25 December

Ice Storm Album: Four Images

by Jon Katz

We drove for several hours through a nasty ice storm in Vermont; we got home safely and were grateful. I took my Leica, and along the way,

I decided that instead of gripping the door handle, I’d take out the Leica and try to capture some of the beautiful images surrounding an ice storm, especially the mist that rises over the farms and the hills.

I picked out four photos to share. Above were two red barns in New York State as we neared home. We didn’t dare stop the car during the first part of the trip.

The day was dark and gloomy and I didn’t want to brighten up the photos too much. These images captured the feeling of the day, at least for me.

I’m a sucker for mist on the mountain photos. The fog hung over the mountains behind this cornfield; ice storms are magnificent, hazardous, like venomous snakes.

The State Line Diner sat on the border of Vermont and New York State and was once a popular place for tourists and locals to stop as they made their way between New York and Vermont and Washington County and Manchester, where Norman Rockwell painted some of his most famous images.

The diner was shut down and abandoned years ago, but it remains an evocative image and says about the perpetual waste, change, and loss that speaks about rural America. The mist behind the diner gave it a lot of feeling.

I always wonder if there isn’t somebody anywhere who could bring this building back to life and re-imagine it.

I love this old gas station with its” Pepsi “and “Gas” sign, sitting and topping by the side of the road. It’s an iconic image when you think about what gas stations look like now and how much space and energy and noise they take up and generate.

The simplicity of the American landscape is fading away fast.

27 November

Sweet Zinnia, Sweet Maria. How The Pandemic Saved My Thanksgiving

by Jon Katz

Thanksgiving lost its luster a few years ago when it became mostly a shopping holiday, with family gatherings sandwiched in between, a time for deals and discounts, online and off.

Much of the country seemed to realize at almost the same time, that family gatherings were not always fun, in fact, they were very often not fun.

And Thanksgiving, like the rest of the country, was overwhelmed buy the suffocating sales and discounts of the Corporate Nation.

Now we’re shopping all year, online and off, right through Christmas and beyond. We are a greedy country, and our greed is never satiated.

For me, the Pandemic has saved Thanksgiving, at least for this year, and until the corporations figure out how to sell stuff again (Amazon is hiring 475,000 new employees, people have a license to stay home and shop) on the holiday.

Thanksgiving has been under siege for years now.

For many, it was no longer cool to celebrate the Pilgrims, who have come to symbolize the beginning of the end for the Native American culture.

Then came Black Friday.

Then came questions about excess – too much food, too much family, too many arguments. For the last couple of years, Thanksgiving became political, with too many fights.

My family always celebrated Thanksgiving, and it was a festival of excess. Turkeys, potatoes,  mounds of coleslaw, pies, and family members most of the family wasn’t keen on seeing.

The family was more like professional wrestling than the iconic Thanksgiving of Norman Rockwell. The bell rang when we all sat down, and the fighting never stopped until the last piece of pie was consumed.

I hate to think of what our dinners might have been like in the Trump Era.

It was tense, exhausting, and obligatory.

The pandemic gave Maria and me a chance to focus on the holiday both of us really wanted. Nobody we know was inviting family and friends over to eat.

We ordered turkey dinners from Jean’s place and picked them up on Wednesday: $32 dollars for a wonderful dinner for two. The food was great, but I didn’t feel as if I’d swallowed boulder afterward.

I brought Maria a bottle of Zinfandel (I don’t know what that means, still.)

We fed the animals, let the dogs out, and slept late.

We had a light lunch around noon. We took a walk, I blogged, she read, then we ate. Afterward, we read until 10 p.m., then watched the “Crown” on Netflix.

We went for a walk, I threw the ball for Zinnia, I took some pictures.

Then we watched the Office and Schitt’s Creek on Netflix (on my Iphone, we don’t have a TV.)

I didn’t have to count the minutes until I could escape the family, or they me. No arguments, no tension.   There weren’t tons of dishes to do. We were both very happy at the end of the day.

The dogs loved hanging out with us, Zinnia visited us as we read, trying to join us but showering us with kisses every now and then. She is evolving into the sweetest dog I have ever known.

We brought extra carrots to Lulu and Fanny, and Maria visited her new lambs several times to make sure they were okay. They were, Constance came over to check Maria out and got her neck scratched for five minutes.

I brought some stuffing out to the chickens.

Life is what you make out of it. The pandemic inspired us to have the holiday we always wanted to have. I already have the reservations for Xmas at a beautiful country Inn.

Just the two of us.

