a forsaken place

Children skip at one of Durban Deep Goldmine's old hostels on the outskirts of Johannesburg, South Africa. During the previous few weeks, all the power cables in the area were dug up and stolen, leaving the entire area without any power. Ironically, these kids are using the stolen cable casing as skipping ropes. During my few weeks here, this neighborhood was transformed into sort of post-apocalytpic wasteland.

The Demise of Durban Deep

During my recent visit to South Africa, I spent a lot of time on the outskirts of Johannesburg in a neighborhood centered on an old goldmine called “Durban Deep”. I was there to document the work of Cora Bailey who founded Community Led Animal Welfare (CLAW), an organization that provides veterinary services to some of the area’s most impoverished shantytowns. My time there just happened to coincide with some dramatic events that radically transformed the neighborhood in which CLAW is located. Having grown up in South Africa and left many years ago, I always feel both inspired by and heartbroken by this beautiful country and I think what followed during my brief stay only affirmed my sense that apartheid and its legacy still haunt the country.

Like many of South Africa’s now defunct gold mines, Durban Deep is a relic from South Africa’s apartheid past.  It sits on Johannesburg’s West Rand flanked by the distinctive glimmering hills of gold dust and its rusting headgear rising up majestically.  While Durban Deep shut down its mining operations almost 15 years ago, the property it sits on has continued as a neighborhood to many low income residents who moved in after miners and management left. Despite crumbling walls, a rat infestation and very poor sanitary facilities, the two hostels that used to house miners are full of the joyful sounds of children playing. Until recently, a host of businesses and organizations such as a fire fighter training school, a golf course, a judo school, CLAW and a primary school still operated in the neighborhood. When Durban Deep was recently sold to developers, Dino Properties, no one could have anticipated the sudden and dramatic transformation the mine and its surrounding neighborhood would take. While the developers had not yet begun to evict residents or start work, the area was, in a short period of time, transformed into a sort of post-apocalyptic wasteland. 

Soon after the sale of the property was announced, copper thieves moved into the neighborhood, cutting down and pulling up cable, which meant local residents and businesses no longer had power. The copper thieves began burning the cable to extract copper in Durban Deep fields which left a toxic layer of smoke hanging over the area.  Helpless in the face of thieves who were armed and often doing their thieving in broad daylight, security guards for the local businesses and organizations proved useless. In addition, illegal gold mining which has long been a problem in the area, escalated, leaving the land riddled with deep holes, craggy ditches and reopened mine shafts which pose a danger to neighborhood children (and to the miners themselves).  In February of this year, 23 illegal gold miners died from suspected carbon monoxide poisoning while working in one of Durban Deep’s shut mine shafts.

After most of Durban Deep’s cables had been removed, the thieves began dismantling many of the historic homes in the area, stripping them of their metal, glass and anything else of value. Sometimes they came when local residents were home, creating a sense of terror in the neighborhood. As things escalated, local residents became more and more angry and frustrated with the situation. With no response from police despite many calls, the residents formed vigilante groups to tackle the situation themselves. On one of my last days there, Cora and I ran into a truck that had been turned on its side. We asked what had happened and the residents told us the truck belonged to the thieves and they had turned it over to teach them a lesson. Apparently the thieves had abandoned the truck and run off. While our sympathies were with the residents who felt disempowered and angry that their neighborhood was being destroyed, Cora expressed concern with the feeling of escalating violence and at one point said to me, “I think something bad is going to happen this weekend.” Cora has seen her fair share of violence in South Africa and has often been caught up in frightening situations most of us will never encounter. Sure enough, a few days later, a group of neighborhood vigilantes attacked some of the thieves, killing six of them. While the police were called, the killings were not reported nor was anyone arrested.

While I am now back in the United States, I think often of Durban Deep and wonder how things are continuing to unfold. I think of the children I photographed there, skipping with ropes made of the cable casing; I think of so many of the residents we spoke to who expressed anxiety about being home but who have no place else to go. No one knows when the developers will begin work and while Dino Properties are negotiating with local and provincial government to find alternative accommodation for the affected residents–some of whom have been on a waiting list for a house for many years–the neighborhood seems to live with an impending sense of doom. It struck me looking though my images of Durban Deep, that even though I was there for just two weeks, the neighborhood was completely different at the end from when I had arrived. The judo studio was gone, CLAW was relatively abandoned having sent most of its patients to a temporary location about twenty minutes away, the houses which were intact when I’d arrived looked like broken skeletons, the roads were torn up, even the firefighter training school had a huge moving truck parked outside its property and was loading equipment to be moved elsewhere. If I found this forsaken landscape so disturbing, how must the people who had lived there for years feel? What will become of this community? These are questions that I suppose I may never know but at the very least, I hope my images stand witness to what happened here.

