As part of the 2020–21 cycle of Exhibit Columbus, a biennial that uses Columbus, Indiana’s architectural legacy to support projects that investigate the built environment, I produced an expansive project about the Mississippi River Watershed. Because my project started during the first year of the pandemic, I wasn’t able to visit Columbus until the last month of my fellowship. So, the Columbus that would influence my project was not that of great buildings; it was the city of my memory.
I spent my teenage years in Indiana, and I regularly passed through Columbus on my way to visit grandparents in Southern Indiana and to hang out with friends attending school in Columbus. I remembered the architecture, but what I mainly remembered was being there with family and friends. This is the Columbus I carried with me throughout 2020 and into 2021.
When I was finally able to return to Columbus for my project, those memories became clearer as I became reacquainted with the city. I was excited to visit landmarks like Eliel Saarinen’s First Christian Church and William Burd’s Fire Station 3, some for the first time. But I was just as excited to attempt to explore the city anew, rather than starting from my memories or the narrative that begins with a couple dozen architecturally significant buildings.
Part of that motivation is that I am interested in how people connect with where they live, particularly related to how divestment and investment cycles operate in such places as Chicago, Southern California, and Hauts-de-France. In Indiana, this was interwoven with my own relationship with so many other cities and towns I have visited over the years. Of special importance were the smaller towns that I would visit between my teenage home in the Indianapolis area and my new home in Chicago, like Fowler, Lebanon, and Waugh. Among them were county seats, slowly fading farm towns, and those starting to expand through exurban development.
Starting from this background, I sought out other valuable stories that we learn in people and place. After all, my project for Exhibit Columbus linked important social and ecological systems throughout the watershed, like how fuel and agricultural systems operate over the same geography as the river. I wanted more time to see how those systems interconnect with this city in Southern Indiana.
For the exhibition, I was able to include some views of the Columbus, as well as a few portraits of residents who put their energy into places like the Columbus Community Garden and the Brown County Dragway; however, I wanted to expand my conception of the city. When the exhibition opened in August 2021, I returned early and stayed after so that I could have more time to photograph in and around Columbus. And then I returned again, and again. Even though my work for Exhibit Columbus was already on display, the project wasn’t over yet.
In this photo essay, I share some of that work from the changing core of Columbus: vernacular architecture, portraits of residents, infill along former railroad tracks, catalog homes, and more. Viewed in context of my Mississippi River Watershed project and the typical representation of Columbus, I hope it is a small step in creating a fuller representation of this important city in the US Midwest.