Columbia Places I’ve Been

Over the last few years, as I’ve been able to get away from work, I explored and photographed in the following Columbia places. Some of these places, with work obligations calling, I could only visit on the fly, just long enough for me to discern whether or not I will return to spend some quality time getting to know the people there and their environment and culture.

One of my favorite things about this journey is that because Columbia was a name given to places while rivers were America’s highways, this project has much to do with our fabled rivers. You’ll find these noted under each place.

  1. Columbia, Connecticut: spent a day there as the first Columbia place I’d visited.

    Columbia, Connecticut (Gun Store Owner)

    Columbia, Connecticut (Gun Store Owner)

  2. Columbia, Pennsylvania: a river town on the Susquehanna. With its riparian setting and 19th century architecture, this town is one of my favorite Columbias. It’s home to Hinkles Pharmacy, a store that’s up-to-date and yet seemingly frozen in amber (maybe it’s the honest-to-goodness Muzak they play there?).
  3. West Columbia, Texas: it was the first capital of the Republic of Texas. Naming their new capital after America’s poetic name telegraphed the intention of the founding fathers to become part of the United States. The next capital was called, in the same vein, Washington-on-the-Brazos.
  4. Columbia, Illinois. A small town with farm fields abutting the Mississippi.
  5. West Columbia, West Virginia: a once thriving mining town on the Ohio River.
  6. Village of Brooklyn, Columbia Township, Jackson County, Michigan: home of the Michigan International Speedway. Four days of photographing NASCAR and its fans was exhilarating and fun!

    Columbia Township, Michigan (Couple-7)

    NASCAR fans, Columbia Township, Michigan

  7. Columbia Station, Ohio: spent a while photographing patrons at the VFW Hall.
  8. Columbia, North Carolina: a tiny town found on the Inner Banks of North Carolina’s great coastal environment.
  9. Columbia, South Carolina: the state capital, found on the Congaree River. Barely had time to scratch the surface.
  10. Columbia, Maryland: a planned community, named Columbia because of the name’s optimism.
  11. Columbia County, New York: found on the Hudson four counties north of New York City, this place has great socioeconomic diversity and great natural beauty.
  12. Eastfield Village, Rensselaer County: an exquisite school for architectural restoration, and home of a Columbian press, an American invention that was very successful in Europe.

    A final view of a gorgeous communications machine.

    A view of a gorgeous communications machine.

  13. Hammonton, New Jersey: at Columbia Blueberries, I spoke with migrant workers and learned about the harvest from the farm owner.
  14. Columbia, New Jersey: a tiny town at the intersection of I-80 and the Delaware River, and just down river from the Delaware Water Gap.
  15. Columbia, Alabama: found on the banks of the Chattahoochee River, my tenacity and good fortune had me photographing a party for the seven-year-old L’il Miss Columbia.
  16. Columbia Avenue, Tulsa, Oklahoma: I was passing near-bye, and so checked it out.
  17. Columbia, Tennessee: home of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, and so much more. While there, I photographed the aforementioned heritage group, aKiwanis Club meeting, in the county courthouse, and at the Lighthouse Church.

    Columbia, Tennessee

    Columbia, Tennessee

  18. Columbia County, Pennsylvania: on the Susquehanna River, a place that thrived in the days of coal-mining.
  19. Columbia Falls, Maine: a true piece of Downeast Maine. I’ve been twice, in winter, and in summer. The latter had me photographing Passamaquoddy Indians on tribal lands harvesting blueberries, and latter spending time in their camp.
  20. Columbia, New Hampshire: a town just ten miles from the Canadian border, situated beside the very beautiful Connecticut River.
  21. Columbia, New York: a hamlet consisting mainly of houses at an intersection, found just miles south of the Mohawk River and Erie Canal.
  22. Columbia University: interviewed their historian for one of the videos about the history of the Columbia name.

District of Columbia

I moved to DC, by the Potomac River, to work on my project. Alas, the process of everyday life and earning a living quickly took over, and I found I took more photos while traveling AWAY from home. So, I’m very much looking forward to being in DC as a visiting photographer. That will mean that when I’m here, all I’m doing is photographing the richness of this burgeoning place. These are among the places and events I captured:

  1. Capitol Lawn: rally against cuts to Medicaid funding.
  2. Liberty Plaza: Occupy DC.

    Young man with Occupy DC

  3. Columbus Circle: ceremony honoring Christopher Columbus, held by the Knights of Columbus and the Daughters of the American Revolution.
  4. National Mall: Independence Day festivities, etc.
  5. Arlington, Virginia: was at one time part of the District of Columbia. Photographed a belly dancing performance.
  6. Arlington, Virginia: photographed enthusiasts at the DC Tattoo Expo.
  7. United States Treasury Building: photographed the inaugural parade.
  8. The Tidal Basin: cherry-blossom time!
  9. Dupont Circle: gay pride parade.

