Retrospective Show at The Jones House Community Center, Boone, NC

•August 14, 2014 • Leave a Comment

All this month (August 2014), a retrospective exhibition of my work will be on display at the Jones House Community Center in Boone, NC, in their main gallery. The exhibition features work from the following series: What Is Lost (2006), Eleusis (2007), But One Man Alone… (2008), Aletheia and Eros (2010), and my image This Land Is Your Land (Seven Mile Bridge, Pigeon Key, FL) (2011).

Many of these images are for sale, and I have had inquiries from distant folks asking about the possibility of purchase of the exhibited items. Below is a list of those images that are for sale, along with digital reproductions of the images, their associated text (which appears on labels in the gallery), and associated prices (which do not include crating and shipping charges). All listed measurements are approximate and reference either the matte (for unframed images) or the frame, not the image itself (unless otherwise noted). All “But One Man Alone…” prints include the original accompanying text on vellum either in the frame or backing the unframed print.

If you are interested in purchasing an image, please contact me at ericplaag @ or (828) 773-6525.

Unframed Prints

Temple of Hephaestus, Athens

But One Man Alone…, No. 2: Temple of Hephaestus, Athens
Unframed, matted, silver gelatin print (16″ X 20″)

I stayed up later than I should have last night,
weary, footsore, trying to compose the letter
that explains my behavior over the past months.
I find it difficult to do so without revealing particulars
about her, and I desperately don’t want to do that.

–June 19, 2007

Temple of the Olympian Zeus, Athens

But One Man Alone…, No. 3: Temple of the Olympian Zeus, Athens
Unframed, matted, silver gelatin print (16″ X 20″)

Friend, you’re hardly a wicked man, and no fool, I’d say–
it’s Olympian Zeus himself who hands our fortunes out,
to each of us in turn, to the good and bad,
however Zeus prefers….
He gave you pain, it seems. You simply have to bear it.”

–Nausicaa’s reply, Book 6

Roadside Attraction, Attica

But One Man Alone…, No. 4: Roadside Attraction, Attica
Unframed, matted, silver gelatin print (16″ X 20″)

A young man came in, called me “friend,”…and
explained that his companions were arguing
about where I am from. One thought Holland,
another the UK, and he simply “another country.”

–June 20, 2007

Cistern, Ancient Mycenae

But One Man Alone…, No. 9: Cistern, Ancient Mycenae
Unframed, matted, silver gelatin print (16″ X 20″)

“…So even your own wife–never indulge her too far.
Never reveal the whole truth, whatever you may know;
just tell her a part of it, be sure to hide the rest….
The time for trusting women’s gone forever!”

–The Shade of Agamemnon, Book 11

Ancient Tiryns

But One Man Alone…, No. 10: Ancient Tiryns
Unframed, matted, silver gelatin print (16″ X 20″)

What once must have been mysterious and overwhelming
must have become rather pedestrian and then forgotten
with time, in terms of the truly sublime….As for my own
predicament, maybe I imagine these things, but I prefer
not to diminish or discount them–things go much better
when I believe.

–June 22, 2007

The Necromanteion of the Acheron, Epirus

But One Man Alone…, No. 11: The Necromanteion of the Acheron, Epirus
Unframed, matted, silver gelatin print (16″ X 20″)

“One rule there is,” the famous seer explained,
“And simple for me to say and you to learn.
Any one of the ghosts you let approach…
will speak the truth to you. Anyone you refuse
will turn and fade away.”
And with those words,
now that his prophecies had closed, the awesome shade
of Lord Tiresias strode back to the House of Death.
But I kept watch there, steadfast till my mother

–In the Kingdom of the Dead, Book 11

Temple of Apollo, Delphi

But One Man Alone…, No. 12: Temple of Apollo, Delphi
Unframed, matted, silver gelatin print (16″ X 20″)

At the small grocery in Delphi I found the proprietor–an
elderly lady–trying to push a large box of apples across
the floor to the front of the store. I offered to help
through gesture, and she let me….She then threw an apple
in my bag as a means of thanks–a reminder of how
kindness breeds kindness, even among strangers.

–June 25, 2007

Sacred Grove, Mount Parnassos

But One Man Alone…, No. 13: Sacred Grove, Mount Parnassos
Unframed, matted, silver gelatin print (16″ X 20″)

“All is now made good, my heart’s desire,
your convoy home, your precious, loving gifts,
and may the gods of Olympus bless them for me!
May I find an unswerving wife when I reach home,
and loved ones hale, unharmed! And you, my friends
remaining here in your kingdom now, may you delight
in your royal wives and children! May the gods
rain down all kinds of fortune on your lives….”

