An Interview with Pine Barrens Explorer Albert Horner of Medford Lakes New Jersey

“Photography is a way of preserving wildland. Pinelands is preserved more or less. I feel more comfortable out in the woods.”- taken from ArtC TV interview Apr 28, 2020.”

Albert Horner

Albert Horner contributed to this article in his own personal capacity. The views expressed are his own and do not necessarily represent the views of author and Piney Tribe team administrator William Lewis.

I continue to find myself accumulating friends who are the ‘Lewis & Clark’ of the 21st century and their passion is the New Jersey Pine Barrens and surrounding natural areas. I am hosting a series of interviews and photos from each of these Piney Explorers. Sometimes I feel like I need to keep up with their awesome discoveries but mostly I’m in awe of our shared passion for wild places. One positive from social media is the window it opens to the lives of other’s adventures. It’s so easy to get swept up in their energy and their world view as seen threw camera, binoculars, hand lens, kayak, and the written word. Thanks for reading and from the Piney Tribe a big thank you for loving our Pine Barrens!



Interview Conducted on 9/30/2020

1)     If you were forced to categorize your interests in the great outdoors what one would you say fits you best? Example botany, local history, geology, herping etc.

Albert- “It’s being in the landscape. Its pretty unique and not found in a lot of places other than South Jersey. There are some Pine Barrens in Long Island and a piece up in Cape Cod. I pretty much grew up around the area. I caught my first fish caught at Atsion Lake. I had a friend who owned one of the cabins that were first built. I spent my early springs and part of my summer there.

I have difficulty describing it, but I know it’s part of my feelings about the Pinelands is how it smells in the Spring. My experiences when I was young around the Pinelands and spending so much time at Atsion Lake. I always recognize that smell. Sort of like after the first dry period after it rains, and it starts to get warmer. It is the smell of cedar or the cedar water to tell you the truth. I look for really different landscapes. The Pinelands isn’t this vast array of mountains and valleys. Basically, its scrubby pine and oak forest. You really have to look for things that are pleasing to people that you can photograph. Finding those unique little spots. If you ever been up at Apple Pie Hill, Forked River mountains, or East Plains where you can get an idea of the vastness of it. I have always thought I would like to explore as much of it as possible. And I really have.

Fifteen years ago I started to get serious about photography. I really had this urge to produce really fine photographs that were large that you could hang on a wall. I took this image in Friendship bogs. Way back in the bogs a friend and I were roaming around. I took an image of the moon rising. And it stuck with me. That’s where I’m going to photograph-I know it so well and its close to home. There is nothing better than photographing what you know. That’s what I mean by landscape.“

2) We never truly know the influence we have on others. Someone out there probably lots of someones look up to you in your endeavors in the Pines. Who do you list in your top 3 influencers of your own interest in adventuring?

Albert-“John McPhee obviously. I read the book when it first came out. Also, there was one particular uncle who spent a lot of time in the Pinelands. But I never knew a lot of people associated with the Pinelands. I always just explored it on my own. I was my own model. I wanted to see what was around the next corner, around the bend, the other side of the river. A lot of that was done with friends I hunted with.”

3) Do you prefer solo or group outdoor adventures?

Albert-“Solo. Absolutely. I have a shooting partner but only because he is so memorized by the Pinelands and a pretty darn good photographer. When I go out, I just like to go. If I’m going for photographing, I go for one specific photograph. I don’t go looking for photographs.  I go to make a photograph that I already know exists and you can’t do that with a group of people. This friend of mine that has been photographing with me I can literally call him up at any time and say let’s go and off we go. I used to do workshops they were always fun because I was introducing people to the Pinelands.”

4) What’s your typical mode of operation (MO) when it comes to how you interact with your interest. Is it pure hobby, part nostalgia, or academic in purpose? What’s your goal from doing it?

Albert-“Advocating for the Pine Barrens. I hate using the word Pine Barrens because I think it is very misleading but advocating for the Pinelands. I’ve done it in many ways. I would not be wrong or egotistical in saying I started a whole genre of photographers going out there to make really good images. I pretty much did it on my own for probably 9 or 10 years and then more and more people got involved. That is the catalyst to help preserve it and help expose it. I believe that its under used. I think the state is very remis in maintenance or their idea how important it is. As a result, the Pinelands are definitely not that user friendly unless you go to Whites bogs or Batsto Village(s). But if you wanted to drive hundreds of miles of sand roads you’re pretty much taking your life at risk. You could be stuck forever on one of those roads. I always thought if I could show people a really good image it would inspire people to want to preserve it. As a secondary consequence lots of people have taken up their cameras. I have a Facebook page called Pinelands Photography and Arts Coalition mostly photographers but artists as well.”

