Category Archives: Greatest Hits

So Many Libraries, So Little Time

Armijo branch, El Paso, TX

Armijo branch, El Paso, TX

Coal sign in library, Williamson, WV

Coal sign in library, Williamson, WV

Cowboy hat in reading room, Main Library, Cleveland, OH

Cowboy hat in reading room, Main Library, Cleveland, OH

ImageDarkened interior, no AC, record heat, Tchula, MS

Darkened interior, no AC, record heat, Tchula, MS

Fannie Lou Hamer Library, Jackson, MS

Fannie Lou Hamer Library, Jackson, MS

Flags and Carnegie Library, Las Vegas, NM

Flags and Carnegie Library, Las Vegas, NM

Guitar and library, Muskogee, OK

Guitar and library, Muskogee, OK

Navajo Library, Window Rock, AZ

Navajo Library, Window Rock, AZ

New and old libraries in Cherokee Capitol, Tahlequah, OK (diptych)

New and old libraries in Cherokee Capitol, Tahlequah, OK (diptych)

Main Library, Newark, NJ

Main Library, Newark, NJ

Stairway in Main Library, Midland, TX

Stairway in Main Library, Midland, TX

Three murals and ceiling, Main Library, Detroit, MI

Three murals and ceiling, Main Library, Detroit, MI

West branch Carnegie Library, Louisville, KY

West branch Carnegie Library, Louisville, KY

Main Library, Winchester, VA

Main Library, Winchester, VA

 

3/26/12 – I had threatened to do this for a while. I am now posting a small selection of images from last summer’s Library Road Trip. The previous images on this blog were all quick recording shots taken with my little Canon G-10 at the same time as I was shooting my larger film cameras. The final shots were all on film and I have never posted these before. I am doing it now because I finally finished developing and spotting the 300+ images that have been edited from the trip. Finally, these pictures can begin to see the light of day. I selected these fifteen images to be somewhat representative of the diversity of libraries we encountered last summer.

Things are progressing with the book project. We are actively looking for writers to be included in the book and I will let you know how it goes. Any suggestions of writers that you think would be appropriate would be greatly appreciated. I just received a wonderful hand-written letter from Wendell Berry. It was a rejection but I am going to frame it anyway.

This summer will be the last of the Library Road Trip field work. Walker and I will do our last tour through the upper Mid-West including Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming and Colorado.  This is the last region in the country that I have not yet photographed for this project. We will do it more or less in this order and plan on spending four weeks on the road starting around June 12th. If you have any contacts or suggestions of libraries to photograph or places to stay it would also be much appreciated.

After I get back from the trip in mid-July I will spend the rest of the summer developing and editing the film, working on the book and getting ready for a big exhibit of this work at Stanford University’s Art Gallery.  That exhibit is scheduled for the winter of 2013 and will include work from the 2011 and 2012 summer Library Road Trips and my recent short trip to southern Nevada and Utah. It will be a good way for me to focus this new work. In conjunction with the earlier exhibit produced for the San Francisco Public Library during the spring of 2011, I hope to produce the core of a traveling exhibit that can tour around the country for several years. That traveling exhibit, in combination with the large-scale book will be the final expression of this massive project. But I have miles to go before I get there. So many libraries, so little time. Stay tuned.

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Filed under American Life, Greatest Hits, Libraries, Photography, Public Libraries, Road trip, Robert Dawson Library

