Voyaging: Mackinaw City, MI—Crossroads in the State Made with Hands
Look at the palm of your right hand; that’s Michigan, the lower peninsula. Follow your middle finger to the tip and that’s where Mackinaw City is. Now, look at the palm of your left hand, that’s Michigan’s upper peninsula. Connect the tip of your left hand pinky finger with the tip of your right-hand middle finger and you have Michigan in all its peninsular glory.
Michigan is unbelievably unique and it doesn’t end at hands representing mittens, that’s for sure. Mackinaw City is across from St. Ignace (the tip of your left pinky finger), a town in Michigan’s upper peninsula, with the two peninsulas being connected at the Straights of Mackinac (pronounced Mackinaw) by the Mackinac (still pronounced Mackinaw) Bridge. The “Mighty Mac” is a five-mile suspension bridge with Lake Michigan to the west and Lake Huron to the east. Mackinaw City is a fun town that is known as an access point for ferries that transport people to Mackinac (Mackinaw) Island.
Mackinaw City is filled with restaurants, souvenir shops and motels. It’s a place that is often passed through, due to it’s vicinity, but has positioned itself with enough shops and stores that it entices even the most road-bound traveler. What draws me here is the contrast. It’s a place that people pass through so I want to stay. It’s a resort town aimed at making money so I want to explore who works there to help the town’s economy make that money. My time in Mackinaw City was only a day so my exploration wasn’t thorough, but it was excellent to voyage and explore as always.
Land of Contrasts
With my vehicle parked and windows cracked on this sultry summer day, I was ready to walk and create a street photo or two. It was a Saturday, which was perfect because that way I could maximize my potential of seeing the place for the resort town that it is. My first stop was a restaurant called Wienerlicious, good god what a name. This was to be my first stop because it’s presence looms large as one is driving past on Interstate 75. Positioned atop the establishment is a 40-foot wiener welcoming all who travel by or enter. So visually, this is a must-photograph place.
My next destination was the downtown area, where the tourists congregate. There’s a ferry dock where passengers embark and disembark so I wanted to make an image there. People from all over the world utilize the ferry services so it’s always fascinating to see the melting pot.
One of the reasons that Mackinaw City interests me so much is that it’s a resort town and I’m from a resort town, where contrasts abound. There are residents, tourists and seasonal workers. Much of the contrasts, the most visible ones, are economical. After only walking a couple of blocks outside of town, I encountered a development that was clearly a hotel at one time, but was now converted to be living quarters for seasonal workers. Where cars would once park for registration, there was a man giving haircuts. I love photographing people, people are what make the world go around, so I knew I’d photograph this scene. It doesn’t mean that I don’t get a slight bit nervous each time, but I walk knowing that I’m going to do my best to photograph the scene. What I hate more than being denied a photographic opportunity is regret, so I don’t allow regret to enter the equation.
The men were sort of nervous at first, but after talking with them a bit and showing genuine interest, they were agreeable to me photographing the haircuts. After that, and not far down the road, was a motel that was out of business. Resort towns fluctuate in income and success so an out-of-business motel definitely helps narrate my visual story. The simplicity of the ‘Motel’ and ‘Office’ sign, along with the red color, drew me in and reminded me of much of the New Topographic Movement work I’ve seen.
Pro Tip: Already, on my photo sojourn around Mackinaw City, my cup of film captures runneth over. My goal was to get off the main highway and explore around the town, to dig deeper. If you’re in a rut or have been feeling uninspired, one method to cure your photographer’s block is to simply take a different route. Or, what I love doing, travel to a small town nearby that you don’t visit all the time and walk around the block. When you walk, your powers of observance are much more likely to be higher than if you think about a place or drive near a place. You must walk it, it will help you connect and possibly discover a renewed sense of artistic inspiration.
Mackinaw City was a worthy stop for sure and I hope to someday have the opportunity to photograph there in winter. It’s most likely going to be local, year-round residents and that’s exactly what I’d hope for; people who have perspective on comings and goings of people, money, businesses and seasons. To live in a resort town, any resort town, is to adapt and survive. It was a successful trip to Mackinaw City to explore during the prime summer months and study the different sectors of town in as much of an authentic way as I could. Until next time—probably when the snow flies—Mackinaw City.
Tech notes: For this adventure, my equipment was a Leica 35mm camera and some expired film. The expired film didn’t bother me, I embraced the inevitable imperfections because that’s what life is and I knew that the film had been preserved properly; also, there’d be only slight inconsistencies in color. Any camera would’ve worked, of course, but I wanted to blend in a little more than usual so I opted for a small 35mm rangefinder. A tech note tip: Leica’s are expensive. If I didn’t have one, I’d for sure take my Canonet QL17GIII. I bought it for $20 and spent $100 to fix it. After it was serviced by Lezot, it works beautifully and wow, are those lenses sharp.