Sackville, New Brunswick 1979 (2014)

Sackville Stairs 4WEB

This image was made in 1979 in Sackville, New Brunswick.

In a student critique at the time, my instructor said it was too cliche. Thirty years later I showed it to an art critic, and he said it was too romantic.

Last time I was in Sackville, I looked for the stairs, but couldn’t find them.

Amhearst Car C FLAT WP

Still 1979.

Some days Sackville felt very confining, so I would hitchhike with my Mamiya 2 1/4 and my tripod the eleven miles to Amherst, Nova Scotia. That town was equally quiet, but I rarely ran into anyone I knew.

Sackville Trailers FLAT

Either on upper King St. or Upper York St., Sackville, 1979.

I thought the trailers belonged to gypsies and they were on their way, availing themselves of the softer highway.

Sackville grassWEB

Sackville 1979.

There was a secret path on the edge of the town, where I would imagine I could slip into another wardrobe like zone where everything was unknown and a bit more exciting. Off in the distance you could hear the train horn blowing, bound for Montreal and Toronto.

SackvilleBirdfeedFLAT WEB

Sackville, New Brunswick, fall 1979.

I’d never been to the South. My only impressions were from watching Gone With the Wind, and hearing the accents of my southern cousins who had visited a few years earlier to bury their northern father’s body, my Uncle Bob. Later I learned that the use of embalming fluids before burial became commercialized during the American Civil War, with so many bodies to be returned to the North.

Sackville’s houses always looked empty in the afternoon, as if their owners had had to leave abruptly after an urgent call.

SackvilleGardenWEB

Sackville, summer 1979.

I started taking some of the pathways through people’s backyards, looking for different vistas. It was an extreme departure to let the camera tilt on its tripod. I can only think that I was looking for parallel structures in the garden itself, like a sailor trying to steady himself on a rocky boat.

SacvillePlasticShadowsWEB

Sackville, 1979.

I was incompetent in the darkroom, so I decided that I could only photograph between the hours of 3 and 5 pm for the distinctive shadows and lower contrast of light. This gave me what for me was the perfect negative to print, but meant I could barely scrape together a portfolio for graduation.

The long shadows always seemed to veer the interpretation in the direction of the elegiac, which wasn’t actually how I felt about anything, at that point.

Sackville Tree FLAT

Sackville, late fall, 1979.

It hadn’t started to snow yet, but the Christmas break was looming. I knew I’d have to think of an indoor project as Sackville became slushy with brown sugar. It seemed to me that all the photographers I’d been channeling only took photographs in the summer, but maybe they were just all southerners.

Sackville Dog 6WEB

Sackville, late summer 1979.

In class they said it was too easy to simply take a picture of a garden ornament.

He’s probably long since been wrested from his cozy spot, languishing in some roadside antique store, or sitting on a carefully restored wooden floor of a collector, amongst the sisal and raw linen furnishings.

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