Reading E. Annie Proulx’s story the other day with Richard Renaldi’s photograph as an illustration got me thinking about words and pictures, and how the two collide. I was thinking of doing a “what’s burning a hole in my bookcase” post anyway, so when I pulled Andrea Modica’s Treadwell off the top shelf yesterday, it felt like kismet; E. Annie Proulx wrote the introductory essay.
I’ve often wanted to post about Treadwell, which is one of my favorite photo essays ever, but the images available online are all pretty small and of poor quality. So we fired up the PhotoShelter scanner, and voila!
Just for some background: Andrea Modica made these images in upstate New York between 1986 and 1995, focusing on one young girl and her extended family. Modica received support from the project from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation and the New York Foundation for the Arts.
All of the following text is excerpted from E. Annie Proulx’s Essay:
There is a Treadwell, population 200, in rural New York south of the Susquehanna, south of interstate 88, and it is the place where, ten years ago, Andrea Modica took the first and now famous photograph in this study, two children caught in the hands of adults; we look and wonder, are they sheltered or imprisoned, resigned or straining against the hold, is the clasp tender, is the bathrobed child prevented from hearing something dreadful, is the other seeing something that can never be forgotten? The slant of white buttons, the tiny downward glint of a ring introduces us to the richly fleshed and beautiful child who is the central figure in Treadwell, moving from this moment out of childhood toward the shoals of adult life.
For a decade Modica followed her subjects from one decayed farmhouse to another, photographing in an atmosphere of crowded rooms and generations of bad luck. The photographs are not some chronicle of despair, but caught moments in lives ruled by hard situations; there are possibilities of anything.
There is a sculptural, heroic quality in many of these photographs. They feel large. They possess a tactile physicality. Often the images of children are like fantastic statues in some wild garden.
Modica has a strong eye for the human condition. We are able to
catch telling pieces of lives in a single photograph, glimpse private intimacies, animal pleasure, the comfort of skin. She sees, and shows us how to see, a kind of beauty in mean lives, the beauty of affection and gesture, of imaginative play, even with such a macabre object as a decaying fawn head– relic of deer, of hunt, of deed.