11 January

Gorgeous Day: Shrimp And Snails

by Jon Katz

Climate change is a ravaging beast, it brings us horrors and once in a while, tosses us a bone. We woke up to a disturbingly beautiful and warm day for mid-January, when we traditionally are buried in snow and battle extreme cold.

These aren’t the dark days, but they are the cold days.

Not today. We are heading out to buy a snail and perhaps some red shrimp (foragers) for our tank. Next weekend, Maria and I are hosting a Snail Party, an exclusive band of snail lovers who want to study snails and talk about them.

Yes, it sounds strange, but I am one of them, snails are a big surprise to me, interesting and more complex than they appear. Maybe we can form a snail club. Hopefully, we’ll get to walk in the woods this afternoon with Zinnia and Fate.

I was drawn to the light on our stone steps and the shadows around our trees. Tomorrow, we’re going to Stockbridge, Mass to see some of Maria’s contributions to the Tiny Pricks exhibition, traveling around the country.

Artists from all over are contributing their favorite quotes from the President.

They hope to create a material record of the Trump administration. Stockbridge, the home of Norman Rockwell, is just an hour away. Maria has several quotes in the exhibit.

28 August

Hopper’s Ghost: The Solitude Of The Self

by Jon Katz

I was inspired by the work of Edward Hopper in my photography.

His work was the first time I saw a great artist embrace the idea that some of the most beautiful things in the world, some of the most evocative, are the simplest – a gas station open at night, curtains blowing into a house in the wind.

Hopper’s themes – the tensions between individuals and the conflict between tradition and progress in both rural and urban settings, are themes he always returns to.

Those are also my themes – the unseen and unheralded portraits of people and things not usually considered by the poobahs of culture to be art. I see his ghost in my Strong Woman pictures and in the timeless faces, restaurants, and diners of rural life.

I am grateful for my iPhone, and I see that the world is now full of photographers, many of them quite good. But so many of these images are narcissistic. I can’t see Hopper doing a selfie, and every single thing in our lives is not necessarily worth recording.

I take lots of photos, but as few of them are of me as possible. I am not the most interesting image in my world.

Photography and art are much more democratic now, but that doesn’t always mean they are better. I often feel overwhelmed by the images I see.

The poignancy of a rural culture struggling to live in an urbanized, disconnected world.

Norman Rockwell was often dismissed in the same way – it has been suggested he is not a real artist, whatever that means. But no one I know of captures the real emotion in everyday life and places better than these two radical artistic rebels.

This morning, I saw our kitchen curtain blowing in a light breeze, and I grabbed my iPhone X – which I purchased as much for its outstanding camera as anything else. (If you are me, and you consider a camera of this quality costs between $2,000 and $3,000 dollars in the outside world, then the iPhone is a bargain.)

Hopper lost popular and critical favor in the wake of Abstract Impressionism- Jackson Pollack and Wilhem De Kooning – symbolized that movement.

Hopper did in painting what I hope to do with my photography (sadly, I am no Hopper), he painted and sketched and captured the feelings familiar to most of us – what one critic called “the triste of embedded  existence, the solitude of the self.”

By the time Hopper died in 1967, he was popular again, the world had come back around to him. His work was often so simple, yet so emotional. There was something sad and beautiful at the same time  in his paintings.

I feel this solitude of the self often when I am taking a photo like this one in the kitchen. I think of Hopper, and I think this is an image he might well have painted, in different tones and color, of course. I think of that soft breeze lifting the curtains and caressing my face.

Often, I think of an ocean or a prairie on the other side, or an old farmhouse.

It’s a simple scene, but yet it evokes something much deeper and more universal.

The movement of a curtain in the window – Hopper loved lace curtains, not Frida Kahlo colors – suggests the gentleness of life, and also the loneliness of being a human being. It is also iconic, we think of other times, and other places.

It also takes it out of ourselves, and the relentless narcissism of the digital world.

2 June

Robin, The World Of Jean’s Diner, And The Wheel Of Life

by Jon Katz

This photo is of a waitress named Robin, she works at Jean’s Diner in Hoosick Falls, where Maria and I go for oat bran pancakes (and a couple of bacon strips) every Sunday morning.

I was delighted recently to go there for lunch and order nice fat whole belly clams, something I never expected to find in Hoosick Falls, N.Y.

Robin was startled to hear that I put her photo up on my blog recently, she came over to thank me and said she had no idea who I was.

I am nobody, really, I said.

