Thursday, November 13, 2008

OCTOBER COUNTRY - a sample of the original photos and texts.

The Valley

Signs at the toll exit read “Welcome to the historic Mohawk Valley. To the historic Township of Herkimer.” This is the outstretched toe of Fennimore Cooper’s Leatherstocking country, and the towns that crouch along the banks of the Mohawk are sites of original colonies and revolutionary battles. Colonial graves are hidden in the woods. Barbed wire sags under blackberry thickets at the edge of the Reservation. Every country road has its tumbledown barns and skeletal silos, the rural gothic testaments to the dying agricultural economy. Industry hardly fares better. In the town of Ilion, the smokestack of the Remington Arms, the valley’s first and possibly last industry, stands like graveyard monument at the center of town. Though nearly all the life has been sucked from the valley’s dour brick factories, death continues rolling in bits and pieces along the Arms’ conveyer belts. How many lives has our local industry claimed? How many restless spirits has this factory produced.

Aside from weapons and a shabby bit of history what is there to sell here? Tough lives on tough, tired land. Motels and vacation cabins molder in lines along the highways like boxcars a train has abandoned. Tourists drive through but do not linger. The summers are short, the river water cold, and though every farmhouse and trailer park has a storage shed converted into a craft shop, there is a terrible shortage of real antiques. There is in fact a shortage of real past and real future. The kind of daily struggle that happens here makes own, cyclical present tense – a gritty unappealing one that goes unseen, unvisited. The Valley and the lives within it exist as ghosts.

But this is where I came from, where I left, and where my family still lives. We haunt each other. In the logic of haunting, memory, and photography, a fragment of time becomes unmoored from the greater flow and turns in on itself, producing phenomena that contain both presence and absence. The ghosts here in the valley are my ghosts, just as I am a ghost, there but unseen, in the pictures I take of them.

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