For years, Barbara Peacock has been photographing life in a small New England town that’s as ordinary as can be. What she captured, though, is anything but.
By Mel Allen
Jun 15 2017
Parent’s Market, 1982
“One day I saw five kids hanging out on the stoop of a local market…. They seemed bored to death, yet savoring their daily ritual,” photographer Barbara Peacock recalls. “At that moment, I was aware of the impermanence of the present and how this daily ritual would ultimately be replaced by memory, childhood by adulthood, and perhaps even the store may disappear.”Photo Credit : Barbara Peacock
At the age of 3, Barbara Pallian moved with her parents and siblings into a turn-of-the-century fixer-upper on five acres in the center of Westford, Massachusetts. This was the 1960s, when the town about 35 miles northwest of Boston had fewer than 9,000 souls. She grew up in a household that honored reading, the arts, and country life, and fell in love with photography in her early teens—walking everywhere, just looking, snapping images.
She went on to attend art school in Boston, where what would become a decades-long project began with a simple assignment: “Photograph something of importance.” Seeing a group of kids hanging out at a local market in Westford one day, “I took out the school’s 4-by-5 camera and took the shot,” she recalls. “When I showed it to my professor, he said, ‘Well, you see you can travel the world looking for interesting places and people, but in fact you can find them right in your backyard.’”
That image, Parent’s Market, 1982, marked the start of her passion for documentary photography, which she pursued even as she launched a career as a professional wedding and commercial photographer. She got married, becoming Barbara Peacock, and raised a family in Westford, all the while collecting thousands of images of her hometown. She found day-to-day moments that would resonate with people anywhere who felt the power of roots and place. Whether she was using a large-format camera, 35mm color or black-and-white film, a digital camera, a mirrorless camera, or even her iPhone, what made the difference was her eye, and her feeling for her neighbors.
About 20 years ago, “I started realizing this could be a body of work,” Peacock says. She also saw the potential of a book to document her town’s transition from country to more urban: With a major highway cutting nearby, Westford’s population nearly tripled over time, apple orchards became houses, and memories of a quieter time grew even more precious. Yet the resulting compilation of her favorite images from the past 33 years, titled Hometown, focuses less on what has changed and more on deeper truths—the bonds between people, the annual events that have always connected generations.
Last summer, with their three sons having left the nest, Barbara Peacock and her husband, Tom, moved to Portland, Maine, a city they had always loved. Plus, her mother, now in her late nineties, lives in southern Maine, as does a sister. But when Peacock drove away from Westford, a town that had become her extended family through her photographs, she felt not the call of a new place so much as the bittersweet taste of good-bye. “We all had a little cry,” she says.
To see more of Barbara Peacock’s work or to buy a copy of her limited-edition book, Hometown, go to barbarapeacock.com.
To view more photos from this feature, see “Scenes from Small-Town Westford, MA | Photographer Barbara Peacock.”