A view of Johannesburg's West Rand flanked by the distinctive glimmering hills of gold dust. These hills are made up of the waste product left over from more than a century of gold mining and are believed to pose a serious health and environmental risk to the communities that live near them.

Durban Deep's now defunct headgear rises up between stalks of pampas grass.

A woman sits with her granddaughter and dog outside an abandoned gold mining grocery store which they and many other families have made their home. The grocery store's residents have partitioned off the interior space to create privacy for the many families that live there.

A security guard wears a bullet proof vest as he stands on duty outside Durban Deep's substation. Days before, the entire substation was ransacked and the cables and transformers were stolen, leaving the neighborhood without power.

Durban Deep's gutted substation days after its ransacking began.


Two little girls and a doll’s head are photographed at Durban Deep’s old “Skomplaas” hostel.
While the gold mine was still operating, the hostel housed hundreds of goldminers. Today
a large number of families live in the crumbling buildings. Sanitary facilities are very poor
and rats abound.


A young boy peeks around the corner of one of “Skomplaas” hostel’s crumbling buildings.

A school girl sits on stones and uses a plastic container as a desk to do her homework on at the hostel.


A group of men play casino at “Skomplaas” hostel.

A child rides a tricycle outside the hostel's now closed restaurant.

A baby cries outside one of the hostel's crumbling buildings.

Dug-up cables are photographed outside CLAW's utility building. Over the course of a few days, armed thieves removed the transformers, cables, fuse boxes and even used a blow torch to remove the steel doors. Without power, the veterinarians were unable to operate on their patients and so the animals were taken to an alternate location.

Men carry metal stripped from one of Durban Deep's homes. The metal is sold to local scrapyards and while it isn't as valuable as copper, for the many unemployed men in the area, it provides some cash.

One of Durban Deep's historic homes is photographed a day after it was stripped of all its valuable materials. While homes like this one housed gold mining managers when Durban Deep was still in operation, they have since been home to many local families, some of whom are the children or grandchildren of the goldminers and have no where else to go.

Bags of soil containing small amounts of gold sit slashed and abandoned after police forced illegal gold miners to destroy them. Behind the bags is what is left of the judo studio which operated in Durban Deep for over two decades.

A young boy brings a bag of trash to a makeshift dumping site outside Skomplaas hostel.

A truck belonging to the cable thieves sits overturned on one of Durban Deep's roads after local residents, frustrated with the ongoing attacks on their neighborhood and with no response from police despite many calls, formed a vigilante group to tackle the situation themselves. Apparently the thieves had abandoned the truck and run off. This was just the first of many incidents that ultimately led to the murder of six men by the local vigilante group.

A teenaged boy sits on a tire and bounces a soccer ball on his feet at another of Durban Deep's old hostels. No one knows when the developers will begin work and while Dino Properties are negotiating with local and provincial government to find alternative accommodation for the affected residents--some of whom have been on a waiting list for a house for many years--the neighborhood seems to live with an impending sense of doom.

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Read more.. Monday, April 14th, 2014

gorilla gazing

A female mountain gorilla engulfs her three month-old infant in an embrace in the jungle of Rwanda's Virunga Mountains.

Waking up at the foot of the Virunga Mountains–a massive chain of volcanic mountains that borders Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo–the first thing I saw was a perfect cloud cap covering the peak of Mount Karisimbi (14,763ft), the tallest of the volcanic mountains in this area. Up in the jungle of these beautiful mountains resides the greatest concentration of mountain gorillas left in the world. Perhaps most will know this region from the 1988 movie “Gorillas in the Mist” which centered on naturalist, Dian Fossey’s work with these primates. I’d come to see these same gorillas and with the rich, green mountain range looming up before me, I had a great sense of anticipation.

With the advent of gorilla tourism, eight gorilla families out of 17 in the Virunga Mountains are habituated to humans. Tourists interested in seeing the gorillas may hike into the mountains in small groups and can, for one hour, quietly observe a gorilla family in its natural habitat. While some might be critical of daily exposure of gorillas to humans, gorilla tourism has been instrumental in decreasing gorilla poaching as many of the poachers are now employed as trackers and porters and are therefore invested in preserving their gorilla population. Also, the fees from trekking permits offset the cost of gorilla conservation and boost the economy of the towns at the base of the Virunga Mountains.

