For a long time the only way I knew how to get somewhere was through the use of wayfinding landmarks. Though I’m sure there were easier ways to remember and describe routes, I relied on the curvature of a road or its proximity to a body of water. In my adult (driving) life, I have discovered that this methodology only satisfies the desire to reach a location or locate oneself within a certain area, but not to find a way to or from a destination with any certainty.
This uncertainty never bothered me, though. Because on some level I always knew exactly where I was and where I was going, just not its relation to anything else. The viewer with any connection to the material recognizes it: progress, change, evolution of the greater environment with relation to a tiny person becoming a larger person. A nomadic trajectory of inquiry invites a consideration onto each of our own relationships to the wayfinding of our youth. Signs, both literal and figurative, guide the way.
On HWY 74 between Charlotte and Asheville NC, there’s a Psychic. Countless times I’d pass that sign heading one way or another, I even stopped once, knowing that when I saw that sign I had an arbitrary amount of time left in my journey: when it was on my left, more than an hour remained in the drive. But when on my right, just under an hour until I reached my doorstep, or my bed. My self was never lost but rather placed within the context of what was around me, much like the Wintu in north-central California, who, as written about by Rebecca Solnit in A Field Guide to Getting Lost, “don’t use the words left and right to describe their own bodies but use the cardnial directions.” As anthropologist Dorothy Lee wrote, “When the Wintu goes up the river, the hills are to the west, the river to the east, and a mosquito bites him on the west arm. When he returns, the hills are still to the west, but, when he scratches his mosquito bite, he scratches his east arm.”
It has become increasingly important to me to photograph sites of significance in my life, whether something I passed in a car more times than I could remember and always wanted to stop, or a place my heart and mind knew more than my camera. In order to honor this compulsion as well as to try to understand it, these photographs are beginning to turn into an atlas. “The places in which any significant event occurred become embedded with some of that emotion, and so to recover the memory of the place is to recover the emotion, and sometimes to revisit the place uncovers the emotion” (Solnit).
This atlas, then, becomes a tracking of marks in time as well as place.
The drive that is done over and over seems different the day that old building finally is knocked down and replaced by a drug store. That building looks completely different with all the ivy torn down off its facade. I never knew there was a cemetery next to that gas station.
This Atlas of where and when is supplemented with photographic evidence but most of it is programmed into our memories: turn right at the pink house, if you’ve reached the river you’ve gone too far.
(Fort Mill, SC 2014 // Mamiya RZ // Portra 400)