Tuesday, December 1, 2009

What It Looked Like to Me

Fairview Beach, 2007

Over the years I’ve figured out that people like to be able to classify you. They like you to be predictable so they know what they can expect from you or when you would have the greatest utility to them.

I’m advised by people who are in a position to know that this phenomenon applies ever more so to gallery owners. They want you to have a single, consistent point of view, theme or visual style. They want to know what it is you do and that you can do more of it if it sticks with collectors.

One of the things that makes photography interesting to me, and apparently frustrating to gallery owners, is that although over the course of years there are some consistencies in my work that one might stretch and call a “style,” on a day-to-day basis I’m all over the place.

One day I might be all about telling a story with pictures, reflecting the inspiration that people like Eugene Smith, Frances Johnston, Dorothea Lange and the Magnum photographers had on me when I was first starting out. On other days you can see the influence of André Kertész’ photo essay, “On Reading,” coming through in the up-close slices of life I refer to as “small moments.” And on still other days my photographs can take on the decidedly non-representational feel of the paintings of Helen Frankenthaler.

Fairview Beach started out pretty straightforwardly. I was driving down Rt. 218 just east of Fredericksburg, Virginia. It was the kind of August morning that is so hot and humid in these parts that your glasses (and camera lenses) fog up whenever you step out of an air-conditioned car. I had just finished taking some very traditional documentary pictures of a 200+ year-old “primitive” Baptist church when I saw the sign for the turnoff to Fairview Beach. I’d never been to Fairview Beach before. But it was just a few miles away and promised a good view of the lower Potomac River.

Fairview Beach looks like the kind of seasonal cottage community to which middle class families of Fredericksburg and Washington, D.C would have retreated in the summertime in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Most of Fairview’s cottages are on a bluff overlooking the Potomac River. The cottages are modest and lack the kinds of decorative curlicues and architectural flourishes you see at, say, Cape May or Oak Bluffs. But they are neat and colorful and have the kind of comfortable, lived-in look that belies many generations of use.

My journey that day didn’t allow me much time to explore Fairview. On a crisp sunny day I expect you could capture a lot of Americana there with a camera. But I did take a moment to stop and look out onto the Potomac. The river is more than two miles wide when it passes Fairview. In the humid haze of that August morning you couldn’t see the far side. The color of the river blended almost seamlessly into the haze and then into the sky. Fairview Beach isn’t exactly what it looked like to the uncritical eye. But it’s what it looked like to me.


  1. Fredericksburg! That's where I did my undergraduate work. Smack inbetween DC and Richmond. There's some pretty country on the outskirts of that area. Love the photo.

    One of my undergrad French professors simply could not say "Fredericksburg." Her version was always "Fred-eggs-berg."

  2. Like so many of your photos Chris, I look at this and say, "Man, I'd love to do a paintng of that."