    President's Day with the President's Own Marine Band

    President’s Day with the President’s Own Marine Band

  10. Verizon Center: as they waited on-line for the venue to open I found Little Monsters dressed to impress Mother Monster (that’s Lady Gaga to you).

Coming next is a list of the places I will explore in 2015 to show you American life today.

 

Sugaring Time

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I’m heading to Columbia, New Hampshire later this week to photograph the creation of maple syrup.

I was able to visit for a day right after Christmas–meeting with and taking some snaps of the good folk there and lining up two farms who’ll let me come and photograph sugaring. Please wish me luck with the weather–we need it above freezing during the day, and good and cold at night.

 

 

The Call to Adventure

When little is known about an historical personage, that person becomes like an ink-blot test: we project onto them perceptions born of our current beliefs.

In her very informative book called America Discovers Christopher Columbus, historian Claudia Bushman studies how Americans have used Columbus to their own cultural ends. Early on, Columbus was seen as a visionary who foretold the American Experiment, and later he became the “first immigrant.” Today, many see him only as the man who brought slavery, genocide, and disease to an idyllic New World. His earlier reputation, for these many, is voided.

While keeping the modern image of him in mind, I see Columbus as the proto-immigrant. He sailed off toward his illusion of where Asia and its riches lay; this illusion sustained him through his voyages. Even with his intimacy with the Caribbean and its peoples, the explorer spent the rest of his days believing he had found a new route to Asia (to his credit, he died young). His obsession with finding this route cost him naming rights for the “New World”: we could refer to this hemisphere as the Columbias, but instead we call it the Americas, after Amerigo Vespucci.

Similarly, many of our ancestors set off with illusions of what they’d find once they reached the Western Hemisphere. Having been lured across the Atlantic by letters describing great natural abundance to be found here, one early American colonist later mused that such letters must have been written during wild strawberry season. The hope behind the immigrants geographic change is the same that sustains us all everyday: it’s that a day’s toil somehow improves our lives, and if so endowed, the lives of our dependents. That said, immigrating is a greater adventure than commuting to the office park.

All our ancestors answered the call to adventure. The strange land called, but something also pushed them out. Was it eviction by a landowner? Religious oppression? Hunger? Indeed, some came here with no beckoning from the New World at all, but instead at the prod of slave traders.

My Columbia journey came when my landlord in Brooklyn announced he was kicking everyone out so he could renovate that three-storey brownstone and move in with his family. Within days I was saying: “This is great!” I was too comfortable in my New York life, and for an artist, comfort can be life-sucking. I’d already been wondering—how will I make that body of work that will move my career to the next level? That knock on the door was my answer, and my call to adventure.

No matter how we view Columbus’ actions once he arrived in the Western Hemisphere, nothing can take away from his daring act of sailing off in a direction toward which none of his peers had ventured. When I think of judging his later actions, I recall that my ancestors were among those who enslaved Africans and murdered Native Americans.

Columbus and these ancestors were products of their times, but I also see that many of their contemporaries chose differently. Humbly knowing that no one is immune to the influence of their surroundings, I can only hope that were I living then, I would follow that alternative path.

A Son of Columbia & Musician 1st Class

On Memorial Day, I ask my friends to remember a young man buried at a ghost town’s edge in Columbia County, Pennsylvania.

John B. Carmitchell died, twenty years of age, on 15 November 1942 aboard the USS South Dakota, in the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal. We don’t know the exact circumstances of his death, but we know that in the pre-dawn hours the ship was under attack from the Japanese. An error in the engine room left the South Dakota without power and radar. Enemy fire destroyed her radio. In the dark of night and the fog of war, she had neither eyes nor ears, and suffered considerable damage.

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Though back in March the flag was tattered, the grave evinces the pride John’s family had in him, his patriotic sacrifice, and his musicianship. They buried him next to his younger sister who had died eight years before. It appears that our sailor-musician grew up in the mining town of Centralia, Pennsylvania, in Columbia County’s southern tip.

