There are times when the need to create burns inside. If that need, that feeling, wasn’t there, life would be so much easier. But, life wouldn’t be as beautiful and fulfilling. I suppose this is the artist’s dilemma. One of them anyway.
If I haven’t taken photos in a while, I can tell that my soul is a little off. The act of carrying a camera: observing, predicting, controlling exposures and compositions, it all has such a grounding effect. I’ll often dedicate one weekend every month or two and take pictures. The weekend’s days are mine to make pictures whenever and wherever I choose.
When that weekend is complete, my creative hunger is fed and I feel ready to take on the regularities of life. Such was the case recently when I stayed in Big Rapids, Michigan. I’d been to Big Rapids before, and it’s a fun place to photograph, but what I was really looking forward to on my recent excursion was exploring some of the small communities around Big Rapids.
Being in a new place stimulates the senses and creativity. Going to a new town, or new anywhere, makes me feel like a kid again because I’m seeing new things and places for the first time. There are of course similarities to other places, but each place that I’ve ever been to has things that are uniquely its own.
One of the town’s I visited was White Cloud, Michigan. White Cloud is a town that I’d always pass while driving on the highway, so it felt right to visit it since I wasn’t far away.
Walking, versus driving, is the best way to explore a small town, or anywhere for that matter. It allows you to see, observe and feel the rhythms of a place. So that’s exactly what I did. I pulled off to the side of a street, turned the key to my car off and listened. There was a barking dog in the distance and the faint sound of an occasional distant car passing by.
I was parked next to a laundromat so I decided to walk there first. The sign was eye-catching so I immediately photographed it. Then, a person began to walk toward the laundromat and a minivan parked in front as well. It may not seem like much but moments like these are wonderful for a couple of reasons.
First, they are genuine moments. Nothing about it was posed or contrived—it was serendipity at its finest. And, this is why walking is so important in photography: it allows you to immerse yourself in a space, and it also allows you to be ready with your camera when chance moments occur.
Finally, the addition of a person and minivan added to the image. The building itself was interesting, but whenever I take a photo, I’m thinking,”How can I make this more interesting.” I often try to include people in my pictures because I think it’s important to do so. They give life to a picture and make them more relatable. It’s not always possible to do so because small towns, especially, are so quiet. But, when possible, I try.
After the laundromat, I began walking down what looked like a main street, and turned left. There was a classic Chevy Blazer parked. The simplicity of the vehicle’s design was appealing to me. Also, there was a house behind it that provided a nice sense of place.
Pro Tip: If you’re wondering about taking a photo—take it. Too many times I’ve not taken a picture only to regret not taking it later. Listen to whatever “voice” is suggesting a moment or scene might make a good picture.
Across the street from the Blazer was a vehicle service station. The service station evoked a feeling of ‘small town’ because it wasn’t like some of the newer, bigger and fancier service stations that inhabit so much real estate in small towns. This one was smaller and appeared to have some history under its oil-stained ground.
On the outskirts of town was an old bowling alley building. I’m not sure if it was still in operation or not. There was grass growing out of the parking lot in spots and a some of the lettering was missing on the side of the building. It was perfect for a photograph.
As I looked at the White Cloud website, I noticed that the images that were used were aesthetically beautiful. They showed scenes and people having a wonderful time, partaking in outdoor pursuits, in White Cloud.
To some, it may seem like an old bowling building or laundromat aren’t “pretty” locations for a picture. But, I feel like they are as beautiful, if not more so, because they are authentic. Each visual element and vignette of a town is what makes a place what it is, and what could be more beautiful than that?
My only regret is that I’m not able to spend a lot more time in a place to know people and document the happenings. But, I don’t think there would ever be enough time for me to do that. So, I enjoy what time I have to explore the amazing places nearby and photograph what I can. It was ever so satisfying taking some time on a sunny and warm September Sunday and exploring the quaint town of White Cloud.