The temperature was hovering around 15 degrees Fahrenheit in northern Michigan; that’s not a bad temperature because it wasn’t windy, you see. So the question becomes: Where should I travel to for pictures?
Most photographers would make their way to Lake Michigan, possibly to explore any of the nearby coastal towns or to trek the always-photogenic Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.
Being an atypical photographer, I pulled my Woolrich socks up high, brushed the snow from my ’05 steel steed and made my way to Mesick, Michigan.
Mesick—population: around 400, and, named after founder Howard Mesick—is the “Mushroom Capital of the U.S.” and is an outdoorsperson’s playground. Every year in spring, before it seems like mushrooms have even thought about growing, there’s someone at the corner gas station, selling mushrooms out of their trunk. Also, every year, is the Mesick Mushroom Festival in May. Get there.
Incorporated in 1902, Mesick rose to prominence because of its location near the Manistee River and Ann Arbor railroad.
It’s a sleepy town about 25 miles south of Traverse City. Why travel to this small town? Because it’s a real town. One of my favorite characteristics of Mesick is that there isn’t any fluff or facade. It’s simple and effective. It’s also not a place that many photographers travel to, which makes me want to visit it even more.
Why You Should Explore Small Towns
One of…actually, THE most appealing reason to explore a small town is that it hasn’t been photographed by everyone else. There are certain locations around that have been photographed thousands of times…maybe more.
Why walk around a small town and find the beauty and art there? It’s seldom photographed. Once you step away from common places and photographic subjects, you’ll find that you’ll discover sights and environments that are unique and fresh.
After parking my steed near the local grocery store, I crunched my size 14 boots onto the freshly-formed winter ice and started stepping.
To say there wasn’t a lot of glitz in Mesick is an understatement of the highest order. Like I said though, that’s not why I was there. It was a serene winter day and after being coated with snow, the village took on a different, very Michigan, personality.
Like with anywhere in Michigan, when the snow falls, the colors tend to pop. I walked with my Leica M6 film camera simply to take in what the town had around each corner. Sometimes what was offered by way of aesthetics would be cars in a yard or a church steeple.
There weren’t many people on my photographic sojourn, except for the occasional person walking into and out of the town’s party store. Since there weren’t many people, my eyes and shutter button reacted to structures and yard scenes that I’d come across.
It becomes an almost-meditative practice of walking, looking, stopping and photographing; it’s not always in that order, but, when you repeat these steps often enough, they make for some fulfilling photo adventures.
After my film was developed, I was pleased with the images. I’m thankful that I wasn’t making images that are made by so many people. Capturing a small town like Mesick felt like a documentation of a genuine village and preserving what the town looked like at a time, which is special.
I urge you to travel about in the small towns that you may be surrounded by or are living in. If for no other reason than to take in what a certain, small, slice of life looks like at a given time. Sometimes, it takes only a quiet, small and slow step—as if you’re searching for mushrooms—to broaden the horizons and be exposed to something new.