Sunday, October 04, 2020

Let's be better humans

I was photographing an abandoned homestead off Highway 180 near Valle, AZ when a woman in a blue pickup truck pulled up beside me. She asked, “What are doing?”

Slightly nervous I responded,” Am I trespassing? Is this private property?”

She said, “Heavens no. This is a public road.”

I told her that this was my kind of subject; forlorn and forgotten.

She told me “If you like this. Go back to the highway, hang a left and turn right at the next dirt road and you’ll a graveyard of old cars.

We fell into an easy conversation and I learned that she and her partner had recently settled near Valle. She told me that they moved from Bar Harbor, Maine. That’s where she was born and raised. I told her we had lived in New England for 30 years and that Maine was one of our favorite places. In fact, I continued, if we didn’t live in New Mexico it could easily be Maine. And I have a buddy in South Thomaston near Rockland.

I asked, “Jessie, can I take your picture?

She said, “Sure,” but seemed surprised when I used her name.  She quickly covered up the name tag on her Standard Oil jersey and gave me a nervous smile. I took half a dozen shots and Jessie left the scene.

She said they had spent one Maine winter in a Class C RV that wasn’t insulated, and they almost froze to death. Then they looked west and found an affordable patch of scrub nearby and settled in Valle. She said the place was a boomtown. That’s not precisely what I’d call it. Valle may be cheap, but Valle is Godforsaken and every residence is a trailer. The desert between Williams and the Grand Canyon is the ugliest in North America. I do not see the appeal.

Before stopping to photograph the dilapidated house I had stopped to photograph the remains of a barnlike structure a few miles back. I’d seen it on my way to Flagstaff on Highway 180 earlier that day. After buying my Wranglers Retro jeans at the Boot Barn in Flag I headed back on 180 to Grand Canyon with a stop to shoot the abandoned barn. 

The interior of the fallow edifice told stories on its graffitied walls and in the detritus of the squatters who once filled the emptiness. The stenciled message on the concrete floor was an unexpected counterpoint to the desperation that haunts it.

1 comment:

Blacks Crossing said...

I am loving your "On the Road" series in and around northern Arizona. The fact that you are willing to approach people and embrace these chance meetings not only gives you photographic material but stories. Stories that wouldn't have been told if you had not bothered to photograph the deserted and abandoned along the byways of America. Thanks for doing this. Wouldn't it have been interesting to do a lengthy photo shoot with Jesse and hear more of her stories? Love the ending photograph with the "let's be better humans" stenciled on the concrete floor.