John Wawrzonek images from The Hidden World of the Nearby
John Hanson Mitchell and Ceremonial Time
The story behind the name:
THE HIDDEN WORLD OF THE NEARBY
Dreamed Book (and many other images) came about while on an assignment for New England Monthly Magazine. I was to photograph the area around Beaver Brook (the brook in Dreamed Brook) to accompany an essay by John Hanson Mitchell. John had written a now legendary book called Ceremonial Time about the area where he lived that included Beaver Brook. John gave me a copy and not too many pages in I came upon this passage:
“Wilderness and wildlife, history, life itself, for that matter, is something that takes place somewhere else, it seems. You must travel to witness it, you must get in your car in summer and go off to look at things which some “expert”…tells you is important or beautiful, or historic. In spite of their admitted grandeur, I find such well-documented places somewhat boring. What I prefer..is that undiscovered country of the nearby, the secret world that lurks beyond the night windows and at the fringes of cultivated backyards.”
----John Hanson Mitchell, Ceremonial Time
I think it was some time later that I realized that none of the photographs I was taking were of anything I had seen photographed before. The views from the Pike I was working on were unlikely to be noticed by someone driving to work on an Interstate highway. You definitely had to take your eyes off the road and look to one side to notice the view. But once the view camera was in the trunk of my car it was a constant reminder to pay attention to what I saw as I drove.
This view of Beaver Brook was only visible directly from the breakdown lane of I-495, the outer "ring road" around Boston. It was, in fact, not spotted by me but by my photographic assistant, helper and friend Michael Conrad. Michael had come along on this shoot to help watch traffic while I was photographing Beaver Brook in another location. As we left to go home Michael said "did you see that?" I had been tired from shooting and was ignoring the roadside but took a quick and asked Michael to take the next exit and circle around.
I decided not to shoot that afternoon, but to come back in the morning which I did for several days. Unfortunately power lines in the distance spoiled the view (this was 1987, well before digital retouching), although I photographed anyway. Then on July 11 a morning fog obscured the power lines and I had what became the most popular image in my collection. I named it Dreamed Brook.
Photographing from the breakdown lane a few feet from high speed traffic is a dicy business. You cannot watch the traffic since your head is under a dark cloth composing and focusing. And although I preferred safer places I continued to shoot from the breakdown lanes of highways when there was no other way to get the shot. The second photograph I digitized more recently and carefully removed the power lines. However, this experience, along with visiting John Mitchell and reading his words, eventually led to the idea of nearby hidden worlds. For that became how I viewed almost all my work.
As a side note, I have visited (rather driven by) Beaver Brook on I-495 every year since 1987. It has never again looked remotely as beautiful again.