Things that aren’t there anymore

Blue mural
Kodak VR35 K40, Fujifilm Fujicolor 200, 2011

I made this photograph while walking through Broad Ripple Village, the heart of the Broad Ripple neighborhood in Indianapolis. You can’t photograph this same scene anymore, because this building no longer exists.

Broad Ripple Village is undergoing a transformation. Large apartment buildings with first-floor retail are replacing entire blocks of older buildings that hail from the Village’s salad days as a north Indianapolis suburb and, before that, a town in its own right. The whole 30 years I’ve lived in central Indiana, it’s been a popular place to live because of its early- and mid-20th-century homes and plenty of attractive amenities. Developers have finally broken in and are densifying the population with their construction projects. I hardly recognize the place anymore.

I’ve been driving and walking around making photographs in earnest since 2006. That doesn’t seem like that long ago, but a lot can change in the built environment in 17 years. I sometimes drive along roads I documented many years ago and am blown away by how different everything looks. Roads are rerouted, bridges are removed and built anew, old buildings are demolished, and new buildings are built.

A blogging friend from Toronto who doesn’t post very often anymore used to share photographs he found of places outside the city proper from the 1950s, followed by photos he made of the same places at that time. It was fascinating to follow that series. Most of those long-ago photos were made by one man who apparently made it his mission to document what was then rural territory. He created a terrific record.

I may be inadvertently creating a similar record around Indiana as I take my road trips with a camera in my hand, and as I walk about with my old film cameras looking for things to photograph. I hope my work is useful to someone many decades from now, as well.

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18 responses to “Things that aren’t there anymore”

  1. DougD Avatar

    Yes indeed you are making an archive. Your friend in Toronto has lots to work with, huge swaths of the city are unrecognizable from even 20 years ago. And our provincial premier just gifted more swaths of greenbelt lands to his developer buddies.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      How does this stuff go on in plain sight and nobody does anything about it? (The cronyism.) Argh.

  2. John Paul Jones Avatar
    John Paul Jones

    Without photos it amazes me how the old views fade so quickly from our memories. I drive through my old hometown now and try to remember how it used to be. The photo record is priceless!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      It’s true. In my hometown there was a part of downtown that was demolished for a sprawling community center. I have dim memories of how it was before. I saw a photograph a year or two ago and BAM, there was that memory, clear as day, of riding in Dad’s car through there.

  3. Andy Umbo Avatar
    Andy Umbo

    I’ve lived all over the country, but ended up coming back to where my parents were living (not really our home town, but where we’ve lived the longest) to take care of family responsibilities. It seems to me that the changes in the urban landscape is truly accelerating! The first time I was not here for a.number of years in the late 80s, not much change when I got back in the early 90s. When I left in the late 90s and got back in the mid 2000s, more change, but still recognizable. Then my Mom passed, and I really didn’t need to be here anymore, so took a corporate job in a different midwestern city in 2013, but disliked the city, so didn’t move lock, stock and barrel, and left my stuff in storage here.

    When I got laid off in 2018, just came back, and in that period, whole sections of the city had radically changed so that I didnt even recognize them and it was initially difficult to drive! What is NOT understandable, is that in a city where the average house hold income is more than ten thousand a year LESS than the national average, there hasn’t been an apartment or condo project built that doesn’t cost less than two grand a month to live in. You could rent in the Chicago high end suburbs for what it costs to rent in a new building here. Makes no sense.

    I have a feeling we are living on the edge of a precipice. When I I talk to developers, they develop because they have the money to do so, they do not take into account if the spaces will be filled to the capacity to make the development successful; they say it’s not their problem, if people are giving them money to build, they build, or they’re out of business. The first few floors of a project being retail, with upper living, is the urban formula everywhere now. In my city, when a new fancy project come along, people migrate to it from the last fancy project, which then has problems filling itself. It’s like a weird game of musical chairs. Theres still a negative population flow in my city, so the idea that this is going to attract anyone from out of town has yet to be proven. Don’t be surprised if this is the beginning of living someplace that ends up looking like Blade Runner!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      It is frustrating when new housing is not affordable. But builders gonna build.

  4. brineb58 Avatar

    In my town, Woodbridge, NJ, they put up 5 huge apartment buildings in the last 4 years. Only 2 are of the mixed use and the retail is mostly vacant. The charm of my city is being sold off … not to mention the congestion on the roads!!! Palms are definitely being greased. It’s a huge problem here in NJ, nearly every town with a commuter train is knocking down their history and putting up these beasts!!!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I watched Fishers, Indiana, change radically while I worked there in 2017-18. I didn’t love it. But the city had a vision and it’s pursuing it aggressively — and its’ bringing people in. The original charm is definitely gone though.

  5. fishyfisharcade Avatar

    I take a lot of pictures of random buildings and street scenes and I think that, in the back of my mind, I’m thinking of them as archival. I make photos that are interesting to my eye, rather than them simply being record shots, but record shots they are nonetheless. A lot of it comes from the joy I get from looking at old photos and seeing how things once were and hoping that I, or someone else, will do the same with my own pictures one day.

    I’m not averse to change – it’s often necessary – and many of the places that imprinted themselves on my younger mind that are now being lost would have been the agents of change for folks older than myself, building over some field or cherished spot that they once took for granted. I still feel a sense of resentfulness when someone changes things that I once took for granted though. I think it’s just human nature.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Right there with you – I hope someone finds my photos 20, 30 years from now and marvels at how things used to be.

      It’s challenging when changes make our memories less tangible. I’m not personally crazy about what Broad Ripple is becoming, for example. It’s very dense now, but when I moved here it was very open and airy and had a small town or village feel. But that just means Broad Ripple isn’t for me anymore, and it’s time to find new things.

  6. Julie Camera Vause Avatar

    We have many earthquakes in New Zealand and lots of our buildings have fallen down over the years, so we treasure old photos of what was there before. Often the replacement structures are quite ugly in comparison. The price of so-called improvement?
    I hope they preserved the wonderful painting of the swimmers on the wall of your pictured building.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      This was one mural of several on this building, which housed a company that sold pools. They were all demolished. :-

  7. andytree101 Avatar

    Hi Jim, What a great image! Reminds me of a Cyanotype! Terrific quality too from that Kodak. It always amazes me the quality that some of these cameras produce, and why, some of us got carried away with digital, spent thousands and produced nothing better! When I say some of us – I mean me! I also know what you mean about the changing environment, especially when one hasn’t visited a place for a while! All best wishes – Andy

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      That Kodak camera is a surprise. You don’t expect much from it, yet it delivers.

  8. Steve Mitchell Avatar

    Whenever I re-visit a place where I have previously lived I am always amazed. These places live in my memory as they were before, and it is always something of a shock to see them as they are now. I lived in Brisbane, Australia for 24 years until 2011 when I moved back to New Zealand. Last visit to Brisbane on business was five years ago and so much has changed. I have to attend a conference there in May, and I will need the GPS to get around!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I visit the city I lived in previously from time to time, and am amazed by how little it has changed — except for blocks of houses demolished. It’s sad to see a city in decline.

  9. J P Avatar

    I still vividly remember pulling off the I-69 exit for 96th Street and stopping at a lonely little Amoco station. This was 1987 or 88 and I marveled at how there could be absolutely nothing else there, even so close to a major city. I wish I had thought to take a picture of it. That area is nothing but congestion now.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Check this out — a photo I found on Facebook of 86th and Michigan circa 1973.

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