CADES COVE: Appalachian Lives in the Past Tense

The windows of the upper floor of the Tipton Place stare back

When Tennessee’s Great Smoky Mountains National Park was established, over 100 families were living in Cades Cove. This beautiful valley in the mountains was a community of farmers, schoolteachers, blacksmiths, grist millers, and moonshiners; all had to eventually leave with the coming of the national park, abandoning the homesteads where they had built their lives.

The black and white photographs here represent some of the artifacts they left behind. We can only distantly visualize their lives, since life in the early 21st century is so vastly different.  But we can certainly imagine and empathize a bit with their lives: the sense of joy at a bountiful harvest; of grief at the loss of an infant; of wonder at the sight of a rainbow stretching over the high mountains; of walking five miles to school in a snowstorm; or the earthy aroma rising from fresh-plowed fields in April.

Hayloft in the LeQuire Cantilever Barn

As time passes, we collectively give up a great deal; yet we also gain in new and wondrous ways as we plow into an unknown future. Cades Cove reminds us from where our current American civilization arose; what we take back with us after a visit to these antique houses and barns is a renewed wonder at just how far we have come, and so fast. For better and for worse …

Recalling an infant with wonderful words: “Budded on earth to bloom in Heaven.”

Interior of The Primitive Baptist Church

Back porch of the Tipton House

Curtains catching afternoon light at the Gregg-Cable House

Elegant window of the Cades Cove Methodist Church

Ox yoke and log detail at the LeQuire Cantilever Barn

Pews in The Primitive Baptist Church of Cades Cove

Interior of the Tipton House

Window detail in the Tipton House

For more information about the history of Cades Cove, go to this excellent publication of the Great Smoky Mountains Association: Cades Cove Tour.

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December 4, 2008 Childhood’s End

When I was a child, playground equipment was simple:  swings, slide, teeter-totter, and merry-go-round.  Like most little boys, I played hard on this basic equipment, swinging higher and pushing the merry-go-round so fast that I nearly got sick.

Fast forward half-a-century.  I now travel with my cameras, seeking emotional connections with the landscapes, small towns, and natural details of America.  When I saw this playground in the forest, I was camping at Pike State Forest in Indiana and using a bit of electricity in the picnic shelter to power my computer.  Then the idea struck me that this old and well-used playground equipment behind the shelter would make a fine subject for infrared photography.  So I got out my old Pentax 6×7, loaded the black-and-white infrared film in a dark corner of the shelter, and set out with my hand-held light meter and B+W 092 filter to get some evocative images.


Infrared film is tricky to expose, because the film sees a different part of the spectrum than our eyes.  With the filter on the camera, exposures are measured in seconds, rather than a fraction of a second, so a tripod is essential.  Infrared light focuses at a different point than visible light, so one hard-for-me-to-remember step in taking each photograph is to change the focus.  Basically, I compose the image in focus, then screw on the extremely dark red filter, then turn the focus on the lens to a little red mark that indicates the point for infrared focus.  Then I set the shutter to B, cock the camera, then trip it with a cable release, counting one, one-thousand, two, one-thousand, etc. until I want to end the exposure.  The three pictures shown here were exposed about 10 to 20 seconds each in morning light, and I made several longer and shorter exposures for each image so that I could be sure to get what I was hoping for.  Film infrared photography is a slow and deliberate procedure that harkens back to the era when everything about photography was slow and deliberate.  It takes patience and is among the few things in life I have patience for.

Once the negatives were processed and the contact sheets made, I scanned the best negative of each piece of playground equipment and printed it.

Black-and-white infrared pictures render foliage in ethereal shades of light gray and white, which gives the photographs a mystical quality.  And what could be better for looking back through the mists of time to our childhood experiences?




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