Sisters

Portraits of Emma and Beth Gilpin

I have loved children since my baby brother Max was born. I was two years old and even though I was small I managed to hold him. I fondly remember sharing my grape juice pop with him, giving him a bottle, and reading him books. 

I started babysitting when I was eight years old and I have continued to supplement my income with babysitting ever since. It has been a joy to watch children grow from infants into incredibly talented adults.

I was welcomed into the Gilpin’s home last August and have enjoyed watching the accelerated development of these two creative, inquisitive, inventive, funny, and agile children.  It has been a delight to experience the development and enter the world of these two special little girls, Emma and Beth. Baby Beth can both go up and down the stairs holding her many blankies. She can isolate her finger to “play the piano.”  Emma is able to make couch cushion fort/planes that typically take us “two hours to Nana’s house.” She enjoys “reading” and inventing her own stories. These photographs highlight a special bond that these two sisters have as well as documenting their developmental milestones.

 

Visions and Vistas

After scuba diving for the first time, I experienced a new world under the ocean, and this changed my perception of other vistas.  Seeing the mountains of the Mojave Desert from an airplane after my scuba experience, I envisioned them under water.  The colors of the mountains reminded me of the coral reefs and the sandy bottom of the ocean; the blue sky above the desert reminded me of the clear warm water. One of the images has what appears to be a small mound of earth in the middle of a clearing.  This mountain reminded me of stingrays burying themselves beneath the sand.  I repeatedly saw these formations in Palm Springs and San Diego.

Both seaweed photographs describe the negative space that defines the positive space (mountains).  The ocean breathed in and out, leaving behind clusters of thick slimy seaweed that reminded me of the striations I saw when looking down at the desert from thousands of feet in the air.  Further along the beach, I stumbled upon a stretch of dried out seaweed.  It had an undulating pattern that reminded me of the paths around the mountains.  The seaweed photographs play with the scale of the collection as a whole. Curvatures of land, shadows, and colors now have new associations.

 

Ten Again

In 2011 I photographed Ricky Aldrich, an older man with a childlike spirit. The following year I photographed Sadie B. at ten, a child I have known since she was an infant, and observed to have an ‘old spirit’.

Sadie is a home-schooled student, a baker, an artist, and a gymnast. She is the youngest of four children and the only girl. I met Sadie while babysitting at the Woodstock Jewish Congregation. In the first photograph that I took of her, she is sitting on top of a stack of wooden chairs in the childcare room reading a book to herself. I was impressed that a two-year-old would have the daring and skill to climb to the top of a stack of chairs while maintaining the forethought to bring a book to look at. Unlike other children I watched, Sadie was very quiet and interested in entertaining herself, qualities that I had when I was a child.

With ten years behind her, Sadie continues to be energetic and sprightly, reflective and thoughtful. As playful and spontaneous as Sadie is, she often surprises me with the depth of her wisdom. One day we were riding in the backseat of her mom’s car and she said, “You know, sometimes I like to listen more than I like to talk.”

Sadie lives in a big house right on the Hudson River. When you look out from the living room, you can easily imagine that you are on a boat.   Perhaps the home-schooling experience has encouraged comfort with being alone and a tendency towards introspection.   The discipline required for practicing gymnastics carries over into Sadie’s every day movements, as in the photograph of her seemingly choreographed movements opening the sliding glass door. Sadie moves with deliberate precision; she’s very comfortable in her body.

Here we see Sadie at home doing schoolwork, making blanket forts, baking, cooking, and practicing piano, activities we can all relate to when we reflect back on what it was like to be ten.

I decided to do an entire project focusing on Sadie because ten is an age where one can be both an innocent child and at the threshold of adulthood; still in touch with the delight of play, yet beginning to take on the stresses of homework and other responsibilities. This can be a bittersweet time, as childhood treasures and pastimes are replaced by more adult cares and concerns.  Soon, Sadie will be enrolled into a large school, and she stands at the brink of her teenage years. Photographs taken in a year or two’s time may show a very different girl.

These photographs act as a doorway into my own memories. In chronicling Sadie’s various activities, I was reminded of my own inventions and adventures at that special time – she studies gymnastics, I studied ballet, she paints and, at that age, I began taking photographs. Sadie and this project gave me a chance to be ten again.

