For a photographer who spends all of his time photographing foreign places, its a pretty interesting experience to go take pictures in the town you grew up in.
For me, that town is Shelburne, Vermont. Its a small town in Northern Vermont that resembles something out of a fairy tale. Historic barns, covered bridges, rolling green hills and immaculately mowed lawns are in every direction. In the town center, kids and parents eat ice cream peacefully in front of the Shelburne Country Store.
This would be my second time “home” in the past three years. However, I hadn’t taken a picture there in many more years than that. And one day I thought I would go take some pictures for a couple minutes — to see what it felt like to take a picture at home.
And boy … did it feel uncomfortable.
I used to take pictures here during my college years as well as post-university while working for the Burlington Free Press. However, years later after photographing in America’s West, North Africa and throughout Asia, it felt odd.
While I live in China, I don’t know if I really consider it home. However, after looking at this place through my lens, I was pretty sure, this didn’t feel like home either.
By looking at Shelburne through a camera, it gave me the opportunity to frame my home town both photographically and mentally. Looking at these pictures compared to where I live now, is so different, it made Shelburne seem almost fake.
People weren’t poor. The biggest problem seemed to be caused by the police in their endless pursuit to create income via speeding tickets. There was no desert, no pollution, no threatened or marginalized population. Everyone’s lawns were so well mowed and manicured, I could have mistaken them for astroturf. These are things I’ve become so used to being surrounded by, without them I felt very odd.
These more dark parts of life, I feel very comfortable photographing. Crimes, fires, funerals, riots, environmental problems, social issues — no problem. But a nice peaceful town, that is tricky. One thing I noticed was how invasive the camera seemed to be, which normally I’m just used to and it doesn’t phase me anymore.
However, the feeling may be more about photographing home, than photography itself. And although the town itself seems to resemble something from a children’s book, some parts of home will always feel home.
My parents still live in the house I grew up in. I attended a wedding of old friends. I spent a weekend with my nieces. These things will always feel like home, even if the physical space they exist in doesn’t. But if this place didn’t feel like home, and my residents in China doesn’t exactly feel like home either, it brings up a question I often get — Where is home?
For expatriates who travel a lot this becomes confusing. If you take a look at this page, you’ll see I’ve lived in quite a few places. But, none of them are home. China isn’t home and my home town, doesn’t seem like home either.
For people that travel, at a certain point I think you have to sacrifice the feeling of home and I’d guess the longer away form your home country you spend and the more time you spend traveling, it probably becomes even more of a far off notion. By leaving your home the world opens up. Doors open as does your view of the world you exist in. I believe everyone should get out of their own country, at least for awhile. However, for those of us who continue to do it we do sacrifice things, regardless of how much fun it might look from the outside.
My niece above, who is now 3 years, 10 months, 23 days old (my brother conveniently keeps this information readily available), has probably seen me in person less than a dozen times in her life. My family and best friends in the world, see me once a year if I’m lucky.
The path we take in life will always have pros and cons. And as much as its a bit sad to really realize how far away you are from your friends and family (mentally and physically), and that you’ve become a stranger in your own home town, this dream is too good to give up. For now we’ll just hope all of these things will be re-obtainable later in life.