the photoshooter's journey from taking to making



MY GRANDMOTHER’S NEIGHBORHOOD STREETS were separated by alleys that ran between the rows of the area’s back yards, and, as a consequence, I have only a few memories of her actually walking between the fronts of houses along the main streets. Whether it was her hardscrabble childhood in Ohio coal country or her lifelong belief that people were always stupidly discarding perfectly good stuff, she always walked to market, the local drug store, or various friends’ places by way of the alleys. And if there is such a thing as a Bargain Junk God, it spoke to her along these paths, and so, we children were accustomed to her dragging home various treasures over the years, from scraps of lumber to fixable umbrellas to an entire kids’ swingset, complete with “glider”, which we adopted as our own.

Years later, armed with various cameras, I tend to channel her a bit.

Because people continue to throw away perfectly good stuff.


Every time I shortcut through an alley, I find at least one thing that may be in the process of being chucked out, or moved to make space, or replaced by something new, or just plain forgotten about…things that can, on occasion, make neat little narrative pictures. Take this self-contained coffee “business”, for example. It sits behind a strip mall in Scottsdale, Arizona, giving off strange vibes about its history, a history that, who knows, may not yet be complete. Is it an operating wheeled cafe? Was it put out to pasture when someone had a better idea or a bigger budget? Is the trailer to be repurposed, sold, or just headed for the scrapheap? At this moment in time all these plot lines are possible, and all conjectures are equally valid or equally nuts.

The speculation continues. What exactly IS “native” coffee? Is it just a name, or an actual niche market? Is the window just covered up with wood for protection, or is it, as the term goes “boarded up”? Is the trailer merely being parked here until its next day of operation, or are all of the Native Coffee fans of the world plumb out of luck? Funny thing is, all that daydreaming is fired by exactly one hasty exposure, made out of my car window as I trekked through A Place I’ll Never Be Again for God Knows What Reason, If Any. A picture may not literally be worth a thousand words, but it is often worth a thousand “what if” guesses about what’s happened or what’s about to happen. Photography locks in moments and frees the mind to story-tell. It’s enough to make me wish that Grandma, whom, it should be noted, actually bought me my first camera, had dragged a Leica home down the alley.

Just once.


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