My particular group of trekkers was assigned to the Ngambara gorilla family which has 17 family members including three infants. Soon after our group began the ascent up Mount Bisoke, it was clear that this would be a tough hike. Starting off at over 8000ft above sea level, our lungs already struggled with lower oxygen levels and the steep climb quickly left us out of breath. Our guide, Felicien, warned us not to touch the giant stinging nettle leaves which loomed up on either side of us. Felicien stopped at regular intervals to check in with the trackers and see where our gorilla family was located as well as inform us of some fact about the flora and fauna. At one point, he stopped to show us a massive earthworm the size of small snake. This area also boasts a variety of other wildlife such as golden monkeys, spotted hyenas, forest elephants, buffalo, giant forest hogs, bushpigs, bushbucks, black-fronted duikers and large variety of birds.

After several hours of hiking, our group veered off the main path into the thick jungle. Above us, Tarzanic vines hung in ropy masses and tall trees rose up like quiet giants. The stinging nettles grew so densely here that they were now almost impossible to avoid. Despite wearing long-sleeved clothing, long pants and gloves, the nettles stung through our clothing. By now we’d connected with our trackers and one of them used a machete to cut through the dense vegetation. After some time of hiking through this denser jungle, Felicien stopped us at a large tree and told us to put down our backpacks. “We don’t want the gorillas to smell any food you have with you,” he explained. He then lead us further into the thicket. Suddenly, Felicien began making a series of low rumbling belching grunts indicating contentment. Earlier, he had demonstrated a variety of sounds gorillas use to communicate and had suggested we use the “contentment” sound when in close proximity to the gorillas.

Moments later, I got my first glimpse of a mountain gorilla. He was a large silverback sitting quietly and cradling his head. He sat so close to us, I could see the movement of his eyes and smell his earthy gorilla scent. I was mesmerized. Felicien told us that there were three silverbacks in this family group and that this one was second in rank. Nearby, a smaller female sat in a clump of grass. Apparently, while the lower-ranked silverbacks are not supposed to mate with the females, they will sometimes sneak away from the family group and secretly do so. If the top silverback catches them, he will punish them.

Soon after, Felicien lead us to the dominant silverback who lazed on his back with a mass of female and baby gorillas around him. One particularly small baby with sticking-up punky hair–a three-month old, Felicien told us–was particularly fascinating to watch and human-seeming as he climbed all over his mother and demanded her attention while she tried to nap. Slightly older gorilla babies playfully rolled around pulling at each other’s hair and somersaulting over the bodies of the adult gorillas. This playful behavior teaches young gorillas how to interact within the group and adult gorillas encourage their play. Gorillas are highly social animals and their family groups are held together by strong bonds between members. Silverbacks, who are responsible for the family’s safety, are more likely to defend family members than territory and will even go so far as to sacrifice themselves to protect their family.

I completely lost all sense of time watching the Ngambara gorilla family. I was struck by the humanness of their interactions–the gentle grooming, the playful tumblings and affectionate intertwining of gorilla bodies. While I’ve seen a lot of wildlife in my time–primarily as a child growing up in South Africa and later on trips to Asia and Africa–there was something particularly powerful and elemental about this experience. I think part of it was that we were essentially in the gorilla family’s intimate space. There was no glass window or car door between us and these primates. In such close proximity, it was easy for me grasp how much we have in common. Specifically, we share 98.6% of our genetic code with gorillas and like us, they prioritize family, have human-like hands, have an almost 9 month gestation period, communicate using sound, are susceptible to the same diseases and have a very similar sense of smell, taste and sight. In the final moments before we had to leave, I watched as the mother of the three-month old infant engulfed her son in an embrace. She looked up at my camera momentarily (see top image) and I was so struck by her expression. I thought of my own childhood and the comfort of being held in my mother’s arms and knew exactly how that baby gorilla felt.

Our group of trekkers hike through the beautiful jungle of Mount Bisoke. Starting off at over 8000ft above sea level, our lungs already struggled with lower oxygen levels and the steep climb quickly left us out of breath.

Our guide, Felicien, holds up a giant earthworm common to this region of Rwanda. This area also boasts a variety of other wildlife such as golden monkeys, spotted hyenas, forest elephants, buffalo, giant forest hogs, bushpigs, bushbucks, black-fronted duikers and large variety of birds.

