The artistic works of a local photographer will be featured in an upcoming exhibition at the North Carolina Museum of History.
“Rural Revival: Photographs of Home and Preservation of Place” will run from Feb. 20 through Sept. 27, 2015, at the Raleigh museum and will showcase approximately 55 images by Scott Garlock. His photos will consist of abandoned, old and interesting homes and buildings of eastern and northeastern North Carolina, many from Warren County.
A native of Ohio, Garlock came to North Carolina when he was hired to run the racetrack at nearby Brinkleyville. He stayed, married a local girl and lives with his wife, Joanne, and son, Nathan, in the Macon community.
The popularity of his work, which began as a niche hobby, continues to surprise the photographer, who specializes in capturing images of old and historic homes.
“I’ve always been interested in old homesteads,” Garlock said.
Describing the childhood discovery of an abandoned stone house while boating in Ohio with his father, Garlock said he was spellbound. During his adult travels he continued to be curious about old houses and buildings that dotted the countryside. When he moved to eastern North Carolina, he found a treasure trove of inspiration.
“Eastern North Carolina is the most unappreciated natural resource in the state,” Garlock said.
The recent popularity of Garlock’s pictures began after he entered and won a contest last year to help describe a new cheeseburger at The Burger Barn. A blog on the popular social media site, Facebook, called “Abandoned, Old & Interesting Places-NC,” had just featured the local eatery. The blog administrator noticed Garlock’s photography because of his winning contest entry, invited him to contribute photos and “it exploded,” Garlock said.
“If these people want old history, I’ve got a plethora of places to take pictures in a 10-mile radius,” he thought to himself.
For several months when Garlock was the only administrator for the “Abandoned, Old & Interesting Places-NC” page, content was mostly his, and that is when his work really gained a long reach.
On Nov. 20, 2013, Garlock launched the Scott Garlock Photography Facebook page at facebook.com/scottgarlockabandoned, which currently has over 17,000 “likes” from people who mostly live outside of North Carolina.
“They can’t get enough of it. Where they live houses and barns are not allowed to just sit,” Garlock explained.
Garlock’s Facebook followers began to comment on his postings, some because they like the artistic scenery, photo quality or architecture, and others who appreciate seeing the buildings in their natural state of dismantling by Mother Nature. People also started to ask if they could purchase his images.
“When you’re doing it to simply satisfy yourself, you don’t think people want pictures of an old house or old barn,” Garlock said. “I said to myself, ‘Are they really serious?’”
Then someone told him he needed to have a better outlook on his work.
“I was just the guy in the woods taking pictures,” he said. “At some point you have to get over your thinking and say, ‘Sure, I will send you a print.’”
Recently, Garlock launched his website scottgarlockphotography.com/, which was developed by his father, Emmett Garlock, described as a “type-A personality who’d never done anything like this before.” In addition to researching how to start a web presence, the senior Garlock “digested a ton of information” on how to publish a book after his son continued to get requests from admirers.
“It surprised me to get requests. I was very flattered and beyond humbled,” Garlock said. “It still surprises me when people say, ‘I bought your book.’”
The website sells prints and specialty products, the coffee table book “Whispers From The Past” and 2015 calendars featuring some of Garlock’s most popular images of old and abandoned places.
The photographer locates those places by driving around the countryside here and in neighboring counties. He takes test shots from the road then turns to his network of Warren County residents, including genealogists, to help him get in touch with the property owners.
“The genealogists are an invaluable resource. Some of the history in Warren County is amazing, and the color commentary you get from genealogists is a rare commodity,” he said. “Folks in Warren County have been very kind to me with me taking pictures and providing information.”
Garlock gets in touch with family members to let them know why he wants to photograph their old home. The middle of this year, he started to get histories of the places he visited.
“A lot of folks inherited property and didn’t have any idea,” he said. “If those walls could talk, what stories would they tell? The only ones left are the surviving family members. Some of these places have not been lived in for half a century or more.”
Some people get emotional about their family history, Garlock said, and some less so, especially if a home or building can no longer serve a use.
For buildings with no historical information, Garlock jots down in a notebook what he sees and hears at the sites, such as rain pinging on a tin roof.
“You close your eyes and imagine what folks did as a job, what life was like there. I ask myself if I can find a way to bring words to what I felt when I was there,” he said.
A radiographer when he still had a “day job,” Garlock now does his photography full time using an aging Nikon D3100 DSLR in raw format. He tries to capture images just as he sees them and said he only makes minor color adjustments when needed.
One of Garlock’s favorite shoots was photographing an old home at the request of a family member living in Florida who had not seen the place since the mid-1980s.
“It was enveloped by trees, and I could barely see it,” Garlock said. “It was from the early 1800s to 1820s, and I started looking at the details because I couldn’t take a full shot.”
The whole back of the house was gone, but one simple room in particular drew Garlock’s interest. The room, which Garlock surmised had been a living room, had a fireplace mantle still up, and that is what he focused on. The details.
“The guy (who requested the photo) was speechless when he saw it. He said, ‘My great-grandfather died in his chair, and that mantle was probably the last thing he saw before he passed.’”
While on this shoot, Garlock broke a standing rule. He removed something from the site: a porcelain doorknob lying on the floor from the inside of the front door.
“I never take anything, but I thought that a number of generations of this family had touched this knob a number of times,” he said. “Family history is this guy’s passion, so I sent it to him. He was emotional.”
Garlock also recalled finding three 1940s dresses hanging on a bedroom wall in a Halifax County home. The windows were long gone, but the dresses had been preserved from the elements.
“I always leave stuff where I find it,” he said. “My standard rule is, don’t move anything. I want to chronicle the scene as it exists naturally. What you see is what it was.
To me, it tells a story. I’m there to chronicle what exists for good storytelling and preservation purposes.”
The photographer said he has been accused of posting pictures that were taken on a movie set, or of staging a scene, but everything people see in his pictures is the natural state.
“You’d be amazed at what people leave behind. It pulls at the heartstrings for folks,” he said. “I’ve been in a number of homes where there were elements of old and newer. They belong all together. It’s a snapshot in time. This was somebody’s life.”
To capture the full essence of what he sees through his camera lens, Garlock carries a notebook with him on his walks in the woods. He closes his eyes and listens for sounds, such as the pinging of rain on an old tin roof, to help him describe what life in a particular home may have been like. These descriptions accompany his Facebook posts, and he describes advances in technology, such as social media, as an important way to preserve the past for generations to come.
“I feel almost a duty to take pictures of a scene and recite a story that is told to me. To do this is an honor and humbling, hearing the stories of people growing up and their childhoods,” Garlock said. “Once a building gives way, the story is gone, the story is erased from existence, and I’m the one who gets that last remaining picture.”
For the photography exhibit, which will also have video components, the N.C. Museum of History will partner with the State Historic Preservation Office, Preservation North Carolina and Edgecombe Community College, the only college in the state to offer a certificate and a one- and two-year degree in Historic Preservation Technology. The goals of this exhibition are to bring awareness of the continued need for preservation/restoration of these historic structures that dot the N.C. landscape, to educate the public on what resources are available and to celebrate the successful restoration projects.