Photo Exploration: Military Street, Hamilton Alabama. August 2014

When you dri­ve down the road on a sun­ny day, some­times you have a cam­era in hand and it’s set­up for 1/500 sec expo­sure. Maybe man­u­al­ly set­up for f/11 and hyper­fo­cal convergence. Burn­ing through a few frames, or more. And there is one shot, maybe, when it is worth stop­ping. But where on earth are you? Film does­n’t give you much by way of coor­di­nates. If you’re lucky, you can remem­ber the most recent town, or some­thing unique about where you turned around to trace back a quar­ter mile to find that shot.

Military Road, Hamilton Alabama

This pho­to was made ear­ly August of 2014 on a dri­ve from Nashville to Colum­bus, MS. It was only after I devel­oped the film that I real­ized I was­n’t real­ly all that sure where I had been. It cer­tain­ly was­n’t going to come up in a search for Tex­a­co sta­tions between the two points.

Grate­ful­ly there are plen­ty of ways to trace one’s steps. Work­ing back­wards from the end of my dri­ve, look­ing at a Google Maps satel­lite view along High­way 17 in Alaba­ma, I was able to find where the above was tak­en. 34.170103, ‑87.962499. The street view is from Decem­ber 2013, and you can see the branch­es bare. The tree seems much more frag­ile then, as if it could be ripped out of the ground with­out effort. But in the sum­mer, it seems that with­in a few years the entire loca­tion will be one mass of green.

It was occu­pied at least since 1989, when System3 gaso­line was intro­duced. And prob­a­bly much more recent­ly than that. My guess is that it was dam­aged in 2011, pos­si­bly relat­ed to the EF5 twister that in that area. This is a snap­shot of a moment of tran­si­tion. I feel the bal­ance very pre­car­i­ous­ly in this spot. Will we come to clean our mess? And, fur­ther, will we come to clean the mess that we were hand­ed by nature, in a way? Or will we let nature take back what was claimed by storms?

I felt like a tourist there. I was no more invest­ed in this space than I am when I vis­it ancient won­ders. I admire those who built it, and I even more so, in some ways, admire those who knew to walk away. “Yes we are OPEN” — was that left as a bit of jest? As a state­ment say­ing we will be back? It is like those places aban­doned mid-meal, when some ter­ror or need was so great that all was left behind with hope of return­ing, but maybe know­ing in some sliv­er that no one would be com­ing back. And now it is cap­tured in film, in this state of tran­si­tion, forever.


[EDIT: Oth­ers have not­ed that the EF5 tor­na­do passed a few miles north of the ser­vice sta­tion. So, dam­age is prob­a­bly not from the tor­na­do itself but I would still guess from the relat­ed storm]