The first gorilla we saw was this silverback cradling his head. According to Felicien, he was the second-ranked silverback in the family. Nearby, a smaller female sat in a clump of grass. Apparently, while the lower-ranked silverbacks are not supposed to mate with the females, they will sometimes sneak away from the family group and secretly do so. If the top silverback catches them, he will punish them.

A young gorilla rests pensively on its mother's body as she tries to rest.

A juvenile gorilla and an infant are surrounded by the lush green vegetation of the Virunga mountains.

A three month-old infant is seen through the dense vegetation riding on his mother's back.

A three month-old infant clings to his mother's shoulder. I thought there was something so human about the tender relationship between this infant and his mother.

An adult female looks at the camera. Each gorilla has a unique nose print similar to our unique finger prints. Researchers use the nose to identify individuals within the family group.

A mother gorilla looks exhausted as her infant tries to wrestle with her. Young gorillas are known for their playful behavior, often somersaulting over the adults' bodies and wrestling with each other. This playful behavior teaches young gorillas how to interact within the group and adult gorillas encourage their play.

A female gorilla forages for food.

A gorilla blissfully scratches an itch.

A three month-old gorilla demands attention from his mother while she tries to take a nap.

If you or someone you know would like to receive new blog posts directly through your email, please email me at julia@juliacumesphoto.com. Thank you!

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Read more.. Saturday, March 29th, 2014

portraits from a new Rwandan generation

I just spent two weeks teaching a portrait and self-portrait photography workshop to students at the “Through the Eyes of Hope” project in Kigali, Rwanda. “Through the Eyes of Hope” was started by photojournalist, Linda Smith, in 2006 and is a wonderful program that empowers kids through photography, allows them to express themselves creatively and also enables them to earn a bit of money through the studio they run where they primarily provide passport photos for locals. The students’ work has been shown in exhibits in both Rwanda and the US.

When I first arrived in Kigali, I had no idea what to expect. During my first few days of teaching, I presented some techniques for creating portraits and self-portraits to the students and showed them lots of images that illustrated the techniques. It immediately struck me how engaged they were with the images I was showing them. We talked a lot about composition, lighting, altering one’s visual perspective, using props, choosing interesting backgrounds, using reflections, finding good door or window light etc. I soon had them standing on tables, shooting from the ground, seeking out colorful walls in the neighborhood and generally experimenting with the techniques we’d talked about. It was quite a sight–the group of us carrying cameras and a big reflector around the neighborhood, often attracting interested crowds. There were many lovely moments, lots of laughter and general joy in these photographic adventures.

Over the course of the workshop, we worked on a collaborative portrait assignment, a portrait assignment and a self portrait assignment. They approached all three with great enthusiasm and I was touched by many of the images they created over the course of the workshop, some of which you will see below. The collaborative portrait assignment images, which were all shot in the studio, encouraged them to think about who they are and how they wanted to portray themselves visually. These images will be featured in a separate blog post. Some of their own self-portraits, which followed this assignment, are below.

On Saturday, the last day of the workshop, I showed the students a final slide show of their edited images. I think they were excited about the work they’d produced. We had a little celebratory party and I recorded them singing together for an audio slideshow I plan to put together about the workshop. Between their beautiful voices rising up in the studio, looking at their creative work and saying our goodbyes, I felt such a sense of joy and connectedness and knew, without a doubt, I’d be back.

For more information about Through the Eyes of Hope, go to:
Through the Eyes of Hope Project

The younger siblings of my students played a really important part in our workshop, often holding equipment or posing as subjects for the photos. Towards the end of the workshop, I came out of the studio only to discover they had made their own "cameras" out of styrofoam and other bits and pieces. They were enthusiastically photographing everything in their path, including me. They had even used bottle caps as shutter buttons! I was so moved by their creativity and was happy to see their interest in photography playing out in this wonderful way. I have no doubt they will be the next generation of "Through the Eyes of Hope" students.

