Vermont Soul Food

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Sonny’s Blue Benn: Feeding the Soul of a Vermont Town

The Story Project has just published its first local history, “Sonny’s Blue Benn: Feeding the Soul of a Vermont Town.” Caitlin Randall is responsible for the text; I’ll take the blame for the principal photography and book design.

According to, “This richly illustrated book captures the essence of a local landmark, documenting the history of a legendary diner and the family that created it. The Blue Benn’s story is told by the people that made the diner an iconic Vermont institution: the family that built the business, the regulars who ate there and the staff that served them. Together, they serve up home-spun, funny and often poignant accounts of life at the Benn and, in doing so, capture a slice of life in small-town Vermont.”

That description was enough to convince staff reporter Keith Whitcomb Jr. to write a story in this weekend’s Rutland Herald headlined “Bennington’s Blue Benn Diner As Told By The Locals Who Love It.” Click the link for a quick, entertaining read. If there are more such stories to come, I’ll try and post them here.

Posted in Journalism Tagged , , |

The Daily Yonder

The Daily Yonder

I’m pleased that some of the photos from my Newsprint and PFOA projects have found an outlet in The Daily Yonder, which is published online by the Center for Rural Strategies. The photos are accompanied by a brief interview — my first as a photographer. It can be found here:

This is how the Yonder describes itself on its About page.

“55 million people live in the rural U.S. ­ Maybe you’re one of them, or used to be, or want to be. As mainstream TV and newspapers retreat from small towns, the Daily Yonder is coming on strong.

We’re your daily multi-media source of news, commentary, research, and features.

Check us throughout the day for breaking news, commentary, reports from our rural correspondents, updates from the best rural bloggers, and eye-opening photography from across the rural U.S.

The Daily Yonder’s special reports also bring you overviews of the big issues now facing small communities — health, employment, broadband access, education, and economic development. We’re tracking how national policies are reaching (or ignoring) rural communities.

The Daily Yonder has been published on the web since 2007 by the Center for Rural Strategies, a non-profit media organization based in Whitesburg, Kentucky, and Knoxville, Tennessee. The site  was developed with the support of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Nathan Cummings Foundation, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and the Media Democracy Fund.

The Yonder’s founding editors, Julie Ardery and Bill Bishop have written for national magazines and for newspapers in Kentucky and Texas. In the 1980s, they owned and ran the award-winning Bastrop County Times, the weekly in Smithville, Texas. Bill”s The Big Sort, a study of political segregation, was named one of the top 100 books of 2008 by The New York Times.

We welcome photos, tips, observations, and links to stories about rural America. Send us stories about what you’ve seen, heard or witnessed. Make it meaningful, make it cool, make it good, make it Yonder.”


Posted in Uncategorized

Along the Eastern Front

Along the Eastern Front

It is August 1944 and Soviet forces have smashed through the German lines near the Vistula River in Poland. Several German units have been cut off and are trying to get back to the main German lines before the counterattack can begin. Soviet forces are trying to hunt these groups down and find the new German lines. There are local Polish resistance units working in the area, but they have to be careful. The Germans will kill them, and the Soviets aren’t much better.

That was the scenario presented by Richard Tucker, a member of the Living History Association, when he invited me to witness a “tactical” reenactment in Stamford, Vt., last month.

When I arrived at the remote site near the Massachusetts border, Tucker greeted me dressed in the uniform of a Waffen-SS Untersturmführer, a Walther P38 pistol at his side. His appearance was disturbing, but he explained that he and his compatriots “go as immersive as possible” at such events.

While the Soviet impersonators sought historical accuracy, the dozen or so German soldiers seemed to take it a step further, banning sleeping bags, for example, in favor of wool blankets on straw. “German units are popular with veterans because the discipline is more like what they’re used to in the military,” said Tucker, an ex-Marine who served a tour of duty in Iraq.

Tucker and others said they were well aware of the sensitive nature of portraying soldiers of the Third Reich. “It’s all about preserving history and telling the story to the next generation so it doesn’t happen again,” Tucker said. “Your reenactors … aren’t skinheads or white supremacists. They don’t believe all that crap.”

For more information, visit, site of the group that portrays German second-line security soldiers, and, site of the group that portrays members of a Russian rifle division.

