Category Archives: Photo essay

No Other Land, No Other Life

You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. Fools stand on their island opportunities and look toward another land. There is no other land; there is no other life but this, or the like of this.          – Henry David Thoreau

I have been working on my stories about farmers and the agricultural industry in Ohio. The farming experiences of the men I spoke to are quite distinct from one other; they included a medium scale corn and soybean producer, a community-supported berry and vegetable farmer, and a chestnut farmer who made a small fortune from the shale oil boom (but who would take chestnuts over oil any day). One common feature of the interviews was the gorgeous bucolic views I was treated to in the course of our conversations. I want to share some pictures of the landscapes, and of the men whose labor livens the land. I attempt to describe them in writing, of course. But my iPhone camera might be more capable of capturing the beauty.

On Ruin Porn

I recently discovered the photography of Camilo Jose Vergara, who has been documenting the transformation of American cities – especially those in decline – for decades. His work is not voyeuristic like “ruin porn.” It is contemplative and sincere. In the rust belt, he has focused on Gary, Chicago, and Detroit. His other work spans the country, and I especially enjoyed his photographs from Old New York. His website has a great interface and I highly recommend browsing through it.

Vergara’s work came to my attention while reading Mark Binelli’s 2012 book Detroit City is the Place to Be, which I plan to review here soon (in short: it’s excellent). Binelli treats the topic of ruin pornography while discussing the migration of artists, journalists, and everyday bohemians to depression-struck Detroit, where they derive inspiration and material from the ruins of the city. Hanging around Cleveland, I’m already familiar with the ruin porn trend. And during my travels around the state, I have found myself taking my own pictures of decline, like this series of photographs, three from a half-demolished acme plant in Toledo and another two from downtown Youngstown. When facing sights such as these, embodying an utterly oxymoronic grand destitution, it is hard to resist the compulsion to capture that contradiction. One crumbling building can speak simultaneously to past, present, and future.  Continue reading

Visiting Youngstown

“I’m at work most of the day, and I’m so tired at night that I just go to bed as soon as I’ve eaten supper. I have ideas of what a home ought to be, all right, but the way things are now I just eat and sleep here.” – Jim Barr, steelworker, 1910

A couple of days ago I went to Youngstown, Ohio, for a meeting with John Russo, co-founder and co-director (along with Sherry Lee Linkon) of the Center for Working-Class Studies at Youngstown State University. I discovered Russo and Linkon through their co-authored book Steeltown USA: Work and Memory in Youngstown. (I have yet to review the book here, though I intend to. Suffice it to say it is one of the most successful academic works in the country.) After the meeting I spent a couple of hours wandering and wondering about the city. Below is a photo gallery with a few shots using my very amateurish iPhone. I’ve included some interesting bits of history along in the photo captions.

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