Life Along the Hudson: A Visual Voyage with Joseph Squillante

Joseph Squillante
© Carol Capobianco, 2003

JOSEPH SQUILLANTE has spent the past three decades photographing the Hudson River, from its source on Mount Marcy to its mouth at New York Harbor. Like the Hudson River landscape painters before him, some of his photographs capture the beauty and romantic quality of the river while others focus on people who live and work along its shores, including farmers, fishermen and biologists.

Although Squillante has seen much ugliness on the Hudson — including chemical discharge, oil spills, and industrial plant explosions — he keeps his lens trained on the river’s natural splendor. “It’s the beauty that matters,” he says. “That’s what makes people aware of this national treasure.”

Squillante’s commitment to help transform the Hudson into a cleaner and more esteemed natural resource has earned him the respect of the Hudson river community. He has worked with Riverkeeper, headed by Robert Kennedy Jr.; the sloop Clearwater, founded by Pete Seeger; and Scenic Hudson, founded in 1963 to help protect the Hudson River Valley.

With subjects ranging from landscape to portraiture and still life, Squillante has worked as a photographer for over thirty years. After receiving a BA in Marketing from Iona College in 1971, he attended the School of Visual Arts and The New School in Manhattan to study photography. He has exhibited his photographs throughout New York and Massachusetts, as well as in Italy. His work is represented in the New-York Historical Society, the Museum of the City of New York, the Beacon Institute, and several private collections.

EXCERPTED FROM Life Along the Hudson: Photographs by Joseph Squillante
The Albany Institute of History and Art

The portrait of Joseph Squillante is by his wife, Carol Capobianco, Editorial Content Manager at the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx, New York.

2009 is the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson’s voyage to the New World. What lead to your focus on the Hudson Valley region and helping with its conservation?

My love of nature as a subject guided me to make choices about our environment. The photographs, in their purity and simplicity, speak loud and clear about how I feel, mirroring our natural world, from its tranquility to its tumultuousness.

My attraction to the Hudson River started in 1975, when a boyhood friend moved from the Bronx to paradise — otherwise known as Tivoli, a village 100 miles north of Manhattan, population 362. Tom’s backyard is the Hudson River, which flows just beyond the railroad tracks with views of the Catskill Mountains.

Boy Fishing
(Tivoli, New York, 1976)
© Joseph Squillante, 1978

Then a fledgling professional photographer, I took my camera wherever I went. On a memorable visit to Tivoli, I took two photographs in particular — one a signature image of a boy fishing and the other of an old truck driving along the railroad tracks — that would inspire me and direct me on a lifelong journey. In viewing the photos I shot that day, I marveled at how I, a novice, could get such incredible images. That’s when I realized it was the subject matter, the Hudson River, that provided the magic in those special pictures. I couldn’t miss with this majestic natural resource as the focus. And so my love affair with the Hudson River began.

Storm King Mountain helped start the environmental movement in the Hudson Valley. What actually happened there to help bring the movement about?

A 17-year battle was waged to save the face of this mountain and led to a landmark decision and the birth of the modern day environmental movement along the Hudson River. Consolidated Edison had wanted to cut away the face of Storm King Mountain to build a hydroelectric power plant. This was during a time before environmental groups had formed, so it was concerned individuals who fought against this destruction symbolizing a new movement to protect scenic beauty. It was the first time that “scenic beauty” became recognized as something tangible and thereby able to be protected by law. This fight spawned some of the groups such as Scenic Hudson that make it their mission to protect the Hudson River and its surrounding watershed.

There are certain iconic images along the Hudson River, such as Bannerman Castle and Storm King Mountain. Besides shooting these famous beautiful sites, how do you generally go about selecting subjects for your camera?

I find photographs everywhere, even after 37 years. For many years I meandered along the Hudson shooting what was appealing to me. The body of work I accumulated is so extensive that it does serve as a documentary of the Hudson over the years, even though that wasn’t my initial purpose. However, I’d now like to concentrate on a more comprehensive outlook, filling in the gaps of places I’ve yet to capture, to complete an even broader picture of life along the Hudson. Shooting the Hudson River has been a life’s work and will continue to be. As I reach out to people by sharing my work through exhibitions, teaching and publications, I find that my photographs cross lines — from fine art connoisseurs to fishermen plying the shores for dinner.

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