Visions of a vagabond

Rosendale Trestle (photo by John Fischer)

For Tillson-raised photographer John Fischer, it’s all about capturing the essence of a place. “You’ll notice I don’t get very deep into talking about the art of it,” he says. “It has more to do with sharing the feeling of being in that place, and the stories every place has to tell.”

Not that there isn’t an art to the photos. Fischer plays with color during the printing process, heightening the emotion in the image. “It’s not exactly the way the camera captures it,” he says, “but I see no reason not to use the technology available to project what I feel about the scene to the viewer.”

He won’t manipulate the scene as he’s photographing it, however, removing objects from the shot or adding objects to it. “I try not to have any influence on what I’m shooting, right down to the point that I won’t pick up a piece of trash that’s in the way. And if there’s a person in the shot that I don’t want to be there, I either wait for them to leave or just include them in the shot. I want it to be, ‘This is what I found here.’”

And an emphasis on photographing how people have affected the landscape has turned into something of a signature for Fischer. When he first took five months off work to travel across the country to take photographs as he went, he concentrated on traditional nature photography, only taking shots that showed no signs of human influence on the scene – no images with things like power lines or fences or roads. About a year ago, though, says Fischer, when he was driving from California to New York, he decided to “switch it up a little bit” and include the human influence in his pictures. “I decided that in every shot I was going to take, over a course of driving for three weeks, I would show how humans have affected the landscape, and it ended up being something that really stuck with me. I think it tells a little bit more about the story of America.”

Fischer now lives a nomadic life taking photographs on the road full-time. Technically speaking, he has been living in Southern California since October; but he’ll soon move on again, back to the Hudson Valley this spring for a few months and then on to the Northwest. “I have no immediate desire to have a permanent residence, per se,” he says. “I wouldn’t be surprised if I ended up in the Hudson Valley more permanently at some point; but if things keep going well, I plan to keep bouncing around wherever I feel like going.” He stays with friends or finds temporary lodgings, generally staying in each place for at least a few months, he says, to make all the travel worthwhile, and then moves on when he’s ready to go.

While Fischer says that he enjoys finding new locations to photograph, the Hudson Valley and Ulster County in particular remain a favorite locale, “partly because I’m so familiar with it. And there are things that I never looked at as a kid that now I’m looking at with a different perspective; that gives it a little something extra.”

He says that he tends to stay away from shooting some of the more familiar landmarks here, like the Hudson River, because his childhood memories tend to influence what he photographs. And, growing up in Tillson, he never got down to the Hudson River that much; it just wasn’t part of what they did. He’s more likely to shoot photographs of something like Perrine’s Bridge in Rifton, a few miles from his childhood home, where he has a lot of good memories of spending time in his youth. Fischer is also intrigued with photographing the way that the region’s industrial history has affected it, shooting images of places having to do with the cement industry and brick factories so important to Ulster County’s past.

Fischer’s unique lifestyle is made possible by modern technology: a job in sales for that allows him to work remotely while located anywhere in the world, with an understanding employer, he says, who allows him time to pursue his passion for photography. “My situation wouldn’t have even been possible a few years ago, but now I can go anywhere I want. And as long as I get a decent cell phone and Internet connection, I can build a photography portfolio and business and maintain an income at the same time.”

Fischer, 34, is the youngest of four children. His family no longer lives in Tillson, his parents having retired in 2000 to live in Delaware. As for his own plans, he says that someday he might want to get off the road and maybe have his own gallery to sell his photographs; but if that happens, it’s a long time off in the future.

Right now, he says, he’s content on the road, building his portfolio, and fortunate because he has the other job that helps to pay his bills. His photography sales, at this point, mostly come through word-of-mouth, with people finding him online, although plans are in the works to exhibit and sell his work locally.

“I just want to continue to grow the photography organically, and keep doing things the way that I enjoy doing them,” Fischer says. “The doors that photography opens for me and the ways that it allows me to connect with people are amazing, and no matter what happens, I don’t anticipate any regrets.”

Photographer John Fischer, (857) 472-3071, [email protected],,

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