Grinnell, Iowa, 1973
"Iowa Corn Song"
We're from I-O-way, I-O-way. State of all the land
Joy on ev-'ry hand. We're from I-O-way, I-O-way.
That's where the tall corn grows
“The nice part about living in a small town is that when you don't know what you're doing, someone else does.” Attributed to Immanuel Kant
I have schlepped a cardboard box containing hundreds of unorganized negatives every place I’ve lived since college. The negatives span the period from my early teens to when I transitioned to digital photography. They range in size from 35mm to 5x7 inch sheet film.
One day in 2017, I happened upon the box after it had laid dormant for many years, and absent-mindedly began looking through it. Without having a clear goal, I pulled out some strips of 2 1/4 square black and white negatives that I recognized as being from the 1970s and had them digitized as positives. The process eventually became an opportunity for me to reconnect with my (somewhat clueless) younger self and an early phase in my development as a photographer.
During my senior year at college (1972-73), I lived with my girlfriend in an off-campus apartment, above a florist in downtown Grinnell, Iowa. We lived in the rear apartment, and an older couple (Joe and Cecile Schwab) lived in the front. The Schwabs acted as surrogate grandparents, and kindly allowed me to take photos of them and their apartment. Mrs. Schwab liked collectibles. Mr. Schwab rarely left his chair.
Besides the images of the Schwabs and their apartment, the others are from the same period. The older man on the steps leading up to my apartment is Sam Berman, senior member of one of the only Jewish families in Grinnell at the time. Mr. Berman owned a metal salvage yard (shown in two images), an occupation which I have read was acceptable for Jews spreading throughout small town Midwest. (It didn’t occur to me when I met Mr. Berman our respective family histories have some parallels. My father’s father, upon arriving as a teen in Chicago from the Ukraine in the early 1900s, made his living re-purposing scrap leather from the Chicago stockyards and built a business that my father later inherited.) I did not have the presence of mind to correct Mrs. Schwab when she referred to Mr. Berman as “Sam the Jew”. This was my first direct experience with such attitudes, though they were apparently common among Grinnell townspeople, according to a local historian.
The train tracks shown bisect Grinnell. They were the subject of an urban legend about an enterprising college student who wired them to the transmitter of the low wattage college radio station in order to magnify its broadcast range. The image of roaming kids was taken downtown. Given that the girl in front is holding a half-eaten candy bar, the photo likely predates the era of “no shirt, no shoes, no service.”