The Brimfield Portrait Project

A ongoing personal film photography personal project | Brimfield Antique Show

You know they say then when an inspirational idea comes to you that you should listen to that little voice rather than ignore it. So I wish I could actually recall when I first got the idea to do this series of photos. I want to say I was driving or maybe staring off into the distance when it dawned on me. Either way it certainly was not the product of any deep thought or self-reflection, as it just sort of ‘came to me’.

I’ve been going to the Brimfield Antique Show now for probably close to 18 years (!!) and have don’t a lot of shopping ‘damage’ there over the years. If you haven’t been, it’s the Northeast’s largest antique show that happens in Massachusetts three times a year. Whenever I try and explain what it’s like going to it to friends, it usually goes something like, “Well, it’s a lot of walking in the direct sun and gets really hot and dusty, and I always get sunburned and it’s exhausting. But I love it!” Not the best sales pitch by any means but it really kind of suns it up for me.

 Part of what makes Brimfield so interesting are the sellers themselves. Think ‘Antiques Roadshow’ or ‘American Pickers’ multiplied by100 along a mile long road in hundreds and hundreds of tents. It is a very special breed of person who does this year in and year out in often less then terrific weather circumstances, with heat, cold, wind and rain. Many of these vendors drive all the way from down south or way up in Maine to sell their wares, many of who sleep in their campers or trucks right behind their tents. It’s an amazingly passionate group of people, and what they do show after show is something I do not think I could ever quite handle.

 Now and then when you start talking with them, you’ll get snippets of stories about where they’re from or more often, the history of an item you may have shown interest in. Some just want the sale, while others can’t WAIT to tell you the history of their items. So I got to thinking that with so many colorful characters from all over the USA, how great might it be to get to know some of them a little better and do a series of formal portraits? I had brought my camera in the past for snapshots of this and that, but I wanted this to be a much more conscious and deliberate series of photographs. I chose to bring my Hassleblad film camera, since I feel like – for whatever reason – it looks more ‘serious’ than a standard DLSR and commands a bit more respect. You’re not just popping in for a ‘quick snapshot’ with this camera on a tripod. And since these folks really appreciate the Old School approach to things, I thought having an older film camera would open the door to conversations. (which it did!)

So what I have here were some images I was able to capture in one day, walking and talking for about 6 hours. It was a tough start, as I suddenly got very nervous and felt extremely self-conscious. But once I got rolling, many people were quite open to it, as only three people nicely decline to be photographed (the old ‘Ohhh- you don’t want a picture of ME!’ thing) As the day came to a close, I realized an error I made was not recoding the stories these people were openly sharing with me. Some small factoids, others complete histories. The tale of a woman (the first image below) who did this for over 40 years and whose husbands (who passed 2 years ago) ashes are buried under the tree behind their old tent, was my first clue that these stories needed to be gathered and saved. I know now that that element will be a big part of what will make this work in the long run. My hope is to try and do this at least one day during each of the 3 shows each year, so this will go on with any luck, for quite some time.

So here are a handful from ‘Day One’ (day 2 was rained out, sadly) I hope you enjoy and hope you will come back and share the journey with me.

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4 Comments

  1. Lauren O'Brien on June 10, 2014 at 9:59 pm

    Can’t wait to see more!

  2. Desiree Towery on June 11, 2014 at 12:48 am

    Dear Robert What a wonderful Project. I Love your photo’s. Now I remember you writing you where going to Brimfield , Mass. to find things. It must be a wonderful place. It reminds me of the Wagon Wheel Flea Market in Saint Petersburg Fl. in the mid 1970’s. My sweet friend Mrs. Dunlop would sell antiques at booth . She ways wanted some one to do a story about the people of the Wagon Wheel. I would go and help her set up and pack up on the week ends. It was hot dusty, and dirty. But we loved the place
    Thank You Robert for doing this wonderful Project. I picture Brimfield very differently. Your Truly Desi

  3. […] I have been in a little bit of a ‘film mode’ once again after my Brimfield Portrait Film Project, where I took my old Hasselblad 500CM camera ‘out of mothballs’ and got what I thought […]

  4. Debbi Baird on June 24, 2014 at 7:55 am

    Hi!

    Great photos!! Used to do 35mm photography so I can relate! Love that they’re in black & white!

    Come visit us at Shelton’s field … smaller field … lots of great dealers! This is only our 2nd year doing it, but we fit right in! 🙂

    See what we will have with us on our facebook page … we’ll be posting over the next couple of days.
    https://www.facebook.com/DebVonVentures

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