My subdivision used to be farmland. When I moved to central Indiana a quarter century ago, I occasionally drove out this way and it was as rural as rural can be. Now it’s all vinyl villages and shopping centers.
An old farmhouse lies around the corner from my house. It’s on a parcel that I’d guess covers just a few acres. A family still lives there — is it the original family that sold the rest of the land for this subdivision?
These steps lead to the farmhouse’s front door, but it’s clear that nobody’s used that door in a long time.
The road I stood on to make this photograph used to be a state highway, but not since the 1960s when it was moved to intersect with the nearby Interstate highway. Now this old road is just the back way into my section of the neighborhood, and it dead ends when it reaches it.
I live in a modern vinyl village. It’s not my cup of tea, but it made practical sense when Margaret and I got married and so here we are. We both hope to move on from here when the nest empties.
While we’re all on stay-at-home orders during the global pandemic, my photography is limited to my house and, when I take a walk, my neighborhood.
The houses all present well from the front, but they paid zero attention to what the sides and back look like. Windows, when they exist, are stuck wherever it made sense from the inside, without regard to how that would look on the outside. Our house has windows on the front and back, but the sides are huge, unbroken slabs of vinyl. Some houses have windows inserted in random places. The pictured house has this one window on this side, in the extreme lower left corner. It just looks weird.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Someone I went to high school with is a professional photographer. One of her specialties is photographing impeccably decorated luxury homes for lifestyle magazines. I see some of her work on Instagram and it’s all so well done.
When Margaret and I visited New Harmony recently, we rented a circa-1840 cottage, a little nook for us to relax in. But when we arrived we were told that the cottage was out of order, and that we were upgraded to the Orchard House — two stories, four bedrooms, five bathrooms, all done up in period style. What an upgrade!
The house is a little rough around the edges — it could use a little TLC. But that didn’t stop us from enjoying this giant house to the hilt. It made for a truly lovely stay for us. Here’s the view when you step inside.
My old high-school friend surely has expensive and expansive pro gear for her work. I had only my trusty Canon PowerShot S95 and available light. But through looking at her work I gleaned a couple key tips for appealing interior photography. First, go wide to get more in, but not too wide or everything will distort. I shot at 28mm for a commanding view. This is the parlor.
Second, crouch down for a child’s-eye view of the room, so that vertical lines are vertical. Doing this also captures some details up high that you’d otherwise miss, like the canopy over this bed in the east upstairs bedroom.
I’m sure my friend could give me twenty more pointers to improve these photos, but I’m pretty pleased with how they turned out. Here’s my entire gallery. Click the < and > buttons to see all the photos, inside and out.
Bonus: If you flipped through the gallery you saw the strange sink in the west upper bedroom. We’d never seen a sink that worked this way before! It has separate hot and cold taps with little holes in the porcelain where the water comes out, one set for hot and one set for cold. Here’s the cold tap in action:
I’ll admit straight out that I know only a little bit about New Harmony’s history. Like every lifelong Hoosier I learned in the fourth grade about the 1810s-20s utopian experiments here. The first experiment, the Harmony Society communal religious sect, founded the town in 1814. Robert Owen bought the town in 1825 and tried again to build utopia around cooperative principles but after just two years he threw in the towel.
I suppose these log cabins represent the Harmony Society era. I have no idea if these are original or not but I’d guess not.
Several brick and frame houses of the Harmonist and Owenite eras do survive. This white house, the c.1822 Lenz house, is from the Harmonist period. I thought surely I’d photographed it in good light, but this sunset photo is the only one I appear to have. Part of the very modern New Harmony Welcome Center is in the photo at left.
It’s not clear to me at all which brick buildings are Harmonist and which are Owenite, but the downtown district is full of them.
I wish I’d backed way up to bring the building below entirely into the frame, because I believe now this was one of the Owenite adult dormitories.
I gather that in the post-Owenite years, New Harmony tried to continue to lead in social and scientific concerns. It’s all fascinating, really, but more than I intend to cover here — check out the town’s Wikipedia page for a thumbnail.
I just want to show you pretty house pictures. I love an old house! This is the one we stayed in, the c. 1860 Orchard House, part of the New Harmony Inn. We had the place to ourselves for our long weekend. I’ll share interior photos in an upcoming post.
Of all the other older houses in New Harmony this one’s facade appeals to me most. I love its porch!
Many of the older homes are typical of other Indiana places.
I’m drawn to Victorians as I pass them on the street, but I’m not sure I’d want to live in one. They’re too fussy for me to look at every day.
I couldn’t tell you the first thing about this house’s architectural style, but it sure has lots of interesting details.
Finally, a Federal style house.
As we pedaled our bikes around New Harmony we did see some newer homes, primarily in styles popular in the 1950s and 1960s. On the main drag I noticed at least one house that was probably no older than 1980. But for the most part, living in New Harmony means living in an older home.