In Vermont, the written acronym NEK stands for an area known as the Northeast Kingdom. It is a sonorous name whose origin is attributed to George D. Aiken, former Governor of Vermont and US Senator, who first coined the term in a speech in 1949. They say it was not a preplanned publicity stunt for the region, but more of a personal attempt to describe the rugged, yet beautiful, environment. Located along the border with Canada in the north-east corner of the State of Vermont, the Kingdom is comprised of Essex, Orleans and Caledonia counties, and has a population of only around 65,000 people. French photographer Stéphane Lavoué’s latest series is a personal tribute to the area. In an interview with LFI, he shares his impressions and some background stories.
Q: How did you discover the Northeast Kingdom?
A: My first trip to the Kingdom was in July 2010, but the story had begun some 25 years earlier when I was 14 years old and travelling in the US for the first time, staying near Boston with an American host family. We got along very well and always kept in touch. Six years ago, the parents retired and moved to a remote area of Vermont where they had bought a small house on a hill. They invited my family and me to visit in the summer of 2010. Arriving there, we were surprised to discover that the area was called a Kingdom, the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont.
Q: What do you find so exciting about the area?
A: When I first arrived there, I immediately felt that I’d come to a special place. My family and I were introduced to our friends’ neighbours, Pam and Bill. They live in an amazing farmhouse with a beautiful view towards Burke Mountain, the famous high point of this region. Bill, who is more than 80 years old, lived among Eastern African tribes for many years, making films for national parks in Tanzania. The house is full of his mementos – stuffed animals on the walls and pictures. He owns a museum and is also a poet and writer, an old African explorer back in his Kingdom reading poetry. I realized I had really come to a pretty uncommon place, and Bill was the first person I took a picture of.
Q: So it was personal access and direct contact with the people that made your portraits possible?
A: Yes. Susan and Greg, my hosts, were the people who got it all started. Typically, they meet Pam and Bill every Sunday morning at 7:00 am for breakfast at a local diner in Barton. They call their Sunday meeting “going to church”. Enjoying a good American breakfast with other people from the community is their religion. They invited me to join them and introduced me to Steve, a strong, self-made man who is, like many others in the Kingdom, extremely active. He produces amazing maple sugar and is an excellent bow and arrow hunter. Steve took me into the forest and we took a ride to meet his daughter, Josie, who works at a local butcher. I made a picture of this beautiful young teenager in the middle of the cuts of meat. I felt like I was in the middle of an odd fairy tale.
Thank you for your time, Stéphane.
– Leica Internet Team