Louisville, KY and Appalachia

Formally segregated Carnegie library, Louisville, KY

Formally segregated Carnegie library, Louisville, KY

Portland branch Carnegie, Louisville, KY

Portland branch Carnegie, Louisville, KY

Memorial, Louisville, KY

Memorial, Louisville, KY

7/17/11 – Louisville is very impressive with its lively street life and beautiful middle-class neighborhoods. It even has Cherokee Park which was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted. On a slightly cooler overcast morning I photographed the Western branch library. It is a formerly segregated Carnegie library. When Andrew Carnegie built his libraries in the early 20th century Southerners refused to share their libraries with African Americans. So Carnegie had to build separate libraries for blacks. This is one of the few formerly segregated libraries left. The Portland branch is unusual because it was built on a corner and has two entrances with a curved wall. Across the street was a memorial to a man recently killed on that spot. After photographing a third Carnegie library in Louisville we headed through the Daniel Boone National Forest to Shelbyville. It had a Carnegie built in a cemetery. We continued east and entered the foothills of the Appalachia Mountains. We are astonished by the rugged beauty and pockets of extreme poverty of the area. Some of the counties we drove through were some of the poorest parts of the country.

Poverty regions in America

The infrastructure was better here than in Mississippi. People were more isolated due to the extremely hilly geography. This was white poverty as opposed to the black poverty that we saw in the South. The government has obviously put a lot of money into building good roads. Boonesville, KY is located in Owlsley County , one of the nation’s poorest. The library is nice and new. It was set against one of the tall, pine covered hills typical of the area. A very dilapidated car was parked in front with a Dollar General store next door. Dollar General stores are trying to be the Walmart of poor communities. Being such a poor region we were surprised how well kept most of the this region seemed. The poverty was more tucked away into the hallars and back roads of the area. We stop at several small towns and the infrastructure, including libraries was in pretty good shape. We arrived in Harlan, KY and came to their library. Two curious local guys came by and posed for me in front of the library. It was one of the best shots of the day. The day ended with a much needed swim in the indoor pool in our motel. We then had dinner at a very good Mexican restaurant. We were surprised to see one here and happily chatted in English and Spanish with the staff who were all from Mexico. We told them that we felt almost as foreign as they did to this place .

Clip from 1970s documentary, “Harlan County, USA

Walker and Nick in pool, Harlan, KY

Walker and Nick in pool, Harlan, KY

7/18/11 – This morning I photographed in the wonderful genealogy room at the Whitfield Library in Harlan. An old guy was curious about what I was doing and we started a nice conversation about Harlan. Fairly quickly he launched into a rant about Obamacare, the Democrats and taxes. After a while I stopped politely saying “uh huh” and quietly finished my photography and left. We drove east and visited many small libraries along the way. We made it all the way to Williamson, WV before turning back to Kentucky. In Williamson the library is combined with the Mungo County Health Department. After we went through a security check the library itself had some interesting photos and displays on coal, the main industry in the area. We had earlier seen an endless steam of big trucks and rail cars carrying coal. Inez, KY was again in a very poor region of the state. President Johnson launched his War on Poverty here in 1965. Since then, the government has spent billions of dollars in eastern Kentucky on transportation and education, including libraries. The poverty rate has been halved here since 1965 showing that focused government help can make a difference. We leave the Appalachia region and returned to regular America in Ohio. Portsmith had a beautiful, domed Carnegie in what seemed like a pretty depressed town. An amazing display inside was of suitcases for homeless people set up in the lobby. It was an interesting contrast with the picture-perfect library. The beautiful Ohio farmland led us to our last library in Lucasville. To better blend into the surrounding farm country the new library was built like a farm including a silo. Extraordinary. We push ourselves and finally reach Cincinnati. We spent the night with photographer/educator Barbara Houghton and her partner Keith. Although exhausted, we stay up until 1 AM talking with these fascinating friends.

