By MICHAEL PERKINS
CIRCUSES ARE GONE. Carnivals are on life support. In most towns, there’s not a Chautauqua tent or traveling acting troupe to be had for love or money. Eccentricity, the wild, sharp-edged, warped neighborhood between Normalcy and Madness that used to be a part of every town the whole world ’round, appears to be shuttering. But there are still a few enclaves of the weird to be had, and celebrated. And pictures to be made of what remains.
To paraphrase Bogart, we’ll always have beach towns.
Strange little encampments near the water’s edge that are both the last chance for humans before the open sea and a natural collection point for a slew of strange energies, from craftsmen to shopkeepers to fishermen to tourists….a grand collision of urges and callings that celebrates the odd, the original and the openly quirky. Life is measured differently near the ocean. The smells and color schemes are different. The architecture is chockablock, random and loud. And the folk are charting their own course.
In such venues, you might encounter the Violin Lady, in her pert hat, her lacy blouse, and her concert-plus-art-sale gig on nearly any block. Further in from the coast, the forces of order have issued enough cautious ordinances to muffle all the lovely madness of her kind, whereas, in towns like Seal Beach, California, she’s just one more cast member. And, lest you believe that she’s “selling out” by peddling her paintings for profit, bear in mind that she’s also revealing Real Truth about “My UFO Encounter”, which makes the entire enterprise a public service, really.
Use your camera to celebrate the unique. It’s always in danger of being smothered beneath a blanket of respectability, a quality which might be morally admirable but is, sadly, pictorially stagnant. If weird is in short supply in your town, head for the beaches, and you’ll get it all back. And then some.
By MICHAEL PERKINS
STORIES OF “THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT” COMPRISE ONE OF THE MOST RELIABLE TROPES IN ALL OF FICTION. The romantic notion of stumbling upon places that have been sequestered away from the mad forward crunch of “progress” is flat-out irresistible, since it holds out the hope that we can re-connect with things we have lost, from perspective to innocence. It moves units at the book store. It sells tickets at the box office. And it provides photographers with their most delicate treasures.
Whether our lost land is a village in some hidden valley or a hamlet within the vast prairie of middle America, we romanticize the idea that some places can be frozen in amber, protected from us and all that we create. Sadly, finding places that have been allowed to remain at the margins, that have been left alone by developers and magnates, is getting to be a greater rarity than ever before. Small towns can be wholly separate universes, sealed off from the silliness that has engulfed most of us, but just finding one which has been lucky enough to aspire to “forgotten” status is increasingly rare.
That’s why it’s so wonderful when you take the wrong road, and make the right turn.
The above stretch of sunlit houses, parallel to their tiny town’s main railroad spur, shows, in miniature, a place where order is simple but unwavering. Colors are basic. Lines are straight. This is a town where school board meetings are still held at the local Carnegie library, where the town’s single diner’s customers are on a first name basis with each other. A place where the flag is taken down and folded each night outside the courthouse. A village that wears its age like an elder’s furrowed brow with quietude, serenity.
There are plenty of malls, chain burger joints, car dealerships and business plazas within several miles of here. But they are not of here. They keep their distance and mind their manners. The freeway won’t be barreling through here anytime soon. There’s time yet.
Time for one more picture, as simple as I know how to make it.
A memento of a world fighting to forget.