I have tasted the fruit of the earth, O God.
I have seen autumn trees hang heavily with heaven’s gifts.
I have known people pregnant with your spirit of generosity.
Let these be my guides….
Excerpted from “A Celtic Benediction” by J. Philip Newell
May 2010 – One Year Ago
It was a cold, rain-drenched day in May almost one year ago when I drove south from my home in Catskill, New York towards a little hamlet, Washingtonville. My journey was taking me to where the oldest winery in the United States resides. It is called Brotherhood. I was conflicted about doing a photo shoot on such a wet, dreary day, but my research told me that Brotherhood’s cellars were built in the 1800s and there were bottles of port, perhaps as old, still inhabiting their resting places on racks. So, I knew I would be indoors for most of the work I wanted to do and set about thinking how this all began, watching the rain increase in its intensity as I drove for the next hour.
This photo shoot was the beginning of a year-long project that Hudson Valley Wine Magazine was sponsoring. Nineteen artists, working in various mediums, were chosen to be ‘paired’ with one of the many, varied wineries of New York’s Hudson Valley Region. Each of us was to create two new works inspired by our respective winery culminating in a gala event and exhibit of Art & Wine at Lyndhurst, a National Historic Site in Tarrytown, New York in May 2011. I was honored to have this opportunity, but I had no idea as I finally approached Brotherhood how grateful I would be for the experience ahead.
Before I unpacked my camera equipment from the car, I scouted their cellars for lighting sources. They were, for the most part, dark with little-to-no natural light. Though I prefer using hand-held photography in natural light, making the process more organic for me, I knew when I saw the absence of effective lighting that I would need to use a tripod because of long exposure times. Using a flash was not an option for my personal taste. I hauled my pairs of cameras and tripods down the steps into the cellars and left the pouring rain above. I finally took a breath and stopped to really see what I might be able to capture when I realized I had walked into another time and place with a treasure trove surrounding me.
The entrance room was the only one in which there was more than one light. With the soft glow of light on the cellars’ arched ceilings, an illusory quality emerged. I deliberately double exposed and then blurred this image as a means of creating the emotion I was experiencing – traveling back in time.
This room was set up as a small museum and contained tools made for wine pressing and corking by its original owner (name unknown) who was a cobbler by trade. The tools themselves are a form of sculpture. I used a macro lens on these large subjects for the old bricks and cobblestones were as mesmerizing as the room, tools, and spirits that abound there.
I walked through the archway of the entrance room and found myself with only one light and six very old, carefully crafted eight-foot French oak casks.
Walking through a narrow dark, damp hallway, I emerged to find a wall of glass and doors firmly shut. Old bottles stacked in racks dominated the room and they were encrusted with uncountable years of dust. I was Alice in that moment looking through a glass fortress. I did not have access to the room, but I took the photograph through the glass wondering if the smudges, scratches, and aging would add to, or diminish, the image.
I realized I had spent several hours in the cellars. Though there was more I wanted to do, I knew I had captured most of what beckoned me. I packed my equipment and walked into a rain that had become torrential. I was soaked as I stepped into my car and turned on the heat, heading for hot coffee wherever it was and as fast as I could find it. And I did.
July and August 2010 – Nine Months Ago
While there is a small vineyard annexed to the winery, Brotherhood’s larger vineyard is just across the Rip Van Winkle Bridge in Columbia County and only ten minutes from my home. There is a long, narrow dirt road surrounded by woods that leads to the vineyard. On my first visit, I was stunned as the one-lane dirt road opened into this vast expanse of sun-drenched green: vines, trees, meadows – all overlooking the Hudson River. I was to learn that Olana, home of Frederick Church, one of the most acclaimed of the Hudson River School of Painters, overlooks the great meadow above the vineyard. The story goes that Church painted that very meadow from the south lawn of his home and perhaps the vineyard too since it was all meadow in the mid-1800s.
I did not photograph anything on my first visit for it was midday and the sun was high. I was concerned about glare. I returned several times to walk and observe the vines and the land in which they were tenderly cultivated and planted. I am not certain when the grapes actually began to appear on the vines. These are the very first I was able to photograph as one vine led to another and another … and into infinity.
September and October 2010 – Six Months Ago
It was during September when I captured the color turning on some of the grapes. Each grape had a different palette. Each and every one. No two were alike. What a wondrous gift and blessing.
Autumn was on its way by October and while the grapes were gone, leaves remained on the vines. The trees were still heavily leafed out as well. I realized that my strong love affair with this vineyard had so much to do with the grand center pathway leading from the bottom of the vineyard to the great meadow beyond its gates.
On an afternoon when a thunderstorm darkened the sky and played with the light as it danced among the rolling clouds, I stopped by the vineyard curious as to how “weather” was affecting the landscape I had come to honor and love.
Every time I visited the vineyard I would walk up to the top, turn around, and look at the Hudson River and our soft-shouldered Catskill Mountains beyond. On one day, when the wind dominated our mountains with fierce gusts up to sixty miles per hour, I decided to make another, perhaps my last for the season, spontaneous visit to the vineyard. This time the wind just about knocked me off my feet and my camera out of my hands. However, I persevered to the top and for the first time did not turn around. There was a pair of grand, old weeping willows I had seen many times before, though not in the mood and energy of that day. They were at one with the ferocity of the wind as their branches lifted, rustled, and swayed in total cooperation with their environment and the moment. These two graceful willows, and where they stand, are nature’s monuments. Set high above, I believe they are the true gatekeepers of the vineyard.
April, 3 2011 – Today
We are a little more than one month away from Lyndhurst and the Art & Wine gala. I must select two images for the exhibit and I believe I know which ones … and yet.
What a gratifying experience to ‘walk with time’ into the past and into the present. As an artist I could not ask for more. The Brotherhood Winery and its vineyard are both magical and mystical. The experience is not to be missed.
I want to thank the Brotherhood Winery (Colleen and Cesar), Hudson Valley Wine Magazine (Linda and Rob), the eighteen other artists, and all the participating wineries for making this adventure possible.
Please join me at Lyndhurst on May 20th and/or May 21st … if you are able
Click below for details
Interview with Lee Anne Morgan: