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Art Notes: A Documentary Photo Project That Started in Windsor Spreads to Royalton and Beyond

  • John Duffy, part of the "Why We Stay" project by Chris Cammock and Nathan Larson. (Chris Cammock photograph)

    John Duffy, part of the "Why We Stay" project by Chris Cammock and Nathan Larson. (Chris Cammock photograph)

  • David Frary, part of the "Why We Stay" project by Nathan Larson and Chris Cammock. (Nathan Larson photograph)

    David Frary, part of the "Why We Stay" project by Nathan Larson and Chris Cammock. (Nathan Larson photograph)

  • The Gwin family, part of the "Why We Stay" project by Chris Cammock and Nathan Larson. (Chris Cammock photograph)

    The Gwin family, part of the "Why We Stay" project by Chris Cammock and Nathan Larson. (Chris Cammock photograph)

  • John Duffy, part of the "Why We Stay" project by Chris Cammock and Nathan Larson. (Chris Cammock photograph)
  • David Frary, part of the "Why We Stay" project by Nathan Larson and Chris Cammock. (Nathan Larson photograph)
  • The Gwin family, part of the "Why We Stay" project by Chris Cammock and Nathan Larson. (Chris Cammock photograph)

Sister and brother Chris Cammock and Nathan Larson took up their first documentary photography project in Windsor, their adopted hometown. For the 250th anniversary of the town’s founding, they and several collaborators photographed 250 people and produced a website, digital and print books and an exhibition. Some of the photographs remain on display in the town library.

While the project was a way to mark the anniversary, Cammock said, they wanted to continue documenting. They decided they didn’t need a major milestone to justify a project.

This month, they have been photographing residents of my hometown, Royalton, setting up in the bandstand on the South Royalton green with a white backdrop. They’re planning to keep photographing portraits and landscapes through July 31, including at this afternoon’s farmers market.

The impetus for the Royalton project is a worrying demographic trend: In fiscal year 2012, Vermont lost population for the first time since World War II. Cammock and Larson named their project “Why We Stay,” and in addition to taking photographs they are asking their subjects how long they’ve been in town and whether they have left and come back. They plan to post the audio clips with the photographs on the project’s website, www.whywestay.com.

“I’m interested in how communities are made up of people who are wandering through, (or) who have been here for generations,” Cammock said in an interview at the Snapdragon Inn, which she and her siblings and their families run in Windsor.

Cammock knows first-hand that in a world characterized by mobility it can be hard to say where you’re from. She grew up in Barnard from ages 8 to 18, formative years but not enough to meet the high threshold for status as a Vermonter. But in college, in Hawaii, and later living abroad, she always said she was from Vermont. She and her husband, a New Zealander, moved back to Vermont in 2008, following Nathan Larson to Windsor.

With “Why We Stay,” Cammock and Larson hope they’re onto a project that has legs. People from other towns have expressed interest and they are looking for funding to take it beyond Royalton. The idea is to find a reliable model to finance the project from one town to the next. The Royalton work is supported by a grant from the Canaday Family Foundation.

By bringing the project to more towns, Cammock and Larson hope to amass something approaching a portrait of Vermont.

“We’re hoping to make this pertinent to the state,” Cammock said.

“We think the more people we add to the project, the more interesting the project becomes,” Larson said in a phone interview.

While the 90 or so people they have photographed in Royalton so far have widely divergent experiences of living there, many said they have stayed put, or left for only a short time before moving back.

“A lot of people in South Royalton have never left,” Cammock said. “This is home. This is the ideal place for them.”

This project is part of a wave of documentary photography in the Upper Valley, or by local photographers. Tunbridge photographer Geoff Hansen, who is also the photo and graphics editor at the Valley News, spearheaded “Day in the Life Of” projects in Tunbridge and Strafford in recent years. In Newbury, Vt., Chris Esten and Linda Bryan are working on “A Newbury Portrait,” and photographs are on view in the town’s Tenney Library through July 30. In Norwich, Chad Finer is steadily documenting the people of his town under the wing of the town historical society. By my count there are three other documentary photography exhibitions on view right now: photographs of Cuba and Israel by Mort Wise at Hanover’s Howe Library and Roth Center for Jewish Life, respectively, and travel photographs by Doug and Steven Lufkin at Norwich Public Library. And the exhibitions don’t take into account people such as documentary filmmaker Tara Wray, who has been taking quirky photographs around the Upper Valley for the past year or two and posting them to a tumblr page.

There’s a technological reason: Digital photography has made the medium cheaper, easier to work with and more immediate.

“One of the things that the subjects (in Royalton) enjoy is to see the project developing in real time,” Nate Larson said. Photographs are posted to the project’s Facebook page soon after they are taken, he said.

The primary motivation for this blossoming of documentary work is to create a record. The impulse is related to the 250th anniversaries that have been sweeping through the Valley’s towns, but the projects show no signs of stopping.

“As time goes on, I think the projects become archival and historic reference points,” Larson said.

