COVID-19

Photos from a vinyl village

Since the global pandemic has left us all stuck at home, I’ve been taking a lot of walks around the neighborhood. I still want to make photographs, so the neighborhood has been my primary subject.

It’s a nice neighborhood. People take good care of their properties here. The houses are all very similar in design but as you drive through everything looks tidy and cheerful.

Reflected vinyl

Yet this isn’t my kind of place. I yearn for the city grid, with streets that actually go places. I miss interesting and quirky local businesses; out here, it’s all chains. I miss living in an older home, solidly built. These houses feel like they’re built of balsa wood and papier-mâché.

It’s not all bad. It’s incredibly convenient to live near major shopping. We’re right by I-65, so we can go anywhere in central Indiana quickly. And we get spectacular sunsets here.

But as Margaret and I talk about where we’d like to live when the nest empties, I’ve been clear: not here.

I walk around the neighborhood every day I can during our stay-at-home orders, to get some exercise and breathe the air. The main road loops through the neighborhood. Streets branch from it, leading to the clusters of houses.

Down the main road

I’ve been bringing a camera along on most of these walks just to scratch my photography itch. It’s made me see some things that I’d been glazing over. High-voltage power lines bisect the neighborhood. Retention ponds are everywhere. Boxes stick up from the ground all over the place, even in peoples’ front yards, to ease access to utilities. And a petroleum pipeline runs under the neighborhood, or at least that’s what all the tall yellow-and-white signs above it say.

And then you look at the houses themselves. They present well from the front, but around the sides not so much. Many houses, like ours, have no windows on the sides. The acre of vinyl siding is really unattractive. When there are windows, they seem randomly placed. I’m sure the windows’ placement makes sense from the inside, but on the outside it’s disharmonious.

I’m thinking about a project of deeply photographing this neighborhood, and then publishing a book. I could start with all of the beautiful scenes and slowly shift to all the ways this neighborhood is actually banal, and even sometimes ugly.

It’ll be fun to explore this idea, at any rate. It’s not like I have many other photographic subjects while we all stay at home!

Other coronavirus reports from Khürt Williams, Steve Mitchell, Shawna LeMay, and Gerald Greenwood.

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Personal

One flies the nest

My wife and I drove to Bloomington a couple Saturdays ago to see my older son, who had just moved into his first apartment.

It was a milestone day. My goal for my sons all along has been for them to begin independent lives of their choosing. They have owned their choices and through them appear to be seeking meaning, connection, and happiness.

And here’s my firstborn, working a job with a future in an industry of his choosing, settling into his first home.

My son and I share a common trait: home is very important to us. We spend a lot of time there and we want to make it reflect the best of who we are. I look forward to seeing what he makes of his home.

Here’s a photo of me in my first apartment. I was so happy there. I had real life challenges to figure out, and I was frequently not happy with my life overall. So it goes for pretty much everyone. But I knew that I could go home and recenter myself and just enjoy my time. Whenever I haven’t had a home like that, my mental health has suffered.

Read the story of my first apartment, and how I grew into adulthood in it, here.

At home in 1992

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Old house

Old house
Argus Argoflex Forty
Kodak Verichrome Pan (expired 6/1980)
2019

One more from the Argoflex Forty as I finish writing my review. I was in Lebanon on an errand and brought the camera along.

This photo was late in the roll. Winding had always been uneven, but by this frame there was a spot during winding where I had to turn the knob hard.

For whatever reason the film didn’t wind evenly onto the takeup spool and spilled past the spool’s edge on one side. I didn’t notice that until a few days after I took the film out of the camera, which allowed light to leak onto the edges of some frames, as here.

Nice old house though. I’d guess it dates to before 1850.

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Film Photography, Preservation

single frame: Old house

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Personal

Who knew that a closet shelf could be structural?

This is the situation at our rental house.

A support beam failed under the house. The crawl space is too shallow to work in, or even to survey the damage, so we’ve had the floors ripped up in one room and soon in another.

