Hancock Shaker Village

Hancock Shaker Village Essay


Hancock Shaker Village
Hancock Shaker Village was founded as the “City of Piece” in 1790 in Hancock Massachusetts on the Hancock/Pittsfield line. Shakers were part of a 19th century Christian utopian movement which has all but run its course today.  Their communal, celibate lifestyle focused their energy on the group and not the individual. Ornamentation or self-expression was prohibited, but Shaker craftsmanship and design is revered to this day.

The village was reborn as a museum in 1960.  The buildings are largely intact and reenactors bring back Shaker activities at the village.

I was offered the opportunity to photograph at Hancock Shaker Village on the occasion of the Museum’s 50th anniversary.  My tripod mounted wooden view camera would have been a tool from the era of the village’s hay day, so it seemed like a pretty good fit.  I used a normal focal length lens and worked at eye level – so the views were consistent with what one would see now, or in the past.

Though the buildings are striking colors, rich yellows, reds, and natural wood steeped in patina, I chose to work in black and white.  I took this approach to focus on the bare bones of the subject.  Especially the underlying geometry of the structures and their relationship to each other and their interaction with the elements of light and shadow.  Even the wind is recorded in the shapes it sculpts the snow around the structures.  In addition to the buildings, stone posts, fences, fields, trees, forests and the undulating horizon line of the Berkshire Hills interact to define the land.  Any one of these components is worthy of consideration and has been the subject of my photography.  However, taken together, the plain functionality at a human scale generates a striking synergy which I strove to record in this series.