NOTE: The author of this story, Donal Mosher, is the co-director and co-producer of the film October Country. The documentary, created with his partner Michael Palmieri, gives an intimate look inside his own family’s struggle with ghosts of war, teen pregnancy, foster care and child abuse. The film opens today in New York and is released in other cities around the country in the coming weeks and months. You can check out the trailer at the end of the story.
I was born in Mohawk Valley, NY, and though I left when I was young – still, I never shook the place. No matter where I lived, and that’s been many places, I got physical cravings to see the low, wooded hills; the old canal; the battered smokestack of the rifle factory; the graves where my grandparents, great grandparents and older generations were buried. There has been this sad tension between landscape and lifestyle throughout my teenage and adult life – being gay, and beyond that wanting a broader life at all meant I could never really live in the Mohawk Valley. It’s strange knowledge that a place so integral to your sense of yourself can’t allow that self to develop. But I knew this was a fact at 17 when I began running ‘round the country following whims and I knew it when I studied photography on the west coast and saw the valley only when I chose to do so.
At that point, since the valley and my family’s lives were a kind of half dream to the daily life I lead, it made sense to photograph them, and to photograph them at Halloween, to try and capture some of their haunted power over me. The project began as a few snapshots taken in October because a return trip in the autumn (after years of Christmas and summertime visits) revealed how thin and pale my memories of that season had become. And more so, how deeply the season was tied to my vision of life, past and present, in the region. Since then, I’ve returned each year to photograph my parents and their home, my sister and hers, as well as the towns and valley that contain them.
In San Francisco I met Mike Palmieri at the infamous Trannyshack. I liked his film work; he liked my pictures. We liked each other a lot – so much so that we joined our lives and our work and now, four years later, our film October Country is opening in NYC on February 12th. My family will be coming down for the premiere. I’m not sure how it worked out so well but somehow locking the valley down in images and film to overcome a haunting sense of separation, has managed to bring it all home for me.