Road Trips

Photograph it now

I’ve been driving and photographing the old roads for long enough now that some of my photographs qualify as “then” images versus what the same places look like now.

On the National Road near Norwich, Ohio, stands Baker’s Motel. When I drove by in 2011, it looked like this, with its interesting sign:

Baker's Motel

Here’s a closer look at that sign:

Baker's Motel

Sadly, this sign has been altered. It was damaged in about 2012 according to the Roadside Architecture site. It remained damaged until about 2017, when the top was lopped off and the arrow and letterboard were covered with plastic panels. It looks a little strange, but it does the job.

©2021 Google

Sometimes the built environment changes suddenly, sometimes it decays slowly. But it changes, and the only records we have of how it once was, is our photographs. You can’t go back and photograph something after it’s changed — do it now.

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11 thoughts on “Photograph it now

  1. Andy Umbo says:

    Ran across similar stuff since photographing a lot locally around town with my view camera back in the mid-70’s. Surprised at the changes when I went over the photos last summer. There was a famous group of photographs in Milwaukee found in the late 80’s early 90’s, from a guy that had spent a lot of time just walking around town and photographing on 35mm slides, from the late 40’s until he died. It was an amazing document of change.

    Interestingly enough the New York Times on Sunday had an article about how the popularity of the indie show “Schitts Creek”, which revolves around a motel like this, has spurred the popularity of people staying in these kinds of places and the restoration of these old roadside inns!

    https://www.nytimes.com/2021/09/03/realestate/catskill-motels-comeback.html

    • I sort of aim to be one of those people whose stashes of photos of mundane places fascinates others decades later when everything has changed!

      Running a motel has got to be lots of work for little reward.

  2. On a related note, there are certain places I go past and my memory of them is as they were in a photograph I took previously. The photograph has become like the definitive version of what they look like. Even if I’ve passed by again since and seen they’ve changed in reality, my mind reverts back to the memory of the place as it was captured in my photograph.

    There must be millions of photographs made each day now of on the surface fairly mundane objects and places, but that in 50 years could be valuable documentary on how life is now.

    Great title for the post, I might have added “… It May Never Look The Same Again!”

    • Yes! I have experienced that as well.

      There may be more photographs of things, but I’ll bet most of them will never come out of their phones to be seen.

      • It’s like my head has three sets of memories – actual memories of things seen with my own eyes, memories of photographs of things, and memories of dreams. And I often find it hard to separate them, or know which are which.

        Yes good point about the phones. I’m nearly maxed out on my Google storage – most of our family photos from the last 8-10 years are backed up there. We do actually view them quite often as it’s all synced in Google Photos, we just pick up a phone or usually an iPad, open GP, pick a random date and start browsing through with the kids. The vast majority of the images have never been printed, but at least they are regularly viewed and enjoyed.

        • Andy Umbo says:

          One of the tings I’ve learned from years of watching Antique Roadshow, is that many times the types of things that had millions sold, even in the 50’s and 60’s, have very little left today! So many, every one threw them out! They had zero value! Not rare until they were!

          As I’ve stated on here before, and on many other websites, and multiple times: upon your demise, even the most uneducated among us might find your physical photos, especially transparencies, and think they are “something”, and might want to see if they should ask someone what to do; whereas you could be the Ansel Adams of digital photography, and it’s doubtful anyone would ever bother to turn on your computer or wade through you hard drives!

          Viva actual film!

  3. Kurt Ingham says:

    So true! There was a long- abandoned and elaborate riding facility near the shooting range I go to 5-6 times a month -and I only stopped once for a snapshot.I put off doing more -for years. One brush fire (and ‘cleanup)later and everything was gone.

  4. Part of me wonders if the huge numbers of photos of gas stations being made (whether at night on Cinestill 800T or not) is some sort of unconcious drive to record things that, due to the impact of climate change, might be part of history before too long. :)

    I know a number of people who will try to avoid including contemporary elements from photos of older subjects, such as buildings and other landmarks, editing out cars and people in today’s fashions. It’s almost as though they’re trying to make a photo that they wish they’d been able to make in the past. While I can understand the nostalgia that drives this, they usually end up looking somewhat fake, far more fake than a photo showing our current contemporary life will look when viewed by someone decades from now.

  5. Yes you are right. My photography tends to focus on landscapes, and you try to avoid having distractions like cars, buildings or people in the frame, but the images that will be valuable in a few years time are the ones that do show these things….

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