Here are a selection of images made by the students during the workshop:

portrait by Zephanie Kwizera

portrait by Odila Umuziranenge

portrait by Odila Umuziranenge

portrait by Hamis Ndikumukiza

portrait by Zephanie Kwizera

portrait by Lucky Fikiri

self-portrait by Sustain Kabalisa

self-portrait by Aimable Byishimo

self-portrait by Teta Usanase Annie Veva

self-portrait by Lucky Fikiri

photo by Jordan Ganzo

portrait by Vedaste Twagirimana

portrait by Vedaste Twagirimana

portrait by Claire Umuhoza

self-portrait by Jy Pierre Gashyaka

portrait by Divine Ange Muhimpundu

portrait by Jonathan Niyibizi

self-portrait by Hamis Ndikumukiza

self-portrait by Zephanie Kwizera

self-portrait by Joshua Munyaburanga

self-portrait by Aimable Byishimo

self-portrait by Odila Umuziranenge

self-portrait by Odila Umuziranenge

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Read more.. Monday, March 10th, 2014

the humanness of monkeys

A mother macaque grooms one of her offspring in the Sacred Monkey Forest in Ubud, Bali.

Watching the macaque monkeys in the Sacred Monkey Forest in Ubud, Bali, I found myself mesmerized by their expressive faces and extraordinarily human interactions. I watched a mother macaque gently chastise her teenager when he pulled away from her grooming, two adults squabble over a banana, an infant peeking anxiously from underneath its mother’s belly and siblings huddling together in mutual protest of their mother’s grooming.

After hours and hours of watching and photographing the macaques, I was left with the impression that, like us, macaques have a complex social structure and their interactions are fraught with meaning. After doing a bit of research, I discovered some interesting facts. For instance, the amount of time a female spends grooming a male signifies his social hierarchy, a female will solicit a male by presenting her swollen behind to him, looking back at him and smacking her lips together and young females will, under the supervision of a mother, carry infant macaques as a way of practicing for motherhood. This all sounds quite familiar.

It did not surprise me to discover that monkeys play a complex role in Balinese society. Like humans, they can embody both good and evil and this is reflected in the cultural narratives one sees in Balinese dance and theater. While on one hand, monkeys are revered and protected by the Balinese because they are believed to guard temples from evil spirits (hence their protected status in such religious sites as the Sacred Monkey Forest which houses several important Hindu temples), they are also seen as a menace because they raid rice paddies and are famous for their thievery (often stealing bags, cell phones and other objects from tourists or items from shops). Perhaps too the Balinese see themselves reflected in the monkey and recognize their own fallibility.

On my way out of the monkey forest, I noticed how many tourists, like me, could not draw themselves away from the macaques. Perhaps they too were mesmerized by the mirror held up before them–a perfect image of the gentle, loving, complex and sometimes frail bonds that connect us.

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Read more.. Sunday, February 9th, 2014

life on a tiny island

Two small children sit at the water's edge on Gili Air as a thunderstorm gathers on the horizon. The tiny Indonesian island has no cars, motorcycles or dogs and children seem to have a tremendous amount of freedom.

Imagine three tiny islands with no cars, motorcycles or dogs, surrounded by beautiful clear blue waters and white sand beaches. The occasional clip-clopping of horse hooves blends harmoniously with the rhythmic sounds of the ocean and the occasionally mewling of a cat. What you’d have imagined are the Gili Islands, an archipelago of three tiny islands off the coast of Lombok, Indonesia. “Gili” which means “tiny island” in Sasak, is an accurate adjective for these islands which together are less than 10 square miles. I spent some time on Gili Air and fell in love with its otherworldly beauty, its quiet streets and small fishing community.

Gili Air is the second smallest of the islands and has a population of around 1800 local residents. While it is a popular destination for tourists who mostly stay in small bungalows on the beachy perimeter of the island, when one walks the interior or wakes up early and heads to the harbor, one still gets a sense of the real community and the rhythms of its anachronistic lifestyle. Below are some of the vignettes I encountered during my magical time on Gili Air.

A little girl laughs amidst her family members on the beach just before sunset. The fishing nets below her are laid out on the beach because her grandfather was repairing some tears in them.

A group hurries back to land just as a rainstorm begins to douse the island. The rainy season, which runs from November to April, brings afternoon rainstorms and lush vegetation to the island.

Fishermen prepare their nets for catching 'finger fish'--a tiny silver fish cooked whole with eggs and flour.

Fishermen coral the tiny 'finger fish' into their waiting net at lowtide.

A fisherman shows off an octopus that unexpectedly became caught in his net. The octopus is boiled to soften it, then put into soups.

A bucket holds 'finger fish' and a barracuda that too got caught in the fishermen's net.

Women carry a full bucket of 'finger fish' home. The fish is shared amongst families and often sold in small amounts as a protein substitute for those who can't afford more expensive fish or chicken.

