My first apartment was the back half of an old house on the north side of Terre Haute, Indiana. The tree-lined street was less than a block away from Collett Park, one of the city’s loveliest spots. I felt fortunate.
I had seen some interesting spots in my neighborhood through my car’s windshield as I went about my business. I thought it might be fun to photograph some of them. So I bought some film, loaded up my best camera, and headed out on my bicycle.
That camera was the Kodak VR35 K40, a typical 1980s 35mm point and shoot. (See my review here.) The film was probably Kodacolor Gold 200, Kodak’s everyday color film that was available anywhere.
The Coca-Cola bottler was a few blocks away on Lafayette Avenue. This great sign faced the street. It was there through at least 1994, when I moved away from Terre Haute, but was removed at some point afterward.
When I moved to Terre Haute in 1985, this plant still bottled Coke into glass bottles. The common size my whole childhood had been the pint bottle, sold in an eight pack. Sometimes you’d see the eight-ounce bottle in a six pack. But I never saw 12-ounce bottles sold in grocery stores until I moved to Terre Haute. 16 ounces had always been too much for me to drink at once, where 12 ounces was just right. And I always preferred a bottle over a can! Sadly, the plant quit the 12-ounce size after a few years. Then the plant stopped bottling altogether and became a Coke warehouse. And now it stores up Coke no more; the building’s for sale. Oh, there’s the seat of my bicycle poking up from the bottom of this photo.
This little pull-behind cart in the bottling company yard was painted in throwback colors and designs that hearkened to the 1950s or maybe even earlier.
I also wanted to capture this odd tree growing in the middle of the sidewalk on 7th Street.
Also this humorous sign on 12th Street across from the Maple Avenue United Methodist Church.
The centerpiece of the neighborhood was the park, of course. Its land was donated to the city by Josephus Collett, a railroad magnate. Terre Haute was at one time a big railroad town. Many tracks still pass through town at grade; in most cases being delayed for a passing train is a valid excuse for being late.
Pity I didn’t photograph within the park that day. Manicured and proper, it always reminded me of something from a long-lost time where ladies and gentlemen, dressed properly, would stroll on a warm afternoon. I used to walk or ride up there all the time, sit on a bench, read a book, and watch people go by.
Down the block was my apartment, in the back half of the house on the left. That’s my car parked out front.
Here’s my front door. Home!
I make photo walks all the time now. I didn’t when I was in my early 20s. I wish I’d done it more often, because I love looking at these photos from way back when and wish I had more.
I did do this one other time, after an ice storm. I photographed the park in its glistening glory. See that post here.
Snow-covered steps Kodak VR35 K40 Kodak Max 400 (expired) 2018
At church, we all come in the back door. Our parking lot is back there.
But it means we often forget about our front door. The door that the neighborhood sees. And so on this snowy Sunday, nobody thought to shovel it clean. Were it not for the footprints on the steps, our neighbors might think we were not even open. Indeed, when we encounter them around the neighborhood that’s sometimes what they tell us.
It’s a common trap churches fall into: we know our ways. But we want to meet people who aren’t in our church, and they find our ways strange, or even to make no sense. And we wonder why we seldom see anybody new on Sunday.
Delicious and refreshing Kodak VR35 K40 Kodak Max 400 (expired) 2018
Hey, look! The first single frame that I shot in 2018! And it’s of this sign, obviously a recently painted reproduction of an old-style sign. It’s on 9th Street in Lafayette. Just check out all the ghost signs still peeking out from around it on that building’s flank.
I knew as I loaded a roll of expired Kodak Max 400 into this camera that I wasn’t going to keep it. I was only shooting it one more time, for old time’s sake.
My mom bought me my first Kodak VR35 K40 as a Christmas gift in about 1986. I used it heavily through college and in the first few years after. Even though it’s a simple fixed-focus point-and-shoot camera, it was the most capable camera I’d ever owned, returning consistently good results. Here’s a photo I made in 1989 of my brand new car parked in front of the Terre Haute, Indiana, house where I rented an apartment. It was a wonderful place; read about it and see photos here.
I used that K40 to record the glistening aftermath of a 1990 ice storm that shut down our city. That was such a great day! It was the first time I ever went on a photo walk, just me and my camera, alone, exploring. I wrote about that day here; it’s one of my favorite posts ever.
I set the K40 aside after I married my first wife, who was a skilled photographer and took most of our family photos. It wasn’t until after we divorced that I started making photographs again. My K40 was nowhere to be found, so I bought a used Olympus Stylus Epic Zoom 80 on eBay and moved on.
Years later I came upon this K40 at Goodwill for a few dollars. I love cheap nostalgia. But it turns out this simple point-and-shoot camera is pretty good, returning bold color on consumer-grade film. Its lens is sharp enough for credible enlargements to 8×10. Here are some wintertime photos I made with it recently.
I’ve been up to Purdue a lot lately to see my son. This is a great little candy store in downtown Lafayette.
This scooter seems always to be parked by my son’s dorm. I love how the K40’s 35mm lens captures so much context. It would be a fine film camera to take on vacation even now.
I suppose this camera qualifies as compact. After shooting a couple rolls through my tiny Olympus XA recently the K40 felt pretty large. There’s no way the K40 fits into any pants pocket, but it fits fine in my winter-coat pocket. It weighs next to nothing, but then it’s made almost entirely of plastic. This pocket park is on the block behind my church on Indianapolis’s Near Westside.
The K40’s automatic winder is pretty loud. That’s typical of point-and-shoot cameras of the day, but it really attracts attention now. Fortunately, when I made this shot in the foyer of my church, worship had not yet begun.
