Well folks, it’s the Monday after Christmas, and I know you’re all wishing for some lunchtime distraction to lift you out of those work-a-day doldrums and back into that literary bliss you (hopefully) achieved during your all-too-brief holiday break. Here, for you, is an essay by David Rothman on the iconic photographer Bill Tague. Check out Rothman’s latest book, Living the Life: Tales from America’s Mountains & Ski Towns, for more essays about people and the mountains they love.
Eagle Eye: The Photographs of William Tague
By David J. Rothman
Last week in this blog I republished an essay about extreme ski pioneer Doug Coombs. Because Living the Life is about people as much as it is about the mountains and the sports they love, it seems to make sense to continue to republish here some portraits of other people significant to the ski world that first appeared in various journals over the years, but that, for one reason or another, didn’t make it into the book. This week it’s the turn of Bill Tague (1927-1990), a brilliant photographer of the Berkshires, whose work I discovered when looking for images of Mt. Greylock for the original publication of “Year of the Thunderbolt,” an essay that does appear in the book.
Tague’s photographs had an immediate and lasting effect on me. When, in the early 1990s, I visited his widow Irene, who at that time still lived in the family home at the base of Greylock, I felt as if I had stumbled across a trove of images that crystallized how we lived in that part of the world in those years. Irene showed me hundreds of images and we spent an unforgettable afternoon sifting through them to find just the right material.
Tague photographed everything, but he particularly loved skiing and mountains, and his images are both immediate and iconic. A number of books and websites, listed at the end of this article, have kept hundreds of his best images in print, testifying to their vitality. My article on Tague first appeared in Snow Country 10.8 (December 1997). It’s a joy to revisit it here.
Bill Tague was the photographer for The Berkshire Eagle for decades, where he published a weekly feature called “The Eagle Eye.” For forty years, from the 1950s through the 1980s, Tague chronicled life in western Massachusetts at the foot of the state’s highest peak, Mt. Greylock. Tague was also a photographer for nearby Williams College, and his archives include many sports photos, especially ski photos.
Tague was far more than a journalist, however. He lived life with camera in hand, and his work touches on every aspect of life in the Berkshires, from towns to hills, from art to business, from sports to politics, from childhood to old age, in every season. His photos both capture a peaceful life, and create thoughtful and often humorous compositions of shape and shadow, much like the paintings of Norman Rockwell.
Tague’s photos stir my memory like no others I have ever seen of the region in which I grew up. His ski photos are only one part of a larger vision, so they show skiing not only as sport, but also as a fully human activity, part of life. The way he could see the poetry in moments which most other ski photographers ignore was part of his charmed vision of the rolling Berkshire Hills. He could discover grace and art in a muddy ski area parking lot, or in the faces of a bunch of boys skiing a backyard hill, or in the way longthongs lay tangled in the snow outside a lodge. He was particularly good at peering into the lives of small children (I’ve learned he probably photographed races in which I competed).
Tague had a tremendous reputation as a curmudgeon, which served him well in his lengthy, successful battle to protect his beloved Mt. Greylock from a huge ski area development in the 1960s. Dan Bellow, a friend of mine who worked with Tague at The Eagle near the end of his life, says “Bill Tague was my hero. He exemplified everything that was fine about newspaper work. He was very hard on me, but he taught me the importance of getting it right, and getting it done on deadline.” Tague was also a regional artist of the first order whose creative trademark—perhaps surprisingly—was gentleness. He left a legacy of images that capture the richness of the world around him, transforming even the smallest moments of ordinary life into memorable art simply by caring and working hard enough to see deeply into them.
Some of Bill Tague’s photos can be found in Bill Tague’s Berkshires, edited by Tyler Resch, with an introduction by George S. Wislocki, from Arcadia Publishing (1996), and in Bill Tague’s Berkshires, Volume II, from the same editor and publisher (1998). Hundreds are available here. Some of the best ski images can be found at this slideshow.
These images represent just a tiny fraction of a memorable and evocative life’s work.Tags: Bill Tague, David Rothman, From our Authors