And that has made all the difference.
Yogi Berra, in all his wit and wisdom, once said, “If you come to a fork in the road, take it.” More than likely a reference to Robert Frost’s sentiment in The Road Not Taken. And Thoreau once wrote, “When you think your walk is profitless and a failure, and you can hardly persuade yourself not to return, it is on the point of being a success, for then you are in that subdued and knocking mood to which Nature never fails to open.”
It doesn’t matter whether my walk is a nature walk or a city walk or a drive through the rural countryside, if I can simply go about my explorations with sufficient openness I will usually be rewarded with images I like and didn’t expect. When I take a road trip by myself I usually try to allow some extra time so that I might take myself off the beaten path and travel the back roads for a while. I’ll take a random exit off the interstate to drive the two-lanes for a while in search of photos and experiences that are easily missed when driving the expressways. These excursions have produced important images for me. I particularly remember stopping on the roadside in the Catskills one day on my way back from New York City to photograph a group of fall trees by a small pond. The image later was translated into a stained glass installation for a client in Binghamton.
My Sunday morning photo excursions have often proven to be the most profitable for surprises. I took a trip one day in the mid 70’s to Lawrence, Massachusetts.
I had never been to Lawrence before. Nor did I plan to go there. It was simply a Sunday morning wandering and that fork in the road ended up there. It was also one of those Zen types of photo shoots where everything happens in a single role of film. Almost every image I shot that day was a “keeper”. I love those days.
Lawrence is on the northern outskirts of Boston on the Merrimack River. It was once a thriving mill center for textiles and was the site of the Bread and Roses strike of 1912 when numerous arrests and many deaths of striking mill workers, including many women and children, eventually led to higher wages for all New England mill workers.
The town saw a decline in the 1950s with the closing of many of the mills. When I was there the population seemed to be mostly Italian but today it is heavily Hispanic and the site of redevelopment along the riverfront since about 2000.
The day I walked the streets of Lawrence the town was quiet and the streets were empty as they often are on a Sunday morning. I could occasionally hear music from open windows and smell breakfast cooking in the triplex apartments and houses along the city streets. I could imagine the families rising slowly, prodding the children out of bed to prepare for Mass. The storefronts were closed and many were vacant in the slack economy. The buildings and storefronts had the look of a city that had changed little since the 50’s.
I love the feel of the aging mill town, the ethnicity and culture apparent in the stores and the neighborhoods. The backbone of blue collar America. The descendant families of migrants from Europe and the more recent influx from Latin America and the Caribbean. Lawrence had a very similar feel to that I experienced in Willimantic, CT more recently.
It’s important to take that fork in the road. To divert ourselves from the normal everyday path to keep from getting complacent and bored. Walk a different path to work, take the next left. When in search of visual rewards the familiar often hides new visions. Can’t see the forest for the trees so to speak. It becomes necessary to shake up our everyday experience and feed it with new pictures, new roads to someplace we’ve never been before. Whether across the ocean or simply across town doesn’t matter. There’s always somewhere we’ve never been and pictures to be taken.
All images are copyright © George Cannon / All rights reserved.