In May of 2010, my wife and I went to California for a good friend's wedding. While there we had some time to wander around and visited Bodie, a legitimate ghost town. The site is a dream spot for photographs with rusted vehicles, broken houses, and unknown stories. But it's also a bit staged, and while admirably preserved, thousands of people visit it annually. A newfound treasure it is not.
As an aspiring photographer when I lay out my inner vision for myself, it's hard not to realize looking at these photos that I was then, and still am, an amateur at the craft. Don't get me wrong, I am happy with the images, and with a bit more spare change, I'd frame some and proudly display them. But they're not something to really connect with in the same way I feel about many photos of my own and others.
During the visit, it was a time in my personal life where, for the first time in my career, I was about to lose my job after my division was sold; it was a developing story over which I had no control. But it hadn't yet occurred. It wasn't quite final, and the paychecks were still coming. That pain and loss were yet to be experienced. Were I to revisit today, I'd probably approach the location differently, perhaps trying to find the perspective of someone who had lived there and how they might view it. Imagining the look from inside a now abandoned house out to the place where a first kiss happened, a neighborhood game that was played every Friday, or a particularly clear day for a walk to school. Something that had meaning beyond the simple slow rotting of workers' housing.
To me, the one successful image, graded on a low bar, is probably the one that is simply the centered house with the bay window. The way the roof sags just so, but the walls are solid. The non-symetry of the hills and town on the background to just one side. But mostly it's the bay window and envisioning the worker saving up a few dollars to buy two framed windows with which to build a crude bay window in what, at its core, was just a mining town. I would do that if I could in that situation, and I can imagine myself building it and sitting in that window with a paper or a book, or even just a coffee. And maybe that is just injecting my own experiences there. But having lost a job I loved and experienced the massive financial and emotional toll that still, nearly a decade later, plagues me, the satisfaction of a small home improvement project funded by my own labor and built by own hands to create that one small oasis - that has meaning to me. I look at the house and see a bit of myself. It's nice, it's solid, it's not particularly pretentious, but it has a small luxury, built by hand, and that one small spot I can picture myself in. Standing in a loosely fitting and well worn shirt with sleeves rolled up. Thin leather suspenders hanging from my shoulders and grasping at the woolen trousers draping over my chunky leather work boots. A full mustache and a day or two of stubble. And a warm cup of black bitter coffee on a coldish morning with a dusting of snow on an early spring day before the summer's heat has descended for a long three months. And I am there, standing with my gaze out the window but a mind's eye seeing my wife still asleep under the scratchy covers and a small child in a makeshift bed yet to stir. Maybe three minutes, five tops, and then the moment is over with a cry from my son, a squeak of the mattress spring, and the first horses walking by in the morning kicking the rocks and waking the town up. That moment of satisfaction, of believing in your ability to provide and care, and the new day's armor yet to be dinged by the blows and strikes of keeping it all moving forward. It's worth a few dollars for that respite.