–Odysseus to the Phaeacians, Book 13

Racing for Ithaca, Ionian Sea

But One Man Alone…, No. 15: Racing for Ithaca, Ionian Sea
Unframed, matted, silver gelatin print (16″ X 20″)

So the stern hove high and plunged with the seething rollers
crashing dark in her wake as on she surged, unwavering,
never flagging, no, not even a darting hawk,
the quickest thing on wings, could keep her pace
as on she ran, cutting the swells at top speed,
bearing a man endowed with the gods’ own wisdom,
one who had suffered twenty years of torment….

–Ithaca at Last, Book 13

Aphales Bay, Ithaca

But One Man Alone…, No. 17: Aphales Bay, Ithaca
Unframed, matted, silver gelatin print (16″ X 20″)

At those words
Dawn rose on her golden throne in a sudden gleam of light.
And great Odysseus caught the sound of his wife’s cry
and began to daydream–deep in his heart it seemed
she stood beside him, knew him, now, at last….

–Penelope’s lament, Book 20

Stairway, School of Homer, Ithaca

But One Man Alone…, No. 18: Stairway, School of Homer, Ithaca
Unframed, matted, silver gelatin print (16″ X 20″)

But what was interesting to me were the promises that
had been made the night before on the voyage across the
Ionian Sea, fulfilled on Ithaca that next day by an
unexpected and captivating discovery on the horizon.
Between landscape and cartography, those circumstances
did a rather fine job of blowing my mind.

–June 26, 2007

The Palace at Knossos, Crete

But One Man Alone…, No. 20: The Palace at Knossos, Crete
Unframed, matted, silver gelatin print (16″ X 20″)

Very odd night once settled into my secondary lodgings.
Wandered back out, captivated by these strange
people and their even stranger city. Returned,
unable to sleep for thoughts of her,
frustrated and angry a little at the gulf between us.
Turned on the TV and heard this:
“Love doesn’t end just because we don’t see each other.”

–July 1, 2007

Framed Prints

Toward Ithaca, Ionian Sea

But One Man Alone…, No. 1: Toward Ithaca, Ionian Sea
Framed, matted, silver gelatin print (19″ X 23″ framed)

Immortals are never strangers to each other,
no matter how distant one may make her home.
But as for great Odysseus—
Hermes could not find him within the cave.
Off he sat on a headland, weeping there as always,
wrenching his heart with sobs and groans and anguish, gazing out over the barren sea through blinding tears.

–On Calypso’s Island, Book 5

The Plutoneion, Eleusis

But One Man Alone…, No. 6: The Plutoneion, Eleusis
Framed, matted, silver gelatin print (19″ X 23″ framed)

I took several wrong turns at poorly marked junctions….
Then, as I approached Elefsina (ancient Eleusis)
around midnight, I saw a sign for the only
respectable hotel in town: ___________________________.
Perhaps this is what I needed most, and I find it
certainly appropriate, given my arrival in
this sacred city of mysteries.

–June 20, 2007

From the Temple of Aphrodite, Acrocorinth

But One Man Alone…, No. 7: From the Temple of Aphrodite, Acrocorinth
Framed, matted, silver gelatin print (19″ X 23″ framed)

“Leaving the ship and shore, I headed inland,
clambering up through hushed, entrancing glades until,
as I was nearing the halls of Circe skilled in spells,
approaching her palace–Hermes god of the golden wand
crossed my path…and grasped me by the hand and asked me kindly,
‘Where are you going now, my unlucky friend–
trekking over the hills alone in unfamiliar country?’”

–On Circe’s Island, Book 10

Mosque Ruins, Acrocorinth

But One Man Alone…, No. 8: Mosque Ruins, Acrocorinth
Framed, matted, silver gelatin print (19″ X 23″ framed)

I began to feel kind of lost…and I realized
that I miss that sense of shared
understanding, homophrosyne, comfort,
and I’ve spent so long waiting for it to come
back to me. But I haven’t done my part….
I have made myself the willing prisoner
by not doing what I promised to do.

–June 22, 2007

Rock of the Sibyl, Delphi

But One Man Alone…, No. 14: Rock of the Sibyl, Delphi
Framed, matted, silver gelatin print (19″ X 23″ framed)

But I refused to be daunted….
At the Temple of Apollo, I paid my
respects and asked my question of the Oracle.
In no uncertain terms, I received an answer on the spot,
one consistent with everything else that had occurred,
for which I expressed my deepest gratitude.

–June 25, 2007

The Great Tree, Ithaca

But One Man Alone…, No. 19: The Great Tree, Ithaca
Framed, matted, silver gelatin print (19″ X 23″ framed)

‘Strange man,’
wary Penelope said, ‘I am not so proud, so scornful,
nor am I overwhelmed by your quick change….
You look–how well I know–the way he looked,
setting sail from Ithaca years ago
aboard the long-oared ship. Come, Eurycleia,
move the sturdy bedstead out of our bridal chamber….’