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Columbia Demands the Vote (Even if It Kills Her)

If you study Miss Columbia, you’ll come across this image here, but the story behind it is harder to figure out. Thanks to a professor of philosophy that I recently met at a coffee shop over near Gallaudet University, the image’s context is now clear. This professor, knowing of my project, saw this picture in a blog for which she occasionally writes, and kindly sent me the story.

One hundred years ago on 3 March, women gathered in the District of Columbia to demand the right to vote. The Atlantic Magazine’s website did a story to commemorate the event. The marchers, both men and women, encountered a great deal of opposition.

I wonder if Inez Milholland Boissevain (see below) is also dressed as Columbia; the Star of Empire on her diadem would suggest as much. The images here show quite a few other women dressed allegorically.  Once you open your eyes to it, you find America’s pre-Jazz Age visual history filled with images of women (and men) as allegorical figures.

It was in the 1920s that Miss Columbia pretty well vanished from our culture’s stock of characters. Some scholars feel that women’s suffrage was Columbia’s demise. Before they had the vote, one of the only ways that women “participated” in politics was as Miss Columbia, the figure of Justice, Agriculture, etc. With women having a voice of their own, treating women as political symbols became more difficult.

Please do take a look. You’ll get a fascinating view of how our world once looked.


Washington & Columbia: Forever Linked


In honor of Washington’s Birthday / Presidents Day, I give you highlights of the connections between the Father of Our Country and our former poetic namesake and guardian spirit, Columbia. With their patriotic pedigrees, these two names mingle geographically, and as cultural ideals, too.

  • In 1775, with Columbia already a popular name for the American colonies, a new secular goddess with that name was created in a poem written to George Washington.
  • In 1787, The Columbia Rediviva, the first American ship to circumnavigate the globe, was accompanied by a tender ship called the Lady Washington.
  • The Columbia River, named after the aforementioned ship, flows through and partly defines Washington State.
  • Washington State was almost named Columbia.
  • The City of Washington and the District of Columbia, while historically distinct, now share the same borders.
  • America’s former national anthem, “Hail, Columbia”, was created when a poem was penned for the tune “The President’s March”, originally written for Washington’s inauguration.
  • George Washington University’s original name was the Columbian College, and then the Columbian University. Alas, confusion between them and Columbia in New York City necessitated a name change.
  • Columbia, South Carolina, while the first place in the world to be formally named Columbia, also considered the names City of Refuge, and Washington.
  • George Washington has been called “Columbia’s favorite son”, witnessed by this greeting card here.

A Hero honored by Columbia

Even as my parents have lived in Savannah for a decade, my visits with them centered on exploring nature out by the rivers, not in exploring the charming city. So a couple of days ago I ventured in, and found that Columbia dwells there, too.

On the monument to Revolutionary War hero Casimir Pulaski you’ll find Columbia Continue reading

Columbia, Tennessee!

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Next week I leave my home in Columbia Heights here in Washington and drive to Columbia, Tennessee. I’m totally psyched!

While I wish I were going there for Mule Day, I just feel in my bones that this Tennessee city will do a good job of blending the spirit of Columbia and Christmas cheer.

Columbia, a city of almost 35,000 people situated on the Duck River, is the seat of Maury County. The Polk home in Columbia is the only extant residence of President James Polk, and is now a museum.

My ancestor, Russell McCord Williamson, settled there, and was friendly with the Polks. The Sons of Confederate Veterans is also headquartered there in an antebellum mansion. I claim descent from J.W. Phillips, a surgeon in the Confederate Army. You can find something about both these men here (Grace Estes, noted in the article, is my great-grandmother). Continue reading

Inspired by a Visit to the Library of Congress

It’s my express goal that my Columbia America By Another Name will have me photographing in the homes of Americans from all walks of life—the rich, the poor, and the in-between. My day job, though, brings me into the homes of a very particular and passionate bunch: collectors of art. Continue reading

American Master, George Bellows

If you reside or travel near the District of Columbia, you have until 8 October to visit the National Gallery of Art for an immensely gratifying retrospective of work by the great American painter, George Bellows.

“Both Members of This Club”, 1909. NGA, Washington, Chester Dale Collection.

Even despite the fact he died at 42 years of age in 1925, George Bellows is one of the greatest artists our country has produced. He was an American original: weened on Methodism and baseball Continue reading