Just Visiting—A Farewell

August 7th, 2009 § 0 comments

Rode in on the Greyhound but I’ll be walkin’ out if I go
I was just passin’ through must be seven months or more

There are a number of song lyrics that lament about being stuck somewhere, someplace, that you just can’t leave. It is never really the circumstances that are to blame, though a lack of money, purpose, and motivation might factor in, but place itself that catches hold and never lets go. We all can commiserate. I remember being stranded temporarily in the Spanish desert, and feeling that rising desperation as a lack of sleep muddled my comprehension, and as a successful departure seemed more and more impossible to negotiate. Picturing the type of places described in such songs, I see movies concerning small towns, deserted and unlucky in their abandonment—High Noon, Don’t Come Knocking, Northfork—where people kill the town, or the town slowly kills the people. None of these songs or films, however, really describe why certain places are seen as inescapable. Birthplaces and hometowns can be understood this way, as even when you leave them they come uninvited behind you, but not many places can exert this same kind of influence. Wandering Richmond—this past weekend as well as during my visit in April—I wondered if the past, so strongly creeping over the present in this southern capital, lulling you back into a time already lived, could be an explanation for certain place’s sleepy addiction.

cafe

Richmond, for me, will always be a city of the past, perhaps the reason that after two years of photographing every inch of it, I am still aesthetically in love, and while the capital never seems to change my interest in it does. Richmond is a university town, a phrase I have always taken to mean a town largely supported by a university. VCU is determined to buy up the most historically coveted buildings, and to build massive brick structures wherever they can. What other industry there is in the city could never have been much, and the place seems even less affluent now. In stark contrast to new york city, where we objectively know the economy has effected us but have a hard time seeing it day to day, Richmond shows the extra wear and tear. While studying there I remember marveling with artistic enthusiasm at the condemned buildings: now there are more abandoned buildings, more houses tilting with disrepair, and less people walking the streets. Carrytown is a shadow if its former self, as shops have closed, restaurants have changed hands, and on a Sunday afternoon very few of either were open. I don’t find myself too concerned, however, as the changes seem to suit the city. The crumbling buildings breathe life, almost, into a forgotten present. After living in new york city for what has been about a year, a city that forces, or at least demands you to be engaged and present, a city that reinvents itself more times and more often than you can possibly keep track of, Richmond feels more like an illustration than a living place.

the city

It is a charitable feeling I get when under the influence of drowsy streets, deserted canals, and empty gardens. The architecture, and perhaps the culture, makes it a pleasant past to become lost within, even if that past never existed, or was horrific rather than heroic. It is no wonder I was bent on searching for the past while living there, as I was living in one. Walking the city this time felt like retracing my own footsteps, and making images felt like shooting what I have already seen, but the great thing about Richmond is its love for repetition. It is not a city that craves what is “new,” choosing instead to forever revisit the old. Like watching the same movie or listening to the same song over and over, there is great comfort in the familiar, and Richmond feels both contained and known. What is forever interesting, however, is not the comforting past, but how the past informs and reshapes the present—Richmond exists in reality almost as a living memory. Wandering in my own footsteps, and documenting what I have already safely stored, sounds counterproductive but is full of discovery—it reminded me of those old video games where you see yourself instead of seeing the world through your own eyes. I enjoyed following the amusing shadow of my former self as I wandered about this weekend, trying so hard not to be oblivious.

maymont

Riding back towards new york city at dusk, I felt reassured that a piece of my past exists forever somewhere unchanging, where I can go back and look every so often like the miniatures I cherished as a child. I admire Richmond for being able to cast such an absurd spell. Seeing the Manhattan skyline from Jersey around 2 am, I realized that my present territory is an impressive sight, one full of bright and exciting unknowns yet to be documented and dissected. It just so happens, I know a few songs about that too.

trees and rain

Because I love the unknown
I love the unknown
He says he loves the unknown

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