Viewfinder: A Dance Hall Comes Full Circle

Jeremy Lange leaves early for his photo assignments so he can drive the back roads and stop to take pictures along the way. Drawn to open space and quiet, he also documented the transformation of his grandfather's Vermont wood-working shop back into a community dance hall. "It would have made my granddad really happy," Lange says.

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Daily Yonder: Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Jeremy Lange: I grew up in Durham, North Carolina, about a mile or two from where I live now.  I lived in North Carolina until I was 19, then moved to Boston for a couple of years, came back to North Carolina, went to Georgia for a little while, came back to North Carolina, moved to Richmond, Virginia, spent three years going to Virginia Commonwealth University where I got a BFA in photo and film, then me and my now wife moved to Oaxaca, Mexico for six months, then from there we moved to New York for about three years, and ended up back here in Durham in 2007.

 

All photos by Jeremy Lange
A square dance in the barn that had been Lange's grandfather's workshop for decades.

 

DY:  Wow, you’ve moved around a lot.  When did you start taking pictures?

JL: One of my parents gave me a camera when I was 12 and I shot a fair amount until I was 15 or so and then sort of stopped for a long time.  After high school I built houses for six or seven years and eventually wanted to do something else. I figured I’d give photography a shot. I started taking pictures during my last year of construction and was using a community center darkroom. Then I got into school and quit my job and moved up there for their photo program. 

 

Swimming in Lake Fairlee in Post Mills, Vermont.

 

DY: Tell us about the work that you do now.

JL: I do a fair amount of editorial work for mostly magazines, and sometimes newspapers.  It’s almost entirely people-based portraits and reportage.  And I try to work on a personal project of some sort at all times.

 

Balloons on the side of the road near West End, North Carolina.

 

DY: Can you give us some examples?

I shot a project in my grandmother’s barn last summer, which used to be my grandfather’s woodshop in East Thetford, Vermont. It’s an old dance hall that they turned into a woodshop and a space for my granddad to work.  Last summer, they turned it back into a dance hall and held the first dance that’s been there 50-something years.

I shoot a lot of photos out in the world.  I like photographing things out in the country and I do a lot of that.  That’s work that I never really put out there anywhere, because I never really have a place to put it.

 

Found along Hwy. 1 in South Carolina.

 

DY: Tell us more about the barn dance.

My grandfather passed away 14 years ago, and he was a graphic designer for Dartmouth University for many, many years but was also one of the best carpenters I’ve ever seen. He had this massive woodshop in this old barn, and he was a total packrat.  When he passed away, it was absolutely stuffed full of stuff.

Once my grandmother was ready to move his things out of the barn, my mother and her sister spent about eight years cleaning it out, selling stuff of, and finding the best home for these old, beautiful tools. Last summer, it was my aunt’s 60th birthday they threw this big barn dance for the first time since the 1960’s. There were a couple hundred people there, and it was a potluck, and we danced until the wee hours. I’m not much of a square dancer, so I took a lot of pictures.

It was pretty incredible.  I spent a lot of time as a child there. Seeing it cleared out was sort of sad because I spent so much time there when it was a woodshop, but it was great seeing so much energy in there again. People were just thrilled.  There were people who had been to dances there in the 40’s who came. The ages probably ranged from six months old to 92. It would have made my granddad really happy.

 

Left: Deer Bones near Jackson Springs, North Carolina. Right: Roadside Cross on U.S. 15-501 South, North Carolina.

 

DY: You mentioned earlier you like taking pictures in the country and in rural places.  Why is that?

JL: I feel really drawn to the space. I grew up in a city, both of my parents are from New York City, so I spent a lot of time in cities growing up, but the time I spent in Vermont visiting my grandparents, wandering around the woods was always something I liked.  Empty spaces, and even the ones that are used like a farm or something have this quiet energy.  It’s not a life I see myself wanting to live, but at the same time I really enjoy being out there for periods of time.  I like the quiet.  I like to walk. I like the way the open space looks, and I like to listen.

 

DY: What is your process like for taking photos?  Does it change depending on your surroundings?

I usually leave way before I need to when I go to shoot an assignment.  I really like driving, especially out in the country, so I can allow myself to get lost a bit or stop the car if I want to.  A lot of photos I take that are just for me are just me driving somewhere and pulling off to the side of the road or taking a detour.  I really like that sense of freedom.  I spent three months driving across the country by myself when I was 22.  It’s almost a cliché at this point, but there’s really nothing like it.  I guess I just like that sense of wandering adventure, and now that I have less time to do that, I’ll just build that into my assignments.  I’ll take the rural route.  I’ve spent enough time on interstates, so I prefer a country highway. 

 

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