–Penelope’s Secret Sign, Book 23

Aletheia 1--Grand Illumination

Aletheia, No. 1: Grand Illumination
Framed, matted, silver gelatin print (27″ X 39″ framed)

“I’m working at a motel, one of my lifelong fantasies (I’m serious about that–don’t laugh). It’s given me the insight to start my second novel. Something about some crazy guy in a motel–wonder who that might be?…I’m also working on another one (obviously the first novel), and I’m pretty far through it. More on this later (I know you’re thrilled by it).”

EP to JM, May 27, 1985

Aletheia 2--Aurelia

Aletheia, No. 2: Aurelia
Framed, matted, silver gelatin print (27″ X 39″ framed)

“I have started a new story today…. It is an unusual fairy tale about an unattractive man with a beautiful gift that wins over the young and fair Catherine. But when she discovers the man behind this gift, she tries to change him, and through this he comes to despise his gift and thus casts it aside. Accordingly, she comes to hate him. Returning to his reclusive world, he rediscovers the gift and lives in loneliness, while she contemplates the world and its resistance to change. Or something like that.”

Journal, December 31, 1990

Aletheia 5--Telesterion

Aletheia, No. 5: Telesterion
Framed, matted, silver gelatin print (27″ X 39″ framed)

“While I understand your disdain for recklessness, I also hope you don’t ever confuse that recklessness with the calculated risk-taking that’s necessary for us to accomplish anything truly great with our lives. If your efforts in Winnsboro are any indication, I suspect you won’t. But as someone who shares with you the flaw of taking on too many things and always being pressed to get them done, I urge you NOT to stop being that way. The curiosity and confidence and courage that inform that headstrong desire to do so much are our lifeblood.

“A long time ago, I let someone break my confidence, and I played it safe for about ten years. It was a terrible mistake, and it took me a long time to make things right. If I can impart any wisdom, I’d ask you to always live by the mantra that’s now engraved on the back of my watch: ‘Be brave. Jump.’ Life is way too short to do otherwise.”

EP to MP, November 9, 2004

Aletheia 6--Consider the Alternative

Aletheia, No. 6: Consider the Alternative
Framed, matted, silver gelatin print (27″ X 39″ framed)

“And for the longest time, I felt the most overwhelming sense of remorse and guilt. I’d been writing almost non-stop for several months leading up to turning in the thesis, so I took a few weeks off to rest the writing ‘muscles.’ When I tried to start writing fiction again, though, a strange thing would happen. Whenever I’d enter ‘the zone,’ B— would be there. And boy was she pissed. It frightened me so much that I’d write in dribs and drabs, trying not to get involved enough to be in the zone, and all I was creating was crap. A few more forays into the zone, with increasingly visceral and angry visits from ‘B—,’ and I’d had about enough. So I stopped writing fiction. For eight years.

“I finally made my peace with B— (or at least with the voices in my head) a couple of years ago….Since then, I’ve been too busy (or so I tell myself) with grad school and research to do much creative writing, but if I’m honest with myself, I also know that I’m terribly nervous about whether anything will be any good after so long. I know that I’ll hold myself to old high standards–sort of like expecting Gene Kelly to be ready to tap dance after eight months in a body cast–and I’m terrified of finding out I don’t have ‘it’ anymore.”

EP to MP, November 17, 2004

Eros 2--Doppelganger

Eros, No. 2: Doppelganger
Framed, matted, silver gelatin print (27″ X 39″ framed)

“I asked her to go for a walk with me. We went to the lake, sat…on the bench on the boathouse dock. The moon was shining through racing clouds, almost full. It reminded me of that dream, the eerie blue light and the strange comfort I feel…. We talked about C—-. We talked about how he is jealous, does not listen to her, does not make time for her. She says she knew this when she started to date him—but somehow hoped that there was more. She said she does not love him. She started to cry.

…I could not bring myself to kiss her. Even though I wanted to. Even though she wanted me to.”

Journal, April 27, 1991

Eros 4--On the Payroll

Eros, No. 4: On the Payroll
Framed, matted, silver gelatin print (27″ X 39″ framed)

“Tonight I studied there, a guest…by her invitation. Tonight she agreed to go to Waltz Ball on the 17th. Tonight we spent 45 minutes sitting in the window smoking and talking and being with each other like we so like to be….I only wish I knew what was going on. It bothers me to the point that I am tempted to sneak a peek in her journal, but realize how wrong that would be. (Has she ever peeked in mine?)”

