Behind the scenes with the photographer
Surveying in Early America: The Point of Beginning, An Illustrated History is a modern look back at the art and science of measuring and mapping our nation. The use of Esri StoryMaps allows us to display for the reader the locations we used where the colonial surveyors worked as they proceeded west across the wilderness and into the Ohio Country. It is here that we artistically and accurately made the photographs and wrote the narrative illuminating that history. The authors used the re-created images as primary source material, in the same way, historians use written accounts of the past to help create historical interpretations.
By working with dedicated living historians who adhere to the smallest details of their craft, we were able to represent the work of the surveyors and lifestyles of surveyors in the 1700s. There are still large parts of Ohio that are wilderness. These locations were chosen, many of which are the same as the original surveyed lands, to represent as close as possible the experiences and the environment in which this work happened. Jerusalem, Ohio is a few miles from the Ohio River and the state border, which locates these photos in the original region called The Seven Ranges. This area became the first survey of Ohio commissioned by the newly formed United States Federal Government, with the Land Ordinance of 1785.
As my co-author Clint and I thought about how to present the story, we knew the photography would be a big part of the reader’s understanding of the time and the process. Our roles as authors, researchers, and my additional role as photographer are intimately connected to each other to tell one cohesive story. My efforts as photographer go way beyond the technical skills. Instead together with the text, the photos create the story told in Surveying in Early America. As we began arranging to meet our experts; the subjects of our photos who are also reenactors, we realized that we would be able to shoot the photographs for the book on the same ground that the pioneer surveyors did their work nearly 250 years ago. This injected additional excitement as the photography could bring the colonial processes alive.
Elizabeth Scarpelli, our editor, and press director at the University of Cincinnati Press agreed that the book should be produced in landscape format with an oversized trim, 10 x 8 inches. We had talked about this as I wanted to shoot the photographs with an equally broad perspective to take advantage of the Ohio wilderness, which to me, has a widescreen cinematic quality.
In each scenario, I began the shoot with extremely wide-angle lenses. The men in full colonial and Revolutionary War clothing, stand out against the brilliant green background the wilderness provides. The tools are sharp, straight lines against an environment of natural shapes softened by time and erosion and colors of the leaves and trees.
Working from wide-angle to longer lenses gives me the ability to come very close to the actions of the experts without intruding on their space. Sometimes I’m looking to capture the scene, other times the texture of the paper, being inscribed by the pencil lead. These juxtapositions allow me as a photographer to invite the reader into the scene and imagine what it was like to be there in the 1700's. I use the human texture of a man’s hand seen in many of the close-up images as a generic vehicle for the reader to insert him or herself.
Here, the colors of the uniforms create a tremendous contrast of colors against the natural settings, making the job of the photographer just that much more enjoyable. The settings and the actions of the expert reenactors come into a sharp focus. The procedures of the crews and the methodical way they are carried out required a very detailed briefing before any photos were made. The challenging terrain, which added to the widescreen images, provided a majestic background for the blue uniform coats with red trim and cream-colored trousers. The natural backgrounds set the scene.
All of the photos were made in the summer of 2019, in Ohio. We had a pretty hot summer that year, and the reenactors were dressed in wool. They soldiered on and became the men of the late 1700s. From my perspective and the realities of the Ohio woodlands, I wore jeans, socks, and sturdy shoes, and a long sleeve shirt. While hot, I was protected from the poison ivy that proved to be wise as I was not afflicted. However, the heat and humidity, combined with the heavy camera equipment, and the protective clothing led to sweat-soaked, strenuous days, I imagine not unlike the days the original surveyors encountered.
Here, you will find interactive maps and gallery photos of each of the locations used to recreate the scenes in the Surveying in Early America. Clicking on the red pin on the map will take the reader to the location. Feel free to zoom in and out and move the map. Clicking out of the map, it will reset it to its original point.