 

Between A Peasant and A Patroon

You wouldn’t think the man in dirty work clothes is a descendent of Peter Stuyvesant and John Jacob Astor.  Richard Aldrich (Ricky) is a graduate of Harvard and the Johns Hopkins School of International Relations and speaks five languages.  He is the eldest of three children who inherited Rokeby Estate in Dutchess County, N.Y. when he was in his twenties.  As a tenth generation descendent of the Livingstons and the Astors, Ricky represents one of the last original family owners of a Hudson River estate.  

In order to photograph Ricky I had to follow him around as he attended to his numerous chores, sometimes riding on the back of his tractor.  We went on numerous trips to the hardware store, visited all of his tenants, squeezed under a crawl space, and even stopped in the middle of nowhere to leave a note inquiring about a hay miser.  This collection captures Ricky’s daily activities; his relationship with his land; his fascination with machines; and his willingness to get his hands— as well as the rest of his body— dirty.  The artist/subject relationship evolved into an artist/apprentice relationship as I passed him a wrench or helped push his ice boat.   

Ricky introduced me to some of his favorite things: gas, oil, ether, and WD-40.  He explained that WD-40 means water density and forty indicates that they perfected the formula after the fortieth try.  

The first photograph I took of Ricky was the summer before my senior year of college.  I was driving down on the narrow dirt road that leads to Rokeby Estate when I was stopped by Ricky’s battered old car that was parked in the middle of the road.  Ricky was sitting in the trunk of his car holding court with several people around him.  This illustrates Ricky as a cultural paradox.  I did not have my camera that day—so I used my iPhone to capture the moment.  I never left the house without my camera again.

 

A writer once said that “Ricky would give you the shirt off his back, but who would want it?”  You might not want his dirty shirt, but you would welcome his company, as I did over the year that we worked together.

This collection of photographs focuses on Ricky, a loving, caring, humble, generous and hardworking man with boundless curiosity and enthusiasm for life!


Ricky Aldrich and Rubi Rose                                                                                   Photograph by Andy Wainwright

Historical Background

Nestled in the Hudson Valley on the east side of the river is a 196-year-old land grant estate, La Bergerie given to the Livingston family by King James II of England in 1688.  William B. Astor and Margaret Livingston Armstrong gave it as a wedding gift to their daughter Laura from her parents.  Several generations later the name was changed to Rokeby after a poem by Sir Walter Scott.  Rokeby consists of a large mansion, ten smaller houses and 460 acres of land off of the Hudson River. 

Richard Aldrich is the eldest of three children who inherited the estate when he was in his twenties. He is the tenth generation descendent of the Livingston and Astor families.  Rokeby is one of the last Hudson River estates still owned by the original family.  Ricky is a graduate of Harvard and the Johns Hopkins School of International Relations, speaks five languages.  His ancestors include Peter Stuyvesant and John Jacob Astor.

After he graduated from college he traveled around Eastern Europe.  He met his wife Ania in Poland.  Ricky returned to Rokeby in 1970.

Today, Ricky spends his time maintaining the structures, infrastructure and fields of Rokeby.  Most of all, he loves driving his tractor because it gives him time to think.  Ricky is social, but cherishes his solitude.  He gets up early to go on his daily rounds, visiting his tenants and then goes into town where he is bound to run into his friends.  He is welcomed wherever he goes, ready to discuss local and world events, politics, history, science, the workings of a backhoe or cherry picker.  Of his prestigious lineage he quips, “Jake [John Jacob Astor] did the right thing (he went down with the Titanic).”  His scope of knowledge is vast; he is a walking encyclopedia.  He has a droll sense of humor, often punctuating with an impish grin.

Even though he technically owns the land, the land owns him.  Ricky is a huge list maker.  He types his lists on his vintage typewriter in the kitchen of the “big house” (mansion).  He does not shy away from heavy work.  Even today at seventy, he is out cutting up large trees with his chain-saw, transporting them long distances with his tractor, and using his favorite new toy—a saw mill that transforms the trees into boards that will be used for the new floor in the old barn.  

A writer once said that “Ricky would give you the shirt off his back, but who would want it?”  You might not want his dirty shirt, but you would welcome him anytime he happened to show up.