Category Archives: Public Services

The Library Road Trip Goes to Denmark, Tucson and Back

12/2/11 – Greetings to all the new people that recently subscribed to this blog and hello to everyone else. It has been a long time since I last posted here (August 21st) and I wanted to bring you up to date on this project. Much of the last three months have been filled with my academic life teaching photography. When my teaching begins it is a little like being hit with a tsunami where everything gets swept up in the current. I now see the tide is beginning to subside and I can return to the public library project.

Even though I have been working full time quite a few things have been happening with the project. I began by developing a mountain of medium and large format film. I sent the color film out to be processed but all the black and white film I developed in my darkroom. I then began the enormous task of making contact prints of the black and white negatives and digital color photos of the color film negatives. That process took several months. It is slow and tedious but really fun to see the final results. Looking at the contact sheets is a little like opening Christmas presents. It is always exciting because I never know what I am going to get. All the images you see posted on this blog were made with our little digital Canon G-10 cameras. They are perfect for posting on blogs but the real final product are the images made with my medium and large format cameras on film. I have found that these larger film based images are still the best way for me to get the most beautiful results. I have finally picked the images I will scan into digital files. Now I am beginning to undertake the big job of scanning approximately 300 images from the Library Road Trip. I imagine that this will also take several months. With a little break coming soon with my teaching I hope to have this all done by the end of January. I have attached a few images of the process of developing film, selecting and scanning the negatives.

Many of you know that during this summer’s Library Road Trip I was conducting a Kickstarter campaign to help finance the trip. Fortunately, we reached our goal of $8,000. Many of the people that contributed got something from me for their donations. Most were prints of various sizes and books for the larger donations. In addition to everything else, I spent some time this Fall printing, signing and eventually mailing out all of these rewards. The unsung hero in all of this was my wife Ellen who helped enormously by keeping track of the 189 gifts that were mailed. I couldn’t have done it without her. Thanks Ellen! I have attached a couple of images of the Kickstarter work.

Last Spring I had an American Public Library project exhibit at the Main Library in San Francisco. After the show I received an email from Lars Olson who works for the city of Fanoe in Denmark. His daughter lives in San Bruno and while he was visiting he went to see the Library exhibit. He is a city manager in Fanoe and said that they were about to open a new school/community center/public library and wanted to have a permanent installation of my library work there. They also wanted to pay for us to spend a week in Denmark as their guests, give a few lectures and teach a workshop. Ellen and I gladly agreed and spent the first week in October on the beautiful little island of Fanoe off the southwest coast of Denmark. We also traveled to cities on the mainland where the show will be displayed in two other public libraries. It was fascinating to see the Danish public libraries where the work will be displayed.  It has been reported that the Danes are the happiest people on earth. Although they are heavily taxed they do get universal health care and free education through college. And they also have the least disparity of wealth. Do I see a pattern here? We were treated like royalty but when we got back I craved a fresh California salad!

At the end of October Ellen and I gave a presentation at the Center For Creative Photography at the University of Arizona in Tucson. It was a panel on our Water in the West Project that is now housed in their archive. This was a collaborative group project with twelve other photographers and the rest of the weekend we participated in a conference on the nature of archives. While we were there we went with writer Rebecca Solnit and Water in the West photographers Sant Khalsa and Geoff Fricker to the Occupy Tucson site. Of course, while I was there I had to photograph their library.

Besides scanning the images from this summer the next BIG part of this project is producing a book and a traveling exhibition. I have begun working with Princeton Architectural Press in New York to publish the book. We are currently investigating possible writers for the book. Please let me know if you have any suggestions. We are also open to some possible connections with other groups to help produce the book. I will keep you posted on the upcoming developments. In the next post I will also include some of the new work from the scans.

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