About fifteen years ago Caroline and I met Katie's mother, Liz, Liz's twin sister, Katie's father and Katie's brother at Bread Alone in Rhinebeck, NY. A few years before we moved to a small village, Schuyler Lake, 15 minutes north of Cooperstown, they moved to Cooperstown Village.
Liz heard about us and got in touch.
They came up to our horse farm last month and Katie did some filming. Her brother showed me the picture on his Instagram that I had taken of him in Rhinebeck when he was 6 years old. I took this picture above of Katie on the occasion of their visit last month.
Puppy is still a handful.
Not only a lovely face — an accomplished sailor and oceanographer.
A summer photograph to celebrate the short time we experience warmth, plants and hummingbirds. Mikaila describes herself as a God loving, people loving, tarot card reader.
“Which God is that?” I asked
I gathered from her vague muttered answer that it was not the Christian God, more like Buddha. As we know, though, Buddha is considered an extraordinary being, but not a god. I left it alone and proceeded with what I saw as her gift.
I said, “I think you know what people are about just by looking at them.”
She replied with a modest nod and murmur. She added “But of course I still need the cards.” She then sat down opposite me and laid out the cards.
I thought: who would not want to be sat down and looked at by Mikaila, God or no God, cards or no cards. She told me she is self taught from books as to what the cards mean and how to use them. There was nothing hesitant about what she said when she asked me to take a card, or when she was laying the cards out or looking through them. She has a very confident manner which in itself makes you wonder if what she is saying might be true. She told me she had only one rule when she did a reading: no questions to be asked about love life.
Here is Nickey with a Great Dane called Poe, whom she walks and looks after when the owners are away. She has made a life loving animals and particularly dogs. Fashion comes a very close second in her interests. She is always beautifully and unusually turned out whenever you see her around Cooperstown with one of her charges. I'm not sure, but I think Poe is her favorite, but she loves them all. Nickey also house sits, the two occupations often going together. I came away thinking how sensible to do what you love most and make a good living out of it.
Natalia and Tavar are instructors in the Fitness Center at the Clark Sports Center in Cooperstown, NY, a popular and affordable gym which has almost everything one might want in sports activities and is most efficiently run by polite and helpful staff.
Chrissy told me that she has been greatly influenced by the philosopher Rudolf Steiner, founder of "anthropomorphic agriculture", later known as "biodynamic" now practiced by many farmers in Europe and North America. Biodynamic farms use composting, integrating animals, cover cropping, and crop rotation to create their own fertility. Chrissy and Holly sell their produce in farmers' markets in New York City and Westchester. Holly is also a teacher at the Richfield Springs school.
Mikaila is a 24 year-old God loving Tarot card reader who gives readings online and in person. I sat with her for a minute or two after I photographed her and had the feeling that she could dispense with the cards. It is her rather than the cards that knows what the person sitting opposite her is up to. She merely looks at you and she knows. Next time I see her I am going to ask more about this. She stays near here from time to time in the house where her grandmother and father live. Other times she lives with her mother somewhere not far away. Caroline met her with her grandmother at the swimming pool in The Clark Sports Center in Cooperstown, NY.
Roald Dahl, the first of England's brilliant writers of the mid-twentieth century to be scolded when he described people as fat when he meant fat. Now we are told, by these word police, that no, he did not mean fat. What he meant, oh dear, how could he have erred so, was: not thin, or some word they knew that was a better way of putting things, a word or phrase that showed concern for people's feelings, they said. What about the author's feelings? The author, who struggled day and night to write something we all read with the greatest enjoyment? Tameness ― who ever got anything done through tameness.
It is books, now, that have attracted the attention of those who believe they know better. Next it will be film directors, painters and playwrights being told how to do things. Perhaps somebody knows: was Chaucer told what word he could use to describe somebody, was Shakespeare, was Defoe, was Byron or Lewis Carroll? Was P. G. Wodehouse? Yes, I think they have already started in on him. Almost bound to have done, but he is mid and early twentieth century, of course.
Erin is also a Yoga instructor at the Clark Sports Center in Cooperstown. Caroline wrote me a short note saying I must photograph this young woman. She had spotted her in the Thrift Shop. A glance was all it took to see that this young woman had Mozartian perfection in looks, style and presence.
Kate Walrath and her daughter lunching at Brimstone Café in Sharon Springs, NY. Kate is everything dog, the owner of Run By Dogs where they everything happens from breeding to training to sledding.
It is not often you see a lovely smile like hers.