Small local boys fish off the pier at Gili Air's harbor. Because the island is so safe, children seem to enjoy a tremendous amount of freedom.

Men unload bags of concrete mix brought over by boat from the neighboring island of Lombok. Most suppplies have to be shipped in from off-island.

A driver for the local form of transportation--the horse and cart (locally called 'cidomo')--takes a nap while waiting for customers at the harbor.

Gili Air is also a place to relax and contemplate life as so many tourists have discovered. On the public ferry leaving the island, so many of of us shared our sadness at having to leave the idyllic environment.

I love this sign, posted on a 'warung' or small family-run restaurant, which I think captures the laid-back feeling of the island.

With no harnesses or ropes, men climb coconut palms with machetes tucked into their pants to cut down coconuts. Besides fishing, coconuts are another source of income for local residents.

A young girl peeks out of her family's colorfully-painted home.

A scene from Gili Air's retail world.

Two children play under the table of their mother's shop which sells just a few items such as candy and chips hanging from the roof.

Women chat at the window of a small fruit shop.

This was the most traffic I saw at one time on Gili Air--two horse carts passing and a bicyclist in the rear! The quietness of a town with no motors is truly an amazing thing.

A young woman bicycles during a rainstorm. During the rainy season, afternoon rainstorms are frequent and don't seem to hold life up much.

A horse and cart transport hay from one part of the island to another.

Kids play soccer in the road. With no cars or motorcycles to worry about, play space extends into areas we normally consider out of bounds.

A boy playfully lifts up his younger sister.

A young couple hangs out on the Indonesian version of a covered porch. Most homes in Indonesia seem to have this small structure outside which serves as a place to relax, eat, nap or socialize.


A young girls walks along a quiet tree-lined path. Gili Air is full of these quiet pathways, which, with no traffic, I experienced as really dreamy and magical.

With a storm forming on the horizon, a Gili Air sunset seems particularly dramatic.

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Read more.. Saturday, January 25th, 2014

of bogs and berries

Cape Cod cranberry grower, Ray Thacher, and his crew "rack up" cranberries with booms after flooding a bog in Brewster, MA.

Every fall Cape Cod’s cranberry bogs are transformed from dull fields into a colorful landscape of floating red berries when growers flood the bogs. This October, I spent some time photographing Ray Thacher and his crew as they harvested their berries. Thacher’s family has been growing cranberries on Cape Cod for over 60 years. As children, he and his two sisters worked with their parents on the bogs just as his own children did when they were growing up. “Growing cranberries means you have to be a farmer, a mechanic, a builder, a painter…you do something different every day,” he says. While fall is harvesting season and the most visibly busy time for Thacher and his crew, cranberry farming is demanding year-round. From maintaining bogs and equipment, to setting up sprinklers, monitoring for insects, fertilizing and pruning, dry picking, water picking and accounting, Thacher’s work is never quite done.

In recent years, cranberry growers have been threatened by a surplus of berries. “This can be a huge problem for growers because the price of cranberries plummets and unless you’re part of Ocean Spray–a grower-owned cooperative–you can’t make a profit,” says Thacher. His family is lucky to have joined Ocean Spray decades ago so they are less vulnerable to dips in prices. “It’s sometimes tough working outside in the winter but mostly, it’s great to be growing food (and juice) that is enjoyed world-wide,” says Thacher. During my time photographing Ray and his crew, I was struck by the beauty of the setting and the camaraderie of the crew. Below are some images from my time with them.

After flooding a bog in Brewster, MA, Ray Thacher uses a water harvester to churn the water and loosen the berries from the cranberry vines below. Apparently, the berries have small air pockets in them that allows them to float to the surface of the water.

Ray Thacher corrals berries using a boom.

Ray's yellow lab, Hudson, takes a swim in the bog during a wet harvest. Hudson, who is 11 years old, has been going to work with Ray every day since he was a puppy.

Ray Thacher sets up the "detrasher" which cleans and separates the berries after they are pumped from the bog.

Donald Blakely looks up after getting the mouth of the berry pump into position.

Cranberries are cleaned and separated by the "detrasher" after being pumped from the bog. They then are spat into a waiting truck for transportation to the Ocean Spray plant in Carver, MA, where they are either made into concentrate or frozen for future usage.

Thacher and his crew rake the berries towards the mouth of the pump.

