When I Look at the Commonwealth

While looking through the 200-or-so* slides that I might use in the first volume of my “Commonwealth” project book, I noticed a few things. Well, first off, I noticed that I’ve photographed in many more towns than I had thought — almost 70, or roughly 1/5 of the state. And I discovered that absence really does make the heart grow fonder. There is a lot more in there that I really like than I had remembered.

Some themes really stood out: construction, high-tension lines, signs, roads, redevelopment. Many of the photographs are formal landscapes that focus on the margins between developed and wild land. There’s a sense of transition, although not always the one you might expect from pastoral to suburban or from urban to blighted. These changes often involve a tension between open and (recently) undeveloped land and the way that it’s going to be used in the near future. Property lines are visible where the trees start or the street ends. The houses of a new subdivision hide behind the trees that remain after construction. Those tense boundaries are where I have been fixing my gaze.

There’s also a fair amount of things being not where they belong — or at least not where they’re expected: a pool table on the side of the road, decorative hearts hanging in a tree, big piles of dirt in suburban developments, roads through the countryside, houses right under high-tension power lines. But I am trying hard to avoid nostalgia or sentimentality or any kind of top-down narrative. After all, the whole reason that I started this project was to look at the way that we live today and not to traffic in clichés and the traditional way of looking at the Bay State.

But I was briefly worried that I was developing a rather conservative body of work. Some might interpret the photographs as saying that I disapprove of development — that is a typical reaction from many of the people who have seen what I’ve done over the last half-decade — but my feelings are much more ambiguous. (Who knows, maybe they’re obvious to everyone but me.) People do have to live somewhere, and I haven’t made up my mind about many things that go along with that statement. And far from judging the unusual or absurd slices of life that I come across on my extended, intramural road-trip, I hope that my sense of amusement and celebration shows through. (I’m the guy who wants a dinosaur sculpture in the front yard, you know.)

Obviously, you’ll make your own judgments when you look at the work (someday). And your interpretations will be more important than my intention. Whether I succeed or not, just know that I never set out to make a political point or to advocate for any particular lifestyle.

Now I just have to get another 180 slides scanned and photograph in about 280 more towns and cities. . . .

* — It had never occurred to me that I could use more than one photograph from some towns. Publishing multiple volumes opens that possibility.

This entry was posted in Commonwealth Project, NaBloPoMo, NaBloPoMo 2010, Photography. Bookmark the permalink.

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