I Am A Town | New Home

Mention Lebanon, PA, to anyone and my guess is that most people will think of its famous export, Lebanon bologna. I know that’s what I thought of years ago when my sister and brother-in-law made Lebanon their home. My wife and I moved here last July, and now it's our home, and what I'm learning is that associating the city with the bologna is like telling people I'm from Philadelphia and having them shout, "Cheesesteaks!" or "Rocky!" completely taking for granted and not rightly being awed by the mention of the city where America became America, where all that we are and still can be was born. I get it. We tend to think of pop culture things and people as representative of places: the local dishes, celebrities, famous landmarks. While they’re important and a point of pride, it’s the history that has shaped a place that informs our own identity or prompts us to invest time and work in building and rebuilding or sustains us during adversity that threatens the community. 

I’m not there yet and I know I won’t be for a while. I still think of myself as a son of Philly who became a husband and father living in the Philadelphia Mainline. And, though I’m still homesick, my camera has become my way of exploring both the rich history and current life of where I now live, getting to know my neighbors and neighboring towns, and in doing so, also helping me become less homesick by making this place more "home" to me. 

It's documentary photography, but unlike that type of photojournalism, it’s not intended to inform, enrich or awaken a wider audience. Despite showing photos here or on social media, they’re really to inform myself, to help and push me. My intention is more in line with what Thoreau sought in going to Walden and what I think all documentarians seek: "to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach...to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience."

In that pursuit, I’ve been exploring Lebanon and the surrounding towns. I’ve gone mainly to nearby farms and rural roads, more landscapes, since it’s what I’m drawn to the most, but I’m slowly exploring the urban life and cityscapes in order to get a more complete picture, and for that I’m staying close to downtown Lebanon. I’m finding that there isn’t one Lebanon. There are areas that have their own identity and history. It’s sometimes unsettling to me, like a town identity crisis, but seen from a more positive perspective, it reveals a rich diversity and complex character. It’s all in how you see it, and I wanted to discover how my camera would help me see it.

A lot of the urban images were taken looking up. One reason is that I always remember the advice that one of my favorite photographers, Sam Abell, said his dad gave him: “Up here, not down there!” Mostly it’s because you can tell a lot about a town’s history by looking at the tops of buildings and they’re facades, structures often undisturbed by time and new construction, where faded print and logos and carved ornamental designs are like faint voices from the past. 

It’s winter here now, and I’ll explore again when more people are outdoors and soon when Spring arrives, and those voices from the past will mingle with voices from the present, and the voices of the countryside will blend with the voices of the city, and I hope I know how to listen.