1. Simulacra

    What am I looking for in photography? Images that  penetrate the eye, engage the mind, and pierce the heart.  Mark L. Power



    Wikipedia: simulacra, from the Latin simulacrum  which means “likeness, similarity”… by the late 19th  century, simulacra had been regarded as an image without the substance or qualities of the original…

    All we want from art: reality, mysteriously deepened. David Shields

    Photographs often promise to tell stories, but they seldom deliver. They show far more detail than we could ever remember had we not brought a camera to a scene…and we meet them with the inclination, deeply entrenched, to try to work the world’s details into a sequential, causal order. …the material of narration is mostly beyond them. …the poetic ambiguity born in the imbalance between photography’s overabundant detail and its poverty in everything else is the medium’s true gift to the modern arts. Leo Rubinfiene

    Needless to say, these pictures … were the size of The Raft of the  Medusa. So what if they were just snaps of someone  jerking off in a leather armchair in an apartment in  Zurich? So what if it was just a half-eaten,pre-packaged egg-and-cress sandwich abandoned on  the seat of a bus shelter in Stockholm? So what if it was a portrait of the artist’s sour-faced grandmother  pushing her shopping trolley round a poorly stocked  supermarket in Barnsley? Blow ‘em up big enough and  they looked … Well, they looked like shit, frankly, but  they looked like art too. Geoff Dyer

    Old posts from my former blog, the Salt Mine, can be found in the archive section, from 2008-10.

     
  2. The Poplar Terrace House

    A project thirty-seven years in the making. 

     
  3. image: Download

    Remnants of a Corinthian pilaster found in the ashes of Poplar Terrace House

    Remnants of a Corinthian pilaster found in the ashes of Poplar Terrace House

     
  4. For many decades, Poplar Terrace house, a handsome Palladian-influenced structure sat abandoned on land in the middle of Frederick, Maryland. Once the home of the Baughmans , a prominent newspaper publishing family in Frederick, the house remained empty year after year, decade after decade, as the absentee owner suffered a long illness. In its slow and gradual decline, the mansion ( built in the 1870s)  became the local ‘haunted house’, the site of rowdy teen ager gatherings until finally it became so dilapidated only animals dared to prowl its dark interiors.

    Finally the end came to the Poplar Terrace House when it burned to the ground in the middle 1980s

     
  5. 20:50

    Notes: 2

     
  6. I first encountered Poplar Terrace House a decade before its final end. I didn’t find any ghosts but  I thought I might attempt to capture the presence, if not the actual spirits, of the many people who had once lived in the house. So In 1976, I photographed the various rooms which in many cases still contained furniture, pictures and other objects as if the inhabitants were going to come walking through the door at any moment. 

     
  7. 20:48

    Notes: 2

     
  8. Strategy: I felt the spaces needed to be photographed with a longer time span than the instantaneous exposures typical of normal photography. Being  interested in still photographs, not a video or movie, I decided to use light-sensitive photo paper instead of film as a recording medium. Ordinary photographic paper is many times less sensitive to light than film, and thus this strategy allowed very long time-exposures of the rooms, in some cases, hours.  I also decided I would forego the assistance of artificial light because the atmosphere was defined by the natural light, however dim, that illuminated the spaces.  I furthermore decided to use an 11x14 view camera so that I could end up with a large paper negative with the idea of contact-printing the results partly because contact photo paper had beautiful tonalities unavailable with normal photo paper. This strategy also seemed oddly appropriate as this was a 19th century photographic technology used when the house was first built a decade or so after the Civil War. 

     
  9. 20:43

    Notes: 2

     
  10. My working method was to frame the image, open the shutter, and leave, returning hours later to close the shutter. I reasoned if spirits were to manifest themselves they would feel more freedom if I wasn’t standing beside the camera. Fortunately no one, alive or dead, made off with the camera during these unattended times. This went on for the better part of three days. In a couple of cases I left the camera on all night. 

     
  11. 20:41

    Notes: 1

    image: Download

     
  12. 20:40

    Notes: 1

    I soon ran into a problem when it came time to print the paper negatives. The negatives were so dense I couldn’t see any part of the image. The light and darks were impossible to control and the resulting prints were missing the quality I was after. After several frustrating attempts, it was apparent this was one of those projects that was going to die on the vine. Nevertheless, I put the paper negatives away in a box and there they remained forgotten as the years turned into decades. Sometime during that time the house burned to the ground. 

     
  13. image: Download

    paper negative

    paper negative

     
  14. Also during that time, photography itself underwent a seismic change: it became digital. Like many, I sold my darkroom and equipment and went with the flow. Then one day last year, in 2013,  thirty seven years later, I came across the box of paper negatives. It suddenly dawned on me I could use digital technology to rescue the images. I ended up with 18 digitally printed images, quite unlike what I had originally envisioned. But at the same time I had a set of images that suggest human presences long gone. Although not intended as a documentary project, equally satisfying is the realization that these images are all that’s left of the Poplar Terrace mansion, once an important part of the history of Frederick County, Maryland.

     
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