Ansel Adams had the majestic views of Yosemite Park. Henri Cartier-Bresson had the picturesque streets of Paris. Vivian Maier had the gritty and people-filled walkways of Chicago. If you’re like me though, places like that are not nearby. I learned long ago that there are amazing photographic opportunities right in your backyard if you’re willing to change your perspective and look.
Cadillac, Michigan is a nearby town with a little more than 10,000 people. There are beautiful lakes nearby so in the summer the number of people increases, but in the winter it’s a quieter place. It’s a blue-collar town that used to be bustling when travelers had to drive through on their way to a major highway. Once a bypass was constructed, though, the amount of traffic going through Cadillac was significantly reduced.
It’s a small town and it’s close though, so I took a recent opportunity to check it out with my film camera and some inspiration to capture this place with a some snow on the ground.
Appreciate the Seasons
As challenging as winters can be, it does provide a completely different background to photograph in. There’s a hardiness represented in the way that people still live, work and go about life no matter what the weather brings. Not long ago, there was a time when I was envious of southern photographers. Being able to photograph without the challenges that cold environments can bring seemed like a dream. Now I can’t wait to photograph in all four seasons. If it’s not a thing already, there needs to be some type of Midwestern photographers club or community.
During winter, it can be so cold that film becomes brittle, batteries die and the body gets cold. Leaving a warm apartment or car to head out and photograph can seem like a bad, uncomfortable idea. Dress well, bring extra batteries and change your outlook though, and winter can be a fantastic time to make images.
One of the benefits of living in a place that has seasons is that instead of traveling to different places to capture summer warmth or fall colors, they’re all in one place. All you have to do is wait for the season to change.
Much of Cadillac is a reminder of a bygone era, at least, based on buildings. Life continues on there, though and there is a lot to offer. There’s still a movie theater downtown, which many towns no longer have. And, it’s situated next to a brewery which is fantastic.
Documenting Small Town Winter
On this trip though, I was looking for scenes that spoke ‘winter’ to me. There was a shoe repair shop that caught my eye as well as an old truck that made a nice image. My process of making pictures, at least with film, usually involves only a couple photos of a scene before moving on. That’s just me though. You do what works for you. There’s a lot to be said for waiting a while someplace to get the your desired image. I enjoy photographing a scene rather quickly and moving on, being excited to find the next scene.
I’ve written it before, but it bears saying again, the drab colors of winter can either evoke a mood by themselves, or they really help other, more vibrant colors, pop. Once you learn to work with winter instead of being against it, you’ll really start to find the benefits of photographing in it.
An amazing and talented photographer—and outstanding individual also—is an area photographer named Chris Weaver. Chris’s ability to document landscapes and area nuances, no matter the season and with film, is inspiring and beautiful.
The Simple Beauty of Photography
One of the most fascinating and arresting aspects of photography, to me, is photography’s ability to capture something. It sounds simple, and it is, but it’s so important. As soon as we, as artists, capture something, the moment will be gone. The content, composition, light, etc. that we photograph, those things are fleeting.
Whether it’s a small town or big city or anything in between, know that when you create—whether it’s by photographing, painting, or whatever medium you use—you’re creating art and that’s powerful.