Revisiting the past: A visit with Harlan Hubbard and PAYNE HOLLOW

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Not so long ago, I saw an NBC news story written about a former journalist from Kentucky by the name of Dan Price who had chosen to leave his wife and children to “live on the fringe of society” or as the article written by Nona Willis Aronowitz puts it “intentionally poor”. His actions were sparked by a book written by Harlan Hubbard called Payne Hollow who was an artist, writer, and musician among other things.  The story caught my eye in the first paragraph, because I once, many years ago, met and photographed Harlan Hubbard at his simple cabin home in Kentucky. Dan Price’s life seems to be inspired by Harlan’s life- both kept journals and lived off the proceeds from a rental property. Dan’s choice to live on $5,000 a year in a hobbit hole seems to have sparked quite a lot of controversy in todays media world. Here is the link to the story with over 800 replies to the writers story. I skimmed most of them to see if anyone commented on Harlan’s life and the book he wrote. After all- that was the inspiration for Dan’s life change.  I was blown away by all the people responding to the story. Mostly responses on how Dan could do that. I wanted to find others who cared about Harlan’s life. If one takes the time to read Payne Hollow you will find that Harlan was a completely different kind of guy than Dan is. He met is wife late in life and the two of them chose to live life on the edge and without possessions. There actions were made together with mutual derived vitality.  I don’t believe they chose poverty at all. In fact, they were quite cultured and rich in experiences.

It was October of 1986 when I was escorted down the back roads of Kentucky along the Ohio River. My friend wouldn’t tell me who we going to visit, I was only told,  you are going to love this guy. After a few hours drive south from Covington, KY (my home town) we stopped along a forested highway and walked some distance through the woods before we first spotted the wooden out house- it was nicer than my own tenement bathroom on Mott Street in  NYC. The day was a crisp clear day and the leaves hadn’t really changed yet but there was a chill in the air. As we approached Harlan’s house my friend announced that he had brought a friend from NYC who wanted to see how he lived. I was amazed and somewhat frightened by the thought of this old guy living so far away from hospitals, doctors, a grocery, and neighbors. He had a guy visit him regularly who brought him necessities in a small boat. I heard he was his caretaker and friend. I already knew that his wife Anna had passed away but did not know it was one year prior. This soon became  apparent when Harlan sat down next to her tombstone which read 1986. It was at that point that Harlan gave me his life story in one afternoon.

They were a really happy couple living off the land, raising goats, and farming along the Ohio river. They had come to their lifestyle in midlife after being Shantyboaters and living on the river for over five years. Anna had been a librarian and played the cello. Their boat and small shack “was a marvel of neatness and comfort- bare and without ornament”

Harlan died the following year after our meeting- It was at the end of his wonderful journey through life.

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About alwaysgail photography by Gail Fischer

I am a photographer who loves to explore everywhere and everything. The journey began in Covington, KY where all the back alleys were sources of great places of visual imagery. After college the desert outside of Tucson, AZ became my place to watch sunsets and seek solitude. Later, NYC was totally exciting and the years there led to a career as a shooter.
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