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Outsourced Jobs and Poisoned Water

Outsourced Jobs and Poisoned Water

The Wilson Quarterly has just published “Outsourced Jobs and Poisoned Water: An American Town Fights For Survival,” by London-based journalist Caitlin Randall. I contributed photographs. The story chronicles the efforts of a fading mill town, Hoosick Falls, N.Y., to revive its economy, only to learn that its municipal water supply and scores of private wells were contaminated with a suspected carcinogen, PFOA.

Randall’s piece appears in a themed issue of the Quarterly, The Decline of the American Middle Class. The photos posted here are outtakes from the assignment.


Posted in Black and White, PFOA, Uncategorized



A year before he died, New York Times media critic David Carr wrote a column headlined “Local Newspapers Shine Light in Society’s Dark Corners.”

Carr described how the journalists at The Record, a daily newspaper in northern New Jersey, broke the story linking Gov. Chris Christie’s staff to the closing of the George Washington Bridge, a scandal known as Bridgegate.

Although national newspapers contributed coverage, “it’s hard to overstate the importance of local journalistic vigilance,” Carr wrote. “Before cable bobbleheads were debating Mr. Christie’s future and bloggers were measuring the political impact of the scandal, there was a reporter and a simple question.”

Carr’s deep respect for the practice of daily journalism was coupled with an awareness of the threats to its future. And although he embraced the digital age, Carr remained a lover of newsprint.

“I find [value in] the curation, the ordering, the creation of a hierarchy in which we preserve a certain idea that we all hold in common about what is important now,” Carr said in an interview. “ … There’s a discipline that goes with making a physical artifact that is not the same as the web but has a significant value both to me as a consumer and to the broader culture at large.”

I share the belief that good journalism can be practiced in the most humble of circumstances and that putting out a paper is worth doing. And so in the spring of 2015 I drove cross-country, hoping in a small way to create a visual record of an industry in a time of radical change.

To view the portfolio, please click here.

From the Pew Research Center’s “State of the News Media, 2016”

“Eight years after the Great Recession sent the U.S. newspaper industry into a tailspin, the pressures facing America’s newsrooms have intensified to nothing less than a reorganization of the industry itself, one that impacts the experiences of even those news consumers unaware of the tectonic shifts taking place,” according to the Pew Research Center.

“2015 was perhaps the worst year for newspapers since the Great Recession and its immediate aftermath. Daily circulation fell by 7% … while advertising revenue at publicly traded newspaper companies fell by 8%.

“At the same time, newsroom staffing fell by 10% in 2014. … Coming amid a wave of consolidation, this accelerating decline suggests the industry may be past its point of no return.”

“Amid these declines, print remains a vital part of newspapers’ distribution picture,” which “is especially problematic as the portion of Americans turning to print newspapers continues to decline.”

The number of daily newspapers in the U.S. has decreased by more than 100 since 2004.

Posted in Black and White, Film, Journalism

Stanley Rosen

Stanley Rosen doesn’t care much for publicity. Nevertheless, after collaborating with him for months, a website devoted to his life’s work,, is now on-line. (Photos and site design by yours truly.)

Rosen, now 88,  joined the faculty at Bennington College in 1960 and led the ceramics department for several decades. Simply put, he inspired a generation of artists.

Below is a sample of some of the work featured on his site. He is due to have a one-person show at the Bennington Museum in 2017.

All of the pieces are fired clay. They have no titles.

Posted in Art Documentation, Ceramics

Catastrophe Hats

Catastrophe Hats

Maggi Randall’s exhibit “Catastrophe Hats and Other Recent Works” is on display at Southern Vermont College’s Burgdorff Gallery through July 8. “My hats are a response to all manner of catastrophes, from melting ice caps to tsunamis, tornadoes and mudslides, all of which are increasingly assaulting the planet,” Randall says. “Why hats? Because these climate changes are in most everyone’s minds. What better way to contain them than in a hat?”


Posted in Art Documentation

PFOA Project Update

PFOA Project Update

Last week I expanded the PFOA project to include photos of Hoosick Falls, N.Y., residents whose water supply has been contaminated. I also visited the former Warren Wire factory in Pownal and accompanied Vermont state environmental officials into the field, where they sampled Bennington wells and fish taken from Paran Creek and the Walloomsac River. Thanks to all for their cooperation. Please contact me if you’d like to participate in the project.



Posted in Uncategorized

Havana Vinyl

Havana Vinyl

Working on a piece about searching for vinyl in Havana last month. More to come.

