More than a River: the Connecticut River Watershed

More than a River: the Connecticut River Watershed is a photographic project about a river and how it shapes life. The 410-mile main stem of the Connecticut River gathers water from a 7.2 million-acre catchment basin. The river’s source lies near the Canada-U.S. border in Fourth Connecticut Lake. Fourteen miles later, the low-water mark on the western bank defines the boundary between New Hampshire and Vermont. Continuing south it bisects Massachusetts, then Connecticut, and empties into the Long Island Sound. Over human time it has proved a resource for water, fishing, farming, transportation, manufacturing, and recreation. Writers have described it as the life artery or heart of New England and the cradle of New England culture.

Actress Katherine Hepburn described the river as “the world’s most beautifully landscaped cesspool” in the 1965 documentary The Long Tidal River. This film helped spark interest in the environmental fate of the Connecticut River at a time when advocates for many U.S. rivers shared similar concerns. The Clean Water Act of 1972 provided a means for change and contamination from industrial and agricultural pollutants decreased. Birds and fish returned, and today, the river is an environmental success story, although advocacy remains critical for maintaining a healthy ecosystem.

Despite over 30 years of landscape photography, a river project is new for me. A colleague asked: “how is it different photographing a river. My method of historical empathy, looking for the places of intersection between nature and culture, as well as between now and then, using archival materials to guide my search remains unchanged. The difference is in making photographs about the river as a steady presence in constant flux and the daily lives of those who live in its watershed.