Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Missouri Town

Smoke from the fire mixed with a ray of sunshine to
create beam particles of light in the blacksmith shop
run by Don Bailey.

Stark, simple structures.

Lots of great angles and props at Missouri Town.

'Ol daddy rooster posed perfectly
in the doorway of the chicken

Judy Rains planted herbs.

Judy Rains also fed the chickens.

King of the barnyard protected his turf.

Pete the ox loves human attention. He
gave me large, affectionate licks all over the
front of my shirt and enjoyed having
his chin petted.

Volunteer Jody Watkins pulled weeds from among the
onion plants.

"It's de ja vue all over again"-Yogi Berra.

And it was when I revisited Missouri Town this week.

Three-plus decades had passed since I first shot at this Jackson County Parks and Recreation department's depiction of a typical Missouri town of 1855.

And, appropriately enough, things hadn't changed much.

The first time 'round was for a story about the living history class from UMKC that spent a week on the grounds working, living and dressing like folks did back in the 1850's. They even overnighted. I did not stay over, but spent almost the entire week traveling between the city and the site.

If you have not been to Missouri Town 1855, I would highly recommend it.

"It's like going back in time" is one of those phrases that wire service and newspaper style books say to avoid. Bromides they are called if memory serves. But in the case of Missouri Town, it is absolutely true.

Unlike a museum inside a building, the experience at MoTown completely immerses one in not only the architecture of the period but the sounds (rooster crowing, sheep blaring) and smells (there is nothing quite like fresh manure).

The most powerful impression I got from that first visit, however, was the pace of life. Time seemed strangely warped. It was as though I had suddenly gotten off one of those moving sidewalks at airports and was now walking at a leisurely pace, noticing the flowers, the starchy-white simple houses and the animals.

That first day I had brought all my lighting gear, which required a 110 volt power supply. "Where is your outlet?" I inquired of the person leading us around. "About a half-mile that way," he said, gesturing towards the front gate. So much for wrap-around umbrella light. And a good thing as it turned out actually, because I was forced to shoot at the same speed as the surroundings, with slow, thoughtful deliberation. Remember that I was using FILM-color film , which meant using a tripod and asking the subject to hold very still, just as in days of yore. The photos you see here were done with a digital camera and pixels.

So it came to pass that at the conclusion of the week, on a Friday late, sweet summer evening, that I had an epiphany of sorts.

The sky was turning the deepest blue and way off in the distance I could see the glow of the lights of the frenetic metroplex that was and is Kansas City. I had always thought that it was just about my favorite place to be, right in the heart of the action in the middle of what I thought of as my personal, home planet.

The students from UMKC were settling in for the night. The young women were in typical, long cotton dresses, the guys in overalls or jeans with suspenders. They all moved as though soft shadows. And they all carried lanterns or candles to see their way. Everyone talked in a hush. The humans were in synch with their world, and like the other animals, were taking their cue from the Earth: when the sun set in 1850, life quieted down. It was a natural rhythm of life unfolding before my eyes.

I then realized that I had grown so fond of this languid, lush, spot of warmly sensual existence that I didn't want to go back.

And it was a scary, almost terrifying feeling. I mean I REALLY didn't want to go back to the bustle of the city I thought I loved. My known world was shaken.

I had never experienced this before on an assignment , and never have since.

Everything raced through my head at once: What would I do? I would not be a photographer any more, at least not one who got paid. What would be my goals? Could I really find fulfillment just taking care of crops and animals, chopping wood and tending fences?

You can see I was getting into the fantasy of a total reordering of that I thought was important and significant.

It took probably a week for me to fully return, mentally, from that sentimental journey.

Maybe I never came back completely...I had the same feeling this time.

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