Enter these enchanted woods and fields, you who dare. -Anonymous
In the early spring of 1980 I packed up my bags and all my cameras, and with my wife and young son in tow we left for Wales in the United Kingdom.
Somehow I had found a small farm in mid-Wales to live on for two months for very little money. But, before we get to Wales I must backup to the early 1970′s.
It was my way to photograph two to three months a year and the rest would be spent processing, printing, thinking, teaching, gardening and all other means to nurture this person who is me. All of this became entwined with a wanderlust and need of adventure. And with all these feelings and thoughts, I came up with the idea to beg, borrow and plead with people who had houses in far away places, to allow me to stay there during the off seasons in exchange for work I would produce there. This worked on many occasions, usually every other year. This system worked well for me, a penniless, young photographer who loved to get away to places where the hand of man was apparent. I was not interested in the wilderness or in the Grand Tetons of this earth, but rather a more civilized location that had history and patina. For these reasons I was generally drawn to Europe or the Middle East.
So upon landing in London, and after driving eight hours, we arrived at a small sheep farm, sheltered in the hills of mid-Wales. It was scene right out of “How Green Was My Valley.” Other than a few gasoline tractors, nothing had changed since the 19th Century. It felt perfect. Completely removed from my life in Connecticut and the modern world that both appealed and repelled me. Life’s regulator was not the alarm clock, but rather the call of the sheep.
It was lambing season and my young son was adopted by Colin, the families’ twenty-year-old son, who looked right out of central casting with his Harris Tweed jacket, plaid newsboy cap, and green wellies.
Quickly word spread to all the other farmers that an American photographer was taking pictures, and at first they were all reluctant to let me in or to have their pictures taken. But, by the end of my stay I was being beseeched not to leave before I took their picture. Somehow mistrust had grown to trust.
On most days we would get into our tiny rental car and off we would go looking for adventures and pictures. My son had school homework to attend to with my wife as his instructor. We would drive around until I would find a spot that appealed to me. Sometimes it was a farm or a landscape, but whatever it was I would usually get out of the car and proceeded alone to find the next great picture. My wife and son would stay in the car working on his homework. As I was shooting with a large format camera, I couldn’t venture too far from the car, but I would venture through fields and streams looking and more looking.
One afternoon, I saw something (and quite honestly I can’t remember what as I never got the picture) way across a farmer’s field. The farmers always warned me to stay out of their fields because there were bulls in the adjoining fields. I, in my inevitable New York manner, felt I could somehow avoid trouble. I had gotten used to checking the fields to make sure there were no bulls. I also would always check all the gates to make sure they were closed, but obviously on this occasion my eyes betrayed me.
So of I went with my camera, tripod, and film on my back to the other side of the field, where I set up my camera and slowly lost myself under the black cloth to a world that is seen upside down, which ironically begins to feel appropriate after some time. It’s all a very meditative experience. It’s a process that slows me down and allows me to focus clearly on my surroundings and begin to feel a sense of oneness with the world I see in front of my camera.
Just as I was finding the right spot and feeling completely isolated and at peace, I heard a large grunt, which immediately woke me from my reverie.
I poked my head out from under the cloth and there twenty feet from me is an enormous bull with huge horns, grunting and stamping his feet at me. Just the week before I had heard at a local market that a farmer had been seriously gored by a bull. They weren’t sure whether he would recover. With this knowledge and my natural innate fear I grabbed my camera, which was on top of the tripod and swung it toward the bull. He seemed startled for a second and at that moment I started to run across the field with my camera and tripod. Stopping every few seconds to swing it around while the bull began to speed up and come closer to attacking me. He definitely seemed very angry. I on the other hand seemed very scared. All this time I was screaming for my wife and son (although I have no idea what they could have done) to wake up and help. They were in the car with the windows closed working intently on homework, oblivious to the charade that was going on outside.
I was running, the bull was running and finally I was just able to get to the fence and jump over it. Just at that moment the bull right on my heels, smashed into the fence, which finally startled my son and wife enough to look up.
I was completely a wreck, my camera was somehow still intact and the bull never seemed more content. Now that I was gone, he was ready to be my best friend. He left and my wife and son had no idea why I was sweating and shaking.
I had ventured in dangerous territory, which is typical of me. All someone has to say is that something is forbidden or inappropriate or unnecessary and I will be the first to be wandering in places I shouldn’t be. The cardinal rule of photography, as I am sure most of you know, is it is easier to ask for forgiveness than for permission. Luckily this day I was still in enough pieces to be able to mouth the words of thanks be to God for letting me live.