We Are All Local


Ecko and Figs, PawPaw, Madison County, NC 2012


Yesterday, February 20, was Ecko's twenty-sixth birthday. When we first met Ecko five years ago she was traveling the country with her pet white rat, Figs. Needless to say, Leslie and I were both intrigued and since that time she has become part of our family. Figs has moved onto a new location and Ecko is now a permanent part of our community. She has a  two-year old daughter and provides us with valuable time with Leslie's mother. You'll see her sometime.
Wish her a Happy Birthday. 


Traditions of Protest in North Carolina


Justice Rally, Lumberton, NC 1987

I will be participating in a truly unique exhibit and program organized by the North Carolina Folklore Society titled Traditions of Protest in North Carolina. The exhibit will hang in PB&Java in Greensboro, NC, from September 2 to October 2 with a special program on Saturday, September 10 at 10:30 am. The exhibit and program seeks to illustrate North Carolina's long and storied history of protest and resistance to racism, Jim Crow, and anti-union activity. 

In the mid-1980s I served on staff and as a contract photographer for the Rural Advancement Fund, a non-profit, farm advocacy organization based in Charlotte, North Carolina, with a field office in Pittsboro. RAF had many projects under its auspices, one of which was a Justice Project based in Lumberton, NC, which was organized to combat the systematic racism existing throughout Robeson County that resulted in the yet-unsolved murders of community members. My photographs in the exhibit are from two large rallies in Robeson County protesting these murders and the racism that brought them about.

While RAF published one or two of these photographs in their newsletters and brochures, the majority of them have never been published or exhibited. I'm honored to work with the North Carolina Folklore Society and their director, Joy Salyers, to bring these images to light. 

Funeral and Rally for Julian Pierce, a candidate for Superior Court Judge who was murdered in his home, Robeson County, NC 1988


Trail of Tears


Cherokee Stickball Player, at the First Cherokee Reunion, Red Clay, Tennessee, 1984

In 1984 I had the opportunity to photograph the first reunion between the Eastern and Western Bands of the Cherokee since the Trail of Tears in 1837. I was on assignment for the Durham-based weekly, The Independent, and working with the acclaimed North Carolina author, Bland Simpson. This photograph ran on the cover.

In July of this year, my long-time friend and collaborator, Charlie Thompson, and I took a scouting trip in north Georgia, east Tennessee and western North Carolina with a thought of a modern-day project on the Trail of Tears. After four days of unrelenting heat, we found many signs and remnants - museums, interpretive centers, and historical markers - in places such as New Echota, Blythe Ferry, and Ross's Landing. We saw few Cherokee. Land that had once been the homeland of thousands of Cherokee (considered the first of the "civilized" tribes), illegally stolen, had been transformed into small towns, fast food restaurants, and modern highways.

We drove to Red Clay,  which was the last site of the capital of Cherokee Nation before their forced removal. There, unbeknown to us, the Cherokee were celebrating their 32nd Tribal Reunion. Singing, dancing, food, crafts, a wonderful Cherokee storyteller, Fred Bradley, whose wife, Dovie, shared water and peaches with us. 

Fancy Dancing, 32nd Cherokee Tribal Reunion, Red Clay, Tennessee, 2016

At Blythe Ferry, Tennessee, we found the Cherokee Removal Memorial Park. Here, over 9,000 Cherokee and Creek who had been stockaded for weeks, were forced onto flatboats across the Tennessee River to begin their trek westward to Indian Territory in what is now northeast Oklahoma. Together, Charlie and I were struck by the symbolism of this spot. The native peoples, one foot on their homeland, the other stepping onto these boats, knowing in their hearts they would never touch that land again.

There, we met a young white woman. She was fleeing an abusive partner. Distraught, her arms bruised, she had left with no money or food. She had taken one of the boyfriend's cars, replete with a rebel flag front license plate, and just started driving, seeking water she said, cleansing, and wound up in this holiest of Cherokee sacred places. She had performed a self-baptism in the river and emerged wet and talkative. We gave her our food and our ears, advice from fathers of children her age. She drove off, to a place and a life unknown to her. Perhaps, we thought, this is the present day story of the Trail of Tears.

Cherokee Removal Memorial Park, Blythe Ferry, Tennessee 2016




Dellie Feeding


Noted balladeer, Dellie Norton, Feeding Her Pets, Sodom, Madison County, NC 1975

Beginning October 1, and running throughout the month, Mars Hill University will be hosting a celebration to recognize the 100 year anniversary of Cecil Sharp's arrival in Madison County. Sharp was a British musicologist who came to Madison searching for ballads that had origins in the British Isles. He found more ballads, and singers of ballads, in our county than any other place in the country.

The ballad tradition is alive and thriving in Madison County. The University will be hosting an exhibit in Weizenblatt Gallery that looks at Sharp's legacy in the county. Artifacts, photographs, memorabilia, sound stations will be on display. An opening reception and ballad swap, which is a long-standing tradition at the Bascom Lamar Lunsford Festival, will take place in the gallery, beginning at 5 p.m. The Ballad Swap will feature singers who are descendants of the people Sharp collected from, some of them are 8th generation singers. Please join us for this remembrance of a very significant piece of Madison County History.



Supervisors Inspecting


Supervisors Inspecting site of a recent blast, Buckner Gap, Madison County, NC 1997
- from The New Road: I-26 and the Footprints of Progress in Appalachia

A worker stops, surprised to see me photographing among the just shattered rock. He warns me to watch out for unexploded blasting caps that could still detonate, if I were to step on them. 


