The Berkshire Project was offered to John Dolan in the form of a yearlong grant from the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation in honor of its 20th anniversary. An award-winning photographer, Dolan was chosen to document the region’s scenic beauty and local character because his images are prized for their ability to convey the vital spirit of the people and places he photographs.
Interestingly, this is Dolan’s first series, and he admits that while the grant was a dream come true, it was also torturous. “I could feel the sand of time slipping away as I hunted for the right images,” he explains. “My goal was quite simple: To record life as it actually was in the year 2007. To accomplish this, I was forced to consider our collective expectation of what images of the bucolic New England rural life look like. These photographs show what happened when I stopped and looked at what was right before my eyes.”
Dolan’s influences for the Berkshire’s Project include the ironic colorist William Eggleston, and the 19th century romantic Peter Henry Emerson. A graduate of Beloit College, Dolan is known for his commercial and editorial work and for his photographs of celebrity weddings. Additionally, he is a resident of Chatham in the New York portion of the Berkshires.
The fifteen, 24×30-inch color prints capture the essence of the region with its lush summer fields, stark winter forests, lazy valley paths and winding mountain roads. The images radiate both the peaceful serenity of country living and its rugged appeal. “My pictures have always been about hopefulness,” says Dolan.
The invitation features the photograph, “Slope.” Though shot in color, the work appears black and white. The picture’s still, frozen environment is animated by the composition, which sends your eyes rolling off the mountain’s sloped back and into the foreground of brittle, white trees that surround a marshy valley.
In contrast, “Corn Husks” features a point blank shot of a ripe, green corn-field framed by a distant pine grove. The bountiful leaves and promise of sweet corn evoke the delights of summer. In “Fanning the Fire, 2007,” we see one of the few portraits in the series. Centered in the frame, an elderly, bare-chested man defiantly wields his rusty wheelbarrow. Beside him, a heap of logs burns with the help of an electric fan. Though slightly surreal, the photo also conveys a true picture of the independent nature of those who farm the Berkshires.
The exhibition of the Berkshire photographs couldn’t come at a better time, because they reflect the enduring values and simple pleasures that bring joy to life, even in the hardest of times.