On September 28, 2012, I decided to challenge myself to visit and photograph all 251 of Vermont’s towns within a 365 day period. This idea came about as I had been beating myself up for letting my photography fall by the wayside since moving to Vermont. I had been meaning to join the 251 Club of Vermont since shortly after I moved here four years earlier as a way to really get to know Vermont, and I needed to challenge myself in some way that would be, well, a challenge, but still attainable. As I sat at home alone that evening; my husband was out of the country for a week, I thought about ways I could commit myself to a project that would push my creativity and elevate my photography to a new level. Being a web designer, I naturally started thinking about domain names, and suddenly what came to mind was vermont251in365.com. I reserved the domain name and committed myself to the project.
Photography has been a major part of who I am for almost as long as I can remember. I used the family Kodak instamatic to photograph my dolls when I was a child. I can still remember the smell of my first camera, a Minolta SRT201 I purchased when I was sixteen with money I had saved from my part time job, and the excitement I felt as I opened the boxes containing the camera body, the lens, and various other accessories. I wanted to major in photography in college, but discouraged by my parents who feared I would never be able to make my way in the world as a photographer, I pursued a degree in economics instead. I continued with my photography when time permitted, taking correspondence courses, and spending vacation time traveling abroad, always with my camera. In retrospect, I suppose economics was the right second choice since it led to a lucrative career in the investment business that funded a transition year at the Hallmark Institute of Photography which I attended in my late thirties after reaching a point when the stress, burnout, and complete lack of personal fulfillment from the investment business drove me back to photography.
My new path would certainly not be an easy one. I struggled as a freelance photographer, working part time as an assistant to a successful commercial photographer while living in the Philadelphia area. I stumbled into the art show business as the result of an assignment I had landed photographing twenty-five artists. We had built a darkroom in our basement in Pennsylvania, and I devoted myself to developing a portfolio of hand colored black and white images, I also began exploring various alternative processes. Feeling like I needed to make more of an economic contribution, I began to pursue web design, earning a degree from the Art Institute of Pittsburgh online program, and I started my freelance web design business to help support my fine art photography endeavors.
The art business was always challenging, but particularly so after the housing market crashed in 2008 when my husband and I decided to move to Vermont. We had met back in 1994 when we were working together at an investment company in Connecticut. He continued to work in that industry which helped support my career in photography, and now as burned out as I had been ten years earlier, it was his time for a break. I devoted all of my energy to building my web design business when we moved to Vermont, and had little time for photography. Still, I struggled to complete my darkroom in our basement and finally started printing again in early 2012.
While I have been focusing exclusively on traditional black and white and alternative processes, there’s no spontaneity with the medium and large format cameras I use to shoot my black and white work. So I still enjoy getting out there with the digital camera and the immediate gratification it affords. I had been shooting color film, and printing digitally before I transitioned to all black and white. I owned a pretty nice digital SLR, but never considered the images I shot with it to be of portfolio quality, especially compared with the images the large format black and white negatives produced. Later in 2012, I decided to spring for a new digital rig. I was enticed by the 36 megapixel camera Nikon had just released, and I longed for an easier way to just get out and shoot. Yet I still wanted to be able to produce fine art quality images. I was as excited when my new Nikon arrived as I had been back in 1976, and I started getting out again shooting color as Vermont’s foliage season began. But I needed the challenge of an assignment; a focused project. Otherwise, with the other demands on my time, it would be too easy to postpone photography.
As I sat thinking about ways to challenge myself that rainy Friday night in late September, I printed out the 251 Club of Vermont membership form, completed it, and wrote a check for my membership dues. I reserved my domain name and contemplated the website I would build. I mapped out a route for my first day of shooting; towns I had heard of, and had wanted to visit, but never found the time. I did several reality checks to make sure I wasn’t biting off more than I could chew therefore setting myself up for failure. My mind raced and I felt that excitement I remembered with that first Minolta, and later at the prospect of spending a whole year in photography school. I thought about my new camera, and how this project would also build upon my body of black and white work. Once again I had found my way back to my greatest passion. I knew it would be daunting at times, but that’s nothing new, and I wondered what I would ultimately do with all of the images. I dismissed those thoughts and focused on what laid ahead for the next three hundred and sixty-five days.