1. of, relating to, or composed of shepherds or herdsmen, a pastoral people, semi-nomadic in their habits
2. devoted to or based on livestock raising a pastoral economy
3. of or relating to the countryside: not urban // a pastoral setting
4. portraying or expressive of the life of country people, especially in an idealized and conventionalized manner // pastoral poetry, a pastoral symphony
—from Merriam Webster online dictionary
Long Island Pastoral
My first conscious, visual memories are of Long Island. I moved there from Queens with my family before I had turned four. My father bought our very modest one-story house on the GI Bill. It sat on a street with identical houses lived in by other working-class families. I recall a blur of recently seeded lots (still without grass) marked off by wooden stakes connected by string. Saplings ran along the street, and there was a small playground on the corner where I would learn to play basketball and ring-a-levio. I remember that we bought our milk and eggs at a local dairy farm that was named for the Matinicock tribe, who had lived in the region thousands of years before the Dutch first landed there.
When I was young, I would wander, sometimes with my brother or friends, the still-empty and undeveloped land that lay behind our block of houses. The cleared acreage had not yet been developed and we’d walk through these empty landscapes as if we were crossing a prairie or desert—finding old toys, garbage, rocks, etc. along the way. I realize only now that these kinds of sites would influence a good deal of my eventual work in photography. The place that I left in a hurry because I thought it lacked any sense of culture, hipness—even beauty—is now revealing to me, almost forty years later, what I didn’t know how to look for when I was growing up.
I first left Long Island like a bullet leaves a gun. First, for college upstate and then to the city shortly after I left school in 1976. I returned occasionally throughout the seventies and early eighties but never stayed more than a day or two. After decades away, I returned in 2019 for a short visit to see if I could make photographs that would reveal more about this seminal place in my history. In 2021, I returned again and spent a longer amount of time. I plan to return one more time, so this is still a work in progress.
Evidence of anything pastoral now is mostly non-existent. I don’t use the word ironically, however, but rather to evoke the history of what was, during and before we moved to Long Island. In my old neighborhood, for instance, an awkward second story now perches atop the formerly modest ranch house right next door to our house. This clumsy juxtaposition seems like a metaphor for this place today: right underneath its modestly ambitious surface is the unpretentious place I once lived.