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Billings to showcase images of Ripton through 62 years of photographs

RIPTON — Hilda Billings has viewed her hometown of Ripton through a very special lens for the past 92 years.
Middlebury College’s Bread Loaf School of English held its first summer session in 1920, the year Billings was born. She has seen devastating floods rip through her community, including the big one back in 1927. And Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Robert Frost made a point visiting her once a year at her home, which doubled as the Ripton Post Office.
Area residents will be able to see Ripton through her lens — her camera lens — during a July 1 photo presentation set for 7 p.m. at the Ripton Community Church. Titled “A Photo History of Ripton, 1860 to 2000,” the show will include dozens of photos snapped by Billings during the past 62 years. Subject matter will include various shots of the Billings family, whose Ripton roots date back for generations. Her photos will also depict some historic local landmarks, as well as the rich flora and fauna and hilly terrain that has made Ripton one of the scenic jewels of the Green Mountain State.
Billings’ passion for photography began around 1950, when her then-neighbor, the late Carmen Damon, encouraged her to get a camera.
And she did — a Kodak Pony 135 that she still owns to this day.
“I don’t know if I can buy any film to go in it at this point, but it’s a treasure to me,” she said of her first camera.
She put the device to good use, capturing important moments in her family’s history. She and her late husband Malcolm had four children, including son Charles, who is helping her organize the July 1 photo presentation.
Billings was particularly interested in photographing local flowers and writing accompanying text giving details about each species. She has sold examples of her work through the Ripton Country Store.
After getting more adept at her craft, Billings switched cameras, graduating to the Minolta she still uses to this day. She has stuck with film, rather than digital photography — and she plans to keep on doing so as long as she has access to film.
“My children gave me a digital camera, but I haven’t mastered it,” Billings, a petite lady with a keen smile and quick wit, confessed with a chuckle.
She has boxes containing thousands of slides of photos she has taken throughout the years. When slides became impractical, she switched over to prints.
Billings took pictures of whatever tickled her fancy; and she drew much of her inspiration from Ripton’s many awe-inspiring mountain views and random clearings interspersed between large patches of forest. The Middlebury River has been a constant source of beauty and fury. She and her family had to be evacuated from their home during the flood of 1927. They relocated temporarily to what was then a local blacksmith’s shop.
She’s taken pictures of some of the town’s historic homes and farmsteads, including the Jason Billings Farm that proved a draw for Robert Frost. While Mrs. Billings and Frost were friends, she was apprehensive about taking his photo, explaining the poet shunned the limelight. She said she missed her one prime opportunity to snap his picture when the film in her camera was not loaded properly.
Organizers of the July 1 show are currently organizing the photo submissions. Billings wants the presentation to flow like a story, and she has a lot to tell. Along with living all but a decade of her 92 years in Ripton (she was born in the Chipman House Inn), Billings served as local postmaster for more than 27 years.
She still takes out the camera on occasion.
“I photograph whatever there is to photograph,” she said with a smile.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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