I stepped outside on this frigid day for this quick exterior photo. I cropped to 4×5 to get rid of my finger, which got into the frame. A few of my quick outside photos were so marred. It’s not surprising: because the temperature was in the single digits, I was moving fast and not taking my usual care.
What a great day, walking through the park with my camera after the ice storm!
It was 1990. I was 23 and didn’t know myself yet. Who does at 23? College was about a year behind me; I had gone to work. Trying to figure out what it meant to be an adult, I mimicked what I saw growing up. My parents went to work come hell or high water, even when sick, even in treacherous weather. The ice storm had blown hard all night. The radio said that roads were dangerous. Dutifully, I drove to work anyway.
The trees sparkled, their bare, drooping branches coated in ice. How beautiful they were! I wanted to stop and look, not drive, not pay attention to the road. But keeping my car straight took all of my concentration.
Ice-laden power lines had snapped and lay in the streets. Power was out at the office. Dim light from distant windows lit my way past cubicles to the break room. There I found a few co-workers huddled around tables drinking gas-station coffee, shivering in their coats, hands around cups for warmth. A couple of them nodded at me when I entered; most stared blankly into their cups.
I stood there for a minute, uncertain. There would be no work until power returned. I wanted to be out among the trees. And then, impulsively, I did it: I left.
As I stepped quickly toward my car, I felt free, elated — and anxious. Would I be in trouble the next day? Could I be fired? But I was in all the way. Driving slowly, carefully toward home, I made my plan. I would stop at the drug store and buy film. I would walk the one block from home to Collett Park and photograph whatever I found glistening with ice.
I walked carefully; the sidewalks were as slippery as the streets. When I stepped into the grass, it crunched under my feet.
Growing up in South Bend, I was used to bitterly cold winters with heavy snow blowing in off Lake Michigan. Terre Haute’s relatively mild winters were so easy! But Terre Haute got about one ice storm each winter. I’d never encountered anything like it. Such joy I felt in the discovery that morning that every inch of a chain-link fence would be coated in ice, just as would an enormous slide on a playground.
Ice dripped off horizontal surfaces. Had it thawed a little and refrozen? I wondered.
On the playground, the chains on the swings were frozen solid. I pulled one of the chains and the ice broke at a weak point. I thought that was so cool that I operated my camera with one hand while I held the chain with the other.
There would be no tennis this chilly day. Ice clung even to the net!
I had no camera skills at 22 and didn’t know that my point-and-shoot camera couldn’t focus closely. My intended subject, the branch, was out of focus. But thankfully this miffed shot gave me this broad view of the park. I so enjoyed Collett Park. I walked up there all the time and took strolls, or sat on a bench and watched people go by.
The sun came and went all morning. When it came, the ice in the trees lit up with a paradoxical warmth.
The cold stung my hands, bare so they could work the camera. I suffered for as long as I could because I didn’t want this rare joy to end. But my hands finally went numb. This time would have to end. I walked back toward home, stopping at the top of my street to photograph the street sign and the tiny icicles hanging off it.
Back home, I took one more shot, of stubby icicles hanging off the clothesline.
What a great morning! Returning inside, I made some coffee, turned on the radio, and puttered around the house the rest of the day. I felt great peace and surprising satisfaction — until the next workday, where anxiety struck over the hooky I had played. But the boss never said a word. I heard that the power came back on too late the day before for any real work to get done anyway.
25 years have passed. Today I know that this day was so me. I didn’t then, and I’d like to go back now to that happy afternoon of puttering and have a chat with myself:
Middle-aged me: Young me, pay attention to today and learn from this. You had a great day! Why do you think that is?
Young me: I’m not sure. But the ice really captured my attention, and spending the morning taking pictures of it really energized me. I really hope those photos turn out! I don’t really know what I’m doing with a camera. But I wanted to remember what I saw today.
MAM: You will. Actually, you will never forget this day, in part because you will always have these photographs and every time you see them they will bring back all of the good feelings this day generated. Do you have any idea why today brought so much joy and pleasure?
YM: I don’t.
MAM: Young me, please listen carefully to this: You felt this joy and pleasure because this morning you were fully you. You went off by yourself to explore. You experienced something new to you. You tried to really see it, and you used a camera to do that. And so when you came home, you felt lighter and happier. You felt energized and more ready to go out into the world. Young me, know that going off by yourself is how you restore your energy. And you love to experience new things. And you do see things best through a camera’s viewfinder. And every photograph you take will catalog a memory you might have lost otherwise. Make time for this to happen regularly in your life.
YM: But film and developing are expensive. I don’t make very much money.
MAM: Budget for it. You will not regret it. When stress runs high, explore with your camera. When you’re lonely, explore with your camera. When you are all peopled out, explore with your camera. You will refresh yourself.
YM: But …how do I even say this? I’m the only person I know like this. I feel so weird and out of place.
MAM: I understand. I know you wish you cared about football or golf so you’d have something to talk about with the guys. But I want to urge you to pursue the things that make you happy anyway, and try not to care whether anybody else gets it. And know this: in time, you will find others who love to spend a morning out walking with their camera, too. They’ll enjoy looking at your photographs, and you’ll enjoy looking at theirs.
Alas, that conversation didn’t happen. I didn’t figure this out for another 20 years. I’m glad I did! But I would have liked to figure it out then.
… When this blog was brand new in 2007, I wrote a post about these photos called “A good icing.” It was my fourth-ever post; read it here. That post used scans I had made from prints. When I scanned all of my negatives last year, these images looked startlingly better than the print scans. I thought I’d re-run “A good icing” with these new scans. But when I reviewed that old text I decided to start over and tell this story from a different perspective.