Monday, July 6, 2020

When Did You Retire?

My father, Byrl Thornton Jenkins on his 90th birthday. October 5, 1999

Or, are you retired? Or, you’re retired, aren’t you? Or, when do you plan to retire?

These are various forms of the question I'm asked frequently as people note my apparent age. The answer to all is no. I haven’t retired, I’m not retired, and I have no plans to retire.

One of the conscious factors in my mind when I chose my profession was that I wanted a career that no one could make me retire from. If I had spent my life working in some other field I might be interested in retiring, but I’ve spent my life doing something I love. Why would I want to retire from that? I’m a photographer. I can still photograph. I’m a writer. I can still write.

I no longer solicit commercial or architectural photography, but occasionally someone offers me a job and I take it. I no longer book weddings on my own, but have kept my hand in the game as a second-shooter for an Atlanta photographer since 2013 and hope to photograph many more with her.

Meanwhile, there are books to be created. There are articles to be written and illustrated. There are a myriad fascinating things to see and do. There are places to go where I haven’t yet been, plus many more I would love to revisit.

One of the Lost Barns of Rock City. Probably my next book.

I’ve taken note of the statistic: everyone who retires dies. And often sooner than he should have. My philosophy is this: Think young. Thinking old will kill you.

My father, an electronics technician, Bible scholar, part-time pastor of small churches, avid photographer, and father of seven children, passed away at the age of 90. He was always active, always pursuing all kinds of knowledge, always looking ahead to the next thing, even after a serious health condition laid him low when he was 89. The last day we spent together, in January, 2000, just a month before he died, we spent the day shopping, even though we had to find a restroom about every hour because of the persistent diarrhea that weakened his heart and finally killed him. But what were we shopping for? A computer system, so he could go online to sell his antiques. He never gave up.

My goal in life is to emulate my father’s faith, courage, and perseverance. So no. I haven't retired and I have no plans to do so.

Blog Note: I post Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings at I'm trying to build up my readership, so if you're reading this on Facebook and like what you read, would you please consider sharing my posts?

(Photographs copyright David B. Jenkins 2020)

Soli Gloria Deo
To the glory of God alone

Friday, July 3, 2020

Writing with Light

Sunrise at a Rock City Barn in central Georgia

Photography is about light.  In fact, the word "photograph" comes from two Greek words: photos, which means "light," and grapho, which means "to write."  So to photograph really means to write with light.

The best light for photography usually comes in early morning and late afternoon when the sun is low, casting long shadows which reveal texture and bathe the land in a rich, golden glow.  In summer this often meant 18-hour days, as I tried to capture the good light at both ends of the day.  I might drive several hundred miles checking out barn sites and then double back to photograph an especially good one in evening light; or put up at a nearby motel if I thought morning light would be better.

The mechanic who kept my old Chevy Blazer running told me about this little barn on U.S. 19 south of Butler in Taylor County. It had been lost from Rock City's records and I probably never would have found it without his help. As it happened, he was from that area.

 When I first saw the barn, it was on an overcast day. I made the photo just above, but thought there was potential for a better one. Noting that the barn faced east and that the fields were almost perfectly flat for miles around, I thought a sunrise shot might work.

Of course there's never a motel around when you need one.  After making a photo for the record, I circled around visiting other barn sites before taking shelter at Macon for the night. The next morning I drove 40 miles through the pre-dawn darkness of central Georgia to catch the June sunrise at the barn.

An interesting side note -- you may have noticed how close the barn is to the highway. Just a few years after I made these photos, Highway 19 was scheduled to be widened and the barn was to be destroyed. To preserve it, the Taylor County Agricultural Agent had the barn moved three miles across the fields to his own property. And there, as far as I know, it sits today. I really ought to go check it out.

Blog Note: I post Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings at I'm trying to build up my readership, so if you're reading this on Facebook and like what I write, would you please consider sharing my posts?

(Photographs copyright David B. Jenkins 2020)

Soli Gloria Deo
To the glory of God alone

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

A Sense of Wonder

Who in the world abandons a valuable instrument
such as a harp to molder away in a field?
Photograph copyright Judy and Tony King Foundation, 2020

Photography is a tool with many uses. It can be used to make portraits, report the news, photograph weddings, fashion, landscapes, architecture, and products for sale -- its uses are almost endless. Yet, photography, alone among the arts, has an unique ability that goes far beyond its utilitarian applications. It is the sense of wonder.

