March 8, 2011
Fourteen Places to Eat
The photographs in this series are part of a long-term project on rural culture in the Midwest, particularly in my home state of Indiana. This work was inspired by my memories of growing up on a farm in Walkerton, Indiana, and observing first hand the shifting cultural identity that has occurred over time and through changing economic development.
When I first moved back to Walkerton in 2001, one of my biggest complaints was that there were not enough places to eat out. Or, rather, practically no places to eat out. So I was happy when news arrived that a new restaurant was opening there. Imagine my surprise when I read a letter to the editor in the local paper against the new restaurant. The letter stated that we already had enough places to eat in this town. The writer counted a total of fourteen places to eat, which included four restaurants, three gas stations, four bars, a truck stop, a convenience mart, and a bowling alley. This letter was published during the beginning of my project portraying small-town life, and it gave the series its name.
These photos mirror my personal history, but I also wanted to tell a people’s history grounded in a sense of place. Although my work can be described as documentary, my approach is that of a participant observer. I am concerned with the ways in which rural tradition and history are interpreted and transformed in the present day. I often photograph home-made or decorative artifacts that express something about a community’s common ideas and values.
In this series I show the effects of the demise of local economies that historically sustained rural communities. Many of my images contain the remains of an earlier time when locally owned stores and family farms were the norm. Today chain stores and agribusiness have displaced these resources.
Rural places are often described as places where time moves slowly, if at all. But if one looks closely, they will see that a significant change has taken place, and it is signified by Monsanto signs tacked to fence posts, as well as the ubiquitous sightings of Dollar General stores. These communities are struggling to thrive in the global economy, and my images are one reflection of that reality.