The Photography of Howard French
Essay: Echo Valley Back

Thematically, as all who view this gallery will quickly understand, it is a big departure for me, consisting of quiet, pastoral landscapes instead of my more customary subject: people and portraits. Echo Valley is very special for other reasons, though. The places from which these landscapes are drawn constitute my homeland in the truest sense of the word.

Every image featured here is taken within a five mile radius of the Virginia farmland where my ancestors lived and worked as American slaves -- the property of James Barbour, friend of Thomas Jefferson, governor of Virginia between 1811 and 1814, United States Senator and Secretary of War. My family still resides on remnants of that Barbour Estate; our modest but beautiful patch long ago renamed Brownland.

Throughout my life, I have thrilled to life in some of the world's greatest cities: Washington, where I was born; Abidjan, in Ivory Coast, West Africa's second largest city; New York City, where I now live for the second time; Honolulu, the largest Pacific island city; and Tokyo and Shanghai, two of the largest cities in the world. I've been at home in each of these places, but the region featured in these pictures has been and will always be a spiritual anchor: the land of cows and horses and rolling hills, two-lane roads and forested piedmont where my forbears are buried and where I bring my bones to rest and my soul to recharge.

Although I have always reveled in this simple, soothing countryside, and have casually photographed here for years, this project took shape largely because of an accident: the discovery of a working farm on a stand of land down a little road with a corny name, whose discovery three years ago took my breath away. Eagerly, I began returning to it every year, walking its hills and breathing it all in with camera in hand, discovering some new secret of its beauty with each visit.

In a part of the country where gun ownership runs high, and distrust of strangers runs deep, the owner, who will remain anonymous, has been good enough to let me trespass at will, and for that I am deeply grateful. He makes his livelihood from this land with his family with minimal resort to modern machinery and to the cash economy. This album is a work in progress, and my hope is that visitors will find that it both grows and improves with time.

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Copyright 2011 Howard W. French