Friday, June 18, 2010

The Photographic Bucket List

Painter, Virginia, 2010

So many things to photograph. So long the list.

We live in a culture that likes lists. The hundred places you should go before you die. The five top hotels. Twenty-one things you should ask someone before marrying them. The twelve steps to sobriety. Four ways to know the Thanksgiving turkey is done. And so on.

When I returned to photography, I used to take long drives outside of the metropolitan area where I live. I savored the places I came across, especially the old commercial structures. I contemplated doing a book of photographs of places that were barely standing but which had once been somebody’s brand new pride and joy.

Then I realized that every photographer and his/her brother was doing the same thing. Maybe not the book. But we were all traipsing around the rural landscape looking for stories and signs of old life. It’s like we were all busy crossing the Walker Evans line off our photographic bucket list.

The photograph above demonstrates an intersection of two recurring themes here at What I Saw: places that were “once new” and places I meant to photograph but never got around to.

I don’t know how many years ago it was that I first saw this building. It’s located in Painter, Virginia, on the Eastern Shore, and was once a bank. I initially thought the building was abandoned. But the first time I stopped to photograph it I discovered that it was still a working bank. Customers and employees eyed me suspiciously as I stood outside with my camera. They came and went from the front door and parked so haphazardly around the building that I couldn’t get the clean view I wanted.

So for years we drove past this building every time we went back and forth to New York. We always seemed to be too anxious to get where we were going for me to stop. Besides, the façade of this building needs to be photographed from either the south or, preferably, the west, which means you have to time it so that you’re there in the afternoon or evening.

Over the years, I watched the building sit empty. Before moving to a brand new building right across the street, the bank put that ugly aluminum and glass portico over the front door. I could sense my chances for getting a shot of the original structure were slipping away. Yet on any of the dozen of so times a year I drove past this building I didn’t stop to photograph it.

Just recently, though, while driving up to Baltimore, the stars aligned for me. It was late afternoon. I was in no hurry. There was no one around to eye me suspiciously. I pulled off the highway and took a few shots of the building. They’re not the pictures I’d always thought I’d take of this building. So I guess I can’t cross it off my photographic bucket list just yet. That’s okay. There are several other structures along Rt. 13 I want to spend more time with. Maybe next time.


  1. What a neat little building--that was definitely before the days of the huge edifices banks seem to "need" to be today. I'm glad you finally captured this one. I'd move it into the countryside, and change it into a neat little art studio.

  2. I think you should photograph the bucket. BTW it's half full.
    Nice shot.

  3. The story and your intriguing curiosity are more interesting to me than the building. It's hearing you talk to yourself in this story.