5) Is there a way to encourage people to follow your passion or should we not encourage others that may or may not be respectful in the same manner to the environment?

Albert-“Yeah, I believe the Pinelands should be and is open to everyone. But I get back to the lax attitude of the State of New Jersey for not having a motorized access plan. Its created numerous problems both in the destruction of land and destruction of wetlands. It could be much better controlled where more people could get around freely. With a motorized access plan roads could be maintained and roads could be blocked off. I have no problems with blocking off important estuaries, savannas, and intermittent ponds. Guts and life of the Pinelands. Its wide open for off-road vehicles. They do a horrible job and have done major destruction. I want everybody to be out there, but I want them to be responsible. The only way to be responsible is to be encouraged by the state where to go and where not to go. Do I want people out there, yes? Do I want them to ruin it no.”    

6) How many people do you know that have told you that what you do in the wild is crazy or kinda weird?

Albert-“I go out to take a photograph that I’ve already visioned. I’ll go out and estimate when the best time is to go there. Usually I only photograph in the morning 20 minutes before sunrise and 20 minutes after sunrise. Unless there is a fog bank or weather conditions that allow me to shoot more. Once the sun comes up over the trees the light is just horrible. There have been many mornings where I got up 4 o’clock even 3:30. One particular image I took 6 or 7 years ago. I drove from my house to the East Plains and never took the camera out of the bag cause the shot wasn’t there and I came home. On the 8th time it worked, and it worked great. And it is a pretty iconic photograph. People say to me you gotta be crazy. I always say to them especially if their photographers I say to them,” Do you want do this kinda work?” If they say yes than I’ll say you have to get up in the morning. It’s the truth. No control over mother nature. The only thing you have control of is where you go and hopefully your calling the shot with the right weather and your vision is made real. I only really look to make 12 photographs a year. When I go to do something, I key on one spot and keep going there and going there until I get the shot I want.”

7) What’s the best resource you can share with someone looking to pursue your specific hobby?

Albert-“The best resource for anybody to appreciate my hobby is to study the work of other photographers and painters. You are not copying them. People can put their tripod next to mine and they are not going to make the same photograph as I do. You learn what can be done. And you kinda make your own vision from there. You have to state your own purpose. I have 37 images of the Pinelands on exhibit at the State Museum. I have been inspired by watching or reading monographs from all types of photographers.”

8) What’s one thing you’d like to change about our current New Jersey environment?

Albert-“Controlling off road vehicles. I want everyone to have access. The question is how many people do you allow to have access. This is my big advocacy. The state is very reluctant to do anything, users and abusers. Number one threat to the Pinelands bar none. They go on Rides and do crazy things. I believe the state should ban every off-road event. Sanctioning of those events has created this bad culture.”

9) I may have asked this and or you answered it in another question but now that you had more time to think on it, “What drives you to your specific sport?” Is it exercise, mental renewal, religious experience etc.?

Albert-“For me it’s a spiritual experience. Not in a religious way. If there is such a thing as being close to god its watching the sun come up over a bog in the Pinelands. I usually have my camera setup already on a tripod using a cable release. I might take 20 photographs while I’m there. But more often than not I will say to myself, even out loud,” I can’t believe no one else is here to watch this.” All the years I’ve done this I’ve only ran into one person doing this and he was a birder.”

10) Do you consider yourself a Piney?

Albert-“No. The reason being when I grew up Chatsworth was the hunting capital of South Jersey. It was all hunting clubs. There were still people who literally made their living from the land. I met a few of them when I was growing up. I believe they were the true Pineys. They existed off what was there. Even if it was poaching deer. Lots of them pineconed and grew and picked blueberries and cranberries. Those are who I think were true Pineys. I think the rest of us today are just wannabes. Pineys really had passion for the land and they did nothing to destroy it. It was there when you go back to the Native Americans. I am here and this place can provide for me. Some people today may call themselves pineys. They poach snakes they pick flowers they shouldn’t and run their dirt bikes and ORVs wherever they want. And still can call themselves pineys. Whole lot of users and abusers out there that just don’t get it.”