Breaking down The Falls
This year I received Stephen Shore's Uncommon Places as a gift. I left it on the kitchen table for three tempting days until I could find a few uninterrupted hours to sit down and experience it from cover to cover (I'm a two marshmallow kid). When the time came, I made some coffee and sat down to savor my dense photographic meal -- turning the pages slowly, feeling the thick paper, reading the images from edge to edge, top to bottom.
Many of the images were familiar, as were Shore's explanations of his work. At times it was hard to separate the images from their creator's legacy, and to look at them purely as arrangements of colors and shapes. I imagined being a 20-something, driving coast-to-coast with an 8x10 camera, in a time when color photography was still a novelty. I imagined seeing these places for the first time through a windshield, and the familiar photo-road-trip-moment of "should I pull over and shoot this or not?"
Getting to the self-portrait of Shore lying in bed instantly doubled the size of the book -- I could now flip the light around to envision the reverse view of each image, with him standing there on a street corner with his clunky camera, patiently waiting for the light, a car, or a person to do something that harmonized with his meticulous compositional grid of thirds.
After finishing the book, I made another coffee, and went through it again. The new edition of the book, to which Shore added 94 images in 2004, was now feeling too long, and I found myself editing out a few. But there was this one image that became lodged in the front of my mind: U.S. 10, Post Falls, Idaho, 1974:
Whatever it is that's special about this particular image is something I want to understand more clearly. So here goes.
For starters, the color palette is one I remember from growing up in the Midwest in the 70's. My mom used to drive me to the roller rink in a similarly shaped Buick in that same Midwestern Green. That green is throughout the image -- in the sign, the boxes, and the corn husks in the foreground. Then there's that rusty 70's orange echoed throughout. The Sylark Green and Kodachrome Orange is probably triggering some sort of nostalgia for a time in my life when everything I saw felt like it was for the first time.
And what exactly is going on in this image? A truck or some trucks is/are being either loaded or unloaded by a person or people that leaves/leave doors open. There is something happening here, just not visibly at this moment. It's the suggestion of something being done by someone that we can't see. Which makes me wonder:
Is one person going to move all three pallets of Select Fruit through The Falls' open doorway? How did the pallets get off the truck and onto the ground without a lift gate, if in fact they came from the truck? Is this a one person job, or is there a team at work? Who are these people? Are their clothes also green and orange? What is The Falls -- a motel, a restaurant, or a motel with a restaurant? What are they going to do with that massive supply of Select Fruit? Is The Falls known throughout Idaho for its fresh squeezed OJ? Isn't this type of loading / unloading something that should happen at a back door, instead of blocking the front door during business hours? Or are they closed for their weekly Select Fruit Delivery Day? Why is the green car parked in the middle of everything and why is the passenger door open? Was the green car person late to help move, or are they planning to take a box home? Etc, etc, etc.
Sometimes the suggestion of something is more interesting than the thing itself.
As it turns out, The Falls is still standing -- and is a restaurant with live music. I was able to locate it on Google Street View, which shows the shape of the building intact, and even one of the old signs. But it has lost most of its charm otherwise. The lone reviewer on Google writes, "I rather eat dog food."
Back to 1974. The image has the appearance of being a set that was designed and built to frame and complement three pallets of fruit. The vertical elements of the trucks, the jagged horizontal roofline, corn husks and onions provide borders on all sides. And there are several layers of visual richness -- my eye travels into the image, crossing over the corn husks and onions (slightly out of focus), to the boxes of fruit, then from one open door to the next, then inspecting the building, and the overall weirdness of everything, before finally going in the mysterious open (front?) door.
It has a composition like a well drawn map -- clearly illustrating where to stop, where to turn, when to go straight, and when you've reached your final destination. Here it is again:
U.S. 10, Post Falls, Idaho is a beautiful convergence of color, content, and composition that took place for a brief moment on a summer day in 1974. That the young Mr. Shore was not only there with his camera, but able to see it, is probably a complex mix of luck, timing, persistence, youth, and vision.
So what is it about this particular image that fixes it in my mind? Having spent much of my life chasing these moments of beautiful convergence, I know how rare and elusive they can be. These moments aren't made. They have short lives of their own, and either go unnoticed, or if we're lucky, are seen and/or captured before they fall apart.
Ultimately, I think what I'm experiencing with this image, and to a larger degree with the entire book, is that I want to be there, standing in Post Falls, Idaho in 1974, to witness this moment for myself. I want to drive slowly around the American West in the early 70's for months at a time, shooting color images of places that have never been photographed. But until I get my time machine repaired, that's probably not going to happen, and U.S. 10 will remain an extinct bird that I'll never spot. For now I'll just have to settle for the paper version, and to continue my own search for my own uncommon places.