As distinguished from other visual media, the art of photography is primarily the art of seeing. A photograph is created at the instant of exposure, and nothing done to it afterward will make it art if it was not well seen to begin with. Throughout the history of the medium, the works that have had power, the works that have lasted, have been straight photographs. Their power and their art are in the photographer's ability to see and to present his vision in a tangible form.

Beauty and mystery. Where is the woman whose shadow is at the left?
What is the significance of the hanging rope? Who is the man
half-seen on the right? What is the source of that brilliant light
illuminating the wall on the right?

The essence of photography is that it is photographic. It is a picture made by the action of light reflected from something that has objective reality onto a sensitized surface. Light rays bouncing off something that is really there go through a lens and are recorded onto film, a sensor of some kind, or something not yet invented, but whatever it is, it is "writing with light." The unique power of photography is derived from this direct connection to reality.

Dorothea Lange kept a quotation by the English essayist Francis Bacon on her darkroom door: “The contemplation of things as they are, without error or confusion, without substitution or imposture, is in itself a nobler thing than a whole harvest of invention."

As photographer Fred Picker wrote in Shutterbug Magazine, "This Koudelka (print by Czech photographer Joseph Koudelka). . .contains the most amazing combination of things that I know happened, because when he made that photograph there was no electronic imaging. Here are two horses, standing in a certain position, a boy sitting on a bicycle wearing an angel suit with angel wings, here's an old lady scolding him, all in magnificent light and beautifully composed. Today, that picture could be made by some guy sitting in front of a computer. Knowing that would take all the wonder out of it."

The priest grabbed the bridal bouquet
and flourished it while the couple kissed.

In actuality, it isn’t likely “some guy sitting in front of a computer” would make such a picture, because those who alter and/or combine photographs are limited by their imaginations. They can only do what they can conceive. But photography goes beyond human imagination. As novelist Tom Clancy has said, “The difference between fiction and non-fiction is that fiction has to make sense.”

The magic of photography is that life holds so many amazing and wonderful things that are entirely unanticipated, unexpected, even unimagined in the deepest sense; that is -- no one would ever have thought of such a thing happening. And then, suddenly, right out of the fabric of life, there it is. The uniqueness of photography is in that sense of wonder that only photography can provide.

 "I can do a beautiful illustration, but it doesn't have that 'instant of wonder' that a photograph will have." (Art Director Tony Anthony, quoted in Photo District News). 

The Famous Laughing Horse
I rest my case

Photography shows us things that lie beyond our imagination and compel our amazement because they really happened. It revels in the beauty, the mystery, and the strangeness of life. It is the most powerful purely visual medium ever created.

Blog Note: I post Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings at I'm trying to build up my readership, so if you're reading this on Facebook and like what I write, would you please consider sharing my posts?

(Unless otherwise credited photographs are copyright David B. Jenkins 2020)

Soli Gloria Deo
To the glory of God alone

Monday, June 29, 2020

The Book that Changed My Life

Actually, the book that changed my life was the Bible. But the book that changed my professional life was Rock City Barns: A Passing Era.

In 1982 I began doing advertising and public relations photography for Rock City Gardens, a tourist attraction on Lookout Mountain near Chattanooga, Tennessee. In 1988, Bill Chapin, the president of See Rock City, Inc. told me about his long-time dream to create a book about Rock City's barns and asked me to find out what it would cost.

He decided not to proceed at that time, but my interest had been kindled. I obtained a list of the 110 barns they were still repainting, and whenever my travels brought me near one, I made a photograph of it if possible. In 1994, after learning that the number of barns being repainted had dwindled to 85, I made prints of some of my photos and told him I felt that if we were ever to do a book, now was the time.

He didn't say much. Just looked at the pictures for several minutes, asked a few questions, then said the magic words: "Let's do it!"

File Cards with Barn Locations
Cards like these were used by many businesses in pre-computer days.

In a few days he sent me a box containing hundreds of old office file cards from the 1960s; Rock City's only record of most barn locations. On each card was the name of the property owner at that time, the highway, and the distance from the nearest town. Many had a small photo attached, apparently taken about 1960; but some had only rough sketches of the barns. Inside the fold-over card was a record of rents paid (usually $3 to $5 per year) and repaint dates.  Rock City had had no contact with most of these barns since the late 60s.  The only way to find out if they were still standing was to go and see.

