It’s an impressive group and I’m proud that Ralph chose one of my images for the exhibit announcement. The show explores the unsettled, and often unsettling, relationship between humans and other life on our planet.

I expect to return to the blog soon.


Absent # 2

Having a black bear rubbing against your chest is a hard act to follow, but after leaving Ben and Debbie Kilham, I drove on to western Massachusetts to meet with John Freeman and his sister Jane. They lived on an amazing piece of land, dotted and marked with artifacts and burial grounds from native and settler times. They took me to the original boundary marker that deeded their land to a distant ancestor from Native Americans in the late 16th century. Like many ancestral and historical forests, the Freeman’s land is surrounded by development and they’re under increasing pressure to sell the property because of high land values and corresponding high taxes. I don’t like the word “magical” so much, thinking it overused and easy. But I did, in fact, spend a magical day walking with them and their friends, Archie and Dave, through a primordial landscape in the misting rain.


Top, John and Jane Freeman. Bottom, left, Native Donation Pile, right, John and Jane Freeman with Dave Beyor and Harrison Achilles.

I arrived home to an email from Apple notifying me of a potential hard drive crash and a need to immediately replace it. This is always disconcerting news if, as most photographers in the modern world do, you store your files digitally. That hard drive represents years of work. Thank you for back up – one of technology’s blessings. But my assistant, Jamie Paul, and I also faced production of a large number of prints for an exhibition at the Jameson Gallery at Duke at the end of November. The exhibit, titled Madison County Stories, presented new views of mountain life from myself, Duke University students, and Madison Middle School girls. The students had all participated in the Spring Creek Literacy Project; a summer program with the Duke students acting as mentors to the middle-schoolers in storytelling, writing, and photography. It was a big exhibit – 43 of my prints and 146 student pieces – and while my work was finished and ready to hang, the student work was still in the editing phase and had to be printed and put behind glass. But despite the loss of a week due to the computer repair, and some timely help from Kyndall and MaryRose, we got it finished and down to Durham on the Monday after Thanksgiving. It took us three and a half days to hang it, and the process was not without it’s own drama and intricate mathematical equations. The show looked wonderful and the opening was a big success and well attended. My friends Debbie Chandler and Denise O’Sullivan, who are Dellie’s grandchildren and noted ballad singers in their own right, sang and pretty much stole the show.


Kelsey, Paw Paw Creek, Madison County, NC, 2012, from Madison County Stories.

                              Top, Denise Norton O'Sullivan Singing in the Barn, Sodom Laurel, Madison County, NC, 1976, from SodomSong.

 Bottom, Debbie Norton Chandler Dancing at the Eno River Festival, Durham, NC, 1976, from SodomSong.


I can’t say enough good things about Jamie Paul. In addition to the great work he's been doing with me for the last eighteen months, he's also found time to produce a CD of his music, Let It Mend, which will be available for purchase beginning February 5th at


We decided on a quick turnaround and moved the show to Marshall for a January 18 opening reception at the Madison County Arts Council. Here, the exhibit presented different hanging challenges, and more limited space. Most importantly though, it offered the opportunity to present the work in the place it was created with the individual “artists” and their families in attendance. The reception was packed - teachers and administrators from the school system, politicians, and other members of the community, many of whom were in the photographs. It became more Homecoming than Art Exhibit, highlighted by the student's pride in seeing their work on the gallery walls.

Top, left, Kristina Dixon, right, Cassidy Belcher. Bottom, left, Brittany Norton, right, Makalah Creaseman.

All students are from Madison County Middle School.

It’s good to have work. Assignments, lectures, exhibits, and grants pay bills and provide time to work on personal projects. I’m very fortunate to get to do what I do and I’m grateful for it. Additionally, my work often takes me out to the wider world, to places and with people I would not normally have the chance to see or meet. Throughout my career, photography has provided open windows to diverse, beautiful, inspiring places. I love that that is the case. These trips help me understand that people everywhere are much the same – kind, generous, and helpful – while also possessing strong differences of opinion, speech, and manner. We live on a wildly diverse planet in a wildly tumultuous time. It would seem that flexibility, tolerance, and an ability to adapt will play increasingly important roles in our lives.