This home was built in about 1890; the room with the failed beam was a later addition. As so often happens with older homes, investigating one repair reveals the need for several more. In our case, we found past repairs and improvements that weakened other support beams. One floor joist was cut in two when the last furnace was installed. Also, water damage has rotted the sill along one wall.

How the beam failed is a sad story. A couple of our sons ripped the carpet out. We decided to lay laminate wood flooring throughout so I stacked all of the flooring bundles in this bedroom. It was easily a ton of flooring.

One of our sons has a friend who’s experienced in construction and he was over to remove shelves from this bedroom’s closet so it could be reconfigured. When he knocked out the first shelf, this whole side of the house groaned and the floor shifted beneath him.

We think this is what happened: the foundation was already weak, and the walls were bearing a lot of stress. Putting a ton of flooring bundles in this bedroom only exacerbated it. That shelf had, in a way, become structural, like the keystone of an arch.

We’ve consulted with a structural engineer, who’s given us great advice. Our son and his best friend have enough experience in this arena that, with the engineer’s guidance, they can do the repairs — and turn this from being a major financial disaster into merely another demoralizing setback. They’ve expressed interest in doing the work.

But that’s a lot to ask of a couple guys who already work for a living and, in the case of our son Jeff, is about to become a father. We have other options, including hiring pros and just selling the house as is. I’m not sure what’s best. Margaret and I keep trying to talk about it but, frankly, it’s overwhelming.

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Road Trips

The lovely old homes on the Michigan Road in Rochester and Plymouth

If you like old houses, you’ll love driving the Michigan Road through Fulton and Marshall Counties. The road is lined with lovely old houses in Rochester, Argos, and Plymouth. We stopped in Rochester and Plymouth on our recent trip. Here are some of the houses in Rochester. Click any of the photos to see them larger. (The flag was at half mast because of the death of President George H. W. Bush.)

Here are some of the lovely older homes in Plymouth.

That first photograph is of an especially notable house: that of Plymouth’s first mayor, Horace Corbin. Here’s an engraving of his house as it stood shortly after it was built.

I shared Horace Corbin’s story once before, here.

I’ve documented Indiana’s historic Michigan Road extensively. To read all about it, click here.

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Film Photography, Preservation

Homes of the Perrin Historic District in Lafayette, Indiana

If you ever drive through Lafayette, Indiana on Main Street, you’ll be surprised by the stunning older homes you pass. I sure was the first time I drove through Lafayette on my way to Purdue to visit my son. I’ve long wanted to stop and explore. My son and I finally made time for it not long ago.

Perrin Historic District, Lafayette, IN

It turns out many of these homes are part of the Perrin Historic District, which has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1979. The 173 homes in it were built between about 1869 and 1923 in many common styles of the era, from Italianate and Queen Anne through American Craftsman.

Perrin Historic District, Lafayette, IN
Perrin Historic District, Lafayette, IN

One of the area’s distinctive features is its hilliness. Put on good walking shoes when you visit the Perrin Historic District.

Perrin Historic District, Lafayette, IN
Perrin Historic District, Lafayette, IN
Perrin Historic District, Lafayette, IN

But as you walk, be sure to keep your mouth tightly closed so you don’t drool. Pretty much every home will stop you dead in your tracks. Many of the homes are lovingly cared for or even restored, while some are in original but rough condition.

Perrin Historic District, Lafayette, IN
Perrin Historic District, Lafayette, IN

Remarkably, you can live in the Perrin Historic District for not a whole lot of money. As I check Zillow.com today, I see estimated values of as little as $90,000 and no higher than $250,000.

Perrin Historic District, Lafayette, IN

If you ever visit, the district is bordered on the south by Main Street (the old Lafayette Road, built in the 1830s to connect Lafayette to Indianapolis), on the north by Union Street, on the west by Erie Street, and on the east by 18th Street.

Pentax ME, 35mm f/2.8 SMC Pentax-A, Fujicolor 200 (at EI 100)

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