Ray Thacher and Richie Gault use “dry pickers” to dry pick berries in late October. The berries
are put into burlap sacks and then dumped into containers. Dry berries are sold bagged at the
grocery store for use in fresh recipes.

Ray’s father, Raymond “Linc” Thacher, enjoys a cigar while helping his son with the dry harvest.
“Linc” first started growing cranberries in the 1950’s and is still actively involved in the family
business.

Ray's yellow lab, Hudson, hustles to get out of the way as the crew drives over the bog trench to transport sacks of dry berries to waiting containers. On the tractor are Donald Blakely (driving), Jason Gingras (center) and Nelson Saunders.

"Linc" Thacher's grandson, Keegean Knee, bikes past containers of dry berries while waiting for his grandfather to finish up.

A sign on the detrasher proudly displays the family's name.

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Read more.. Wednesday, November 6th, 2013

the creepiest house on Cape Cod

An eye moves back and forth in the window of Chris Baker’s house in South Yarmouth, MA.

WARNING: SOME OF THE IMAGES BELOW ARE GRAPHIC AND POTENTIALLY FRIGHTENING (ALTHOUGH ALL IN THE SPIRIT OF HALLOWEEN). USE DISCRETION WHEN VIEWING AND HAPPY HALLOWEEN!!

Ask anyone in South Yarmouth, MA and in all likelihood they will know exactly where Chris Baker’s house is. During the days leading up to Halloween, he has so many people drive by (43 Captain Daniel Rd, South Yarmouth) to look at his house that his kids have a special name for them–”peepers”. While many people decorate their yards for Halloween, Cape Cod DJ and mobile device technician, Chris Baker, has taken Halloween decorating to a whole new level. Not only is his yard full of skeletal creatures, humans drowning in tar pits, gravestones, bloody decapitated heads, evil pumpkin creatures and frightening scarecrows, but a red-eyed reaper beckons one to enter a spinning vortex of green fog. Once through the ominous entrance, a pneumatically-animated skeleton jumps violently towards one, activated by a secret trip switch under the floor boards; a decapitated head hangs above a man in Hazmat suit; a bat bares its teeth over an electric box whose wires it has clearly eaten through; a spider victim hangs upside down, immobilized by a thick cobweb and an acid-eaten corpse offers up its horrifying visage. Chris himself can be seen creeping around–half creature, half plant–and just as one thinks one can escape, a wooden panel falls away to reveal a frightening doll-like woman who hands out candy.

Chis fell in love with Halloween as a child and when he outgrew the “trick or treating” phase, he graduated to making his own Halloween getups. Over the years, he has learned new crafting techniques online and through others who share his creative passion. When he moved to the Cape ten years ago with his three children, he set up the beginnings of what has become “The Village Mire” and every year, his props have become more complex and sophisticated. On a good Halloween night, he’ll get over 350 people coming through. “Kids tell me they love that my house gets scarier and scarier every year,” he says. For the past couple of years, Chris hired me to photograph his Halloween setup for a multi media piece he puts together. Even though I knew what to anticipate, I still found myself jumping and shrieking as I photographed what I know is the creepiest house on Cape Cod. Below are some of my images. Enjoy and Happy Halloween!

Fog rises up over Chris Baker's yard, shrouding the creatures in a cloak of mystery.

A creepy scarecrow, with an owl perched on it, looms over the graveyard.

A red-eyed reaper beckons you to enter through the spinning vortex of green fog

After entering the vortex, a pneumatically-operated skeleton suddenly leaps towards one after a secret switch is tripped in the floorboards.


Chris Baker, the master behind the madness at The Village Mire, lurks behind “Sam”–the “spirit of Halloween” character from the cult classic “Trick ‘r Treat”.

A decapitated head hangs from above while a man in Hazmat gear is visible in the background.

After a wooden panel suddenly drops from the wall, a woman with a doll-like face (played by volunteer, Kiki Goguen) is revealed and she hands out pieces of candy.

After a wooden panel suddenly drops from the wall, a woman with a doll-like face (played by volunteer, Kiki Goguen) is revealed and she hands out pieces of candy.

A bat bares its teeth over an electric box whose wires it has clearly eaten through.

The graveyard.


Creatures struggle to crawl out of the tar pits at The Village Mire.

An animated ghost haunts the graveyard.


Someone who didn’t survive their journey through The Village Mire. Happy Halloween!