On Sheila's Porch


On Sheila's Porch, Madison County, NC 07/09/16

I say to students, 
Look beyond the subject to the background. 
See that it's not interfering or
But rather, enhancing and completing.
Sometimes you'll be surprised
And pleased by what you find.

And so it was on Sheila Kay's porch.
Me, making portraits.
Her, on the swing.
Quiet, pensive, assured.
Like the background behind,
A reflection of the reality before.
A contemplation of her.


A Visit from Carl

We had a visit a month or so ago from our friend Carl Schinasi who lives in Birmingham. We've known Carl for ten or twelve years. He is a retired English professor at Miles College, a native of New York City, a writer, painter and budding photographer. We met over pottery and baseball, but have found over the years we have so much more in common than that. We share literature, art, and political leanings born in the sixties. Last summer we visited him and went on a great tour of Civil Rights/Birmingham with his good friend Virginia who was on the front lines of that struggle during the sixties.    

With Carl in our kitchen, PawPaw, 2016

A few years ago Leslie and I were taking a trip to Maine and Nova Scotia and were looking for someone to house and farm sit. Carl was interested as he could hunt for pottery while staying centrally located and free. Seemed good for all involved. We had some initial concerns like when he got out of the car and mentioned he was deathly allergic to cats. We had five in the house at that time. Later, explaining our feeding and egg collection system, Leslie suggested he watch out for black snakes who sometimes ate eggs and rested in the nests. "Why," he asked, "don't you kill it or remove it?" "Well," Leslie responded, "He helps with the mice and rats." Carl, in his best NY accent said, "Great. Rats and snakes, my two most favorite things." He had never really been on a farm before or even out in the country all that much. 



But we left. Carl called a few days later to check in and mentioned he hadn't been sleeping that well. "Why?" "One of the dogs, Ralph I think, barked all night long, just wouldn't quit and I was sure there was something out there. Then I remembered the headline of the newspaper that came today and was sure the guy was out there, coming to get me."  We assured him that wasn't the case and if, in fact, the guy had been out there lying in wait for Carl, he would already be dead. 

A few days later we were staying in an old sea captain's house on the Bay of Fundy that had been turned into a B&B. It was quite idyllic. Our phone rang about ten that night. The house was asleep. It was Carl. "I think Isabell died under your bed." "Why?" "She's been under there for thirty-six hours and won't come out." "Why? Did you have any rain, thunder?" "Yes, and she's been under there ever since." "Get a bowl of grease or a hot dog and try to lure her out." Next call ten minutes later. "Didn't work. She didn't budge. She growled at me." Leslie grabbed the phone, "Plug in the vacuum cleaner and shove the nozzle under the bed. See if that works." Next call, "She ain't dead. I stuck that nozzle under there and she came out like a greyhound."


 Carl Schinasi with his affectionately named Dick Tree in Birmningham, AL, 2015 



High School Graduation, 1965.

Madison County, NC 2010

One of the underlying reasons for my solo road trip last fall was to think about my relationship with the place I’ve called home for the last forty-three years. To be honest I was tired of the place in a way that had not happened in the past – tired of the maintenance work around our farm, tired of the daily drama that often seems like the lifeblood of the community, tired of the expectations of others regarding my work.

Don’t get me wrong, I love where I live and continue to believe that moving to the mountains was the single best decision I ever made. But increasingly as I’ve aged, and ostensibly “seen it all,” I find myself asking what if? And if that question was persistent enough, what would I do about it?

Throughout my time in Madison I’ve heard the old adage, you ain’t from around here. I’ve generally ignored it, but lately I’ve come to understand its truth. My upbringing, my values, my cultural influences, my manner of speaking and acting, and many other characteristics all mark me as an outsider. Sometimes, those ways of being come into conflict, but most often they don’t because I’ve learned if I can’t be from the place, I can be of the place.

The difference is subtle. I think of it as the difference between thought and instinct. I’ve been able to learn how to live here: How to sort of manage our place – the firewood, the water, the gardens, the mowing, the dead animals; how to live and relate in a community as foreign to me as some small village in Sicily. I learned the dialect, and about ballads and tobacco, and how to be moderately self-sufficient. I learned about darkness and quiet. Some of those lessons were hard learned and few, if any, came instinctually.

What comes naturally for me are Italian Delis, Broadway Musicals on Sunday morning and Blues and Rock the rest of the time, and the ever-present light and hum of a big city. I know the proximity and abundance of people, the availability of anything I want, anytime I want it. I can talk fast and do so without thinking. I love to dress up. I know pavement and chain-link fences and comfortably motor the DC Beltway. I effortlessly find my grandparent's graves in Arlington Cemetery or my parent's in Gate of Heaven. Of course I can, this is where I'm from.

It's the same for people who are from Madison County or the wider region. I watch them – how they interact, or dig, or grow things, walk and talk, how they live their lives - and I say, “They are from here.” There is an ease about them – a sense that what they say or do comes from a knowledge learned long ago, so ingrained it’s now part of the DNA. “How do you know that?” I might ask a local friend about something that stumps me. “Why,” he would answer, “I just do. I'm from here.”



Paw Paw, Madison County, NC 2016

It's been five weeks ago now that I took a walk thinking redbuds.
It's not like me to do that,
 go out with camera in hand and nature in mind.
I've not been much of a landscape photographer.
People and culture have been my thing.
But it was a vibrant spring day,
bright and crisp and
the redbuds were waiting patiently for me.

I've long thought it trite and repetitive to do this type of picture.
It's what we see in camera club contests and
postcard racks, 
on facebook. 
But here I was.
In the woods,
searching for the mix of angle and light,
how is it I've not photographed such beauty before?