Columbia Free Times
Arts + Lifestyle

Writer, Photographer Reflect on S.C.

Plus: Mary Alice Monroe Book Signing
By Charlie Nutt
Wednesday, June 11, 2014 |
Two self-proclaimed country boys have once again presented a loving look at the beauty and culture of rural South Carolina — despite the fact that both are natives of other states.

This week, the University of South Carolina Press releases Reflections of South Carolina, Vol. 2 by writer Tom Poland and photographer Robert C. Clark. The oversize volume is filled with 265 beautiful photos that capture the people and countryside of the state, accompanied by Poland’s lyrical essays and descriptions.

This is the fourth book that Poland and Clark have jointly produced. Both now live in Columbia, but Poland is from near the tiny community of Lincolnton, Georgia, and Clark grew up outside Charlotte.

Their road to successful collaboration began with an actual journey. They were on the staff of South Carolina Wildlife in the 1980s when Clark suggested a drive down Route 378 to look for a topic for the magazine. Their voyage of discovery produced a piece on old tenant farm homes, and that led to their first book, South Carolina: The Natural Heritage in 1989.

“We think of ourselves as preservationists,” Poland says. Neither man hunts or fishes, but Poland says they have visited more remote corners of the state than anyone else “except for maybe a game warden.”

The first volume of Reflections of South Carolina (also published by USC Press) came out in 1999 and is now in its third printing. State herpetologist Stephen H. Bennett partnered with them on that book.

Poland and Clark found that things had changed as they worked on the new book.

Clark — who has shot for National Geographic, long the pinnacle of success for a professional photographer — describes the transition from film for the first book to digital for the new volume as “life-changing.” The photographer now has much more control over his art than he had with the long process of working with a lab to get the tones and effects just right. When it started to get dark, for example, he used to just have to call it a day.

“At times, I’m like a little kid,” Clark says of working with digital images. “I can push things more.”

Poland says he finds that with the columns, essays and books he has written over the years, he sees scenes now through “a broader base of knowledge.”

Both men are now freelancers. That means it’s easier to schedule their research trips together, allowing them to “think and talk together on the scene,” Poland says.

It’s a mixed blessing. For a freelancer, Poland says, “Every night is a Saturday night, and every morning is a Monday.”

So did Clark and Poland envision 15 years ago that there would be a second volume of Reflections?

No, “we’ve never thought there would be another book ever” after each book they did, Poland admits. But they have so much material that didn’t fit into the latest volume that he leaves open the possibility of another.

Both men are working on numerous individual projects, but Poland talks about someday working with veteran artists and combining “art and photography and text into a new, big project.”

“The geezer group,” Clark says with a smile. Poland is 65, and Clark is 59, no longer the young men exploring Route 378.

The two men might be older today, but their photos and words still bring fresh life to a country world that’s in danger of vanishing.


Mary Alice Monroe Book Signing


When it comes to the lives, loves and relationships of Southern women, Mary Alice Monroe is on it.

The best-selling author will be in the Columbia area June 16-17 just as her latest novel is scheduled for national release.

The Summer Wind is the second installment of her Lowcountry Summer trilogy. It picks up the story of three half-sisters who were introduced last year in The Summer Girls. The estranged sisters gather on Sullivan’s Island, answering a summons from their grandmother, who is trying to bring them back together.
As in many of her works (she has written 16 novels and two children’s books), there is an environmental theme running along with the main plot. In The Beach House it was turtles. This time it’s the plight of dolphins. The recuperation of an injured dolphin parallels the plight of the psychologically wounded oldest sister.

Monroe, who lives on the South Carolina coast, is an active conservationist as well as a prominent participant in book festivals and literary conferences. Her current publisher is Gallery Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster.

Monroe will appear at noon on June 16 at the Newberry Opera House and at 6 p.m. the same day in an event hosted by the Friends of the Lexington County Main Library. The following day at 6 p.m. she will speak and sign books at Books-A-Million at the Village at Sandhill.


Let us know what you think: Email editor@free-times.com.

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