Journal, April 5, 1988

“I hope all is well with you and family. I’ve been thinking a lot about peach wine coolers and Capri menthols on the Capitol steps lately.”

EP to LL, September 21, 1998

“I am rushing to finish projects today, so I have no long recitation of all that is going on over here to offer. But my spidey sense was tingling something fierce this afternoon with thoughts of you, and I’m not sure what that’s about. So, I thought it best to take time out, say hello, and let you know that you’re on my mind. I hope all is well.”

EP to LL, March 20, 2008

Eros 7--Bang Bang

Eros, No. 7: Bang Bang
Framed, matted, silver gelatin print (27″ X 39″ framed)

“On top of all that, somehow, my muse keeps finding ways to kick my butt into staying focused on what I should be doing right now, instead of wasting energy on ‘nonproductive’ things. I guess this is a ‘project,’ too. She’s smart, she is, though I don’t always like her technique. But I know her heart’s in the right place, even if she is a little heavy-handed sometimes. See, just when I’m about to catch my breath, she dunks me under the water again. You know…out in the rip current. So, what do you think? What would I have to do to catch a break from her? Or is this how it will always be?”

EP to MP, August 2, 2005, Unsent

Eros 8--Ballad of the Sad Cafe

Eros, No. 8: Ballad of the Sad Cafe
Framed, matted, silver gelatin print (27″ X 39″ framed)

“A very dear friend recently urged me to read Carson McCullers’s ‘The Ballad of the Sad Cafe.’ There’s a moment when the narrator writes, ‘And the curt truth is that, in a deep secret way, the state of being beloved is intolerable to many. The beloved fears and hates the lover, and with the best of reasons. For the lover is forever trying to strip bare his beloved. The lover craves any possible relation with the beloved, even if this experience can cause him only pain.’ We quarreled over this part, my friend and I, as I tried to point out to her that while it can be this way between two people, it does not have to be. She eventually agreed, although she pointed out that this description of love is only true for oneself when one is the beloved. Her rejoinder saddens me and makes me wonder if the lover and the beloved can ever find peace…. After all, as long as the beloved maintains such a view, anything the lover does is by definition a sin in the beloved’s eyes, whether the lover remains attentive, attempts to be respectfully distant, or becomes altogether indifferent.”

EP to IM, April 25, 2008

Images on Plexiglas


Eleusis, No. 1: The Call
Silver gelatin print mounted to Plexiglas (8″ X 8″ mounted)

“It is always some little fault, some slight yet critical symptom of human frailty, that makes impossible the open interrelationship between the worlds; so that one is tempted to believe, almost, that if the small, marring accident could be avoided, all would be well.”

–Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces


Eleusis, No. 8: Epopteia
Silver gelatin print mounted to Plexiglas (8″ X 8″ mounted)

“After this, a strange and wonderful light meets the wanderer; he is admitted into clean and verdant meadows, where he discerns gentle voices, and choric dances, and the majesty of holy sounds and sacred visions. Here the now fully initiated is free, and walks at liberty like a crowned and dedicated victim, joining in the revelry….”

–F. C. Grant, Hellenistic Religions

Please Note: Text from Homer’s The Odyssey used in the But One Man Alone… series is from the Penguin Classics edition of the Robert Fagles translation, ©1996, and is used in compliance with the requirements of Fair Use under US Copyright law. Accompanying text from Eric Plaag’s unpublished personal diaries in all series is protected under copyright and shall not be reproduced under any circumstances without written permission from the artist.

Postcards from the Road

•January 24, 2013 • 1 Comment

I haven’t been around much at this site in quite a while, mostly because I’ve been working my ass off on historical projects lately, but I’ll have some new photographic material to post here soon. In the meantime, here are a couple of intriguing images from my travels following in General William Tecumseh Sherman’s footsteps across South Carolina over the past year.

Not at Home, near Moore's Crossroads, SC

“Not at Home,” abandoned farmstead near Moore’s Crossroads, SC

City on the Edge of Forever, Ridgeway, SC

“City on the Edge of Forever,” Ridgeway, SC

Stay tuned….

Frankie’s Forever Home

•August 30, 2011 • 2 Comments

So, remember that big announcement I mentioned a few days ago? Well, it’s time to make it. My wife, Teresa, and I have spent the past few days in Boone, NC, where we have decided to relocate in mid-September. We are making Boone the forever home of our decrepit but lovely, 17-year-old cat Frankie, and we are hoping that things will work out so that it can be our forever home, too. We love it here. There’s such a great vibe of ease and genuine kindness from nearly everyone we meet, and we find that nearly all of the things we miss from Columbia, the few things we could not find in Columbia, and everything we wanted but could never find in Northern Virginia are all concentrated in this little town in the mountains of North Carolina.

