Going West

Going West

I first lived in California as a nineteen-year old filled with visions of Jack Kerouac, Raymond Chandler, Carlos Santana and the Grateful Dead. From Vermont I was pulled west to the crashing waves of the Pacific in search of romance, freedom and a college education at San Francisco State. I was hooked on the abundant sunshine, diverse population and rugged geographic shelf cantilevered out over the Pacific Rim.

San Francisco, California

San Francisco, California

Ten years later I lived in the Bay Area again, having met my wife, who was working in San Francisco and had grown up in Northern California.  Since then I have returned often to San Francisco and am always drawn back to its most iconic landmark, the Golden Gate Bridge.

San Francisco, California

Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, California.

San Francisco, California

San Francisco, California

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New Portraits

Lugging camera equipment up steep stairs past the enormous clock tower of Baker Library, we emerged on to a narrow balcony with expansive views of Dartmouth College.  Perfect for a portrait…  Blue dusk is falling as we arrive at Craftsbury Ski Center, the temperature is 13 degrees and the snow-making guns are revving up and spewing frozen crystals around as the wind whips it all into my lens.  Perfect for a portrait…not.

Recently I made a series of portraits at Middlebury College and Dartmouth College on assignment for the Chronicle of Higher Education and for Dartmouth College.  These assignments proved to be challenging and fun.  At Middlebury College, I photographed three students for a story about the varying tuitions students pay based on their financial backgrounds.  I was asked to photograph them holding up pieces of paper with the amount each of them pays against a simple backdrop, since this was for a cover.  I found a green blackboard for one backdrop, but by the time we moved outside, darkness had fallen and there was little of the dusk light for which I had hoped.

Middlebury College students Carter Kelly, Jay Sapir and Sam Kopinka-Loehr are raising issues of how much various students pay for college.

Middlebury College students Carter Kelly, Jay Sapir and Sam Kopinka-Loehr are raising issues of how much various students pay for college.

Middlebury College students Carter Kelly, Jay Sapir and Sam Kopinka-Loehr are raising issues of how much various students pay for college.

The Dartmouth College assignment was more involved and featured five students and one alum.  I worked with an art director and designer to set up locations and direct the subjects and backgrounds.  We received special access to the top of Baker library, a theater and a football stadium.  I also photographed Lucas Schultz, an alum, who I had photographed for the New York Times a few months ago for a story on snow-making at cross-country ski areas.  All in all it was a great experience using lights and attempting to capture a sense of these individuals.

Nell Pierce, '13, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire

Nell Pierce, ’13, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire

Danny Freeman '13, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire

Danny Freeman ’13, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire

Dartmouth student Nina Rojas '13., Hanover, New Hampshire

Dartmouth student Nina Rojas ’13., Hanover, New Hampshire

Dartmouth student Jordan Are '15, Hanover, New Hampshire

Dartmouth student Jordan Are ’15, Hanover, New Hampshire

Deirdre Lambert '15, Dartmouth student.

Deirdre Lambert ’15, Dartmouth student.

Dartmouth alum Lucas Schultz, Snowmaker, Craftsbury Outdoor Center, Craftsbury, Vermont.

Dartmouth alum Lucas Schultz, Snowmaker, Craftsbury Outdoor Center, Craftsbury, Vermont.

To see more of these portraits, visit www.calebkenna.com

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Paddling Vermont

I grew up with a green wood and canvas Old Town canoe bought by our Dad in the mid Sixties.  In the Fifties, our dad spent several summers doing extended canoe trips with Camp Kapitachouane in Quebec.  My brother and I would paddle his canoe around waterways in Vermont. In the summer of 1987, following in our Dad’s footsteps – or paddle strokes – my brother and I went on a month-long canoe trip in Quebec with other campers from Camp Kapitachouane.  Every day we paddled wood and canvas canoes across lakes and rivers and portaged across black-fly infested woods.  We carried our canned food in wooden wannigans, baked simple bread called bannock and caught and fried delicious walleyes.  We paddled rushing rapids and passed Cree villages, even meeting a Cree man skinning a bear.  It was an amazing and indelible experience.

