Kelly Avenue pedestrian underpass, Portland, OR, April 2010. Kodak TMY.
Recently, over at civics21.org, I wrote about the idea of hyperlocalism and history, or as local history blogger John Chilson described it to me, “microhistory.” This concept encompasses the bits and pieces of the past — the loose strings about the edges — that don’t often get encapsulated in the history books.
This intense and intimate scale interest in place — both in the traces of the past as well as the fingers of the present — is one of the aspects of photography that I am strongly drawn to. For me, photography really is a way to visually explore place, and the more tacticle the better.
The monuments, the vistas, the grand spaces, these have all been documented or interpreted countless times. As beautiful as the slopes of Mount Hood are, what more can I really add to the visual interpretations of that space, what can I contribute that has not already been said better? And no such photograph made by me will ever be able to transmit the holy beauty of that monolith.
However, in the common scramble of photographers to capture the big, the famous, the looming, the grand, we often have forgotten the corners of the world, the places that we pass by day-by-day, and which have so much story to tell if only we choose to listen.
Although such corners have always held a fascination for me, until discussin the idea of microhistory with John I had not really recognized that that was one of the threads to be found within my own visual work. Realizing this thread, however, has given me many new ideas to consider.
As a photographer, it always pays to be thinking about your photographs, even when you don’t have a camera about, and it pays too to talk to the people who know your subject matter, jsut as I did with John. It opens up your mind to new possibilities.