The Maplewood BBQ and Spirits is a popular straight up and down barbecue on Rt. 20 in Richfield Springs. It has an unadorned menu listing familiar barbecue items at reasonable prices. The limited wine list has fairly low priced items by the glass and bottle. The seating in the main room is at large, communal wooden tables and benches. Up stairs is a brightly lit overflow also with communal tables and benches. Through the bar is a small room with more conventional tables and chairs and a large wood burning fire place dating from the late 18th century. We were struck by the first class organization and politeness of the staff.
Because of the handsome wooden tables, stone walls and tiled floor I decided to ask John Yule, the owner, if I could do a picture. He was delighted at the idea and we turned up a couple of weeks later and did it.
One of the enjoyments of photographing people in their own surroundings is looking for interesting light. As we all know digital cameras these days can record images in very dark places so the amount of light is no longer a problem, only the position of the light source. Getting around that is the fun, and bringing the subject into the problem of finding the right light lets them to feel part of the camera and the photographer's activities, thus reducing their self-consciousness.
Nothing more to add.
I encountered these two students in the dining hall of Hartwick College after I gave a talk there to the drawing class. I did not ask the relationship between these two, but I thought they looked like good friends when I saw them afterwards sitting together. But why do I need to know about people I photograph as long as they look good? Only curiosity.
I am not a gossip columnist. I am a recorder of interesting looking people, whatever lies between them. What drew me particularly to these two, apart from their lovely faces, was the contrast in their clothes. "Let’s keep it simple," for the young woman on the right whereas the young woman on the left likes to do her hair and to wear eye-catching things. The cap, showing its wear and tear, is a brilliant choice.
What is it about him that made me want to photograph him? One thing, I think his face is of exceptional balance, all its components are the right size and in the right place. But that is never enough. Something else drew me to his presence.
But why should it be explained? He comes out well in pictures, and if that is all that can be said, let's say thanks to fate for his walking into the room that morning in Brooklyn in 2012.
Display the picture and leave it at that.
Patricia Fiorent lives on 500 acres of woods and pasture just outside Cooperstown. Her house is her studio where she paints portraits and produces children's books. There is a large barn where her many animals live, including varieties of exotic chickens. We were at this lovely place on a perishing morning slipping and sliding looking for a spot to take a picture of Patricia. After I had done the photograph we sat inside and had a sandwich generously made by our friend Marla who had come to help if needed. Patricia suggested that we light a fire. “Oh no we won’t,” Marla’s husband Tom said, “not with that Christmas tree in the corner. The house has already burnt down once, we don’t want it to happen again and with all those needles lying around it might well catch fire.” The large tree looked as though it had been there a couple of years.
I sent Patricia five or six pictures that I had done of her and she wrote back and asked if I had taken any smiling ones because that was what she wanted. I explained that I only took smiling pictures if the portrait had been commissioned and this had not been commissioned. I had written to ask if I might do it for series of people who live in Central New York State. A couple of weeks later I received another note from her exclaiming how much she loved one of the photographs that she had just discovered in the package and she was going to frame it. She had indeed a slight smile in this one. She told me that originally she had not seen there was more than one photograph in the package. Most odd, I thought, and wrote back that I would, in the future, enclose a list of contents in my packages. I like the first one posted here.
I recently had an e-mail from a high school student whom I did not know but who wanted to find out as much as she could about my picture of the bar in the Bolshoi Ballet for a school project. She said she had chosen this picture from my website and needed to give an "in depth" description about the photo. She very sensibly wrote to me to find out what she could from me. After a few exchanges of emails she seemed happy with what I told her. One of the questions she asked was: are the photos you have taken that look candid, are they actually candid, or are they set to look that way? I replied that the ones that look candid are candid, i.e. not posed. I will not pass on any further questions and answers as I hope she will show me her project when it is finished and I can post it here.
Perhaps these two were important party members or successful artists, both groups always well looked after by the authorities.
Vili bought a site in Little Falls, NY, that had a house and two small barns on it, for $1. "The barns were more like sheds," he explained. After being told by the realtor that there was $23,000 owing in taxes on the property, he took the trouble to investigate and found that actually no tax was owing. The investigation, as one can imagine, took many weeks and much hard work.
The house was beyond repair but he has converted one of the barns into a residence. His friend Ruth and her family helped him with the conversion. Vili moved in in early December after installing a present of a wood burning stove. He has piped in water from a nearby spring. "It will be a one room apartment quite adequate for my needs," he says. The bottles in the photograph, found on the site and slotted in to a wood wall provide a gentle, diffused light and cost nothing. Propane lamps provide light after dark. The window below the bottles, gleaned from the barn, astonishingly had no broken panes.
