The people who I’ve met in those small towns are down to earth Americans. Friendly, hardworking people. They invited me to their houses, welcoming me into their lives.
Maybe their country did not care about them much but they care about the country a lot. They proudly display their country flag everywhere. You can see it in old buildings, on the streets and next to each post office.
Just how deserted is Olde Town? Imagine you’re standing in the middle of the main road at noon, waiting for a car or human to pass by. At first you worry that you can be hit by some random car. Five minutes pass – no one. You’re surprised. Ten minutes pass – no one. You’re not worried about cars anymore. Half an hour pass and you’re wondering if this town is alive.
That is about how I felt standing in the middle of the main street of one of the towns in central Washington photographing. No car or person pass me by.
This project is very different from the kind of photography I do. It is not a landscape as most of my photographs. It is in black-and-white while most of my photography is color. It is not a single photographs as usual but rather a set of photographs which I’m trying to create an impression with. And lastly when I think about this project I want to share my thoughts and impressions of these town rather than talk about how I took specific photographs and why.
Is highway a good thing? Well, of cause – most of you probably say. They let you get from point A to point B by car faster than ever. They are like blood vessels, they help to move things faster. And I say – what about those that left away from them? What happens to those towns?
I’m sure that’s not the only reason but some of the abandonment that I’ve seen in those towns can be contributed to not being on important road anymore. Some time in the pass they were important nodes in network of local roads. Then a highway was built and from that moment on travelers would have to take a detour from a fast moving traffic of highway to visit those towns. And as someone who travels by car a lot I know that once you get in a fast pacing rhythm of highway it is hard to slow down take a side road.
Well, we could say at least those towns which happened to be on highway prosper. And that is not the case either as cars are passing by those towns in a blink of an eye. At most some would stop to refill their gas tanks and what happens over time is that there is not much of a town left besides a gas station.
An interesting thing I found in these towns – wall art on buildings. It is not graffiti like large scale letters. It is often fading away paintings on brick walls.
The paintings capture towns in their previous life – how they looked a century or more ago. Were the painters in nostalgic mood when painting them as I were when photographing them? Or did the paintings actually survive a century?
What is “Olde Town, WA”? It is an imaginary place, place with no people in the streets, place that is forgotten by people and ready to disappear as a mirage in a desert. It is a still capture in time of that place as it vanishes in front of our eyes.
I did not want this project to be about any specific town. At first, I simply called it Old Town. But I felt like this town deserves its place on the map, thus I’ve made the name more formal “Old Town, WA”. That’s how any town would be listed in US, with state abbreviation.
Then I added ‘e’ at the end of Old for two reasons. First this make it feel even older, that’s how it would probably be spelled ages ago and it closer to “older”. Second reason is more practical. Turns out that there is already a town in Washington called Old Town and an imaginary town better not match any real town name.
Corner of W Main St and 3rd St
since it loves us
and forgives everything,
why was it abandoned forever?
What an exciting moment start of a new project. That is of cause when you know you start it. This project has begun before I knew it…
I’ve been traveling a lot to an area in the Eastern Washington called Palouse. This area offers really beautiful landscapes with rolling hills and patches of fields. Some call it American Toscana. While looking for beautiful landscapes to photograph I was driving thru small towns in this area and sometimes stopping, looking around and photographing of cause. Over time collection of these photographs grew and I was not sure why I was taking those photograph and what to do with them.
Riding from Seattle (where I live) to Palouse is a bliss – 4 hour drive across Washington state from West to East at about 70 miles per hour. There are quite a few towns you pass by on the way there. I used to drive thru them without ever stopping. Except once I travelled with a fellow photographer who wanted to get a coffee and we stopped in Ellensburg. Ellensburg turned out to be an interesting town, its historic center had a lot of old buildings. While walking its streets I realized that this is what attracted me in all other towns. The historic centers of many towns in Central and Eastern Washington look very old. And it is not like they are preserved for a history. They look abandoned like orphan children, they want some attention but don’t get it. While passing thru some of them I would find their streets empty almost like ghost towns. Some towns are slowly disappearing. In others people for some reason have moved away from their historic centers.
Once I noticed this pattern I begun to stop in every town on my way and capture those old town centers in their vanishing act. And thus the project “Olde Town, WA” was born.