Of Note

ArtisTree Gallery in Woodstock opens “Unbound III,” a juried exhibition that encourages artists to reconsider the idea of the book, opens Friday evening with a reception from 5:30 to 7:30. The exhibition is held in conjunction with the Bookstock festival.

Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site is commemorating the 150th anniverary of the death of Col. Robert Gould Shaw with an exhibition dedicated to Saint-Gaudens’ Shaw memorial. While the original memorial is on Boston Common, the historic site at Saint-Gaudens’ former home in Cornish has the only other bronze casting of the massive relief sculpture. An exhibition in the site’s Picture Gallery incorporates some of Saint-Gaudens’ preparatory work, as well as historical artifacts from the period the memorial represents. A day of events is planned for Aug. 10. Admission to the park is $5 for visitors ages 16 and up.

∎ Randolph’s Chandler Gallery offers a beginner printmaking workshop with Janet Cathey on Tuesday evening, 4:30 to 6. The workshop, for adults and students ages 13 and up, costs $20 per person. Call 802-730-6992 by Friday to register.

∎ The Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site in Cornish holds a sculpture workshop on plaster mold-making, Saturday afternoon from 1 to 4. Participants need to bring a relief sculpture from which a simple, one-piece plaster mold can be made. The workshop costs $40. For information or to register, call 603-675-2175, ext. 106.

Last Chance

“Cuba 2012 — As Seen Through the Lens of One American,” photographs by Mort Wise, is on view at Ledyard Gallery in Hanover through today.

∎ “Heroes,” an exhibition that brings together work by professional and amateur artists, adults and children, is on view at the Newport Library Arts Center through today.

∎ AVA Gallery and Art Center in Lebanon holds its 20th Annual Juried Summer Exhibition, through Friday.

∎ BigTown Gallery in Rochester, Vt., hosts “Masterworks,” which features both sculpture and prints by the late Hugh Townley as well as works from his collection, which includes pieces by Eugene Atget, Harry Callahan, Salvador Dali, Jean Dubuffet, Marcel Duchamp, Aaron Siskind, H.C. Westermann and Ossip Zadkine. Through Sunday.

The Aidron Duckworth Art Museum in Meriden exhibits oil paintings on paper by Bakersfield, Vt., artist Rona Lee Cohen and “Forms in Space,” the museum’s 21st exhibition of its namesake artist, which consists of paintings from a 1970 exhibition in South Africa, when Duckworth was head of the Department of Fine Art at the University of Natal. Both shows are on view through Sunday. An outdoor exhibition of sculpture by Fitzhugh Karol, an Orford native now living in Brooklyn, N.Y., remains on view into the fall.

Ongoing

“A Garden Bestiary,” macro photographs by Peggy Richardson, is on view at the Hotel Coolidge’s Zollikofer Gallery. A reception is planned for Sept. 6.

“The Many Faces of Israel,” photographs by Mort Wise, is on view at the Roth Center for Jewish Life in Hanover through mid-August.

∎ “Top of the World — Paintings and Artist’s Books of the Arctic,” work by Vermont artist Ken Leslie, is on view at Randolph’s Chandler Gallery. Leslie painted and made unique book structures while inside the Arctic Circle. Also on view will be paintings by Toronto-based paleoecologist and artist Bianca Perren and Inuit prints from the collection of Norwich University’s Sullivan Museum.

∎ Norwich Public Library shows “Travels Around,” photographs by father and son Doug and Steven Lufkin.

∎ The Woodstock Gallery shows new work by printmaker Sheryl Trainor.

∎ “Watercolor Stories,” paintings by members of the local chapter of the Vermont Watercolor Society, is on view at West Lebanon’s Kilton Public Library.

“Vermonty,” a suite of witty and winsome illustrations of rural Vermont by Shawn Braley, is on view at Tunbridge Public Library.

Summer exhibitions at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center include fabric figures by Linda Rubenstein, photographs by Kelly Michaelsen, mixed media by Carolyn Enz Hack, oil paintings by Alison Vernon, collages by Barbara Newton and paintings and sculpture by Gowri Savoor. Guides to the exhibitions are available at the hospital’s information desks.

“Changing Gears: The Digital Evolution,” digital paintings by Hartland artist Gloria King Merritt, is on display in The Great Hall in Springfield, Vt., through Aug. 23. Also in The Great Hall is a wonderfully potent exhibition of five paintings by Henry Swierczynski, a former engineer at Fellows Gear Shaper.

∎ Two Rivers Printmaking Studio in White River Junction hosts a show of prints from the collections of the studio’s artist members.

∎ Dartmouth’s Hood Museum of Art hosts “Word and Image in Contemporary Art,” a show curated in collaboration with 24 senior studio art majors that includes Ed Ruscha’s great 1963 painting Standard Station, Amarillo, Texas; “The Women of Shin Hanga: The Judith and Joseph Barker Collection of Japanese Prints”; “Evolving Perspectives: Highlights from the African Art Collection at the Hood Museum of Art” and “Objects and Power: Manifestations of Inequality.”

Art Notes appears in the “Valley News” on Thursday. Send email to artnotes@vnews.co m.