"Beyond the Woods" examines the rugged beauty and isolated culture of the Blue Ridge Mountains through the lens of photographer Spencer Ainsley, on view at the Palmer Gallery from October 2-22, 2008

POUGHKEEPSIE, NY—The rugged beauty of the secluded Blue Ridge Mountain region of North Carolina united with the striking independence and self-reliance of its inhabitants drew the interest of photographer Spencer Ainsley.

Beyond the Woods, Ainsley’s collection of 31 framed, black and white documentary photographs, taken between 1985 and 1993, will be on view at Vassar College’s James W. Palmer III Gallery from Thursday, October 2, through Wednesday, October 22. The gallery hours are Mondays through Fridays, 11:00 am to 6:00 pm; Sundays from 12:00 to 6:00 pm.

Ainsley explained how the series came about as “in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, I worked for the New York Times Regional Newspaper Group in Lenoir, North Carolina. During this period, I spent many weekends on camping trips driving my rusted 1971 Oldsmobile north, from the southern foothills into the remote, mountainous regions of the Blue Ridge, in an attempt to meet and photograph an indigenous group of people comfortably isolated from the outside world. Many of these photographs attempt to portray the wonderful simplicity of their daily lives. The rugged boundaries of the Blue Ridge Mountains, coupled with an intense fear of change, continue to nurture a culture that wishes, for the most part, to be left alone from a progressive society. In many cases, the people I met needed to know that this ‘Yankee’ was their friend and someone they could trust before allowing me to take their photograph.”

Ainsley concluded, noting that “geography is the study of people and places we inhabit. Each place, or community, relies on the people living there and the resources of its land to develop and prosper. Progress, as we know it, is only relative to the general thinking and actions of a community or region.”

Photographer Ainsley will give brief remarks about his work during the artist reception at the exhibition opening on Thursday, October 2, from 5:00 to 7:00 pm.


After graduating in 1979 from SUNY New Paltz, Spencer Ainsley rode his bicycle across the country with a close friend on a 4,400 mile trip. His father, who encouraged him to document this experience, purchased an Olympus camera and 15 rolls of Kodak slide film for the journey. Before this, he never had an interest in photography. When the trip ended, he moved to Germany for two years, working for a trucking company that transported high-grade steel across the continent. This is where his interest in photography became a daily passion. When he returned home in 1981, at the age of 25, he began a newspaper career at the Millbrook Round Table, a small weekly in Millbrook, NY. For the past 26 years, he has been an award-wining photojournalist for the New York Times Regional Newspaper Group and the Poughkeepsie Journal, where he is currently Director of Multimedia, Photography and Videography. Ainsley lives in Poughkeepsie with his wife and two children.


Situated between the North Atrium and the Retreat cafeteria, the James W. Palmer III Gallery is at the heart of the College Center. Constructed in 1996, the gallery was named and endowed by the Palmer family in 2000 in memory of their son James, a member of the class of 1990. Serving as an exhibition space for artwork created within and beyond the Vassar community, the gallery displays art of diverse mediums, themes, and origins.

Individuals with disabilities requiring accommodations at Vassar should contact the Office of Campus Activities at (845) 437-5370. Without sufficient notice, appropriate space and/or assistance may not be available. Directions to the Vassar Campus in the Town of Poughkeepsie are available at

Vassar College is a highly selective, coeducational, independent, residential liberal arts college founded in 1861.

Posted by Office of Communications Wednesday, September 10, 2008