To start off our new life here, we signed a lease yesterday on an apartment in this beautiful, semi-detached house, which is located deep in the woods above a beautiful rushing creek yet just five minutes from downtown Boone.

I will be transporting my historical consulting business to Boone and continuing to do historical work throughout the Southeast for the foreseeable future. Photography solutions are in the works; the full darkroom in Fairfax (at my father’s house) will still be accessible to me, and travel will take me through there on a regular basis, but I’ll also be looking for an arrangement closer to our new home–perhaps a shared darkroom space downtown. But that’s still several months out, at best.

Once we are settled, though, I look forward to sharing much more photography with all of you. And those long-term projects I’ve mentioned in the past are still on track for late this year and early next year. Stay tuned.

Working on the Chain Gang

•August 24, 2011 • 1 Comment

I’ve been a bad little puppy about showing up here and filling folks in on what’s been happening lately, mostly because there is never time for anything these days, it seems. But…as I’ve been saying all year…big things are in the works. Stay tuned for an announcement in early September about forthcoming plans.

In the meantime, if you are a NOVA resident, I strongly encourage you to make it down to the Workhouse Arts Center for its annual BLOCK PARTY on September 3. During the afternoon (2 to 7pm), Teresa and I will be there selling various prints of mine from the past few years, including many of the images from the But One Man Alone… series, the few remaining images from the Eleusis series, and a handful of other works that may intrigue you. If you’ve never seen these images, you can get a sampling over there ========>. All work will be priced to sell, as we are not particularly keen on moving all of it again. (And yes, that should give you a hint about the big upcoming September announcement.) Work by other Workhouse artists will be available for sale as well, and 30% of all proceeds go directly into supporting education programs at the Workhouse.

Also that afternoon, from 5 to 7pm, is the “Friends and Family Exhibition Reception,” which features art pairings from Workhouse artists and a friend or family member of their choosing. Teresa and I entered these pieces, which were both shot on the same Agfa Click I camera. The Agfa Click I was a cheap Bakelite camera manufactured between 1958 and 1970 that takes 6×6 120 film, and this was our first time shooting with this particular camera. It’s fun, and one of Griffin’s favorites, too.

Anyway, we are delighted to make our images available for purchase, with a portion of the proceeds going to support programs at the Workhouse:

Eric Plaag, This Land Is Your Land (Seven Mile Bridge, Pigeon Key, FL), 2011

Teresa Plaag, This Land Is My Land (Tallgrass Prairie Preserve, OK), 2011

The Workhouse is a great place to visit, so make sure you wander on down for some fun in the prison yard!

Is that your answer, Old Man? I guess you’re a hard case, too.

•May 5, 2011 • Leave a Comment

(Image courtesy of the Virginia Department of Historic Resources)

Now, you may have heard the rumors, but I’m here to report that what they say is true.

I am indeed going to jail. The Workhouse, actually.

But before you freak out, I think you should sit down for a spell first and hear what I have to say.

It might be more interesting if I said this little stint in the big house had something to do with knocking the heads off parking meters, but actually, it’s all about making new art. This past month, I went through the jury process to become an Associate Artist at the Workhouse Arts Center in Lorton, VA. Once the site of Virginia’s infamous Lorton Reformatory (which housed DC’s criminals–go figure), the Workhouse and the rest of the prison closed in the late 1990s. In 2004, the Lorton Arts Foundation secured permission from Fairfax County to begin transforming the property into a cultural arts center, which had its grand opening in 2008.

As an Associate Artist, I am not presently maintaining studio space on site, but I am exhibiting work on a monthly basis. This month I’m featuring two pieces from my August 2010 joint show with Marshall Hodge and Tricia Hatfield, an exhibition better known as The Illusion of Truth: Three Photographers on Implicit Memory. This month’s featured pieces include Eros #8: Ballad of the Sad Cafe and Aletheia #6: Consider the Alternative.

Eros #8: Ballad of the Sad Cafe

Aletheia #6: Consider the Alternative

Both pieces will be on exhibition through June 2 and are available for sale at $300 each.

So, if I’m not keeping a studio (and therefore a darkroom) at the Workhouse, then how will I be making new work?

Relax, I’m not going digital.

Beginning this month, I’m in the process of a massive overhaul of a storage space in the basement. By the end of June, I should have a full at-home darkroom up and running, with new work to follow in the late summer months. There are several hundred rolls of shot but undeveloped film awaiting my attention, and I’m looking forward to all that comes next. Also on the way are two other projects using found negatives and diary entries. I have previously blogged about the first, Other People’s Lives, on this site (scroll down for details), and it now appears that this project will take much of the next year and a half to complete in the manner that I think is most appropriate for exhibition. The other project, tentatively titled EC Penty and the Playboy of Essex, conflates the experiences of two vastly different groups of people into one visual narrative. I will say no more about it for now, other than that I can’t wait to exhibit it, hopefully near the end of this year or early in 2012.

