Table of Contents
The Pawlet Community Study (1890-1990)
Historical Photographs (1890-1950)
Neil Rappaport's Early Work (1970-1980)
The Pawlet Visual Census and Oral History Project (1980-1990)
Database for Pawlet Community Study
Photographic Album for Pawlet Community Study
The Pawlet Community Study (1890-1990) [top]
The Pawlet Community Study (1890-1990) provides a way to explore and learn about a small town in Vermont through photographs of the place and its people – individuals, families and groups – at work and in their daily lives. The photographs and supporting documentation are augmented by recorded conversations with older and younger townspeople that collectively create the dynamic voice of constant change, central in all community life over time.
The late Neil Rappaport and two women, who worked in the town before him, Nellie Bushee and Ella Clark, made the photographs. Susanne Rappaport, Neil's fieldwork partner and collaborator, conducted the recorded oral interviews over several years. The web version of the Pawlet Community Study has been developed from the original electronic publication produced by Neil Rappaport. A copy of this CD and other materials from the work of the Rappaports, both photographic prints and interview tapes, have been donated to The Vermont Folklife Center and will be made available to interested researchers.
Historical Photographs (1890-1950) [top]
In all his work in Pawlet, Neil Rappaport was influenced and inspired by the photographs of Nellie Bushee (1862-1947) and Ella Clark (1893-1980). All three photographers made a significant contribution to the visual record of the community. The historical images add to the more recent ones and help put the present-day images in a larger and more meaningful context; an unusual one hundred years' photographic continuum in a single small town.
Neil was aware of Ella Clark's work first because her photo postcards were sold in local stores. He always said that Ella opened the door for him when he was the new young photographer in the town; people in Pawlet were used to being photographed. Ella always had a camera and tripod in the car wherever she went and she went everywhere in the town making pictures. She was often high up on a hill looking down on the town or covering an expansive view with Haystack Mountain or the Mettawee River as a focal point. She also photographed all the major events, activities and special occasions in the town during her active years (1910-1950). Ella most likely learned to use a camera from Nellie Bushee.
Nellie Bushee was a native of Pawlet. She became town clerk after her father in 1911 and remained in that position until 1930. She began taking pictures around 1895 and continued until at least 1910. She left approximately three hundred glass-plate negatives in Ella's care. Nellie worked in private environments making photographs of her family and close friends. It is difficult to say how much she might have known about the larger world of photography, but she had an unusually sophisticated understanding of the medium and was a talented portrait photographer.
Neil Rappaport's Early Work (1970-1980) [top]
For the first ten years Neil Rappaport lived in Pawlet, he concentrated on photographing the work and social environments of his neighbors. "Through extended study of people and places – listening as much as looking, and returning daily or weekly, usually over months and sometimes years – he achieved a familiarity that yielded visual biographies and narratives as rich in detail and ambience as in empathy and human truth." (Meg Ostrum, text for exhibition "In Place: The Photographs of Neil Rappaport") This work began at the old Evans Brothers slate quarry in West Pawlet. Neil was there for two years and the resulting photographs will always be considered some of his finest even though he was just starting out in the field. Throughout his career he returned off and on to the quarry environment both in Vermont and across the border in New York State. It was at the Evans quarry that he met Vince Covino for the first time. "I formed a lifelong friendship with that lone rockman who taught me what it was to be a worker who cared passionately about his work." (Neil Rappaport)
From there he moved to making portraits of the denizens of the local general store at Butternut-Bend, owned by George and Leora Clark. And then he created an extended portrait of an eighty-five year old neighbor, John Scott, whom he had met at the store. John lived just a short way down the road from the tenant house that the Rappaports rented from the Baker family, another family who would be photographed by him throughout his almost thirty years in the town. Neil photographed at Ed Connors's garage, a central gathering place, and at Rogers Farm, chronicling the activities of the farm through the seasons of an entire year. He later photographed at two other farms, one in the southern part of the town, owned by Tim and Dot Leach, and one to the west, owned by Chester and Lenora Clark and rented by the Lewis family. During 1977 and 1978 the chronicles expanded to include the daily life of a coon-hunter and trapper, Floyd Troumbley, and an older couple, Lonnie and Etta Loveland moving toward the end of their lives.
This was an extremely prolific ten years and a time of growth and refinement in Neil's thinking about the medium and its history and about his intentions as a documentary photographer. It was also when Neil began to invite his subjects to participate actively in image gathering. For instance, Howard and Freda Rogers would call from the farm if a calf was being born, and they would point out a landscape, significant event or object that Neil's ignorance of farming might cause him to overlook. Subjects began to tell him if a group of photographs captured a process clearly. It was also during this period that Susanne Rappaport began interviewing Neil's subjects, giving voices and tales to the photographs, strengthening and broadening their meaning.
The Pawlet Visual Census and Oral History Project (1980-1990) [top]
By 1980 Neil and Susanne Rappaport had developed the concepts for what they would call The Pawlet Visual Census and Oral History Project. The idea for the project grew out of Neil's desire to broaden his visual record beyond landscape studies and documentary narratives of a vanishing way of life. He wanted to achieve a portrait of the whole town. Life in Pawlet at that time revolved around the fewer and fewer remaining dairy farms and a growing influx of newcomers whose numbers had increased considerably in twenty years. The goal was to photograph everyone who was willing, seen in as many groupings that make up a community as possible, to create a precise image of the community as it entered the decade of the eighties, an image of great value for the generations to come.
Each of the approximately seven hundred portraits coming from this project over ten years is a collaborative endeavor. The participants made the choices about how to be seen, what to include in the picture, and where it should be taken. Neil acted as a guide toward the final moment when all the pieces came together. With his camera he focused the eye of the future, creating a "time capsule" for the resident of the twenty-first century to ponder. The images are individual messages of great variety, but when viewed collectively validate a shared identity and sign of continuance.
The oral history work Susanne Rappaport had begun during the1970s became even more central to the visual census. She was particularly drawn to the elderly because their voices and knowledge were disappearing quickly. But the conversations with younger people in the community at that time represent the constant change, the new ideas and perspectives that come with each generation. The interview was designed to elicit facts, memories and observations about the town and its future. Throughout this database with some records you will find "the voices" of Neil's subjects and transcripts from those recorded interviews.
Database for Pawlet Community Study [top]
The building blocks for The Pawlet Community Study are seven hundred and twenty-eight individual records, each with a photograph and several fields that provide the viewer with information about the image.
Some records include a series of photographs and/or audio clips from interviews. And some records include a complete transcription from an interview.
The records can be viewed individually or in various combinations based on the results of searching record fields, providing a way to investigate and think about a small town in Vermont over one hundred years.
Photographic Album for Pawlet Community Study [top]
This Photographic Album includes all the images in the database (728) except those that appear in the photographic "series." The photographs are displayed a screen at a time as thumbnails. Following the portraits are several landscape images taken around the town a few of which were hand colored by Susanne Rappaport. There are also photographs of the villages of Pawlet and West Pawlet and "snapshots" of people involved in various community activities. Neil Rappaport photographed the land and villages of Pawlet and West Pawlet constantly, throughout the seasons and over many years. He was creating a visual context for his narrative studies of work and social environments and for his portraits; he was endlessly curious about the connections between the land and the people. Click Here to go to Album.