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Read more.. Wednesday, October 30th, 2013

paddling dreams

When I photographed local entrepreneur and Adventure Chatham owner, Justin Labdon, in the spring for the Boston Globe, he told me about the night supping adventures he was beginning to offer. As a stand up paddle boarding enthusiast myself, this immediately captured my imagination and knew that I wanted to photograph it. What I love so much about stand up paddle boarding is its ability to transport one, surrounded by nature, to a quiet, meditative state. So what could be more magical than having that experience on a moonlit evening? I also knew it could be visually beautiful although I wasn’t sure how well it would photograph because of the low light conditions.

Justin attaches specially made LED lights to the base of the board which illuminates the water below allowing the paddler to see all manner of fish otherwise invisible in the darkness. That night, the moon was full, there was no wind and it was still quite warm out on this late September night. The paddlers headed out of Sesuit Harbor in Dennis, MA at around sunset and standing on the jetty photographing down, what I saw was even more beautiful and surreal than I was expecting. I thought I’d share a few photographs from this extraordinary night.

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Read more.. Sunday, September 22nd, 2013

pastoral India


Agricultural workers prepare nylon ties to bundle harvested wheat in Manpur, India. I was struck by how many of India’s agricultural workers are women–apparently around 70%.

I just spent a week in India on assignment for a world hunger foundation that supports sustainable agriculture. As those who have been to India know, in the urban areas, the crush of cars, cows, motorcycles, rickshaws, goats, dogs, people, pigs, bicycles, trucks and the like is overwhelming. Barely a space of pavement or road lies unoccupied by something or someone and the visual complexity–not to mention the decibel level–of all that activity boggles the mind.

By contrast, India’s rural farmlands are quite beautiful and peaceful, busy though they may be with the hum of agricultural activity. Because the farms are mostly small, few mechanized tools are used so one has the sense of stepping back in time. Also, women make up 70 percent of the agricultural labor force so everywhere one goes, one sees women working in their bright-colored saris under the scorching sun. Below are some of the images from my journey through this other more pastoral version of India.

An agricultural worker in Bagdi, India.

A girl pumps water at a boorwell next to a wheat field in Yusufpur, India.

Two boys jump into the Jargu dam which irrigates farms in 59 surrounding villages in Uttar Pradesh, India.

An agricultural worker harvests wheat in Rajoda, India.

A husband and wife team winnows rice manually, in Subudha, India.

A young girl carries water on her head through wheat fields in Bagdi, India.

Agricultural workers use an electric thresher to thresh wheat for animal feed in Bagdi, India.

Protecting themselves from the hot sun means many agricultural workers cover everything but their eyes.

A mother and daughter sort wheat in Mandu, India. Many of the people I photographed working together were family members, either working on their own small farm or together for a farmer.

Agricultural workers harvest "gram" (chickpeas) in Indore, India.

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Read more.. Friday, March 29th, 2013

Wintry Cape Cod


My dog, Winnie the Pooch, explores the icy landscape at Linnell Landing Beach in Brewster, MA.

Most people visit Cape Cod in the summer when the world is green and bursting with life, the beaches are colorfully peopled and the roads are jammed with traffic. In the winter, Cape Cod is a very different place. While the short, cold days can be challenging, there are moments of exquisite beauty when the landscape becomes a completely new canvas. When it snows, of course, the transformation is complete. I love snow for its ability to turn our everyday world into a magical space full of curves and softness. The dirt and grit disappears and a monochromatic dreamscape replaces it.

As photographers, part of our job is to show people the world in a way they haven’t seen it before–whether it’s an unusual angle, juxtaposition of subjects or a moment frozen in a way we don’t usually experience it. For me, winter does exactly that–shows me the world newly imagined. Below are a few of my images showing Cape Cod in a way perhaps some have not seen it.


Big Cliff Pond is transformed by a snowstorm in Nickerson State Park in Brewster, MA.


Snow, ice and water cover the parking lot during a recent winter storm at Rock Harbor in Orleans, MA.


A couple walks on Lighthouse Beach after a snowstorm in Chatham, MA.


A stop sign is almost completely covered in snow after a recent snowstorm in Brewster, MA.


Kite surfer, Dan Hyney, of Harwich, MA flies a trainer kite on a cold winter day at Linnell Landing Beach in Brewster, MA.


Winnie the Pooch chases a local snowmobiler during a recent snowstorm in Brewster, MA.


An overgrown cranberry bog is transformed after a snowstorm in Brewster, MA.

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Read more.. Monday, February 25th, 2013
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