There is a shuttered automobile dealership in a small town near my home. I drive by it often and have watched over the past few years as it made its final transition into a skeleton of what it once was. It stands vacant now, its vast parking lot sprouting green through a river of cracked asphalt. Its facade of metal and expansive glass, a genuine reflection of its mid-century birth. Still dignified in stature this vast empty building now looks foreign in its homeland.
It has been closed for sometime, but it was only very recently that I found myself strangely captivated by this lonely island. I had to visit. There was something almost eerie about the growing contrast between its still noble structure and the decay of its immediate surroundings.
My visit is the result of quick planning, I park in an adjacent lot, in a shaded spot that looks out over this hardscape. It is indeed a lonely island. I approach with anticipation. Questioning where to begin my exploration; and then I find myself immersed, stricken by the atmosphere of a void. The atmosphere of absence. My questioning is answered for me as I am drawn into this vast parking lot, feeling indeed that I am now a visitor in a land that is not my own.
The building was constructed in 1968 by a man known as 'Doc' Wolf. He moved to this modest town of Belvidere, IL in the early 1920s to be partners in the opening of a new automobile dealership. An endeavor he was advised against because of its lack of promise. Nearly one hundred years later Doc's son Jack is still in business across the street from this shuttered time capsule. Doc moved and expanded his enterprise to this site from a downtown corner lot in the late 1960s. This grand construction was the crowing of more than forty years of work and success. He was joined by his son Bill who continued to grow this legacy until the dealership lost its Chevrolet franchise with the restructuring of that corporation in the early-2000s. And there you have it, the shuttering of two generations.
I continued on, looking and photographing. Wanting to see; looking for what is here to be revealed. Thinking about what this place had been and noticing what it feels like to be here. I was not witness to it in its heyday, I have only a brief historical background and my imagination to guide me. A self-guided tour directed by visual interest and an interest in capturing something beyond the shutter.
Several months ago I had the opportunity to hear Bill Wolf talk about his father and the family business that had defined both of their lives.
He spoke in a slow voice, recalling tales of early trial and error that had clearly become anecdotes for lasting success. His talk was not rehearsed, but rather the calling of the moment, and it was obvious his words reflected the calling of his heart. He concluded in silent tears, the gathering of a lifetime of work and family and letting go.
I continue exploring with my lenses, trying to capture essence in detail. It seems that in some way all of our explorations are at their core a reflection of us. They are driven by our interests and motivations, by our curiosities and desire to communicate with the world. I can't help but wonder if we can ever accurately represent someone else's world through our own perceptions. They are representations of our own making, perceptions that cross in and out of reality. A process that creates new realities, reflected in new experiences.
This mutual world of inside and out speaks in unison, they are the spaces we have access to and the spaces we can only look into, those of experience and perception.
I turn my attention to the whole. I am not sure what I have captured. But I have some clarity on what I have experienced. Time to walk and reflect, look and see. Time spent in my own mind while traversing evidence of minds that came before me. I can't help but feel a sense of loss here, how quickly a thing can turn from vibrant to empty. And yet this place embodies what I love most about the built environment, evidence of human experience.
Experiences of then and now, they are different, but not mutually exclusive. They exist concurrently now, one informed by the other. My experience here has been opened ended and I am not sure how to conclude. What is the last image to be captured, what have I missed? And then for the first time, the memory card in my camera is full, and I say to myself 'I guess I am done'. The question is answered for me.
This experience is certainly a reflection of my own perceptions and my need to explore them. There is always some accuracy in experience and always some conjecture. Through this we are continuously met with a contradiction that is inherently human, to be at home and a visitor at the same time. This structure is now at home and a visitor at the same time.
Always at home in ourselves, always a visitor in the land we move through.