The Most Famous Pumpkin Patch Photo in the World

Joel Sternfeld McLean Virginia December 1978
McLean, Virginia, December 1978, ©Joel Sternfeld

blazing orange fire
autumn spoils on the ground
more to the story

I dedicate today’s blog in honor of World Photography Day.

I was immediately spellbound by the imagery of this photo that I stumbled upon over a year ago. A few more clicks led me to a fascinating story about photographer Joel Sternfeld, who one day, came upon this fiery scene in McLean, W. Virginia, and snapped the now-iconic photo.

In the photo, we see a fireman shopping for a pumpkin, while a farmhouse burns in the background, a few hundred yards away. In his arms, the fireman clutches his prize, presumably the best of the bunch. In the foreground, dozens of rotting pumpkins spoil and wither away, in what we could consider, Autumn’s last kiss. Amongst the barren trees, the burning farmhouse roof rages like a fiery inferno, yet, the fireman seems undeterred. On this day, the hero’s quest is not put out a fire, but to pick out a pumpkin.

The photo simply titled “McLean, Virginia; December 1978” was first published for Life Magazine in Fall of 1988. It would later serve as the cover for his 1994 book American Prospects, a visual color chronicle of the life and landscapes of America during in 1980s. For many years, the photo floated around the American consciousness, via magazines and journals, without context. When taken at face value, the photo of an American fireman ignoring his duty to peruse a pumpkin patch is quite flabbergasting, some people thought it so incredulous, they believed the photo was staged.

It was neither.

The truth is, the farmhouse fire was a controlled training exercise and the fireman was on a break. That is the scene that Joel Sternfeld photographed while driving cross-country in his VW campervan, under a Guggenheim Fellowship, looking for America’s truth. He kept mum on the details for decades, until opening up for 2004 interview on photography for the Guardian. In the interview, Sternfeld argues photographers are their own authors, capable of manipulations. They can turn the camera at different angles or leave out parts entirely, and tell whatever story they want to tell. Photography has always been about interpretation. That’s what makes it art. In the article, Sternfeld says,

“No individual photo explains anything. That’s what makes photography such a wonderful and problematic medium. It is the photographer’s job to get this medium to say what you need it to say. Because photography has a certain verisimilitude, it has gained a currency as truthful – but photographs have always been convincing lies.”

For years, the worldwide public has relied on pictures to be evidence and visual aids in understanding. A picture says a thousand words.  But what or whose truth are we seeing?

Haiku of the Week

fresh pumpkin
halloween is coming soon
smiles return

Haiku of the Week

familiar smile
pumpkins on the shelf
summer’s end

20190729_073010.jpg

 

Haiku of the Week

pumpkin leaves
a new season takes shape
autumn dreams

Monthly Haiku Corner

orange hues of autumn
gone in the misty morning
winter came too soon

Autumn is the best season

Between the golden hues of fallen leaves and the smell of fresh baked apple-cinnamon in the air, Autumn is more than just a season, it’s a force in the universe, with the power to bring back memories, compel lovers to take chances, and motivate people to nurture their creative side.

autumn time2

Autumn wraps around people like a warm blanket, sometimes reminding them of happier times in childhood or giving them hope towards the future. Like the trees that shed their leaves, preparing for winter’s coat, people lose the inhibitions that hold them back, allowing themselves to experience the joys of the holidays and all that life has to offer.

years last smile2

Autumn is a time of reflection, a time of nature, a time of wonder and a time to spend with loved ones and friends. So, this fall, reconnect with an old friend or go visit a family member you haven’t seen in a while. Go for a long walk in the park or the forest. Pick out a pumpkin at a pumpkin farm. Take up a new hobby or make some crafts. Or, create a bucket list and have fun checking each item off.

Truman Capote once wrote, “Aprils have never meant much to me, autumns seem that season of beginning, spring.”

Autumn truly is the best season.

Autumn Bucket List

Bucket lists aren’t just for millennials and old people. Bucket lists, or seasonal to-do lists, motivate us to try new experiences, learn new things, explore the world around us, meet new people or catch-up with old friends and get in touch with our inner child.

Autumn is the best time of year to reminisce and create new memories. So, find yourself a fall bucket list or create one of your own, and make this an autumn to remember.

fall 2018 bucket list

Next month, I’ll share a special Halloween bucket list.