Discover more from Crewdson Trail Log
STARKFIELD LANE: A VIRTUAL WALKING TOUR
10 Pictures Made Across 15 Years, Along One Main Street
There is a particular stretch on a main street has drawn me back over and over, across the years, and seasons; with its grand scale and proportions, elegant architecture, and the backdrop of open skies and distant hillsides all around. The side streets to the west slope down, bridging the business district with residential neighborhoods. The streets to the east have a formality: City Hall, the police and fire stations, cobblestone streets, restaurants, bars, and shops that have been there for many decades. At the north end is a historic baseball park where I made many of my first photographs in graduate school, where the artificial light from the baseball field spilled out onto the edges of the surrounding neighborhoods. It’s where I first noticed and worked with the uncanny quality of artificial light combined with the fading ambient natural light of twilight.
We have joked sometimes while shooting about making a walking tour, because we are so often within a short distance from pictures we’ve made in years past. I think the proximity adds to the pictures, the blurring of a real place with a fictional world and an imagined narrative. We realized not long ago we had actually made 10 pictures within a few blocks of one another, and so we put together a virtual walking tour.
The Lounge, above, is part of the Eveningside series. After having been a working bar for what seemed like forever, at least as far back as I can recall, it actually closed right before we were scheduled to shoot the picture. The space was in the process of being reinvented and reimagined as something else. The word “Lounge” had just been scraped off the windows, the Budweiser sign taken down, and renovations just about to begin. To make the picture, we put it back together one last time in this form for two days, repainting and rehanging the signs, and placing back some bar furniture and props inside.
Work uniforms, like the one in this picture, were a key element of the Eveningside series. We wanted to portray places of employment, and we made some of the uniforms, and purchased others from a uniform supply company, and then typically modified them in one way or another.
Enjoying Crewdson Trail Log? Subscribe to stay up to date on all our posts.
The above picture was shot in 2004, and the below picture in 2021. (Jim’s House of Shoes can be seen in the background above.) The logistics of closing down traffic on this main street are not simple, as it’s a thriving business district and also a main thoroughfare interconnecting every part of the rest of the town, and state roads heading in all four directions. In other words, everything comes together and flows out of this small stretch of road. We therefore typically shoot here on Sundays, and depend on enormous help from the town to redirect traffic flow.
In the nearly 20 years between the making of the two pictures, the actual business called “Jim’s House of Shoes” closed. It was a longstanding fixture and many people who live in this region fondly remember buying shoes there as a kid. So, partly, I wanted to memorialize that, but I also had an image in my head of a fictional store clerk having a moment of reflection, literally and figuratively. This was the perfect location to tell that story. In order to get the framing right, we had to move the letters down on the building facade, and since it was no longer a working store, we placed the shoes and other props.
Snow pictures present some tricky challenges. Along with all the usual complicating factors of closing streets and gaining access for figures and lights, we have to worry about, well, actually having enough snow. In the case of the below picture, it was very important that the tire tracks trail the car on untouched snow. Up until the day before we shot, however, there was no snow at all. We were prepared to make all the snow, and had machines on standby, but then the night before our shoot, there was a miracle: a huge snowfall. The town actually redirected snow plowing so that this one stretch would remain untouched just long enough for us to shoot. In the end we did use the snow machines to hide our own footprints to give that complete sense of a recent snowfall.
(Note that the theater marquee above can be seen in the background below.)
These two pictures, above and below, both relied pretty heavily on snow made with snow machines. We weren’t as lucky with the weather on these days.
Incidentally, the below picture was taken from the rooftop of the brick building that appears on the right in the picture above. From that view, you can see the local ski area in the background. It was the first in the country to have lights for nighttime skiing, thanks to General Electric. The parking structure is no longer there.
The above picture features a neighborhood bar, The Madison. I really like the simple lines of the architecture, the color palette of the bar and the surrounding houses, and the way the street slopes downward toward the horizon.
(Note that the picture above is taken at the corner of the same side street, pictured below.)
Below, a house was demolished over the course of scouting, and the rubble, though I wasn’t originally planning it, became a key element in the narrative, motivating the figure’s hushed understated pause, his gaze, and the moment of contemplation.
Finally, the ball field I referenced being at the north end of this stretch earlier, is just out of frame to the left of the below picture. I was drawn to this spot because of the way the road bends one way, then the other, creating an elegant line of sight. The “Starkfield” street sign was added on the pole to the right, as a nod to Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome, which she set in the fictional town of Starkfield. It is meant to be somewhere in Berkshire County, probably a play on the towns of Stockbridge and Pittsfield. I have always liked that book, and the way Wharton uses real places to create a fictional world — something I do as well.
Editorial note: This piece was written by Juliane based on conversations and interviews she did with the artist.