Ripple effects: Subject, student and teacher remember a moment in time

Lady in the lake, Putney, Vermont, 1974
Lady in the lake, Putney, Vermont, 1974
Susan Auslander, 2015
Susan Auslander, 2015

“Back in the 70’s I used to model for Harold’s classes. He took a beautiful picture of me which he called Lady in the Lake. It is in his book Harold Feinstein: A Retrospective. Would love to meet you.”

Thus read the email I received a month ago from Susan Auslander who was 20 at the time of this photograph 41 years ago. Intrigued, I contacted her and we had a conversation about her memories. “Harold was always smiling and his energy really touched people, including me. There I was naked in the water at the quarry in Putney with Harold and the students. I started swimming side stroke to keep warm and he asked me to stop and lie back in the water. Then he came in and just started clicking and got this beautiful shot. I will never forget that moment. I loved that the image it made it into his portfolio and was later exhibited repeatedly He gave me a print which I will treasure forever.”

Harold commenting on photos from his Retrospective book with Jason Landry in May, 2012.
Harold commenting on photos from his Retrospective book with Jason Landry in May, 2012.
Harold often said that he remembered every single photograph he took as if it were yesterday. And, by and large it seemed to be true. In June 2012, as he was reviewing the proofs from the book with Jason Landry of Panopticon Gallery, he briefly shared his memory of walking into the water to get this photograph while the students stood on the bank. I recorded his memories on voice memos.

“I was teaching at Windham College and they provided me with a model. I took everyone down to the quarry nearby and she got in the water. Meanwhile all the students were standing about 30 feet back. And I said “Why are you standing back there?” And I went in the water and got right above her and began photographing her. I was practically straddling her.”

Harold with students at Windham College, 1974
Harold with students at Windham College, 1974
At the end of my conversation with Susan, she gave me the name of a student, Elizabeth Brooke, who had been among the students at the quarry that day. I called Elizabeth and we had a great conversation. She shared her memories of that day and of Harold, including the impact that that one experience and photograph had on her own creative journey as a photographer.

Here is a one minute audio clip from that conversation.

(Excerpted from audio): How he went about it was just very unique and opened my eyes up to a different way of seeing… He started playing with the water…He went more in depth. He waded into the water figuratively and creatively. And that changed how everybody thought about it. “Oh gosh, why can’t I go a little bit further here?” That photograph really inspired me to take more in-depth risks with my own photography; really go into what was deep inside of me. It encouraged me to reach a little further into my creative soul — in a joyous way. There was no judgement on his part. Everybody did a great job as far as he was concerned. He was an inspirational teacher. He had this exuberance and this love for creativity and art that spread over all of his students.”

Harold would’ve loved the reconnection with Susan and Elizabeth. He would’ve appreciated their words and found delight in knowing that his calling to teach was well realized in the inspiration he left behind. Not long ago, I emailed this small scrap from Harold’s notebook to another good friend who was also a student of Harold’s. It sums up the joy he got and gave through being a teacher.

From Harold's notebook,  1974
From Harold’s notebook, 1974

4 comments

  1. Seth Glassman

    I was a music major at Windham College at that time, and I remember Harold fondly. While I’ve been successful at making a career out of music, it’s ironic that I’ve also become a passionate photographer. There’s no question that my exposure to Harold’s enthusiasm back then played a part in my fascination with photography all these years later. We exchanged a few emails shortly before he passed away, and his enthusiasm hadn’t diminished in the slightest, nor had his remarkable ability to share that enthusiasm.

    • Judith Thompson

      Thanks Seth. Always wonderful to hear from people who felt the magic of Harold. I’m sure he’s appreciating it all even now!

  2. Musawwir Spiegel

    Some time around the summer of 1974 I visited Harold when he was teaching at Windham College. He took me to the quarry, and I believe that I got in the water, possibly with the girlfriend who accompanied me on that trip. It was a magnificent beautiful place. I don’t know what its situation is now, but I would highly recommend a visit if convenient to you. (From Northern California it is too far a trip for me to go back now.)

    • Judith Thompson

      Thanks Musawwir! I lived in Putney myself in 1980-81, but never knew about the quarry! A good reason to go back for a visit! Sending best wishes to you!

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