Fortuitous Excursions

Local Photographer Gomer Pyles’s Inimitable Endeavors in the Fauquier Landscape

Sitting softly in his wooden chair at Deja Brew coffee shop, Gomer Pyles appears as a landmark of the Fauquier landscape. His careful beard, as white as the fresh snow that lines the streets, spills gently out onto his collared shirt. A flamingo-pink bandana, masterfully draped over his head, flows down the back of his neck. Rectangular, red-rimmed spectacles frame his cheerful eyes, accompanied by the weathered smile that peeks out. Despite Gomer’s current monumental presence in Fauquier County, his journey did not begin here. In fact, his adventure to and settlement in The Plains has been an adventure as serendipitous as the photographs he takes.

Pyles walking the Appalachian Trail in 1976.

“I’ve been in the area since 1981,” he reports. “The year before, I began a cross-country backpacking trip with the American Hiking Society. We started in San Francisco and came to Lewes, Delaware, which was a 13 ½-month walk.” A challenging trip to begin with, Gomer made the journey with his daughter, who was 6 ½ months old when the odyssey began. During this time, he utilized film cameras to document the scenery and people he met along the way. “When you walk, you are part of the environment,” he explains. “I would sometimes use disposable cameras, but that was really just an exercise in shooting photos. I was afraid they would turn out blurry, so I would rarely get them developed.”

Pyles’ daughter celebrating her first birthday while on their cross-country backpacking trip.

Once the traveler reached his destination, he set down his camera as he established a life on the East Coast. “I had a friend that I had met on the Appalachian Trail in 1976 who lived over in Vint Hill,” Gomer reflects. “I had done carpentry work all through college, so I told him I needed a job once I got here, which brought me to The Plains as a carpenter.” The craftsman soon turned his skills to computer repair, constructing his company, Able Bodied Computers Inc., which he runs to this day. It was through this line of work that Gomer recently rediscovered the passion for photography that he had nurtured on his cross-country hike. “In 2012, I had a client throwing away a digital camera. I decided to play around with it and ended up really liking what I was able to achieve with it.” Since then, the computer repairman has taken advantage of the drives he makes between job sites as opportunities to capture the majesty of Fauquier’s rural scenery. “It can be anything,” he says of the subjects of his photographs. “If it’s interesting, I’ll stop and take the picture. Everything is fair game.”

The Perfect Storm

This photo was taken just north of The Plains in the late summer as I was coming home from a client’s farm. The sky turned very ominous, so I drove to a more open space to watch the storm approach. Catching the lightning was pure luck.

Planted Car

My planted car has evolved over the years. I drove it for 10 months without reverse until it finally died in 1994. For a few years, I would use it for a mailbox where clients would leave their computer in the front seat and I would fetch it to bring inside the warehouse. After repairing the problem, I would put the computer back in the car where the client would come by, pick up their computer, and leave a check. Then around 2000, my neighbor, David Roos, had a few wheelbarrow loads of dirt he could give me and wondered if I wanted it. I said “sure,” and so began the legacy of the car garden that has a “bumper crop” each year. 

One of Gomer’s favorite subjects to photograph is a concept he calls “portals.” “Portals are reflections,” he elaborates. “They can appear on anything from the roofs of cars to the surfaces of still bodies of water.” The artist utilizes this technique to create the feeling of an opening to another dimension, establishing the connection between his world and the perspective of the viewer. One of the best locations to achieve this effect, he muses, is on the island of Anegada in the British Virgin Islands. “There are these big salt ponds,” he explains. “Salt water is almost a perfect mirror, so I love taking pictures of the reflections of the sky in them.” The sky is a fascination of Gomer’s, and he schedules his trips to Anegada to coincide with the appearance of one of the heavens’ most revered heroes: the full moon. On the island, the traveler “can watch the moon rise over the Atlantic Ocean and set over the Caribbean Sea.” Camera in hand, Gomer will pursue the moon as it traces across the night sky, although he is equally entranced by the subject’s daytime counterpart. “I’ll chase the sunset,” he murmurs. “There’s a whole ritual associated with that, because even if you don’t get a good shot, you still get the experience of being with the sunset.” Sunrises, however, are much more difficult to capture with his lens. “I’m not a morning person,” he admits, chuckling.

Church and Sun
I refer to reflections, whether they be on water, mirrors, or glass, as “portals,” or illusions or pathways to another dimension. The Delaplane Episcopal Church has beautiful, grandiose windows that allow, depending on the natural lighting, another world reflection shot. Each time I pass by, if no service is going on, I will stop to take a look at what the portal offers. This photo was one shot taken from outside the church reflecting the trees behind me and picking up the light through the windows on the other side.

Although Gomer primarily focuses his photography on spectacles of the natural environment, he also finds great joy in snapping spur of the moment photos of human subjects. In fact, it is the people of the Fauquier landscape that have kept the artist in the region all these years. “This is a community in which we are all tied together. I like the feeling that everyone makes an impact,” he says. In the Caribbean, he tells me, there is a title for someone who has lived on an island for a long time, but was not born there. If such a person has become an integral member of the community, he or she can be recommended and approved for the title of “belonger,” an appellation that carries legal significance; you can buy property if you’re a belonger. “I’m a belonger of Fauquier County,” Gomer says with a contented smile.

“Here, let me take a picture of you,” he grins, pulling his iPhone out of his pocket. He asks me to either strike a “Hollywood” or “serial killer” pose. I choose Hollywood. “That’s more of a serial killer look!” he laughs, setting his device on the table. These days, Gomer typically uses a set of three Canon digital cameras, which help him achieve clarity in shots that involve distance or cropping. Nevertheless, he will happily submit to the “instant gratification” of taking pictures with an iPhone or iPad if he finds himself without his more advanced cameras. Such readiness to snap a photo demonstrates the organic nature of Gomer’s artistic process. “I don’t have a plan for my photography, and that’s what I really enjoy about it. It’s more of an evolution, really a serendipitous process,” he asserts, noting that, “There’s beauty right next to you if you stop to notice and look.”

Although Gomer has sold some of his pieces in local art shows, as well as in the form of two books he has published, he says that, more than anything, he loves sharing his work because he enjoys communicating with other artists. “It’s fun to be around creative people,” he affirms, adding that he hopes that his own artistic pursuits inspire others to follow their passions. “Don’t be intimidated. Don’t apologize for being who you are,” he instructs. “Be yourself. If you think something is beautiful, do it.”

If you are interested in seeing more of Gomer Pyles’s photography, please visit facebook.com/gomer.pyles.3

Sunset
I chase the sunset almost every night, and in a sense track the wobble of the earth in relation to its orbit around the sun. It’s a ritual of saying goodbye to the daylight until we meet again. This sunset is off Belvoir Road south of The Plains.

The Barn
I pass this barn south of The Plains almost every day. It’s a reminder of my start in the area when in June of 1981 I drove past this barn to be a carpenter for a project in The Plains. Thirty nine years later I am still here.

Nathan Ray
About Nathan Ray 4 Articles
Nathan Ray is from Haymarket, Virginia and is currently in his second year at the University of Virginia. He is interested in Media Studies and Communications, and would like to pursue a career in journalism. At Virginia, he is involved in the University’s creative writing program, podcasting organization, Filmmakers Society, and Jazz Ensemble.

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