Tourista season is upon us. Mabry Mill (above) is open, the weather is warm enough for musicians to play outside at the Jamboree on Friday nights and traffic is increasing at our studio in The Jacksonville Center. Speaking of the Jamboree, you can listen to National Public Radio’s report on their web page.
Visit any site about Floyd County or this part of Southwestern Virginia and you likely will find at least one shot of Mabry Mill. According to the National Park Service, the Mill is one of the most visited (and most photographed) sites on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
But unless the Mill is somewhere in the photograph, who knows if it was the inspiration or location for the shot.
This shot is an example. The early morning sun cut a path of light across the pond in front of the Mill, but it could have been a pond most anywhere. The light — and the duck — are the focal points of the shot. Mabry Mill provided the setting but the mill itself added nothing to the photo.
One of the tasks (and pleasures) of opening a photo studio is going back through 40 years of shooting to find images that might be worthy of hanging in the gallery or offering for sale.
It also means discovering part of your past, as in this photo of a barn on the family farm shot when I was still a student at Floyd County High School. The setting sun cast an errie glow on the structure, which was filled with hay after a summer season.
Photojournalists, as a rule, don’t shoot ambiguous photos.
Our photos are supposed to tell a story and clarify things for the reader (as in "a picture is worth a thousand words").
But former photojournalists who now own galleries do shoot photos that leave the viewer guessing.
For some reason, people seem to like that sort of stuff.
Like this shot from the masochism tango (otherwise known as our Friday hike up the Buffalo).
Yes, these are bare limbs against the fog, shot at the very top of the mountain.
But they could be a tree just about anywhere. And which way is up.
I let four fellow tenants at The Jacksonville Center look at this shot when it first came out of the printer and asked each to tell me which was the top and/or the bottom.
There were four different guesses. When it comes to fog shots, some of us don’t have the foggiest notion of what it all means. Which may be good. Or bad.
Fred First (of Fragments from Floyd fame) started planning this madness several months ago.
"Let’s hike up the Buffalo," he said with usual Firstian enthusiasm. "We can get some great shots."
Normally, this little voice injects sanity into my thought process and I realize that a 56-year-old body with bad knees, a bum hip and an ankle that’s been broken too many times should not be climbing up a mountain but insanity ruled and I agreed.
We set the last day of April (Friday) as the time for the great Buffalo Mountain trek. Friday, of course, dawned cool, cloudy and foggy and the little voice surfaced to say "don’t waste your time. The light sucks."
"It’s gonna clear," Fred declared. "Trust me. It will be worth it."
So we headed for the mountain after picking up a third partner in misery. Halfway up the mountain, Fred swore the fog would lift. I just swore as the knees, hip and ankle screamed for mercy.
At least the fog provided an errie backdrop for some good mood photography, including a tree that looked like a woman dancing (or perhaps she was warning us to stop and go back because she — unlike Fred — knew the fog would not lift).
And it didn’t lift. We made it to the top to find the view blocked on all sides by an ever-thickening layer of fog.
Faced with the harsness of reality, Fred finally admitted defeat and suggested we head back down the mountain to the warmth of the car and the sustinence of banana bread. "OK," Fred admitted, "so maybe it didn’t clear. But you gotta admit the climb was worth it."
Depends, I suppose, on one’s definition of worth. The fine companionship made the pain in the joints palatable and the light, while bad, provided some interesting opportunities. But damn, my knees, ankle and hip hurt.