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If I have a camera with me I may not take any photographs

But if I don't have a camera with me I certainly won't take any photographs.

Willy Ronis said that he never went out without a camera -- not even to buy a loaf of bread.

Even if I have a camera with me, what am I not photographing? This is a question that vexes me a lot.  What am I looking at and not seeing that will be (interesting, curious, important) in 25 or 50 years?  I mentioned a few posts back that I was starting a project "Before they vanish" -- structures that are still there because nobody has had a reason to tear them down, that are snuggled between much more modern buildings, neighborhood shops that  have survived the onslaught of strip malls and redevelopment.

I also mentioned a few posts back that a friend and I challenged ourselves to each produce a small portfolio of prints about "The Place I Came From" -- he from nearly his entire  lifetime in Tacoma, me having left the small town in Illinois where I grew up but fled as an adult.  My first camera as a middle-schooler was a Baby Brownie that took 127 film.  Once in a while I scraped together enough money for a roll of film and development at the local drug store.  I wish I had the negatives now.  The drug store is long gone.  Susie's Restaurant is long gone -- so is the vacant lot next to it.  My "The Place I Came From" begins in the 70s when back there visiting. am I not photographing?

Main Street in Eureka Illinois at Midnight -- ca 1974

But even then somewhere in the back of my mind I must have been thinking about "what am I not photographing."  In 1980 I went to Deer Creek Illinois -- a few miles from Eureka.  When I was in high school it was a thriving farm town of a few hundred people and a half dozen businesses.  Here's what it looked like in 1980. 

Deer Creek Illinois, 1980

This friendly kid stopped to talk with me — it went something  like this:

Kid: Why are you taking pictures in little ol’ Deer Creek?

Me: I want to show how it has changed and have pictures to show when it changes again.

Kid:  Nothin’ ever changes around here.

Me: Yes they do.  When I was your age these buildings all had stores in them.  They had a harvest festival and carnival in this street every fall.

Kid: Not any more.

Me: Did you build your bike.  It’s pretty clever.

Kid:  Yep, three junk bicycle frames and the seat off of a junk garden tractor.  Getting the brakes to work was really hard.

Me: Do you go into Eureka to high school?

Kid:  Yep, one more year.  Go over to Goodfield (next small town over) to get the school bus. 

Me:  What comes after high school for you.

Kid:  I dunno …. Maybe work for the fence company.  (maker of woven wire fence materials in Goodfield.)

I just looked Deer Creek up -- it is again a thriving town, population 700, but instead of a farm town is a bedroom community for a city 20 miles to the east.

So Where is this going?

I'm like the kid in the photograph:  "I dunno."  What I do know is that every city neighborhood used to have a corner market.  This one in West Seattle is still there -- everything from beer to popsicles, groceries, and a UPS drop off.  I guess I'll keep pecking away at the idea and see what happens.


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