“Oh, no,” she answered. “You are somebody, one of the customer’s mother called her from Maine to tell her that the diner was on your blog, and she e-mailed the owner too.”

It’s true that Maria and I are in love with the place.

They have good food, globs of character and the best and most old-fashioned service one could hope for.

Robin has our coffee and tea waiting for us when we sit down, she knows what we like. No matter how crowded the restaurant is, the food comes quickly and there is no stare-down for the check.

The walls are lined with patriotic slogans, calls to honor our veterans, cheesy slogans,  and amateur photos of truckers and farmers.

Farmers with their big bellies and plaid shirts fill the stools at the counter, kidding with Robin and their buddies. Older women sit in tables, a sea of white and gray, their hair natural and unadorned.

Everybody calls us “hon” and goes to some trouble to make us feel welcome.  They always shout “hello” and “thanks for coming.” There is a timeless feel to diners like Jean’s,  Norman Rockwell would have been happy to pick his models there. It could easily be the 1950’s at Jean’s Diner, there is nothing to give 2019 away.

The atmosphere is no accident, Jean has passed on, but her daughter Kelly revered her mother and keeps her spirit very much alive.

Robin is the new “Bog Kelly Nolan” in my mind, she is a strong women, she is competent and responsible. Kelly and Robin are different people, but there is much that connects them in my mind.

Like Kelly, Robin deserves to be recognized, and as a photographer I love her face, it is open and warm, it has great strength and character. Robin patrols Jean’s diner like a prima ballerina sails across a stage. She is everywhere doing everything, and it never looks like work, sailing in and out of the kitchen non-stop. She never loses her smile.

In my life, the wheel turns and when one thing ends, another seems to begin. I have learned to let it happen naturally, which it does if don’t mess it up. (The Bog closes, Jean’s appears, the Bog re-opens,  I stop working with RISSE, Bishop Maginn looms out of the mist).

The other day Allyson posted a message on my blog which read “all the subjects you write about are a part of your life, they are connected by your life, and they illuminate your life, which is why I read  your blog. Write on.” Thanks, Allyson.

Kelly is a part of my life, so is Robin now.

This is not a local blog, but a national one. I am mindful that most of my readers will never see Robin working or eat at this diner, so full of character and feeling. Robin says some people have stopped by looking for her. But I’m notoriously fussy about what goes on my blog.

I write about my life, as Allyson suggests, and the things that illuminate my life, and I believe the photographs I put up about people like Robin and Kelly and Sue Silverstein speak to much more than me and my town.

These are people of great character, they work hard, respect what they do and the people they serve, and seem to me an integral part of the American character. They also have love in their hearts.

It’s not just about the town, these people have universal relevance, they are in every town, we all know some people like them. You will never see them on the news.  In our twisted world, it is impossible for them to get much recognition for what they do.

I love to do that.

People like Robin seem to have a special kind of pride in their work, they go far beyond what they need to do, or are even expected to do.

You may remember Kelly, the much-loved bartender/waitress/manager, table clearer at the former Bog Restaurant. I took photos of Kelly nearly every week and posted the on the blog. I miss her.  I loved her radiant smile but also greatly respected  her competence and  sense of responsibility.

The Bog shut down a few months ago, and just recently re-opened , Kelly works on Friday nights (it’s too crammed for me to go there Fridays) but otherwise she has moved on, she’s working as a receptionist for a car repair shop.

Our paths rarely cross, and I doubt I will see a lot of her again. That’s the nature of my life, people come and go, I’m not good at looking back.

But I owe her a lot.

Kelly was a more influential figure than one might think. When she told me she had taken her sick and pregnant dog to the vet to save her life, and had a $1,300 vet bill, I shuddered to think how many drinks she would have to pour to pay that bill. I didn’t have the money to do it.

I asked the readers of the blog if we could help her pay it. Two days later, I brought her a check for $1,500 dollars. She was flabbergasted.

I was stunned to see what good a blog can also be used for. I believe everyone with a large blog following or millions of Twitter followers might consider using them for good as well as for trolling, sticking their nose in other people’s business, or raging at one another.

I love that Maria uses hers to support people, especially women, as well as sell her art.

Kelly gave birth to the Army Of good. The rest, as they say, is history.

Of all things, the portraits I most love to take are are of strong and competent women. In my town there is really no functioning general media any longer. People like Robin and Kelly are rarely, if ever recognized, but there is something heroic about them to me.

Taking these portraits of people who are not often seen is the things I most love, and hopefully show that blogs can be useful for more than  ranting or navel-gazing.

Bedlam Farm