Calamagrostis ‘Overdam’ grasses growing in half a whisky barrel on our patio. They help shield from site the Generac generator. The grasses were bought from Perennial Fields, in Otego, NY, the plant nursery in our area of Otsego county, NY. I nursed it through a dryish summer by careful watering. Never thought it would turn out to be so beautiful it its maturity.
Caroline and Nicholas at home with us in mid-September 2022. Nicholas is now living in Bend, Oregon. Every body says that is a very nice place. We are planning a train trip out there.
Connie is a biologist who grows native plants at The Fernery, near Hartwick, NY, seen here standing in the doorway of her office that her husband built for her from materials lying around their house. She calls it a small backyard business but her collection of native plants is large. Her fern collection is the best around. Her website tells you all you want to know before you make a visit. https://theferneryatwhitehouse.com/
A certified young life-saver at a lake in Connecticut taken a party held by the lake members. We were there one late summer's evening with our friend Robert Becker who is writing a forward for the second printing of my book Who How When Where.
Christina Kral, artist from Frankfurt, Germany, in Utica, NY train station.
Here is Christina in a garden chair at our house.
I received an e-mail from a woman artist living in Frankfurt, Germany asking if I would photograph her. She explained that she knew my work from Instagram and from my book Who How When Where. She had found herself unexpectedly in New York City. I explained that I lived four hours upstate from the city but she said that was fine and she would take the train, which she did. I am so glad she did because she has one of the most unusual looks I have ever seen and was altogether a delight to be with.
Payton, a most gifted rider, on her horse Diamond Reflection in Schuyler Lake, NY, where she lives with her mother and siblings.
A pair of Percheron draft horses in their 19th century harness pulling a circular harrow of the same vintage at The Farmers' Museum, Cooperstown, NY.
Multimedia artist Christina Wood. She is also a founding member and program director for Get Woke! Catskills, an organization using the arts as a vehicle for discussions around race and identity, seen here sitting on a tin tub chair in the grounds of the The Muddy River Farm Brewery, located on the banks of the Susquehanna River in Unadilla, NY, owned and run by her husband Jared Wood and his cousin Dustin Wood, and by Christina herself.
Gay Pride Parade, 1987, Washington Square Park, NYC. I moved through the noisy crowd not seeing anything I wanted to see.
Then I stopped and turned, and there they were, standing in silence right beside me. I watched them for a moment before asking if I could take their picture.
They were calm and affectionate, just loving being with each other.
"Where are you now, 35 years on? If you see this please get in touch."
How much time was spent by each of these luscious people getting to look like this? The girl, with just half her hair dyed henna? Great judgement, and then finding two shades of red straps to match and clash, but so gently so. And he, with that muddled mass of beads lying on the Gucci initial circles. Who would dare!
And now to those lovely faces: those lips — those perfect lips!
Which are more perfect, his or hers?
One of my troubles is that I often want to ask my subjects all sorts of questions about themselves, but, being usually so relieved at getting the picture, I scram before they change their minds about the whole thing and snatch my camera away from me. It has never happened, but worrying about what has not happened, but could happen, has often happened.
You can't tell when people sit alone and gaze.
I first thought...lonely woman. Then I said to myself, I am not sure. It could just be a woman alone, and grateful for it. What's in those bags? Is there tension in her knuckles?
I wish I had asked her.
“I am not interested in history, I am looking for faces.” I replied.
I had already asked him if I could photograph him with his daughter who was quite wonderful looking but he had said, “No, I don't think so, thank you.”
I gave him my card and said, ”You can see what I do on my website.
If you change your mind let me know.”
I have not heard from him.
This reminded me of a similar situation when I came across a mother and daughter in Newburgh, NY. The daughter was probably 13 or 14 years old and I asked her mother if I could photograph them. She also said "no." But on this occasion a mutual friend who had heard the conversation stepped in. He said. “Let him photograph you, he's fine.” And she did.
Have an ally at your side, just in case.
By the time we got there, three minutes had already gone, and the publicist said I had two minutes more. Mr. Niven was in full swing telling stories, as he loved to do. When he paused to draw a breath, I said, “Please Mr. Niven, we have one minute to take this photograph, could you give me your undivided attention so that we can get it done?” He obliged and I got what I wanted.
I sent him a print and he wrote back, “Oh what a brute! What a brute!
“I'm off to a rehearsal. You are welcome to come and listen. Hop in.”
This sounded fun, I thought, and hopped in.
He got in the driver's seat, turned up the radio and we were off at a steady pace out of the Beverly Wilshire entrance. After that it was quite different.
