The Early Days

The poet W.B.Yeats would have been 150 years old today, June 13th. He was born in 1865 and in 1917 he purchased a wonderful castle, Thoor Ballylee, where he wrote some of his best know poems. I made a photograph of Thoor Ballylee on my first trip to Ireland in 1971. It was actually the photograph that began my career because it caught the very intense attention of the man who would be my teacher.

I have been asked quite often how I got my start in Photography.  I'm sure every photographer gets asked this question, and my answer is one that many photographers mention, because it is so vitally true.  It started with my love of nature.  This is such an inherent love, that for me it is one of my earliest memories.  It is a vivid memory of a time when I was just a few months old. I was in a carriage in the back of my grandmother’s house in Monticello, NY staring up at the clouds in a beautiful blue sky.  I was mesmerized by the beautiful shapes that slowly formed other shapes, endlessly.  I know people say we don’t have memories from our infancy, but I have a few for sure, including the day my family moved to the Bronx when I was seven months old but that’s an other story.

As a child of about six or seven I always wanted to take the family photos. I was good at it so my parents encouraged me.  When I was twelve I made my first darkroom where I could develop negatives and make contact prints.  I had what could be called "a calling" from the very beginning of my consciousness.  

My photograph of Thoor Ballylee castle, Ireland

Then skipping ahead a number of years, I was working in a camera shop in Harvard Square part time while I was a student at Boston University in the 1960’s.  Minor White, who came to teach photography at MIT in 1966, came into the store and left a stack of brochures about a workshop he was offering called ‘Six weekends with Minor White.”  I took that workshop and stayed on with Minor as a private student.  A few years later I went to photograph the west coast of Ireland with my 8 x 10 view camera.  When I returned I showed Minor my photographs.  There was one photograph in particular that he held in his hand for sometime as if it spoke to him and he was listening.  

It was a photograph of Thoor Ballylee.  After a while Minor looked at me (he had an inscrutable smile!) and said he would like to give me an exhibition in his gallery at M.I.T.  The exhibit was titled 8 x 10 Contacts.  That was my very first exhibition and it started a ripple effect that became the rolling wave that has carried me ever since.