Kindred

August 10, 2017

"Aunt Mildred's Dresser" (top) and "Aunt Mildred's Sitting Room" (below) are on exhibit in the main gallery at the Annmarie Sculpture Garden and Arts Center in Dowell, MD.  Entitled "Kindred: Celebrating Our Ancestors," the show runs from from August 11, 2017 to January 28, 2018.  For more on these photographs, taken at my grandfather's farm in Blackstone, MA, see below.   

My grandfather’s dairy farm was in many ways like on old photograph, seemingly frozen in place as the world moved on.  Stepping through the door of the little New England farmhouse that my Aunt Mildred continued to occupy until very recently was like stepping back in time.  The interior looked much as it did when I first laid eyes on it over 50 years ago – and probably much as it did when my father grew up there during the Depression.  It wasn’t just the antique furniture or the floral-patterned wallpaper or the lace curtains. The house itself had never really been remodeled, only added onto.  My grandfather had bought the place in 1910, and the oldest parts of the house dated from 1840.  

Taking pictures in the farmhouse, I often found myself photographing other photographs.  Almost every flat surface in the front parlor, sitting room and bedrooms was occupied by family photographs, dozens and dozens of them. Aunt Mildred pointed with pride to a black-and-white portrait of her father, a Rhode Island state senator, from the turn of the last century. There were numerous portraits from the same period or older: various ancestors, stiff and unsmiling, in ornate oval frames. There were many later portraits and snapshots -- black and white or color according to their vintage -- of children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, nieces and nephews. There were wedding pictures and group shots of relatives in their Sunday finery. 

By the time I began taking pictures of the farm, the young farmer and his wife who bought the place more than a century ago—they and their descendants after them—were long gone. Of all those who ever lived there, the only one who remained was Aunt Mildred, and now she, too, is gone.  The are only perishable memories and pictures, including photographs of photographs bearing mute testimony to those who had gone before. This photographic record can never truly make the world stand still. But it will have served its purpose if it can convey something of what once was and what is now gone forever.