The more I’ve spent time photographing small towns in West Michigan, the more I find that they all have interesting layers that intrigue me. In general, I suppose, I see evidence of economic decline, or at least strain–e.g., in closed businesses and empty storefronts. But I also see persistence in these communities. And I’m often surprised–though less and less so over time–by signs of creativity and cultural activity that don’t fit the stereotypes of small town Midwestern life.

None of this should be a surprise. However different small towns and rural areas are from bigger cities and metropolitan centers, all share in the currents of globalization and have access to the wider world through social media. And you can find interesting people everywhere.

Greenville fits these generalizations. The cover image tells the story. The pawn shop and cash store beside it are markers of precarious economic circumstances, go-to places for people who run out of money before their next paycheck or if there will be no next paycheck. But tucked in next to the pawn shop is a Masonic Lodge, a delightfully named dance studio, and a local computer business. [Below is a full version of the image, which you can click on and see in larger form. You can see the Masonic Lodge sign in the door.]

The first two images simply set the context. One thing that is striking in Greenville is how quickly the historic business district transitions to the contemporary strip of recently built businesses of various sorts. You’re looking up and down Lafayette at the intersection of Montcalm (interestingly, two French names).

I got some nice images using reflections in windows, one of my characteristic types of images. These images are not documentary, like most of my images in this series. They do, however, document something of these small towns in a more abstract way–if nothing else the mix of architecture and decor.

The couple reflected in the window and the geometric shape inside the store make the first image work, above. In the second one, below, it’s the mix of architecture inside and outside, and the way the chairs invite you to “sit” and stay a minute and look.

The third one is more abstract and distorted. I like it partly for the colors, and partly for the view of the brightly colored Mexican restaurant (the cafe on the left) that is glimpsed or featured in a couple of other images.

One of the two images below that features signs has the cafe place in it. The other features the sign for a more “tony” restaurant, along with a woman waiting (or seeming to wait) to cross the street. She was there for a long time. I chatted with her about the weather and moved on, but she was there 10-15 minutes later, as I was walking back up on the other side of the street.

The “Fiesta Cafe” is again featured in one of the images below. So too is the cover image for the blog post. Both are “portraits” of the sort that I’ve been doing of historic small town Midwestern buildings that I’ve been doing for the past few months.

Finally, the image is one of the countryside–a field of corn with a tree and a line of trees. On my way home, I took country roads rather than main highways. This on a road southwest of Belding, near Smyrna, if I remember right. The image feels restful, not a bad thing these days. (Though no farmer feels restful, I imagine, until the crop matures well and is safely harvested.) The tree is centered, which provides pleasing symmetry, and I like how the gap in the line of trees gives the image a bit of “movement.”

Enjoy the week everyone. Stay warm. Stay cool. Stay dry. (As the weather demands.) And stay safe. “The COVID” is still out there and furious.

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