Legacy through the Lens

The work of Danville photographer George Cahoon to be celebrated


By Sharon Lakey
Most people who are connected to Danville in one way or another will have run into George Cahoon’s work. His photographs have appeared in Vermont Life, on a variety of local calendars and exhibited at many nearby craft shows. His iconic photo of Danville, shot from Diamond Hill, also graces the cove of Village in the hills, a history of Danville, Vermont. Subjects for him have run the gamut, but he says “for the most part, they are scenic.”
On January 17, an exhibition of his life’s work behind the camera will be held at the Danville Historical House. “The opening of the exhibit will be held from 11:00-2:00,” said Mary Prior, President of the Danville Historical Society, “and will be up through Valentine’s Day.” In the planning stages are a reception, multimedia presentation and photos lining the walls for close-up viewing. “Pieces will also be available for purchase,” said Mary, knowing that many of the photos will connect the viewer to precious and personal images from their past.
George’s photography career began humbly with a need to record his surroundings. “My family was always artistic,” he says. And that got him into a little Kodak in the mid-fifties. From there he graduated to his first SLR (single lens reflex 35mm) where he much more impressed with the resulting images. “I traded that one in on my first Rebel Canon and started selling a few of those shots.” Fifty years later, he has accumulated 25,000+ images that are stored in two rooms, neatly stacked and labeled. Most of the images were recorded around Danville.
Wanting to get a sense of the work that will be on exhibit, Mary and I looked through some of the proposed images stacked on a table at the Danville Historical House. As we leafed through them (many of them of well-known local farms), we wondered at George’s perspective. “Look here,” said Mary, holding up one of the old George Swett farm. “Where was he standing to get that shot?” And it was difficult to determine, because it was not pictured from the usual angle one would have experienced from the road. As we continued through the stack, we noticed that all of the shots were like this. George had captured the farms as they lay in the landscape from an unusual perspective. “He always took a ladder with him,” mused Mary.
Earlier, George and I had spoken of perception when we looked at his most famous picture of Danville. In the photo, Cow Hill sits squarely behind the village. From our daily experience, driving to and through Danville, the mountain is more to the south. But George changed our perspective in that photo, too. One can imagine him trudging through a field with his cameras and ladder on that clear blue day. There he found the perfect spot on Diamond Hill to fill the frame and tweak our understanding of how the town fits into the landscape. It is subtle but full of intention.
Therin lies the artist’s gift to us.
This article was first published in December issue of The North Star Monthly.
To view these and more captioned photos, click here.
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