So I went.

Sorting the cards into piles by states (15), and within states by highways, I planned an itinerary and began photographing at Sweetwater, Tennessee on October 24, 1994.  Over the next 18 months, stealing time from my studio whenever I could, the trail of barns led my old Chevy Blazer nearly 35,000 miles to more than 500 sites.

When the photography was well along, I hired a designer and began writing the text. The designer found a printing agent and boom! I was in the publishing business! The agent placed our book project with a printing house in Belgium known for fine printing -- their principal business was museum catalogs.

Chapin ordered 20,000 copies for Rock City, which gave me a tidy profit on the enterprise. And this is where I made what I have come to regard as a serious mistake: instead of taking my profit and using it to finance other book projects, I reasoned that I could triple my money if I used it to order 10,000 books to sell myself.

Unfortunately, I had failed to consider the true costs. I had to hire additional staff to deal with taking orders and shipping; I had to rent additional office space; and I wound up spending a great deal of time over the next ten years promoting and selling the book: time that could have been used to build up my photography business and, as I said, to develope new book projects. Instead, I spent many weekends lugging my books and prints to arts and crafts shows and spent many hours traveling thousands of miles to book signings. 

As the old proverb says, "We grow too soon old and too late smart."

It was an interesting experience and kinda fun sometimes, but I do wish I had put the time into building up my business and developing new book projects.       
Blog Note: I post Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings at I'm trying to build up my readership, so if you're reading this on Facebook and like what I write, would you please consider sharing my posts?

(Photographs copyright David B. Jenkins 2020)

Soli Gloria Deo
To the glory of God alone

Friday, June 26, 2020

Serendipity Is an Early Riser

Rock City Barn
U.S. Highway 165, Morehouse Parrish, Louisiana
Canon EOS-A2, 28-105 f3.5-4.5 Canon EF lens, Fujichrome 100 film.

One of my longest expeditions to make photographs for the Rock City Barns book was an eight-day slog under gray and dripping March skies to 30 locations scattered around Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi,and Texas. I found only six barns still standing. One of the most attractive was this small "mule barn" on U.S. Highway 165 in northeast Louisiana's Morehouse Parrish, which I first photographed under a leaden sky.

I knew there was a good picture here and I did my best to find it. The two pictures above are the best of the many variations I tried. But the light was poor and time was tight, so I pushed ahead on a two-day zig-zag across Mississippi which brought me empty-handed to nightfall at Greenville, 60 miles from the Louisiana barn. With the forecast still not looking good, I decided that if there were a visible sunrise, it would find me back at that barn. 

Blackberry vines, barn wood, and slanting sunlight.
The end papers of the Rock City Barns book.

 I really hate to get up early, so I was a little behind schedule. But not the sunrise, which beat me to the spot by ten minutes and radiantly blessed my efforts, including the close-up of sun-streaked blackberry leaves and weathered boards which grace the end papers of the Rock City Barns book. As I was making that photograph, I heard a rumble. I knew what was coming and dashed to get into position as it all came together -- barn, sky, and yellow locomotive.

Serendipity is an early riser. She loves to make good things happen, but you have to work on her schedule.

Blog Note: I post Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings at I'm trying to build up my readership, so if you're reading this on Facebook and like what I write, would you please consider sharing my posts?

(Photographs copyright David B. Jenkins 2020)

Soli Gloria Deo
To the glory of God alone

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

A Fascination with Old Mills

Hamer Mill

Spring Mill State Park, Lawrence County, Indiana

I suppose my fascination with old mills began with the magnificent Hamer Mill at Spring Mill State Park, about twelve miles south of Bedford, Indiana, where I was born. Growing up in the area, Spring Mill was the default destination for Sunday School picnics, class outings, family reunions and the like. I’m told that I was taken to Spring Mill as a small child, but my first clear memory is of a school picnic there at the end of my third grade year at the one-room Tempy School in Martin County, which had about 25 students in grades one through six.

During my high school years there were many outings at Spring Mill, and years later when my six siblings were grown and there were enough Jenkins to have our own family reunion we assembled at Spring Mill every year, culminating with our parents’ 65th anniversary in 1999.

