Street Photography in Cadillac
Situated in the lower eastern section of northern Michigan’s Wexford County, you’ll find Cadillac. It’s unofficial claims probably outnumber the official ones, but I’ll fill you in with what I know. In 1975, the rock band KISS performed there for the high school’s homecoming, which is memorialized on a giant stone plaque that stands at the high school football field. The city was founded in the mid-1800s when logging was prevalent. Also, a fair number of fine folks on my dad’s side are there, so I’ve been visiting the town since I was young.
It’s funny though, photography will help or force you into looking at a place differently; one of my favorite things about it. A camera is a powerful device, and creativity is a powerful force. For me, actively taking photos seems to heighten my observations of an area. With camera in hand, it seems other senses are activated and it becomes a fantastic exercise in noticing things one normally wouldn’t.
One day recently, I decided to throw some of my favorite film in my Leica (Kodak Portra) and travel 45 minutes south of home to make some images in the town I’d grown up stopping in to visit family members. It was springtime in the season of coronavirus so Cadillac was an excellent choice to visit because there aren’t a lot of people congesting the sidewalks.
From Old to New
Walking downtown on historic Mitchell Street, it’s noticeable that the town was once thriving. There are substantial—some well-preserved and some not so much—historical buildings as well as some excellent examples of mid-century architecture and design. Having a journalism background, I have a deep appreciation for the Cadillac News building. It’s pillars and stance are grand while the words ‘Cadillac News’ are in neon. So great.
As I started my photo walk, I didn’t have a plan, as I often don’t. My intent on this outing is like my intent on most outings: to be astute in observation and as receptive as possible to everything else, while making images. There’s a pizza place in town that looks like the walls could write a quintessential small-town book filled with numerous chapters. It’s a beautiful building, like so many buildings there, so I had to photograph it. There were blooms out at the time, which needed to be incorporated.
One of the best features of Cadillac is that so many of the buildings are unchanged by time. Everything seems to be as it was for many years and that sort of time capsule is highly appealing, especially for a visual person. The day I was there was a warm one, but that didn’t prohibit me from making the most of the walking, it was springtime in Michigan after all.
To be a Small-Town Street Photographer is to Often Wait
Around each corner there seems to be a surprise. One section of town is on a hill, with streets descending into the downtown area. This type of natural feature isn’t common so it adds some interesting visual variety. There was a sidewalk that looked down into town. It was an appealing location, I just wanted to have a person in the photo. This can take a while in most circumstances, since it’s a quiet town, so I waited. Such is the life of a small-town photographer. Finally, a jogger crossed into my viewfinder and I made an image.
A lot of the scenes in Cadillac remind me of something legendary color photography, Stephen Shore, would capture. Farther outside of town, I noticed the green of a plant seemingly leaning into the sun for some desired warmth. This is an example of the importance of walking; if you drive and hope to see something that stops you, you could be driving for a while. The key to noticing details of all sizes is to walk.
Around the corner after photographing the jogger, a service station came into view. I didn’t hesitate to photograph this one because the color was drawing me in. I’m sure I looked funny as I was shuffling my feet side to side, front to back, trying to get close and compose with a 28mm fixed lens. I don’t care though. When the photograph is there, you must take it.
On this day, it was a successful outing in Cadillac. The sun was a little harsher than I would’ve preferred, but I’m of the mindset that when the weather is constantly changing, I’ll take what I can get; it’s the Michigan way. Including people adds visual interest, so I was thankful to have had the jogger travel past as I was waiting. To include people in some photos, it simply involves waiting and being extremely patient. This isn’t always possible but when it works it’s great.
It can’t be emphasized enough that the best way to observe a town, or anywhere, in ways you normally wouldn’t, is to walk. I used to drive to and through a place, hoping to find something of visual interest. Once you start walking though, you’ll be surprised at how much more you’ll see.
Thank you, as always, for reading. Please subscribe to my blog so that you can be inspired, possibly learn something and join me on my small-town adventures. Please feel free to leave a comment also, I’d love to hear from you, especially if you are a fellow small-town photographer.