Because our Old Town canoe is a real bear to lift, I recently bought an eleven-foot Northland canoe made in Huntsville, Ontario.  This summer I have been paddling more, both solo in the Northland and with my wife Natasha and our dog Mazy in the Old Town.  We’ve paddled past loons at Maidstone Lake at sunset, past beavers at Goshen Dam and welcomed the first rays of sunlight at Grout Pond and Lake Ninevah.  Though both my Dad and brother are both gone now, they are never far from my thoughts as I paddle the quiet waters of Vermont in these wood and canvas canoes.

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Vermont Open Studio Weekend 2012

On Saturday and Sunday May 26 and 27 from 10-5 pm, artists around Vermont will open their studio doors to the public. Now in its 20th Year, this event is organized by the Vermont Crafts Council and features 263 artisans in 224 locations across Vermont.

I grew up in a house on a hill overlooking Brandon, Vermont. The house was built in 1909 by Albert Farr and used as a tea house. My parents bought the place in 1973. Today the house is my office and studio. On Memorial Day weekend, the public is welcome to come and see prints from Vermont, California, Utah, New Mexico, India, Morocco and Thailand. Refreshments will be served. There are great walking trails and views of Brandon and the Green Mountains.

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South by Southwest to New Mexico

“I am glad I will not be young in a future without wilderness.”

-Aldo Leopold

I went to New Mexico to wander the dunes of White Sands National Monument and savor the crystal blue skies and perfect geometric shapes of the desert.  The afternoon I arrived a wild wind whipped the sands into swirls of murkiness and visual frustration. I camped twenty miles away because the military was conducting missile testing next door to the monument at the military base. In the morning, dawn rose calm and clear and I went back to White Sands, entered the park for free – it was National Parks Week – removed my flip flops and climbed the cool white dunes of sand looking for the best angles on this other-worldy landscape.

I went to New Mexico to hike fourteen miles in the Gila Wilderness. (With strong advocacy by Aldo Leopold, the Gila was the first designated wilderness area in 1924.)  I waded across the Middle Fork of the Gila River fifteen times to reach the warm waters of the Jordan Hot Springs. In twenty four hours I saw only five hikers. At the springs I saw nobody, except the two bright yellow eyes of an animal – reflected by my headlamp – as I was hoisting my food bag for the night. There aren’t too many places left where you can go and experience nature unaffected by humans.

I went to New Mexico to drive endless roads and give the one finger wave to three cowboys in three pickup trucks in three hours. I went to New Mexico to eat green chile stew and fresh tortillas at breakfast.  I went to New Mexico to have a beer at the classic Buckhorn Saloon in Pinos Altos. I went to New Mexico to arrive in remote Reserve at twilight and check in by telephone to the Frisco Motel, the only place in town.

I went to New Mexico because I lived there before in Gallup in 1999, working at a newspaper, covering the gritty town and surrounding Navajo Reservation. But because the state is so big, I never made it to White Sands or the Gila Wilderness. My brother Roger also lived in New Mexico in Las Vegas, attending United World College in the 1980s. I have strong memories of soaking in hot springs there, inhaling the cold crisp air and fragrance of Ponderosa pines all around.

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In the Shadow of Saltash Mountain

My Dad bought ninety acres of land in Shrewsbury, Vermont in 1963. It was at the end of Tabor Road in the shadow of Saltash Mountain. When he and my mother moved to Vermont in 1970, they briefly thought of building a house there, but they arrived during mud season, Vermont’s fifth season, axle-deep in mud. They quickly decided to look for a house down in the valley, settling in the town of Brandon, forty miles to the north. Over the years we would picnic at the land or sometimes camp in a meadow.  As they years went by, the forests became thick, mostly with spruce and fir. A hundred years ago Vermont was three quarters open land, cleared of trees for farming. Today just the opposite is true with most of the land covered in forests. Sustainable forests provide jobs, fuel for heating, wood products and improved wildlife habitat.

We often thought of logging the land, but never took action. Finally a few years ago we hired foresters Galen and Andy Hutchison to draw up a forest plan and mark trees to harvest. They contracted with Shrewsbury logger Gary Martin to do the work with his son Tim. Not only does Gary have a good reputation, he is also a neighbor, living just down the road from the land. With the addition of a temporary logging road, it becomes easier to walk the land, see its small streams, a stone wall, an old homestead foundation and to look more clearly up towards Saltash Mountain.


