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Suzanne Opton : Into the Light Cellar


Suzanne Opton is best known for her images of soldiers between tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. Those appeared as billboards in many cities in the US and Europe.

Into the Light Cellar is a self-published book from the beginnings of Opton’s passion for photography. In the early 1970’s Opton moved from San Francisco to Vermont where she met a fascinating group of people, mostly brothers and sisters who lived at the end of a dirt road and had little ambition beyond living their lives much as their parents had. The book is a bit of a hybrid, including personal observations and stories from the characters which go a long way to understanding their way of life.

Now that Opton is of the age of those older Vermonters when she first met them, she is making “reenactment” photos with her friends and neighbors, “back-to-the-landers” from the 1970’s.

Having always lived in cities, Opton was intrigued by the stories and the comings and goings of small-town life. She often spent time sitting on the bench of the town green. From there one could observe the center of town. If one stayed long enough, a small man in his early thirties, with a newspaper-delivery bag labeled “Grit” on his shoulder might sit down beside you to talk.

“Su-zanne Opton. Sittin right next t’ya, ain’t I? Su-zanne Opton. Got a cigarette? It was Jim Hayward, who lived just off the green with his father, Hink, a logger and a real talker, and his brother Dave Hink didn’t have a lot to say about Jim, but he claimed Dave was a genius. Dave worked on cars behind their house and tried to keep to himself.

Frances Boyd who lived with her sister on the dump road:

“At night we know when folks are up in the woods. Those owls up there, they’re like watchdogs. Hear them? Go whit-to-hoo. Somebody’s up there doin sumpin. Whit-to-who. Sumpin worries ’em, they’ll start that a’goin. That whit-to-whoo, back and forth to each other. Sumpin’s up there disturbin ‘em. Maybe somebody’s up in the woods. Sumpin they’re tryin to tell us.”

Frank Hayes who lived with his brother Walter and cared for his mother Lena.

“My brother James, he went to the dentist down t’White River when his teeth was botherin him. He went down t’White River, n, God, they said he had t’have an appointment. My brother said he didn’t, and he says he’d take ’em out, b’God, himself cause they bothered so. They have them mirrors in cars n he went n worked on it till he got ’em all out, but I guess one, he said, n that isn’t ached. But he says if it ever does, he’s gonna do the same thing with that one.”


Into the Light Cellar is available on Opton’s website


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