The Rural Photographer Rises Again -- Forrest Holzapfel

Over the last ten years Holzapfel has systematically and inventively documented Marlboro, Vermont, through a wealth of photographs, recordings and writing.
This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.

Growing up in a rural place, the lure of departure can be significant. My friend Forrest Holzapfel and I both escaped the wooded confines of Marlboro, Vermont in our teens. In the late 90's, he and his wife moved back. My first reaction was to call him crazy. The town has has less than a thousand residents -- small is an overstatement. It's a community of woodland, steep rocky terrain and long dirt roads. It is beautiful and remote.

Helen & Treffley Jarvis, Augur Hole Road 11/27/1999 8"x10" toned gelatin silver contact print

Forrest is a dedicated photographer, a craftsman of the 8"x 10" viewfinder camera and I thought the move might constrain his work. I was incredibly wrong, it opened it up. Over the last ten years Holzapfel has systematically and inventively documented Marlboro through a wealth of photographs, recordings and writing.

Kit & Donald Dalrymple, Lucier Road 4/22/1999 8"x10" toned gelatin silver contact print

The decade long project, which is ongoing, began after he looked at the photographs of Porter Thayer, who rambled through the local area with his camera between 1905 and 1930. Many of Thayer's photos are stark portraits of families. As Holzapfel writes in an essay, Thayer's subject's, "wanted photographs to stand for and display their family identity. In this time period, being photographed held the seriousness of a ceremony."

John & Margaret MacArthur, MacArthur Road 5/22/1999 8"x10" toned gelatin silver contact print

Building on what Thayer had done almost a century before, Holzapfel asked every resident in town to stand for a photograph in front of their homes. Many are paired with written text like the following to give context.

Diana Heiskell, Stearns Hill Road 4/14/1999 8"x10" toned gelatin silver contact print

Built circa 1818 by Jacob Dunklee, this house sits alone high up on a hillside. Its location is a bit curious for farming, but has a stunning view of the hills of central Marlboro. Perhaps because of its remote location the house has changed hands many times, which Diana believes has been the primary factor that has kept it so unchanged through the last 180 years. Diana has lived here in Marlboro for over 50 years. She grew up in southern France and moved to Marlboro just at the beginning of World War II. Diana is extraordinarily independent for a woman of 90, and is an artist who works in oil paint, watercolor, and pencil. { 3/30/1910 ~ 10/14/2007}

The portraits make no claim to splashiness, they are tightly composed documents, vivid and open, rich in the exquisite detail of the 8"x10" contact print.

Message to Captain Francis Whitmore (Stonedump near the corner of Grant and Jenne Roads, April 2000) toned gelatin silver contact print

In contrast to the portraits, Holzapfel has a series he calls "Messages," to people who have passed on. In a conversation recently he said that this side of his work represents his desire to find a, "vestige of a person's presence. The images are not untethered to reality but the research regarding the person or place happens after the photograph is taken."

Message to Phineas & Timothy Mather, 2000 8"x10" toned gelatin silver contact print

This is perhaps one of the most incredible aspects of what Holzapfel has done in the town, pairing his own very intimate interpretations and reactions to the land and people with sharp and more objective documents.

Town Meeting, The Town House, Marlboro Center March 10, 2001 8"x10" toned gelatin silver contact print

The town and state have taken note of his dedication, and Holzapfel travels extensively to talk about his work and continues to give every ounce of his being to the community he has invested himself in. He is the Assistant Town Clerk, Town Tax Assessor and President of the Historical Society.

Message to Donnie Dalrymple, Sugaring 1999 ~ 2000 8"x10"toned gelatin silver contact print

No one will ever be able to say this man does not appreciate the importance of community. As he says in his writings, examining history and particularly elders, "supports the present and gives those living the power to persevere through life's hardships." Looking at the photos I always realize how limited my view of the town was as a child and how any cognizance of where you are and who you live with is a lifetime in the making.

Message to Donnie Dalrymple, Sugaring 1999 ~ 2000 8"x10"toned gelatin silver contact print

Holzapfel's diverse ten year project has been on display this summer at the Vermont Folklife Center and will be up at Marlboro College this fall. His book can be purchased on Blurb. He writes of these exhibits and compilations, "I have selected fragments both personal and public, past and present, to show the quality of time building upon itself."

Message to Ellis Greenwood, Sawdust Pile July 2002 8" x 10" toned gelatin silver contact print

Eschewing glamour and instead focusing on the richness of place, Holzapfel has given this town and all of us a gift.

All photos courtesy of Forrest Holzapfel

Popular in the Community