Photographs by John Penor. Edited and with Foreword by Patti Smith.
Distributed Art Publishers, New York, 2005. 168 pp., 185 duotone illustrations, 14¾x10¾”.
Bygone Days is a piece of Americana, a family album consisting of photographs from 1907 to 1957 taken primarily by John Penor. For years, these images lay in a box somewhere in Penor’s sod house until his grandnephew, Steven Sebring, a New York—based photographer, created this book. Many of the graphs center around the family homestead in Bison, South Dakota, where Penor has lived since the day he was born in 1910. The majority of the images portray a ranching lifestyle in a small Western town, including outdoor family portraits, holiday events, pictures of important town events such as the arrival of the first doctor or the first airplane landing in Bison, as well as local baseball in the 1940s. Of particular note are the rodeo shots, which through their dynamic composition and movement transcend the “family album” photo. Taken chronologically, the collection shows human advances of the twentieth century with glimpses of the ever-evolving automobile, farm equipment and development on the homestead. John Penor grew up in a time when nothing came easy and families made do with what was available. My 91-year-old grandfather still travels out of his way to buy milk for a few cents cheaper. And my grandmother still hangs laundry outside to dry on a clothesline held up by a stick. History lives on in our older generations and in these images. The Penor family is blessed to have a testament to their lives that will endure longer than those who lived it. – Larissa Leclair
Originally published in the Photo-eye Booklist, Spring 2006.