He liked what he heard on the radio and began to sing, at the same time increasing his speed to...I did not dare look. And being Mick Jagger, included in the singing was waving his arms, which meant that his hands were on the wheel only when it became clear to him that unless he steered the car we would hit something. This manner of driving continued for the entire ten minute journey.
Of course, the rehearsal was worth every moment of the terrifying ride.
I believe it was true considering the rush he was in most of his life. Dancing here, there and everywhere. As Manuel Legris said: "Rudolf Nureyev was a high-speed train (he was a TGV). Working with Nureyev involved having to surpass oneself and stepping on it.” (Wikipedia.)
I took my picture of him in the mid-1980s in Central Park, a short distance from his apartment on Central Park West, when he had slowed up a bit through ill health.
First in the Catskills and then in the woods above Oneonta NY, Doug and his partner Amy lived until very recently. The small space needed attention, moisture was creeping in and then mold. The floor was wearing thin from the traffic around the one table. Doug used the table for his sewing, then he cleared his stuff away to let Amy do her lino cuts, and when that was cleared away they would eat off it.
To relieve the space problem they opened a store in Oneonta where Doug works on his five or six vintage sewing machines making, among other articles, canvas and leather bags of all sizes and uses, and Amy her lino cut cards. See https://www.etsy.com/shop/spartancarry/
“Thank you; nobody dresses up nowadays. I've got a hat too, and reaching into the car, said, “I'll put it on.”
Then taking a second look at me in my pink scarf and 8 wale bottle green corduroys, she said, “I don't know ̶̶ you look pretty good too.” I told them how I still bought clothes in London even after living in the USA for 37 years. The pants are from Cordings in Piccadilly, thanks to Eric Clapton who supported Cordings when they needed cash to save the historic brand.
“Um. Eric Clapton eh! The finest guitarist who ever lived” said one of the couple.
“Yes, and the place is booming.” I replied.
Earlier this week Tierra Labrada asked me for a print of this picture which I took in Newburgh, NY in about 2001. The photograph appears in my book Newburgh Portrait of a City. Tierra was about 15 years-old, when I took it. The baby she is holding is her godson, Yahinese, whom she frequently looked after while he was growing up. His mother and Tierra were very close school friends in Newburgh.
Tierra is now Senior Policy Analyst at Supportive Housing Network of New York.
I spied this woman in red as I was leaving Price Chopper in Cooperstown, NY. She was being polite and helpful with the customers who were foolish enough to think they saved time checking themselves out.
I asked her if I might photograph her, explaining I did not have my camera with me, but could she spare five minutes tomorrow and wear what she was wearing now.
“I'll be wearing this exact same outfit for the next five weeks and be here almost every day.”
Good, I'll see you tomorrow. Would you be allowed not to wear a mask?”
“Like this you mean?” She dropped her mask to round her neck.
“That will be great, thank you. See you tomorrow.”
I turned up at 2:30 the next day and there she was wearing the same outfit.
“Wait a minute,” she said, “The big-wigs are here. Go and set up and I'll be out.”
Minutes later there she was, minus mask, asking where I wanted her. She was
back with the customers within two minutes.
Before I left I asked her if she had any watercress.
“Yes, I am sure we have,” she replied and went into a isle and came back with a tin. That didn't seem right but things change rapidly these days and maybe that's the way watercress is sold now. I looked at the tin and it said water chestnuts.
"Don't move a muscle," I said as I saw Gerry's daughter Jade sitting there. "Don't move a muscle," I repeated, "I'll get my camera." If you say that to people they invariably move, but a minute later when I returned with my camera Jade had not moved an inch. Jade was resting after helping her father Gerry replace floors in our stable.
I asked her what she was going to do in the winter when most construction work dries up..
"My fiancé and I are going to buy a truck and haul people out of ditches."
She wondered later, "Why me?"
I was leaving the Farmers' Museum, but knew as I was leaving that I should turn back and photograph her. I said to myself, "There's a picture there," and turned back.
You cannot photograph quietness, but I think it was the woman's quietness that drew me to her. I had also noticed that she was not pretty, but had regular features, that she did not screw her face up when speaking, held herself upright and looked directly at me when we spoke. And then there were her two handsome Swiss calves that she had been talking to, as she let them out after the rain. They had a direct way of looking at you too.
I have never been drawn to photograph excitable and flamboyant people. Or as the French philosopher Roland Barthes put it, "I do not like acrobatic photographs."
The woman's name is Sandy. As we sat in the farmers' coffee hideaway at the museum a few days later, she looked at the picture and said how glad she was that the two calves had been so well behaved.
Nice dog. Nice family.
