About Me

My Photo
Spofford, New Hampshire, United States
Jeff Newcomer has been a physician practicing in New Hampshire and Vermont for over 30 years. Over that time, as a member of the Conservation Commission in his home of Chesterfield New Hampshire, he has used his photography to promote the protection and appreciation of the town's wild lands. In recent years he has been transitioning his focus from medicine to photography, writing and teaching. Jeff enjoys photographing throughout New England, but has concentrated on the Monadnock Region and southern Vermont and has had a long term artistic relationship with Mount Monadnock. He is a featured artist in a number of local galleries and his work is often seen in regional print, web publications and in business installations throughout the country. For years Jeff has published a calendar celebrating the beauty of The New England country-side in all seasons. All of the proceeds from his New England Reflections Calendar have gone to support the Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program at the Cheshire Medical Center. Jeff has a strong commitment to sharing his excitement about the special beauty of our region and publishes a weekly blog about photography in New England.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Photographic Preservation of New England's Visual Heritage






Market Basket's Memorial to the Bardwell Farm
Some years ago, I was picking up my tractor (sounds more manly than "lawn tractor") , at a shop on route 12 in Swanzey New Hampshire, and noticed a classic run down red barn across the street. The barn was massive with lots of interesting and seemingly superfluous additions, sprouting off in all directions , like an unruly shrub. The place was long deserted and seemed ready to collapse at any moment. The perfect photographic opportunity. Of course the light wasn't great and besides, I only had my old camera phone. I vowed to return on a better day with a better camera. I would love to show you images of this historic icon of our New England agrarian tradition, but, before I could get back to the site, the barn was sacrificed to modern commercialism and replaced by a sprawling and sterile Market Basket grocery store. You can find pictures of barn, by other photographer, scattered on the Internet, but I still have a sense of irrevocable loss. It all serves as strong reminder of the role photographers have in preserving the fleeting visual heritage of our unique corner of the world.

 




Whether we realize it at the time, our photographs are a treasure chest of traditional New England scenes that are slipping away, day by day. We have all seen the "Then and Now" features in newspapers and magazine using old photographs to show how things have changed. It is important to realize that our photographs today may soon become the "Then" images used to compare to some sadly diminished "Now" of the future.

Before we get hopelessly depressed by our dull, traditionless,

Harrisville, NH
future, it is important to remember that there is much we can do to protect our irreplaceable heritage. A great example is the work of the Harrisville Historic District. The residents of Harrisville, New Hampshire have done a remarkable job preserving their classic New England mill town. As photographers, our support of historical preservation protects the very fiber of what makes New England such a great place to live and to practice our art.


In the short time that I have been engaged more seriously in New England photography, I have seen many examples of the loss of our visual heritage. The causes are varied and often not as a result of the wrecking ball. Precious vistas have been lost due to natural decay, surrounding development, or overgrowth of natural and introduced vegetation. Often the intrusions seem small, but enough to disrupt a delicately balanced scene. We have all seen this, but it is important to remember that the photographer has a special opportunity and responsibility to capture these scenes before they slip away forever.

Then and Now


Decay
For years I had intended to capture a classic sugar shack along side
Route 9 in Stoddard, New Hampshire. It never seemed to be the right time until one misty autumn morning in 2006, when I found myself stopped for road construction right in front of the shack. The Gods were obviously speaking to me and I had just enough time to leap from the car and grab a 4 image panorama. I love the shot, but since that time, the shack has fallen to neglect and now seems poised to crumble to the ground. Buildings in decay can be interesting subjects, but it is the sense of loss that is fundamental to their power.


 



Development
My parents lived in a condominium over-looking Paugus Bay on Lake Winnipesaukee. On the hill above their place was a lovely isolated pasture which featured a stately lone Sugar Maple standing
Encroaching Development, Laconia, NH
defiantly in the middle of the field. The tree and surrounding woods was a hidden treasure of peace and photographic opportunities, but a few years ago development invaded the pasture. The beautiful clean forest backgrounds were bulldozed and my noble Maple was made to stand against rows of monotonous gray buildings and a sprawling parking lot. I could still find a few angles on my tree, especially when morning fog obscured the development, but the sense of quiet solitude was lost. 





