Our Town… fading glimpses of the Midwest
I believe, as photographers, we search for ourselves in the images we create. In this project, I believe the idea rings true; and, I find myself in familiar territory searching out the remaining glimpses of the Midwestern towns and neighborhoods I grew up in. The images in this project depict what I believe to be the heart of the American Midwest. And though much of it has been lost, there are still remnants and relics to be found. A sense of loss permeates here within the ordinary jumble of streets, but one can also discover the last vestiges of my childhood.
I grew up in Northeastern Ohio just before the demise of many of the factory towns that had, up until that time, comprised much of the Midwest. The small town I grew up in was supported by the many factories that provided good-paying jobs for the people of the town. As a young child, with two working parents, the town became my playground. Whether it was on my bike or just walking, I ventured throughout the town exploring every street, alley and woods. The streets of many of our neighborhoods were lined with similar-looking houses, two-story, wood-framed houses and small bungalows with trees accented along the tree lawn, as well as the corner store where all types of candy was displayed and Frosty root beers came out of the cooler dripping wet. This is what made up my world.
I remember my neighborhood was comprised of all kinds of families, from rich to poor, as well as many different ethnic backgrounds. The differences among us, ethnicity, religion, color or status didn’t seem to come up in our discussions. We were all part of the community and all of us were supported by the factories that provided all our families with jobs.
I started delivering newspapers when I was in fourth grade. My paper route was a microcosm of the town and was comprised of all types of people. What I learned while delivering papers was that most people are pretty much the same, we’re all just trying to do the best we can with what we have. And whether you have money or not, everyone should be treated with the same dignity. I also found that everyone also has things they prize and are proud of. When talking with my customers, I might hear how some were proud of their house with its manicured lawns, while others were much more subtle in what they cherished, like plastic peacocks nailed to the walls of their porch. To be honest, those plastic peacocks, in my mind, were far more special.
When I was young, the Midwest grew and prospered. Children grew up with the idea that they would work in the factories where their fathers worked or if they were lucky, go to college. However, in the 1970s, this began to change and large corporations and other manufacturers started to outsource materials and products and the Midwest began to decline. People lost their jobs, forcing many to move away while others stayed and watched their neighborhoods and towns fade into a shadow of what they once were. Today, most of these towns are unrecognizable. Gone are the abundance of tree-lined neighborhoods and the manufacturing plants, replaced by strip malls, “civic improvements” and in many cases, empty lots, having been bull-dozed into oblivion.
This is where I find myself today, with memories of the vibrant neighborhoods and factory towns of my childhood while being faced with the current reality of these towns slowly decaying. It is here I choose to work, discovering what has survived of the world I grew up in. Our Town galleries