Stay tuned. In the meantime, I don’t care if it rains or freezes….

Introducing “TheSplitScreen”

•May 5, 2011 • Leave a Comment

I am proud to announce (somewhat belatedly, I admit) the recent launch of a new film criticism blog site in partnership with my good friend Matt Smith. TheSplitScreen features new reviews, film criticism, and commentary, as well as occasional discussion of broader issues in media studies. Typically, each of us will post two or three articles each week, so there’s plenty to read about! Check it out and let us know what you think.

As a result of this development, movie reviews will no longer appear here in full, although I may occasionally post links here regarding new content at TheSplitScreen.

An Ethical Dilemma: When Enjoying the Really Funny and Quirky Might Also Mean Being an Accessory After the Fact

•March 22, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Recently, a Facebook “friend” posted a link to an assemblage of 50 photographs that defy explanation, which I in turn shared on my own Facebook newsfeed. After I emailed the site to my wife, she asked where the images came from–a question that, I confess, I had only briefly considered but did not research before enthusiastically passing them along.

Tracking down their most recent layer of origin, it turns out, was easy enough, and in the process, I thought I’d found my favorite new blog site of the moment. Black and WTF appears to be the brainchild of Matt Stopera, a 23-year-old New Yorker who solicits (or hunts down) weird and wacky black-and-white images from other web users. The images are fascinating and funny, and Stopera is good about citing a link with most of the images.

The only downside to this practice is that we often still don’t know–as my wife asked–where the images originally came from. The image shown above, for example, was copied from Stopera’s site, and he credits it (with a link) to “mlkshk,” a website that appears to do some image borrowing of its own, since they credit the image (with a link) to “Thrillist,” another website that appears to gank images from elsewhere and share them (this time without any credit to another image source).

Stopera isn’t to blame, of course, for the zany and labyrinthine nature of hyperlinks on blog sites, but his blog raises a question about the duty that we bloggers owe to the sources of our “borrowed” material. Is it enough to just say where we found it, or do we owe the original owner of the image something more than just giving credit to the (possible) thief who took it from him/her and posted it without permission?

I’d be interested in hearing the thoughts of my photo colleagues and other interested friends and lurkers….

Finding the Right Photo Book Company

•March 4, 2011 • Leave a Comment

As some of my close photographer friends know, I experimented a few years ago (late 2007) with publishing a collection of my photography, Ineffable Light, using Blurb’s photo editing and design software. While the results weren’t disastrous, they weren’t very satisfying, either. As a photographer who works exclusively in black and white capture and darkroom output, it was already a little frustrating to see grain turned into pixels. But what I wasn’t prepared for–after more than 100 hours spent on adjustments to my color profile (for black and white!), my gamma setting, and various other monitor and software concerns–was that I ended up with a book filled with images that were substantially darker than their originals, often digitally banded, and scarred by a very faint magenta hue. In spite of hundreds of dollars invested in the project, I put it on hold indefinitely, until I could find a digital publisher I and those interested in my work could be satisfied with AND afford.

Now that the insanity of the past year is finally settling down, I’m revisiting Ineffable Light and reconsidering the publisher question. Blurb has gone through several major updates, and countless reviews of late seem to reassure me that many of the problems I encountered three years ago have now been solved. In doing my research, however, I stumbled upon an outstanding, side-by-side review of POD publishers that fellow photographers might find helpful. The review dates to April 2010 but has been updated as of February 2011.

(The cover from the original, unpublished version of Ineffable Light)

So where does that leave me now? I was relieved to read that many of Blurb’s old problems didn’t surface for this guy, which echoed much of what I’ve read lately in other forums. I was also happy to learn that there’s a reliable, high-quality alternative in Inkubook, but I have to say that the pricing scheme would make my 110+ page book ridiculously expensive. So, Blurb, you’re going to get another shot from me.

Don’t screw it up this time.

For those who are keeping track, the revised version of Ineffable Light, which I hope to finish and FINALLY publish by summer, will include all images from the following series: “Eleusis,” “But One Man Alone…,” “Echoes of Narcissus,” “Eros” and “Aletheia,” and “Into the Dark.” Stay tuned….

The Restoration, CONSTANCE: A Review

•February 20, 2011 • 6 Comments

(Image courtesy of The Restoration)

When my wife first told me about a year ago that we were going that night to West Columbia’s New Brookland Tavern to hear what a friend had described (inaccurately) as “a retro-Confederate band” known as The Restoration, I nearly laughed out loud. I anticipated a bunch of 20-something hipsters dressed up in well-worn reenactment scrubs, playing washboards, jugs, and mouth harps, and lamenting the Lost Cause. I imagined lyrics filled with a tortured and twisted sense of nineteenth-century history sung by ill-educated young men who couldn’t find a history book in the Carolina Room at the local library.