Dad died in 2000 and the reunions became more sporadic after that, but all but one were at Spring Mill. Always, every trip to the park included a pleasant walk from the picnic area to the old mill and the “pioneer settlement” that surrounded it; a village that consisted of many old houses, most of them built of logs, most original to the village, plus a few moved in from other locations.

Built of locally quarried limestone by the Bullitt brothers in 1817, the mill is three stories high and has walls three feet thick at the base. It replaced a much smaller log mill built in 1814. The 25-foot overshot wheel is fed by a flume carrying water from Hamer Cave.

Located in a deep valley in the southern Indiana hill country, the mill and its little village must have been an isolated place, but the mill and village flourished all through the mid-19th century. In 1896 the mill was abandoned until the 1920s when the state acquired the property, made it a state park, and began to restore the mill and the village. The original milling equipment is intact and still works. My wife buys a few pounds of corn meal every time we visit the park.

My interest in old structures lay dormant for many years, but returned in force when we moved from Miami to Chattanooga in 1970. We lived for 17 years within a mile or two of Gray's Mill at Graysville, Georgia, and I photographed it many times, as well as other old buildings. Graysville although tiny, has some interesting buildings. I'll write more about it sometime soon.

Warwoman Mill

Warwoman Creek, Rabun County, Georgia

At the other end of the spectrum from the majestic Hamer Mill is the tiny, long abandoned mill  on Warwoman Creek in Rabun County, Georgia. Its roof  is falling in and just a fragment of its wheel remains. But I love them both. They speak to me of history, of lives lived.

Blog Note: I post Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings at I'm trying to build up my readership, so if you're reading this on Facebook and like what I write, would you please consider sharing my posts?

(Photographs copyright David B. Jenkins 2020)

Soli Gloria Deo
To the glory of God alone

Monday, June 22, 2020

On the Trail of the Elusive Rock City Barn

Rock City Barn, US. Highway 341, Glynn County, Georgia

Working with 35-year-old, often sketchy records and occasional hearsay reports as my only sources of information, finding Rock City barn sites was endlessly fascinating detective work.  Barns have burned, blown down, been bulldozed for highway construction and subdivisions, or simply fallen from disuse and disrepair, sagging silently into the soil. Many of the largest and finest barns are gone. To complicate things still further, highways have been changed, re-routed, and re-named. Sometimes the only way to locate a site was to find someone who remembered the property owner:

"Do you remember so-and-so, who had a place out on Highway 11 south of here?"

"Oh, yeah, knew him well. He and my daddy used to go fishing together all the time. Good ol' feller. He's dead now."

"Well, he had this barn on his farm, with a sign that said 'See Rock City.' Here's an old picture of it."

"Sure, I remember that ol' barn. Fact is, I helped him take it down, back around 1975. It had got all rotten and falling down, y'know. Wasn't safe."

I also learned to take the information I was given with a grain of salt.  The people most familiar with an area are often the least observant.  In Robbinsville, North Carolina on U.S. Highway 129 I asked a gas station attendant about a barn.  "Oh, sure," he said, "It was just down the road here, about a half mile.  But it's been torn down."  Checking for myself, I found his directions to the site were perfect.  But not only was the barn still standing, it had just been repainted and was one of the rare barns with "See Rock City" signs on both sides!

The barn pictured above took several hours to find. Searching along U.S. Highway 341 near Brunswick, Georgia, I went up and down the road numerous times. Someone had told me that the barn was "on the curve," but I couldn't find a curve. The road was straight. To compound the problem, a road crew was working on the highway and every time I went north or south I had to stop and wait for the flagman. Finally, I found someone who could tell me exactly where to look, which happened to be a small patch of woods about 50 yards from the roadwork. All I could see was a dense thicket. I parted the foliage with my hands and there it stood.

I later saw an old picture which showed that an earlier alignment of the highway ran almost to the front of the barn, then made a right-angle curve away. So that was "the curve."

 A lot can change in 35 or 40 years. But in compensation for the time lost looking for this barn, I got a photograph I really like at one of the places where I stopped to ask directions.

Manning Bros. General Merchandise, U.S. Highway 341, Glynn County, GA

(Photographs copyright David B. Jenkins 2020)

Soli Gloria Deo
To the glory of God alone