Tuesday, April 25, 2006


"The light of God surrounds me. The love of God enfolds me. The power of God protects me. Where I am God is. That's my prayer."

-Violet Hobaugh

A disquieting brush with photojournalism leaves me still bristling....

A few weeks ago I recall reading a post on Utata questioning photos' inability to tell the entirety of a story in a single image. I have never felt this so acutely as I did this last Sunday. (Brace yourselves, I am about to beat the dead horse).

Unlike anything I have ever photographed, the subject of my last post struck something in me which continues to vibrate with this strange, unknown, frantic urgency. I must know.

I had a long chat with my Brother in Academia because he was particularly struck by the images as well, and he related his readings on Freud's studies of psychosis... we delved into things far beyond my ken, which bars me re-explaining them here. What I can get my head around is this:

I entered this sphere, belonging, now completely, to another person's insanity. In ten or fifteen minutes, I sat in a car snapping away, trying to make a whole out of a thousand unrelated pieces. I look at the photos, words are cut off, repeated elsewhere, spelled differently, paired randomly. Completely disjointed and out of context from each other. While I was there, I knew none of the backstory, and yet I continued to try to catalogue and make sense of the fragments I was seeing. I still am. There will always be this huge hole in the story where her brain started filling in the blanks.

bearing © Laura Kicey

The most unsettling thing was that which spoke to me directly as a photographer. In amongst the lists of words that had lost their meaning, which appeared to start off as accusations, there were the words take pictures. In the tangle of Violet Hobaugh's mind, was 'take pictures' something her 'attackers' were guilty of along side the vandalism (which she herself committed on her own property), poisoning, arson, mail fraud, robbery and rot spraying? Or was it a request to take the evidence of her situation and make it real by showing it to other people.

the windman
the windman © Laura Kicey

I went through the Patriot News archives and bought some articles on her from '93 and '04, during which she was fighting the PA Department of Transportation over a tree on her property... which she took residence in for a number of years. I gleaned as much as I could of the time recorded before she went off her medication and her schizophrenia consumed her, and all she felt she had left to protect her were words. I still want to transcribe the walls, it feels like her answer is in there somewhere. She may be dead inside for all I know.

Most of all, I remember sitting in the car, looking at these walls covered with words, having this completely out of character urge to go up and knock on the door and speak to the person inside and hear their story. I haven't been able to shake the intensity of my feelings about the visit even now, days later. Return? Forget? There is no logic to either, looking harder will not change that.


I am long overdue a posting here, so much has happened in the past couple weeks I haven't had time to fully process any of it. During this last weekend of uncharacteristic freedom The D and I went for a drive on the rural roads of Palymra, PA, and stumbled upon the remains of a story written on a house.

conviction © Laura Kicey

We whizzed past the above building- part of a cluster of at least four: a main house, a large shed, a garage and a tree house. All of these were covered with signs with handpainted words: VANDALISM ARSON ROBBERY MAIL FRAUD ROT SPRAYING POISON TREE ROT BUILDING COLLAPSE NO TRESPASSING TAKE PICTURES.
Dates, the names of people and police officers, threats, accusations, money rewards, history, purported events, offers, items for sale, and in large red letters on the back side of the green house PREMEDITATED MURDER next to GAS SPRAY.

So I happened to know someone from the area and this is what she told me about the house:

"Violet Hobaugh (who is now 90 years old) was a welder with, I believe, the Bethlehem Steel company. She gained her "fame" by taking on PennDot (that's the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation) because they wanted to remove a certain tree in order to expand and improve a very dangerous curve in Gravel Hill road.

While technically on her property, the tree was officially well within the State's Right of Way. She fought it because, she maintained, the tree protected her house from cars that veered off the road.

She built a tree house in it and lived there for over a year. They couldn't cut it while someone was living in it, and they couldn't forcibly remove her from it.

Her story was picked up and broadcast nationwide. Poor old lady in the tree.

The tree and the tree house are still there although she lives in her house. She has had no heat for the past 18 years and spends the winter bundled up with old newspaper bags over her shoes.

(info from various internet sources and Harrisburg Patriot News, 26 March, 2004. There was a full front page article with picture on that day)

She is a local hermit (ess?) who is off her meds. Probably schizophrenic, from the articles about her. The man named Sam Hoover [who she wrote notes to on the house in various spots] and his family used to try to take care of her, bringing her plates of food and helping her shovel snow or rake leaves.

Her mental illness got worse and worse until she began making accusations against the people who were trying to care for her. She calls Sam The Windman because she thinks he releases some kind of chemicals or germs into the wind and it is poisoning her.


I hope you used a telephoto, Lady Neue. I hear she's packin'."

sentence © Laura Kicey

We pulled into the driveway on Gravel Hill Road, just off Route 22 (as it is actually a very dangerous spot on the road), not knowing any of the story, and took some photos of the nearest buildings, the shed and the garage. I made a set of the photos here.

Monday, April 03, 2006

turning point

PCPI invite front

I have a piece in this show, as does the stunning Ms. Chatty Cathy so I will be at both the private artist's reception and the public First Friday opening. It will likely be crazy packed (springtime, friday night, Old City, dumb drunken mayhem), but I hope to see you there if you are free and in the area.

Friday, April 7 @ Nexus
137 N. 2nd Street, Philadelphia
Opening reception 5-9
I won't get there until there after 6....workwork

PCPI invite info

Word out on the street is some of the photos are getting published in a luscious spread in the City Paper. I have some notes from the weekend.... a post for another time.