Man, was I wrong. The crowd that night at New Brookland (and the rest of the bill, for that matter) did The Restoration no favors, but what I saw absolutely blew me away. After hearing a half dozen cuts from their then-forthcoming album Constance, I realized that something far too big and bold for Columbia was happening. At the time, I knew little about The Restoration’s grand vision, but I also knew that what lay behind these songs was a complex universe that combines local and regional history, a remarkably sophisticated amalgam of nineteenth- and twentieth-century musical styles, and a rich throughline of a story that could break the heart of the most hardened cynic.

For the past few months, the full album of Constance (which was finally unleashed upon the South last April) has played nearly non-stop in our Virginia household. The album recounts the story of Constance Owen, a white Lexington County, South Carolina, native who is both blessed and cursed with the music that “is in my mind—Every moment, all the time,” a “gift from God” whose “visions and melodies follow me into my dreams.” In 1895, while still a young woman, Constance meets a mixed-race Chicago transplant named Aaron Vale, whose musical sensibilities are much like her own. They marry in spite of local social conventions and are soon blessed with a son, Thomas. But local hatred is too much for Aaron, whose employers, the Palmers, literally work him to death, then rob his family of their due. Years later, that racial hatred “all comes back ‘round again,” when Thomas tries, with only partial success, to exact his long-overdue revenge.

Constructed from multiple narratives and points of view, Constance tells us precisely what we need to know and nothing more, which is exactly as it should be in an album. For those who want more, however, there is The Constance Compendium, a separately available booklet that contains the full lyrics and “John Gilead Palmer,” a contextualizing short story by Daniel Machado, the creative genius behind The Restoration. Punctuated with stunning photography by Amber Machado, the compendium satisfies the craving that anyone with ears to hear will have after indulging in Constance’s many rich layers. And for a historian who is easily irritated by the reckless ignorance with which so many storytellers handle the details of our past, I was impressed with Machado’s attention to such matters and the ease with which he blends such details into his lyrics without diminishing their emotional clout or the power of his music.

Take, for instance, “August 1895,” in which Constance recounts the degree to which she has fallen for Aaron, marking her book with an asterisk for each of their encounters, all of which must end achingly as “I leave you in the trees again.” Backed by violin (Lauren Garner) and country timpani (Stephen Russ), Machado beats out Constance’s loving lament with an acoustic guitar and the shoes on his feet, daring you not to swoon, yet never once veering into the cloying insipidness that most love songs bring to mind. Or consider Aaron’s plea to “Constance” two tracks later, begging her, “Don’t let my music die with me. Don’t let it go into the ground with me.” Here the simplicity of “August 1895” is traded for something bordering on the orchestral, with Machado on acoustic guitar, banjo, and violin, backed by Garner on violin, Adam Corbett on bass, Sharon Gnanashekar on piano, Eddie Lord on drums, Russ on country timpani, tambourine, and cymbal, Collin Derrick on Wurlitzer organ, Kathryn Pollock on cello, and Joshua Williams on saxophone. The album builds to Thomas Vale’s account of “Drowning Mr. and Mrs. Palmer,” a track on which Machado’s eerie string arrangement serves as precursor to the anger—and horror—of Thomas’s effort to “wash you off this earth with all the evil things you’ve done in the name of Jesus.” As the Palmers sleep with “snores that shake two lazy chins and flabby jaws that two fat necks consume,” Thomas notes that “the cricket-buzz grows to a frenzy as I bring the levee down.” Even more horrific than this is the realization that Thomas got it only half right, and that whatever frustrations his neighbors might share with Thomas about the Palmers, Thomas’s racial background trumps any such concerns, as he and Constance both are reminded in the album’s final, blistering, and terrifying track, “The Lynching.”

Masterpiece is not a term I ever use lightly, but Constance is the real McCoy. My wife maintains a theory that artists get one big moment of brilliance, and everything that follows is a vain attempt to get back there again. I am more optimistic, although I will caution Machado and his band mates that the bar is now immeasurably higher for whatever will come next. My wife also says Constance is “like reading East of Eden or Light in August, except I get to turn it up really fuckin’ loud,” a sentiment that I completely understand. Constance is indeed a ribsticker. It has been so long since an album seeped into my consciousness in the silent moments of my life in the way that Constance has, still carrying me away when I am absent from its sound. Listen for yourself, and see if you are not changed by the experience.

