The Purveyors of the Practical and Hard-to-Find
Last Sunday, when Susan perfunctorily asked if I wanted to come with her to the Vermont Country Store, I knew that she expected me to run away. A shopping trip? And with the Patriots playing the despised New York Jets? She was more than a little surprised when I enthusiastically said yes. I hadn't visited this uniquely New England store in a few years and I knew that in addition to being "The Purveyors of the Practical and Hard-to-Find", it would also be a colorful treasure trove of photographic opportunities. And of course a topic for a blog article.
The Vermont Country Store opened in 1946 when long time Vermonters Vrest and Mildred Ellen Orton supplemented their Christmas Card list with a small, hand-printed catalogue of "36 Items You Can Buy Now". Since that most modest of starts, the company has grown to become a New England tradition, with stores in Weston and Rockingham Vermont, and it is still run by the Orton family. The original 1946 store in Weston is the first restored general store in the country, and the same informal appearance of the bare post and beam construction and well worn wood floors is maintained in the Rockingham establishment, which was opened in 1967. A trip to either one of the stores is a reminder of the time when the local country store could be depended upon to have a little of everything. Both stores are packed with items you will remember from your youth, and thought were long gone, as well as things you couldn't imagine existed, but now seem absolutely essential. All of this is presented in an atmosphere of relaxed and friendly clutter that seems less like a store, and more like an exploration of treasures in a long neglected attic.
The Rockingham Store was, as I remembered, filled with practical New England clothing, including gloves, sweaters and scarves. I know I will find a plaid flannel vest under the tree and Jeremy will get a pare of gloves with finger pads compatible with his iPhone, not everything is an antique. Around one corner I found an eclectic collection of kitchen utensils and elsewhere shelves of children's books and classic toys. And of course there is the food. In addition to a wide variety of local cheeses, crackers, jams and sauces, there is a sea of jars containing all the penny candy that you recall from your childhood. I could go on, and on, but more importantly all this riot of color, pattern and novelty creates a wonderful playground for the photographer
|Deane is in Charge|
A Photographic Exploration
My first job upon entering the store was to find a friendly appearing clerk to ask permission to shoot in the store. Easy, everyone is friendly and there was no problem with photography. I didn't expect any difficulty, but asking gave me the chance to meet the manager and learn more about the store's history. Of course it also allowed me drop off one of my calendars. Maybe next year?
Photography in the store offered some special challenges. First, the general illumination was spotty and often rather dim. Of course the soft light is an important part of the store's charm and I didn't want to disturb customers with flash or a clumsy tripod, so a fast lens and high ISO was required. Given the close quarters, my f2.8 16-35 mm seemed the perfect choice. The other major challenge was avoiding knocking over the precariously displayed merchandise with my camera bag. Somehow I managed. Since I always shoot in RAW, I tend not to worry about color balance and leave the camera on Auto White Balance, but in the store the lighting was consistently tungsten and going with the tungsten setting made the color adjustment easier in the editing process. More on this next week.
To tell any story you need the broad establishing shots that set the scene. Too often I get so excited about jumping into the fascinating detail that I forget these mundane, but necessary, views and, as a result, my story can lack a sense of place. At the Country Store the outside shots were easy even though the day was overcast. Inside, the broad shots were hampered by those pesky humans who seem always to be in motion. I did the best I could and then rationalized that the blur provided a sense of energy.
Composing a Store
My experience is primarily with landscape photography and I tend to bring the same sense of landscape composition to all subjects whether it is macro, portraiture, events or, in this case, a store. The basic "rules" of composition tend to work in all of these situations and thinking of the "landscape" of shelves, isles and displays is the inescapable construct of my vision. I can't believe that I wrote "construct of my vision", but you get the idea. So let's look around.
Power of the Foreground
With so much stuff in all directions, it is easy to lose the detail amongst all the clutter. I tried to focus on the detail in the foreground while keeping the sense of expansive complexity in a progressively softening background. The feeling of depth works well to communicate the size of the store.
Diagonals to Draw the Eye
I hate straight horizontal and vertical lines and I always look for strong diagonals to draw the eye and add energy to a composition. In the store the diagonals were everywhere. Rows of shelves, tables of candy and clothing and long aisles. With the wide apertures required by the dim light, I often needed to use focus stacking to capture enough depth of field.
Zoom in on the Detail
So much of the fascination of the Vermont Country Store comes from studying the detail in the endless array of antique and classic items on display. I didn't have my macro lens on hand but I found that the close focusing capability of my fast wide angle worked quite well. On my next trip, I will carry my Macro and explore a whole new layer of interest.
The People Are the Store
For a great store you need great people and I found everyone at the country store to be friendly, energetic and more than a little playful. And this all on one of the busiest and hectic days of the year. I appreciated everyone's help and interest.
The Rockingham Store is set on 86 acres of Vermont country-side which includes a covered bridge, an old Grist Mill, the Water Wheel Museum and a Christmas Tree Farm out back.
The 1872 covered bridge was originally built in West Townsend Vermont, but, when the span became threatened by the rising waters of the Townsend Dam, it was disassembled and in 1967 the renovated bridge was moved to Its current location. It was originally named the Depot Bridge, but, in its new location, it was known as the Victorian Village Bridge and now the "Kissing Bridge". New England tradition claims that bridges were covered to protect lovers from being observed on their amorous strolls across the water. The roofs probably had more to do with protecting the structures from the brutal New England weather, but I prefer the more romantic explanation.
We had a great visit to the Vermont Country Store. In addition to the photography, I managed to stuff too many samples of cheese, jams and sweets down my throat and I snuck a "Vermont 1791" mug into Susan's shopping bag. Beginning in 1777 Vermont was an independent republic and only joined the original 13 in 1791 as the 14th state.
Whether you come to Weston or Rockingham, the Vermont Country Store is a great place to visit as you explore and photograph the beauty of rural Central Vermont.
The Vermont Country Store web site
For more images check out my
Vermont Country Store Gallery