Documentary photography, in one form or another, has been Ron’s forte since early childhood. He remembers being on an elementary school field trip to Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts with a simple point-and-shoot (this was around 1960) loaded with 127 film. On the far side of a mirror-smooth pond a grist mill with a huge water wheel nestled placidly among trees bedecked with fall colors. One click and the moment was frozen forever. While the picture has long since disappeared, the power of the image has remained clear in his mind’s eye ever since.
Throughout the last forty years, Ron has documented his own and others’ lives. Few are masterworks, which is no surprise to any experienced photographer. But a few gems have emerged, which is also no surprise. Just as important to recognize is that the range in between a finely crafted image and a shoot-from-the-hip exposure in fading light also has a place.
The challenge of documentary photography, in my humble opinion, is to capture all of the moments that must, by definition, be documented while being always ready to capture the gem when that moment presents. One of Ron’s current projects – monitoring Eastern Spiny Softshell turtles in the mitigation zone of new bridge construction – demands just such attention. On one hand, photography is simply used to verify the presence of observed turtles at certain times of day (digital photography has made this quite easy to do) often over some distance. On the other hand, working in close (10 feet or less) provides great opportunities for appreciating the beauty of these creatures and the survival challenges they face.
At times documentary photography can effect change. For example, one picture of turtles on September 2, 2003, allowed public authorities to open up the construction cycle in a way that saved $2-5 million on the cost of construction. That shot was simply a matter of being johnny-on-the-spot (and doesn’t he wish he’d negotiated a percentage!).
In 2004 a different opportunity presented, however, as a toxic algae bloom took over the Missisquoi Bay. Being in the field during this bloom presented an opportunity to document a phenomenon unrelated to turtles but of great significance. That series of photographs ended up being used during legislative testimony in 2005 and spoke volumes beyond what mere words could convey.
Finally, the Ice Storm of 1998 presented an opportunity to document a natural disaster, or at least one small corner of it. This series of photographs and accompanying text are here.
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