Ridge line development is a growing issue in New England. It is
Storms First Light
understandable that people want to build their houses on the slopes, where they can command broad views of the surrounding country, but these structures scar the beautiful forested hillsides. Stonewall Farm is nestled among low hills in Keene, New Hampshire. A few years ago I caught the first light after a storm, breaking above the mist on these hills. Now the same 
location is a warren of lovely but incongruous homes, lawns and steep driveways. It is a difficult 





Lost Ridge
problem not only esthetically, but also because these developments
create erosion issues.
Happily, towns are beginning to recognize this problem and are creating "steep slope" ordinances to limit development in the most fragile areas.



 


Overgrowth
The Jenne Farm in Reading, Vermont is a world famous example of

Jenne Farm 2005
the classic New England farmstead. It is justly recognized as one of the most photographed farms in the country. On a perfect autumn morning it is a challenge to find an open piece of ground to set your tripod. It is amazing that the owners of this working farm deal with the crowds of
photographers with such patience and good humor. I have been visiting the farm for only a few years but have noticed the growth of bushes and small trees which are progressively obscuring the best
Growing Cover, September 2012
angles on the farm house and out building. The plantings are perfectly understandable as an attempt by the beleaguered residence to protect a little privacy, but for photographers it is a lesson in the constantly evolving nature of our landscape and in the importance of capturing it when we can.





Another example of the natural encroachment on our scenic
Weathersfield Birches
treasures is the "Weathersfield Birches". I had read about this lovely collection of birches in this central Vermont town, but by the time I found the grove it had become engulfed and smothered with young sapling. The good news was that during my search for this famous collection, I came across another grove of unobstructed birches nearby. 


My New Birches



Little Things
It isn't always dramatic changes that can diminish a classic
composition. When I first captured one of my favorite red barns in Keene, New Hampshire, I was able to incorporate a classic pasture fence into the foreground. Today the fence is gone and the open gate leaves a hole in the composition. The owners of the property are friends and do a marvelous job maintaining their magnificent farm, but I will have to talk to them about that gate. I will be glad to provide the railing. 




Lost Rail


Enough depressing detail. The goal of this article is not to whine about lost opportunities, really. Rather, I wanted to drawn attention to the special role photographers play in preserving the visual history of our unique region. New England's great attraction is that development has been slower to sweep away our beautiful rural heritage than in most other parts of the country, but the forces are out there and we must continue to work to protect what we can. Sadly protection is not always possible and we as photographer's have the great responsibility and honor to, at least, preserve a visual record of our rural treasures. Shoot as if it matters, because it does.

4 comments:

  1. totes! I wish there was a way for the physical buildings to last as long as the photographs. I too am a lover of the rust, barnboards and gates...

    we sould start some sort of photographer's coalition to save the rust!
    -Tom

    http://folktography.zenfolio.com/rustic

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  2. While reading every word of this entry, I found myself nodding with understanding of the sense of loss that you speak of. I, too, have had a number of similar experiences while photographing our lovely old farms, open landscapes and communities across New England. Sometimes it has been within days that I pass by a piece just photographed and in it's place there is a bulldozer, or a huge trash bin where the house or barn has been deposited in splinters. Change is constant in our lives and in this world. When I discover that change had come to one of my favorite scenes, my heart always aches with loss. Inevitably, I find my heart filling with both joy and relief that fate had honored me with the opportunity to capture an image, before the inevitability of change had arrived on the scene. - Pat

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  3. Great points, Jeff. But sometimes, the decay runs the other way. One of my favorite barns was recently re-sided, and the lovely dark oxidized wood siding is gone, replaced with fresh pine. Good for the farmer for keeping up his place, but that barn has lost all its photogenic charm.

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    Replies
    1. I know exactly what you mean Larry. If you saw my picture of Peacham! Vermont, you may not realize how much cloning I had to do to "repair" the bright steel patch that has been placed on the roof of the classic barn. We can't expect these structures to las unless they are maintained. All we can do is thank the owner and wait for the new boards to weather.

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