Indiana Small Towns Project (Archive Project)

Harrison Center for the Arts!
Indianapolis, Indiana
January 3 – 31, 2011

The exhibit at The Harrison Center for the Arts is a selection of photographs from a project that began in 1992 and ended in 1995.  This is the first time any photographs from the project have been exhibited.  There are additional photographs in this project that will be presented in the future.

I asked Karen Stroup to write about the photographs.  Her thoughts and a poem are below.

All photographs were made from 4”x5” Polaroid Type 55 negatives.

In search of photographs, for several years I had traveled through many of the small towns shown in this exhibit.  Starting in the late nineteen eighties and into the middle nineties it was obvious that many of these small towns were eroding to a point where they might not recover their former spirit.

Businesses were leaving, the old storefronts were being modified or abandoned.  Buildings from earlier days were ignored, and in many instances, being torn down.  Evidence of a vibrant life was seemingly being sucked out these towns, yet it was obvious that many were attempting to sustain the small town way of life.  In my mind, I needed to photograph elements of these small towns that showed the effects of the gravity and reality of their situation.

There are a myriad of factors that contribute to a small town’s contraction, and at times, demise.  I will leave the details and analysis to scholars that study such matters.  However, as an outside observer, I have noted that the following events have contributed in a significant way.

In farming communities grain elevators were the lifeblood of a small town.  Farmers centered their business around the small town where they would deliver their harvest.  When railroads quit serving the small town, many grain elevators struggled to survive.  They tried to do the job with trucks but it simply was not efficient.  When the family farm crisis hit newer, larger more regionalized grain storage centers were constructed which was the final blow for many small town grain elevator businesses.  Combining this series of events along with the loss of scores of manufacturing jobs, closing of mines, etc. it is easy to understand how the economic and social fabric of a small town can decay.

In 1995 the foreclosure crisis in Indiana was already in full swing and the number of bankruptcies were growing.  Yes, this was the portent to today’s financial crisis.

For making the photographs I decided to use an old 4×5 Crown Graphic, featuring a simple Kodak lens along with Polaroid Type 55 positive/negative film (which is no longer made).  I wanted to create images that would appear somewhat old but were still contemporary in nature.  I made most of the photographs between 1992 and 1995.

I planned on doing a pretty big project.  But my mother began to fall victim to Alzheimer’s disease in 1995 and the project got put on hold.  The project never did get restarted as my mother’s struggle was a total of seven plus years and by then the small towns had undergone even more of a significant transformation.  Today good hard working people continue the struggle to redevelop these small towns.

So, I have this little archive, a snapshot in time if you will, showing these small Indiana towns in a state of historical change, where the past was coming face to face with the new reality.

Ron Kern, December, 2010


Thoughts on Indiana Small Towns Project Exhibition

by Karen Stroup

Economic woes heard on national nightly news don’t hurt as much as the sight of what failure looks like close up.  Building after building closing up, businesses shutting down, jobs evaporating, people’s hopes and dreams for promising futures disappearing into thin air.

Driving by failure is easier to do than actually stopping to look at it.  Looking forces you to ask questions.  What happened here?  Why did things go wrong?  What happened to the people who believed in this place?

The thin thread that separates us all from economic disaster, the loss of our homes, our jobs, our savings, can snap quickly and transform our tomorrow into harsh reality.  You could be among those buildings, those people that others drive quickly by, not knowing what to do or how to help, fearing for themselves as much as fearing you and the places that once were thriving and bustling with hope.

The buildings stand as a consequence and reminder of the real failure of our economy.  The breakdown of lives, families, and dreams in our communities is no better shown than in the buildings that are now closed up, no longer open for business.  These buildings, our storefront souls, are the stark truth of what economic failure looks like in these United States of America.

Roll On

Change blows the winds of fortune or despair
with little regard to where either may land.

Only memories of good times long past
dance along these deserted streets.

No promises to believe here anymore but
the promise of more desperate times to come.

Click on the photographs in the gallery below to view the photographs in the exhibition.  To view the exhibition with descriptions of the photographs, click on this link.

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