July and August have passed. I am impatiently waiting for the cool air that usually comes with September but hot temperature lingers. I am shooting anyway motivated by new semester of classes at Maine Media College and by a recent workshop with Tillman Crane in Middlebury, Vermont.
At the end of August Tillman offered a day version of his usually week-long workshop; “Extraordinary Images in Ordinary Places.” I set off for Middlebury, take an extra day to explore the area, a hike in Green mountains, a swim in lake Dunmore, evening stroll in town, my first time in Vermont.
Saturday classroom time: So much information, inspiration, visual stimulation. It is hard to leave and not wish for another day, weekend or a full week of classes. The short time to photograph adds to the challenge of assignments. I draw mine out, "The Ever-expanding Universe.”
It is mid-day. Middlebury is busy with the Festival of Young Filmmakers. I am browsing the streets, exploring a new town, looking for images, trying not to get distracted by all the summer activity. Should I go up this street towards the park or down this one to the river? I buy an almond croissant from a local baker at the Farmers’ Market. Then a moussaka at the Meditteranean stand. Oh right, I remember, assignments.
I see a used a book-store. A quick glance at my watch, less than half an hour left. I can spare five minutes to peek inside.
I walk inside to look at books and I find a universe. Books are everywhere, floor to ceiling, in bins, on window sills. This is my universe.
For as long as I remember I have been surrounded by books. They lined our walls at home, filled my weekends and formed the memories of my childhood. They filled the bags my mother brought home from her job at the library and my father from his work at the archive. I would spend many weekends at work with my parents, often after-hours, running in the hallways and between the tall stacks, both buildings becoming my playground. At times my father would bring a rare copy of a book, old and as big as his desk. While I admired the pictures that formed the first letter of each chapter, he would turn pages and teach me how to read the book, not its story but the information I could tell from the layout, type and design. Today I trace much of my appreciation for books to the quiet hours spent with my father who taught me to value not only the stories the books tell but their physical form, the tactile and visual experience of having a volume in your hands, the smell of new print and the sound of turning pages that might still be stuck together.
At fourteen I decided to go to trade school for booksellers. The only one of its kind was in the opposite corner of the Czech Republic. Too far for a teenager so instead I enrolled in a high school in my hometown. But my fascination with books continued. I took many trips to Prague to visit the first large bookstores in the 90’s. New books, old books previously unpublished or forbidden books, textbooks, then books in English. By that time I would be a college student majoring in English literature reading books on the computer as the University did not have enough copies for every student. Having your own was still a luxury.
My first job in America was next to a used book-store. After my shifts I would buy paperback classics and send them home by boat. One dollar for one pound of written words.
In an unknown town, a room filled with books is a piece of home. Walking by the shelves and seeing stories I have already read, recognizing characters I have got to know is not unlike bumping into friends at a party. I pause for a while, remember favorite lines, maybe see something more as my understanding of the world changes. Or I meet new friends and discover new stories and new encounters. The universe of books is ever-expanding.