I wanted to photograph Sonia although I had only heard about her but not seen her. Rather than bother her at the Cooperstown farmer's market I decided to go and find her at her farm, Nectar Hills Farm, a few miles south east of Cooperstown. Not only does she farm cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, ducks, geese, Emus, and probably a hundred other two and four legged beasts, she makes wonderful teas and humus, and designs clothes made from sheep skin and wool.
I arrived at the farm where I was greeted by two friendly dogs but no humans. I knocked on the door of the handsome house that had not been taken care of in quite the same way as had the animals. The animals looked and behaved as though they were in paradise. On the other hand stone chips, fallen from the walls of the house, lay where they landed. Windows were veiled, either with material or grime. The beauty of the house, indeed, lay in its original architecture but beauty was added to it by its in-need-of-attention state.
Old boards with almost no paint left on them are one of the most attractive decorative features for the exterior of a house. And if the wood is good, as it is on Sonia's house, rot is far away into the future.
Animal sculls and other bones are fixed to the walls of the house around the front door.
Sonia came to the door after a few minutes and I explained who I was and what I wanted. She was wearing black tights with multiple large holes and tears in them. She said she had just woken up—from a nap, I presumed, as it was in the middle of the afternoon. She sat down on the crumbling top stone step leading up to the front door and proceeded to question my story.
"So you have just published a book.. Where is it? I want to see it before I agree to anything."
Of course, like an idiot, I had forgotten to bring a copy. I said I would send one and meanwhile would she like to see some of my work on Instagram. She went back into the house and returned with her iPhone. She was reassured by what she saw. Then I asked her what had broughtn her from Spain to the USA.
"And what brought you from Manhattan to the wilds of Central New York State."
I did not ask if it was the same one. She did, though, say that things got difficult in the city as a dancer and an artist.
We, she explained later, that is Sonia and Dave Dutton run the farm together and come from a background of world music, Indian dance, Qigong, martial arts and Kundalini yoga. I mailed the book, and after a muddle from my sending a message to the wrong phone number, hearing nothing from her, thought she did not like the book, whereas the opposite was the case.
We got together a couple of weeks later and did the picture in the fading sunlight of a lovely late summer evening.
A few days later I received this text from Ksenia.
I keep thinking of your icon and can't get it out of my head!
Then she told me on the telephone that I had to get it restored because it would guide me in my new life in Richfield Springs, near Cooperstown, where we are moving to in late November. She said it gently but firmly, leaving no doubt in my mind that the icon must be restored.
A lot whizzing around about Beethoven at the moment, as this year is the 250th anniversary of his birthday in Bonn. The British conductor Ronald Hazlewood commentated and conducted in the 2005 BBC mini series The Genius of Beethoven which, to my mind, gives you no finer picture of the composer and his music. I read somewhere that to celebrate his birthday we should not listen to anything by him for a year. Have you heard of anything so stupid?
What we should be doing is listening. This means listening not while cooking or looking at nonsense on Facebook, but sitting and doing nothing else except listening. This will include re-listening to passages when your attention has wandered and comparing different performances. Try this: Listen to all 32 of his piano sonatas three times over the next year. Listen first to Richter’s version of a performance then to Brendel’s version. Then to Wilhelm Kempff’s (who’s mastery will probably cause you to fall off your chair). All these performers have the complete sonatas on YouTube. Then you find a pianist you like better than those three and listen to them.
In the 1970s in London I had a great friend who ran off with the Indian lodger and whose husband more simply ran off — to the pub. She had two children one of whom, a boy, aged about 12, had a passion for the Kempff recording of the Appassionata Sonata which he played over and over and over again driving everybody in the house crazy, except himself. “But Mum, this is the greatest performance of one of the greatest pieces ever written. What greater influence do you want me to have?” Very sensibly his mother put up with it and the boy has, what they say in England, turned out well.
This may all be too much to ask as we are now not brought up to sit still and do one thing only. But I believe, by doing so, you will see and absorb excellence — a great influence in writing, painting, designing, etc.
Caroline heard Amor talk about his book A Gentleman in Moscow at the Garrison Library. She thought he would be good to photograph. I wrote to him and he agreed. I took this picture in his garden in Cold Spring, NY in 2019. He lives in a lovely house in even more lovely grounds. After I took the photograph he asked us in and made some Lapsang Soughong tea.
We talked about my Russian father who was an ADC to Grand Duke Dmitri. My father fought the Germans, then the Red Army, finally escaping through Finland with six of his men and an uncut diamond that his mother gave him before he left St.Petersburg. When he arrived in England he sold the diamond and bought a car and a suit.
We miss Amor a lot. He lived only a couple of miles away from us in Garrison, NY. You never know he might find his way up here one day.