I do not think there is a better way to learn about a town than to walk around for several hours and almost let yourself get lost in the people and places of your new location. This was a liberating experience for me to just let myself walk wherever, being purely an wanderer in Ann Arbor, all while constantly observing my surroundings and fellow citizens. I found these several hours quite enjoyable. Even though I have been living in Ann Arbor for several months and had visited many times before I do not think my representation of Ann Arbor would have been effective if I had not taking a large majority of my photographs in this method. Instead, I would have presented a picture of Ann Arbor from more of an outsider’s viewpoint rather than from the viewpoint of someone living in a town. This exploration and discovery allowed my relationship with Ann Arbor to be much more similar to Arthur Leipzig’s close relationship with New York: that of a true insider and resident, someone who loves the town they live in and wants to share a depiction of this town with others.
Originally I hoped to put together a representation of Ann Arbor as a city. While this was an existing end result I think my thesis did evolve somewhat throughout the process. Instead of merely documenting and capturing different aspects of Ann Arbor I soon discovered that taking photographs like Leipzig was not that simple. Instead, my process became more like putting together various puzzle pieces of Ann Arbor into one possible representation. What I mean is I discovered there was a great deal more choice in showing off a town to viewers than I expected. I knew in advance I would be choosing who to photograph and where but when actually taking the photographs a wide range of additional choices appeared such as which and how many subjects to include, from which angle should a photograph be taken, which piece of the image should be the main focus, and even which picture should be chosen to include from a few closely similar pictures. Overall, my journey of photographing my new hometown allowed me to better appreciate Leipzig’s photobook Growing Up in New York. By learning firsthand the unlimited amount of choices that go into taking a photograph this allows me to better understand Leipzig’s process of taking photographs. As I have discussed before, Leipzig’s photograph style leans more toward modern aesthetics rather than purely documentary. I can better understand the choices Leipzig had to make and the difficultly to create visually interesting images, rather than just straight on images of aspects of a town.
Even though while taking my photograph I spent a large amount of mental energy aiming to think about and imitate Leipzig’s photographic eye I could never really forget that I was taking images in the 21st century while Leipzig’s images were from the 20th century. There were many differences between the town I was photographing and the town Leipzig was photographing, due to both differences in the cultures of the time periods and the cultures of the locations. For example, Leipzig’s position in time and in the country allowed and likely led him to photograph an immigrant or to include the Statue of Liberty in his trash images. This immigration theme can be found in a few of Leipzig’s photographs probably because the 1940s and 1950s was a time of heavy immigration to New York, especially of Jews.6 Ann Arbor in the early 2000s is a very different atmosphere. While America still has immigration at this time it is not as expansive as it used to be, and definitely not a large focus in Michigan. Instead, my photographs contained themes such as bicycles and people walking their dogs, popular aspects of middle-class life in the Midwest and also a heavy focus on environmentalism. Thus, my point is that Leipzig and I were photographing very different towns at very different points in American history. Yet, these differences still helped me better understand and interpret Leipzig’s photography of the mid-1900s. I realized that even though many of the themes in Leipzig’s photographs differ from mine, both groupings of images are still both just portrayals of towns, drawing back on my original thesis and idea. Despite the various differences the groups of photographs are innately very similar to one another, and to many other presentations of towns given by other photographers. While my thesis has slightly evolved throughout the process of further exploring Leipzig’s images and taking my own images, the bottom line is that both set of photos, despite the date they were taken, fulfill one person’s desire to present their hometown to others, by showing what is important and interesting to them.