Photography Projects

The Eye Is a Door

To see is the linguistic root of idea; for me, it is the seed.

Photography is to seeing what poetry is to writing: a way of thinking, a disciplined practice that may produce insight, a condensed telling. Through photography, I try to discover what is there, hidden and real, to understand why and how things come about and to imagine what they might become. I want to inspire others to see the extraordinary in the everyday, to pause and look deeply at the surface of things, and also beyond that surface to the stories landscapes tell, to the processes that shape human lives and communities, the earth, and the universe and all who dwell there. That is what I hope to accomplish with this exhibit.


Daring to Look, The Continuing Story

My book Daring to Look: Dorothea Lange’s Photographs and Reports from the Field (2008) is published, but the project refuses to be finished. Since 2005 I have traveled to all the places Lange photographed in 1939.

My journey took me to places I might never otherwise have gone, to people I would never have met, including many people Lange portrayed: to California’s San Joaquin, Salinas, and Imperial valleys; to the lush farms and woods of the Willamette Valley and Puget Basin; back and forth across the Cascade Mountains to the drylands of the Klamath Basin, the Yakima Valley, the Columbia Plateau, and eastern Oregon, and the forests of the Idaho panhandle; to the tobacco fields, churches, and towns of the North Carolina Piedmont. Much has changed since 1939, but much is the same.

The stories Lange told in 1939 are still unfolding; somehow, in the process of tracing her stories, they became my own. “What are you going to do with this?” people ask me when they see my photographs. I do not yet know, but am confident that the product will emerge out of the work.

Some of the photographs and stories are on; others are posted on this Web site in my Geoblog and in the Gallery. See AUTHOR for more details on Daring to Look.

A grant from the Graham Foundation made it possible to visit these places.


The Language of Landscape

My eye is drawn to the stories landscapes tell and to the significant details of their narrative. While my book The Language of Landscape was published in 1998, I continue to search for places that illustrate the expressive power of landscape language.

Places engage, inspire, and challenge me: when the processes that shape the landscape are distinct; where people have shaped and arranged the landscape to express identity and idea, particularly of nature and the deep values of memory and worship; where the power of certain places has been acknowledged by cultures across centuries; where I can sense how processes shape the local landscape, but more than that, the earth and universe, as in the earth’s shadow and the Pacific Ring of Fire. I search for places with compelling stories.

See the album of photographs in the Gallery on this Web site.


Marnas and the Landscape of Skaane, Sweden

Imagine a fairy tale in the form of a garden. The story is full of allusion and allegory, of journeys and homecomings, of animals and plants who engage the gardener in dialogue. The fable begins with a young man’s inheritance: a small, open field and tiny, half-timbered farmhouse. He plants 600 hawthorns to form seven garden rooms, each room a realm enclosed by living walls and open to the sky. In the largest space, he shapes a group of trees, first into eggs, then, as they grow, into ten-foot hens.

The author of this garden tale is Sven-Ingvar Andersson, the H. C. Andersen of landscape literature. In 1967, two years after planting the garden at Marnas, he wrote the classic “Letter from My Henyard” in which the young gardener dreams of himself as an old man: too weak to hold the shears and clamber up ladders, he sits beneath a grove of hawthorn. All that he shaped has disintegrated, but he is satisfied. Clipped hedges and hens transform into a grove of trees: a restoration of the natural order.

I have been photographing this garden and its landscape context since 1990, following its evolution up to Sven-Ingvar’s death in 2007 and since. I goaded him into writing a book on the garden, which he finished the month before he died, by threatening to write a book about Marnas myself. Someday I will do that.

See photographs of Marnas in the Gallery on this Web site.


Read my translation of Andersson’s classic essay, “Letter from My Henyard”


On Nahant, down a narrow, mile-long causeway reaching out into Massachusetts Bay north of Boston, one is ever mindful of tides, weather, water, light. Offshore to the northeast is Egg Rock: landmark, lightcatcher. Here, earth’s shadow rises in the twilight sky on a clear day. Nahant is a laboratory for studying the lights of day, in season and place.

After I moved here in 2000, I recognized it as the place of some of my favorite photographs by Paul Caponigro, who grew up a few miles away in Revere.

See photographs of Nahant in the Gallery on this Web site.