The photo collection that graces the walls of Grey Printing is one of the unique aspects of Cold Spring’s “personality” that makes it a genuine community. The huge collection of snapshot portraits is, by any standard, pretty amazing. The creator, photographer and curator — we use that last term very loosely— is Ruth Eisenhower, long-time Grey Printing employee. The only thing in Ruth’s life that may surpass her photo collection is her backyard collection — a well-tended jungle of fruits and vegetables – along with chickens, rabbits and other critters.
Philipstown.info’s Michael Turton recently sat with Ruth at her kitchen table and talked about the photo collection’s past, present and future.
Philipstown.info: So just when did you start your photo collection?
Eisenhower: About 15 years ago when Grey Printing was located in a second floor shop on Main Street a couple of doors up from The Foundry Cafe.
Philipstown.info: What inspired the first photo?
Eisenhower: The boys — my husband and two sons — gave me a Nikon for my birthday. I spent so much time at work — it was about the only place I could use it.
Philipstown.info: Who pays for it all?
Eisenhower: I do.
Philipstown.info: Do you have any idea how many shots you have in the collection?
Eisenhower: No idea. Thousands. Multiple thousands.
Philipstown.info: How often do people refuse to have their picture taken?
Eisenhower: Rarely. Women do if they feel they don’t look good. Men do if they’re in the witness protection program.
Philipstown.info: Do you still use the original camera?
Eisenhower: I’ve had two Nikons and I think about three digitals. I’m kind of a junkie.
Philipstown.info: What’s going to happen when you run out of walls?
Eisenhower: Grey’s going to have to get me a bigger place. He has to hang all the pictures now — they’re too high for me. Plus we string them up now and that’s a lot of work.
Philipstown.info: There must be funny stories behind some of the pictures?
Eisenhower: Every picture has a story. At one point I had a section devoted to tattoos. It seems everybody has a tattoo and people are not shy about having pictures taken of them. That’s the whole point of tattoos I guess. When I asked one man if he had a tattoo I could photograph he took his coat off, then his sweater, then his shirt, then his undershirt. He had a big belly. I didn’t take tattoo pictures after that.
Philipstown.info: Then there must be sad stories too.
Eisenhower: Oh yes. All the deaths. The suicides — one was a teenager. I took one man’s photo and he died the next day. A woman brought her daughter in one time to show her a picture of the girl’s father who had passed away. That was sad.
Philipstown.info: Any bizarre stories?
Eisenhower: Well there was Archie — he was a local flasher. He’s left the village. People used to come in to see the picture of another man who looked just like him. They thought he was actually the flasher. I had to tell them he wasn’t.
Philipstown.info: What’s the last book you read for fun?
Eisenhower: I’m just loving the Anthony Trollope series. It’s like Jane Austen. They’re so orderly. There’s no chaos. It’s so calming in a world of tsunamis and nuclear meltdowns.
Philipstown.info: Has taking tall these pictures had an effect on you at all?
Eisenhower: I lost my fear of talking to strangers. Now sometimes I go out into the parking lot and ask people to come in so I can take their picture.
Philipstown.info: Has anyone asked to have their photo taken down when they saw it?
Eisenhower: One woman came in the next day and took a picture of her twins down. I never take a photo without asking permission. Another woman came in and tore up her picture. We never did figure out who she was.
Philipstown.info: Who are more cooperative men or women?
Eisenhower: I’d bet on the men.
Philipstown.info: What is the most common reaction when you ask to shoot someone?
Eisenhower: People are okay with it. They see the whole mix of photos. People who are new to town are always eager. It’s like they want to be part of something.
Philipstown.info: How do kids react?
Eisenhower: Kids love to pose. Parents like that. Except the mother who took down the shot of her twins.
Philipstown.info: What do you photograph besides people?
Eisenhower: Lots of dogs. A ferret. Jan Thacher’s parrot. A parakeet.
Philipstown.info: Have you taken any photography courses?
Philipstown.info: What’s your favorite kind of pizza?
Eisenhower: I love anchovies. And bruschetta.
Philipstown.info: Is your picture up there anywhere?
Eisenhower: We take funny pictures of ourselves. I fell once and cut my lip. I have a picture of me with a plump lip, stitches and a bruised nose.
Philipstown.info: Whose picture appears most often?
Eisenhower: I’d have to say Charlie Hustis is the most well known. Everybody recognizes his pictures. And a salesman came in one time and thought he wouldn’t know anyone in the pictures. Right away we found a shot of Bob Boyle who he knew — on one wall — then went right over to the other wall and found another picture of Bob. That was kinda weird.
Philipstown.info: Have you ever thought of displaying your collection in a gallery?
Eisenhower: It’s very messy now. They’re really wrinkled, taped, warped and dirty. I found out this is serious art when I went to DIA.
Philipstown.info: What percentage of people smile when you shoot them?
Eisenhower: I’d say about 90%. Some people just can’t relax enough.
Philipstown.info: Do you think the photos help business?
Eisenhower: It certainly gives people something to do while they’re waiting — and it amuses them.
Philipstown.info: Do you look at the photos very often yourself?
Eisenhower: I go through them with people once in a while. There are always pictures I’ve never seen — even though I took them all.
Philipstown.info: Do you have a favorite?
Eisenhower: I have lots. I love the funny ones. We cut and pasted my husband’s nose and put it over his mouth. We used to do splits — putting half of one person’s face next to the other half of someone else’s face. They were hilarious.
Philipstown.info: What’s your pick for the worst movie of all time?
Eisenhower: A Clockwork Orange.
Philipstown.info: Has anyone ever held up an old agricultural implement in front of their face just as you took their picture?
Eisenhower: Yes. You did.
Philipstown.info: How do you feel about the collection?
Eisenhower: You know I’m not real attached to it. It’s dilapidated. They curl so much. It needs a curator. It’s ready to come down.
Philipstown.info: Are any of your chickens pictured in the collection?
Eisenhower: No! Why is that? They’re very photogenic.
Philipstown.info: So, what does the future hold for your collection?
Eisenhower: Grey wants to have a big bonfire in the parking lot — if we can get a permit.
Philipstown.info: By the way — does the collection have a name?
Eisenhower: No. Should it have a name? Let’s have a contest!
Announcing: The Name Ruth’s Photo Collection Contest
Philipstown.info invites readers to submit suggestions for a name for Ruth’s photo collection. The winner will have his or her photo added to her collection — probably not for the first time. A panel of judges consisting of Ruth will decide the winner.
Photos by M. Turton