The Restoration – Drowning Mr. & Mrs. Palmer – Live Studio Performance from The Restoration on Vimeo.


•January 25, 2011 • 2 Comments

Albert Camus once wrote that “Life is a sum of all your choices,” and while I’ve never been much of a Camus fan, Blue Valentine kept making me think about the inexorable forces put into motion at the instant when we begin to love someone. There is a great responsibility in that moment, one that requires us to choose again and again whether we will keep loving that someone. This is what we are taught, anyway, but Blue Valentine also reminded me that we too often dwell on this responsibility we have to the other, rather than on the responsibility we have to the “us” or even to ourselves.

Director Derek Cianfrance, whose past work has consisted primarily of documentaries and short films, throws Michelle Williams (Brokeback Mountain and Shutter Island) and Ryan Gosling (Half Nelson and Lars and the Real Girl) into a situation that has chosen Cindy and Dean far more than the other way around. Love—at least the kind that most of us live, rather than the kind Hollywood typically likes to peddle us—is usually like that. Cindy is a nurse who desperately wants to be a doctor, even though her job and her family and her baggage seem always to be in the way. Dean is a high school dropout who flits from one job to another with a carefree demeanor that masks his malaise and his need to drink before he shows up on the job. At first glance, one might not think to put these two disparate people together, and yet it is the first glance that does exactly that. For Dean, she is the “nutty-cuckoo crazy” pretty girl he swears he has known before, even though they have never met. For Cindy, he is an escape from disaster and profound unhappiness, and perhaps the only man who has ever really cared about her for her own sake.

I don’t mean to suggest here that you should look to their faults to determine who bears responsibility for what their lives become. Perhaps that’s the mastery of this story and these characters—there are no good guys and no bad guys in this relationship, just people who don’t know how they got here from there, with a daughter named Frankie trapped between them, in spite of their best and most noble intentions. It’s a rare accomplishment in movies like this to allow the audience to still love them both, even as the people around them appear to choose sides. “’Don’t let him brainwash you’?” Dean asks incredulously after a coworker warns Cindy, and the moment is as devastating to Cindy and the viewer as it is to Dean. We know with a visceral agony what each thinks in that instant, but we also know that they cannot possibly understand each other just then.

As subtle as it is immersed in the raw beauty of hand-held jaggedness, Blue Valentine moves us effortlessly between Cindy and Dean’s life together now and the moments after they met six years earlier, all without ever giving us title cards or awkward scene fades to let us know that we are changing places and times. Smart movies do this, of course, but the effect here is something like stepping into the drunken fever dream of the characters, who endure the disorientation of standing outside themselves and watching helplessly as their lives unravel, even as they replay the past, searching for the wrong turn. Cianfrance has been quoted as saying that even he does not know what went awry between them, and there is no better example of this confusion than two embraces—one in a moment of great trial near the beginning of their relationship, the other as they ponder in the film’s last moments what to do next. Dean comforts Cindy in exactly the same manner both times, and she responds physically and emotionally to him in precisely the same way, and yet something is inexplicably different. That these actors can capture so exquisitely what their director cannot explain is even greater testament to their craft. Williams’s ever-shifting facial expressions in Cindy and Dean’s first real conversation on a city bus—from timidity to anger to relief and back to guardedness, all in the space of a few seconds—are Oscar-worthy all their own.

This kind of care with the camera and the actors screams volumes about Cianfrance’s vision. Borrowing a page from Kieslowski, Blue Valentine is infused throughout with symbolic color even as its washed-out tones make Scranton look even more bleak than the real Scranton. Likewise, the film’s score—which features music by Grizzly Bear and Ryan Gosling himself—is at its best when it mimics the terrible sounds we hear in our own heads as things spin out of control. One roaring, ringing tone in particular so pervades our senses that even our vision seems impeded by its presence, and yet not for an instant is that tone obtrusive or otherwise distracting from what unfolds on the screen. Who needs 3D effects or overtly ominous soundtracks when a director can give us this and cut us to the core in the process?

To call Cianfrance’s film a love story, as the trailers all seem to imply, does it a gross disservice. When his story finishes with you without actually ending, you may find yourself questioning every small, careless moment of your own present relationship, pondering the damage you have done and hoping it’s not as grave as you fear. No, you should not expect happy endings here, because this film is not about the outcome of Cindy and Dean’s relationship but rather about the subtleties of small moments, actions, words, and even the margins between those words. “Don’t say it!” Dean screams at one point. “Don’t say something you can’t take back!” But the devastation of that scene lies not in what Cindy says but rather in what she does not say, or at least will not reveal. Much like Cindy’s reticence cripples Dean, Blue Valentine will haunt you with implication and press you to promise, as Dean does repeatedly, to be better.

5 stars out of 5