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Zimbabwe Twenty Years Ago

Twenty years ago I lived in Zimbabwe, studying at the University of Zimbabwe in Harare for one year of my college years. I had taken an African History course at San Francisco State University and was fascinated by the history of southern Africa, particularly Zimbabwe and its struggle for independence from white-minority rule. I also loved Bob Marley’s song “Zimbabwe”. In 1992, I became friends with Don Kachuwa, his brother Gilbert, sister Perpetual and the rest of the Kachuwa family. Like many Zimbabweans, they had a house in the capital city and a house in the countryside, their ancestral home. I traveled with them to their home in Murewha and got a glimpse of life in the Zimbabwean countryside. The Kachuwas were farmers who owned a general store that served as a social and business center for the surrounding community of farmers. In 1995 I went back to live in Zimbabwe for another year, this time as a volunteer photographer at Horizon Magazine with an organization called Visions in Action. The last time I went to Zimbabwe was in 2000 for a month. The economy had started to crumble and President Robert Mugabe had encouraged the takeover of white-owned farms, which had been the engine of the economy. AIDS was a devastating epidemic, destroying many communities. This was the last time I saw the Kachuwa family. Last year I was deeply saddened to hear that both Don and Gilbert had passed away, following their brothers Lucky and Shakey before them. I miss them greatly and hope that one day Zimbabwe will be free and strong again.

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Montreal Twilight Skyline

Meditation on Montreal

Just a few hours north of Vermont one of the great cities of North America, a feeling of Europe on the Quebecois plateau, glowing with vibrance, at the base of Mount Royal, the St. Laurence flowing past from the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean.

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Rut-Vegas Review

I often travel several hours for assignments around Vermont, so it was not unwelcome to get a couple of assignments in Rutland, a half an hour south.  Affectionately known as Rut-Vegas, the city is a somewhat gritty blue collar place with beautiful architecture and occasionally scruffy characters walking its streets.  One of my first jobs was with the Rutland Herald, so I am familiar with the area. The first assignment came from Seven Days newspaper in Burlington.  I photographed Rutland’s graceful buildings, the Amtrak train leaving for New York, and Cafe Terra, the best (and only) coffee shop in town.  Two other great things about Rutland are Gil’s Deli and Little Harry’s, but I digress – that’s for a future post about good road food around Vermont…

The second assignment came from the New York Times. The story by Abby Goodnough was about the Mount Saint Joseph’s Academy boys high school team. Five players from the Bronx have helped the team come together to beat their opponents. Once a losing team, they are now on a winning streak, but there has been some mean-spirited grumbling about stacking the deck and bringing in outside talent. It was great to hear these guys speak of their teamwork and friendships built around basketball.

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Two enjoyable assignments

The Chronicle Review

Two recent assignments proved challenging and fun. The first was an assignment for the Chronicle of Higher Education at Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass. It was for a story on the benefits of practical hands-on education in colleges. In addition to photographing students working on projects at the Lemelson Center, I was asked to make some still life pictures of some of the tools they were using. The photo editor asked me to get some color backgrounds, just not blue or red. On my way down to the assignment I picked up three pieces of felt to use as backdrops. At first I tried arranging eight or nine tools on the backdrop and then took away most of them to make the image simpler. The result is above. A photo of one of the students is below.

Dan Battat working on a glass blowing project at Hampshire College.

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The other assignment was for the Boston Globe Magazine in East Dummerston, Vermont. It was for a story on the electrical power grid and the dangers of a blackout. My subjects, David Shaw and Juliet Cuming and their children, live in a very comfortable off-the-grid house powered by solar panels and a wind turbine. They enjoy all the electronic accessories of modern life and maintain their energy independence. The assignment was set for two o’clock, but I arranged to come a bit later so I could make photos at twilight. Since the story was about light, I wanted to visually highlight that idea with the warm light inside and the cool hues outside. Another interesting feature of the story was that David and Juliet operate The Mark Shaw Photographic Archive, a collection of photos David’s dad made in the 1950s and 60s for Life Magazine. Although my dad was an amateur photographer, I could relate to the importance of preserving the visual legacy of a long lost father.

Tear sheet from the Boston Globe Magazine

An outtake from the East Dummerston shoot

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