Posted in Uncategorized

Home Burial

Home Burial: Gene Lott 1935 – 2013

Tzaims Luksus said it was undeserved, but he had a reputation for being erratic, whereas Gene Lott was quiet and steady. Yet it was Tzaims who had a brief but remarkable career in the fashion world and so he was the subject of the magazine profile I wrote in 1991, nearly 20 years after he had faded from the scene.

In the headline that accompanied the piece, my editor called Tzaims the “eccentric extraordinaire” of Bennington, Vermont. Yet it was because most townspeople only knew him for his theatrics and not his record of accomplishment that I thought him worth a story.

It began at the Philadelphia College of Art, where he designed fabrics that brought him near instant acclaim. The young man born James Lukshus in 1932 recast himself as Tzaims Luksus and moved to New York, and in 1965 he won the Neiman-Marcus Award for “bold, daring and imaginative fabric designs of breath-taking beauty and dimensions unlike anything seen before.”

When Tzaims hosted a midnight fashion show attended by Halston and Rudi Grenrich, the creator of the topless bathing suit, the New York Times covered it. Meanwhile, the heiress and arts patron Rebekah Harkness took to wearing Luksus’ paper dresses and installed him at the Hotel Crillon in Paris.

Then in 1966, at an experimental film festival in the East Village, Luksus met Gene Lott, an aspiring writer from Texas. The pair soon moved into a rambling, cedar shingled house in Old Bennington, where Luksus leased an empty textile mill. Although critics and designers continued to praise his silk prints and woolen fabrics, Luksus’ business went under.


As his reputation waned on Seventh Avenue, however, it grew in Bennington. He hosted the radical Living Theater and a troupe of loincloth-wearing “demon drummers“ from Japan. He celebrated something he called the Festival of Pandu with a party for 300. And he and Lott opened a gallery and head shop on Main Street, which the police shut down after it relocated to a spot behind the junior high school.

When I interviewed Tzaims in 1991 he seemed increasingly troubled by feuds with his neighbors and run-ins with the police. For a while it became rare for him to leave the house, grandly named Buckthorne Hall despite its lack of running water and central heating. Although Tzaims sent me periodic emails denouncing the Select Board and others, I didn’t reply, thinking it best to keep my distance.

Gene was a different story. Tzaims might fly to England to attend classes at Oxford, but Gene stayed and worked the graveyard shift at a local factory to support them both. It was Gene — slight and soft-spoken, with lank brown hair to his shoulders and a beard flecked with gray — that I’d see occasionally when running errands around town. Not only was he loyal to Tzaims, but he was modest and funny and grounded and I liked him a lot.


I hadn’t seen either of them for a while when on December 10 of last year I was copied on another email from Tzaims, this time announcing that Gene had died that day at the age of 77. Tzaims now asserted that Gene, whom he referred to as John, was his own biological brother given up for adoption at birth. After a week passed, Tzaims wrote that I was welcome to visit the house they shared and pay my respects. I could take photographs if I wanted, he said.

I feared what I might find, but compassion and morbid curiosity led me to the upstairs room where Gene was laid out. There were flowers and incense and the oak coffin was draped with flags displaying royal insignias. Although Gene hadn’t been embalmed, Tzaims assured me that the frigid room would preserve the body until a burial could take place. In fact, snow had drifted through a hole in the roof. Before we exited I struck a gong in Gene’s honor.

I stayed and spoke with Tzaims for several hours — more than I had in the past 22 years — retreating to a spot beside the wood stove in the kitchen, the only warm room in the house. It was there that Gene had complained of chest pains and where moments later he died. The way Tzaims told the story made me think grief had calmed him.


Tzaims intended to hold a home burial on January 6, the Feast of the Epiphany, but a fiberglass vault he ordered was damaged in transit and so the interment was delayed. Instead, a Requiem Mass was celebrated that evening at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church. The ritual offered solace, but the only witnesses were Tzaims and me and in a pew at the rear of the church, a plainclothes policeman.

As the days passed and the temperatures climbed unseasonably into the upper 40s and low 50s, I began to worry about Tzaims alone with Gene’s body. Then on the morning of January 15, nearly five weeks after Gene’s death, Tzaims phoned to tell me that the burial would take place that day.

It wasn’t as if the wariness and caution I felt had left me completely, but I no longer wanted to keep my distance. And so I put on a jacket and tie and joined the gravediggers and undertakers to serve as a pallbearer.

But it was 81-year-old Tzaims who lay on the ground to ensure that the vault and coffin were properly positioned. And it was Tzaims who grabbed a shovel and filled the hole with dirt. And it was Tzaims who was the last to leave.

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