Carnegie library built on cemetary, Shelbyville, KY
Library, Booneville, KY

Library, Booneville, KY

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Leaving Austin, Waxahachie and Dallas

7/5/11 – The George Washington Carver branch library in Austin had an astonishing mural on the outside by John Fisher. It was dedicated to “Those That Did Not Survive the Middle Passage”. It is one of the first library murals depicting African slavery that we have seen in the Old South. We were sad to leave Austin after just one night. Driving northeast we encounter the pine covered hills of East Texas for the first time. We came to another “*” library in Bryan. It had a spectacular Carnegie that was a gem. While photographing the inside I asked the very polite African-American librarian what she thought of all the Confederate  memorabilia in the library. She said that she was very interested in history and that it was a part of history. Her guarded answer was fascinating. We tried to find a Carnegie library in Franklin but for the firs time our iPhone Google search failed. We have become dependent on this technology and we are astonished when it doesn’t work. We look for another library in Bremond and again our iPhones couldn’t locate the library. I pull out the list we had created earlier doing our research and found the correct address. It’s good to have an analog backup. The Hillsboro library is also a gem but the light was totally wrong. By waiting a few minutes for the clouds to cover the sun I get the shot and can slightly cool off. We end the day in Waxahachie , south of Dallas which has a beautiful old library. We luck out by arriving during the one evening a week they are open. After my usual introduction the librarians direct me to see the large auditorium upstairs. I step into a big room and all the the heads turn. It turns out it is a meeting of the Toastmasters Club. These are sometimes shy people that will have to do public speaking and the club helps polish their speaking. I feel very awkward setting up my large camera in front of these nervous people but everything went well and after I take the photo I quietly slip out the back.

7/6/11 – We decide to sleep in a little today. The non-stop pace is catching up with us and our sleep is more like passing out. We are still drinking our Marthas Coffee from San Francisco in our motel rooms. Best coffee in the universe. We drive into the Dallas-Ft. Worth area. It is one of the largest cities on our trip and we head straight to the Ft. Worth airport and pick up Walker’s best friend Nick Neumann. From here we drive to downtown Ft. Worth. I hadn’t connected earlier with this library but the librarians are very helpful and give me complete access. The library and the art gallery are very beautiful. But this is also the library that took the work “Public” out of its name to “keep up with these times”. As writer David Morris wrote about the Ft. Worth Library “Ft. Worth, you leave me speechless. You’re certainly correct about one thing. The public library is indeed an institution that has not kept up the the times. But given what has happened to our times, whey do you see that as unhealthy? In an age of greed and selfishness, the public library stands as an enduring monument to the values of cooperation and sharing. In an age where global corporations stride the earth, the public library remains firmly rooted in the local community. In an age of widespread cynicism and distrust of government, the 100% tax-supported public library has virtually unanimous and enthusiastic support. This is not the time to take the word “public” out of the public library. It is time to put it in capitals.” We leave the downtown and drive to the Ft. Worth Stockyards next just in time to see a made-for-tourists cattle drive. Nick comes from San Francisco and one of the first things we show him is a cattle drive in the 105 degree heat. Then, back to Dallas for a delightful dinner and stay with old friends Kenda North and Wilson Meader.

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It’s hot out here!

Welcome to you all following our epic, cross-country library road trip. Walker drove all day yesterday from San Francisco to Needles, CA. We made it there around 8:3o last night when it was 105 degrees! The most interesting thing was when I was checking into our motel a guy was checking out saying he was going to work. Makes sense when it’s that hot out.

Walker drove again today. Stopped in Flagstaff, AZ and he was amazed by the great college and good coffee. The first library that I photographed was in Winslow, AZ. The librarian went to UC Berkeley and when she read my business card she emphasized Leland Stanford JUNIOR University. It’s a Berkeley thing. I picked up Walker standing on a corner in Winslow, AZ and we drove on to the Navajo Nation. We got off Highway 40 and stopped for some Navajo fry bread. We saw lots of dogs, sheep, horses, cattle strolling by the highway.  We drove through an amazingly beautiful landscape to Window Rock, AZ, capitol of the the Navajo Nation. I photographed my second library there. Finally, we arrived in Gallup, NM, a very indigenous town. I photographed a beautiful mural on their library at sunset and then had dinner at Earls, a Gallup landmark.

We’re tried and going to sleep. More later.

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Filed under American Life, art, Greatest Hits, Libraries, Photography, Public Libraries, Road trip, Robert Dawson Library