The Winter Light at Stagville – a Photo Essay

The Winter Light at Stagville – a Photo Essay

Winter Light at Stagville

The day was clear, the sky a deep midwinter blue. The December solstice just passed and the sun seemed reluctant to heave itself very far above the horizon. Even near midday the shadows were long and deep.

Winter Light at Stagville

We are at Stagville, one of the largest plantations in the pre-Civil War South. Located in Durham County in north-central North Carolina. The holdings included over 900 enslaved people and 30,000 acres of land. Crops ranged from cotton to subsistence farming to tobacco.

Winter Light at Stagville

Winter Light at Stagville

Winter Light at Stagville

An ancient walnut tree casts its tentacle-like shadow over one of the slave quarters at Horton Grove.

Winter Light at Stagville

“Whenever I hear anyone arguing for slavery, I feel a strong impulse to see it tried on him personally.”
___Abraham Lincoln

Winter Light at Stagville-23

Winter Light at Stagville

The day is quiet and still. We are alone with the eerie, long shadows, and our thoughts. Imagining what life was like here a century and a half ago. Is that wood smoke I smell from the cook fires? Am I hearing spirituals in the distance  being softly sung by the women? No, just the shadows of the past and my imagination.

Winter Light at Stagville-16

:The light in winter is most varied; there are days when it’s clear and bright, carving the earth into light and shadow like a razor. Yet, at times, the light can be soft and quiet as a whisper…”
___Peter Fiore

Outbuildings, many falling into disrepair, are being reclaimed by nature. Are those the fingerprints of slaves we see in the chinking between the logs?

Winter Light at Stagville

Winter Light at Stagville

Winter Light at Stagville

A plantation this size requires huge barns to house and feed the mules and store the equipment.

Winter Light at Stagville

Winter Light at Stagville

Winter Light at Stagville

Life was good in the big house.

Winter Light at Stagville

Winter Light at Stagville

Winter Light at Stagville

Though temporary.

Winter Light at Stagville

“I prefer winter and fall, when you feel the bone structure of the landscape – the loneliness of it, the dead feeling of winter. Something waits beneath it, the whole story doesn’t show. “
___Andrew Wyeth

Winter Light at Stagville

Winter Light at Stagville

Winter Light at Stagville

 

Ron Mayhew

Fine Art Photographer specializing in Still Life and Commercial Photography.

This Post Has 17 Comments

  1. Beautiful photos. The choice of b&w brings out the desolation of the building.

    1. Thanks Colline. I thought B&W best told the story. I am happy you enjoyed the post.

  2. What a wonderful photo essay, Ron. The B&W is so effective in bringing out the shadows of the past. What a tale those slave quarters and the big house could tell. The graveyard also has its own story to tell. I enjoyed the quotes you chose, especially the Abraham Lincoln.

    1. I’m sure you are right. There are many stories there that will never be told, but not hard to imagine. “Shadow of the past.” I really like that. Thanks, as always, Sylvia.

  3. These are wonderful Ron – I love the way you’ve used the shadows and B&W to create the eeriness of the scenes. Never seen the Lincoln quote, which is SO perfect!

    1. While Stagville is a special place, it was the day and the shadows that made it all come together photographically. As always, thank you Tina.

  4. Masterful shots. Very well done. 🙂

    1. Thank you so much Bess. The day and the place were special. Thanks for stopping by.

  5. So, so beautiful!! Love the closing shot with that scrap of fabric stuck in the nail.

    1. Thank you Madhu. The fabric on the nail is actually a recently shed snake skin, city girl. 🙂

  6. These are some great shots… I am not sure what it is, although you do allude to it at the beginning of your post, but the mood, environment of this place looks cold, a dead of winter feel and I think perhaps it is the long shadows that bring it out along with the contrast you create with your B&W. Add to this the history of the place and it is an incredible scene to see (and I am sure photograph).

    1. Thank you Randall. The day, strong sunlight, and the setting made for some great shooting. An overcast day and the look would be totally different.

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