Two weeks back, I wrote briefly about the unphotographable nature of autumn in the rainforest belt, where Vancouver lies. It's a particular type of unphotographability, one where the world is still rich with detail, but the enveloping grey has pushed everything closer together, so that one can no longer stand back.
Here in Tucson for a few days, I have encountered the opposite problem. It's sunny, perfect photography weather, but I can drive for mile after mile after mile through the perfect one-mile grid of arterials and see literally nothing that matters. Nothing that's distinct. Nothing that deserves to be remembered.
Perhaps someday a genius interpreter will read the suburban boulevard as music, with "Burger King" and "Payless Shoe Source" etc as the individually tedious notes whose arrangement is as unique as a snowflake, and that marks the 4300 block of Speedway Boulevard as a work of art. I'm sure that however uniform it looks, there is indeed only one place where the Burger King is direct across from the Super Valu, followed by McDonalds, Arby's, Radio Shack, and Wells Fargo Bank, and K-Mart in precisely that order, with the mobile-home java hut configured just so in the parking lot. Perhaps there are esoteric patterns in the citywide constellation of Burger Kings that speak to a city's soul.
But I am not that genius interpreter.
James Howard Kunstler was here long before me, in Home from Nowhere, with the simple articulation that in the suburban arterial grid, we have succeeded in mass-producing places that are not worth caring about, places that can barely support the appellation of "place." (In fact, he seems to be back on this topic just today.) I've known this for 20 years, but now that I travel with a digital camera, I become more conscious about what moves me to photograph. And it's not here. Or when it is, it's the desperate exception that proves the rule: