Fuji X Adventures in North America - Welcome to Pleasantville

My project: to document a small American county in North Western Pennsylvania during the fall using a mix of Fuji X and film cameras. Four weeks in which to capture something of the character of the quiet, forgotten places never shown on the big screen. Now read on...

My aunt and uncle had driven me in overnight from Buffalo. I'd spent the last few days in Toronto, where I'd been on the receiving end of a beating. But that was in another country and besides, now I lay snugly in bed, listening to the crickets, over a hundred miles from the nearest big city and - hopefully - assorted crazies. Taking care to keep the bumps and bruises on the side of my battered bonce ceiling-side up, I drifted off to sleep.

And awoke to that beautiful smell of coffee, to be followed by the tart, sweet taste of home made jam - or jelly - on toast. Outside the sun shone brightly and it was unseasonably shaping up to be t-shirt weather. Don't you just love that moment on a holiday when having arrived the previous night in a remote place all shrouded in inky blackness, you wake up, look out the bedroom window and get that flash of wonder in seeing - all laid out in the valley below you - where you've ended up?

I put on my trusty Yorkshire flat cap and stepped outside... into something that looked to me to be straight out of a scene from an Edward Hopper painting...

All images shot with the X-Pro1, 18mm F/2, 35mm F/1.4 and 56mm F/1.2 lenses.

Ever seen Blue Velvet? Yeah, that. The western slope of Bradford PA is pure white picket fence Americana. Every house has its own character, strange to my British eyes. These painted wooden castles; big and sprawling and at first glance immaculate... and then you begin to notice the cracks in the wood and the peeling of paint, signs of when a hard winter picked away with frozen claws...  

Buildings don't last out here.

And the streets deserted as if the beautiful fall day had suddenly turned to winter blizzard. There was such strangeness in such quietness. I could wander for a half hour and the only faces I'd see were those peering from the shadowed confines of a school bus. 

What's going on behind those windows and doors? Where is everyone? 

Is this why Hopper's paintings feel so empty? 

Yes, it all felt a little unreal.

Perhaps the shock of recognition. You see I'd poured over the work of so many American photographers such as Stephen Shore, Joel Sternfeld, Walker Evans and William Eggleston. More than that, I'd immersed myself in novels by Ray Bradbury, Don Delillo and Willa Cather. And then those small town movies I'd watched again and again, all my life: Gremlins, Edward Scissorhands, Tree of Life. I mean with those pictures in my mind... in those empty streets, in that tawny sunlight, everything I saw seemed a waking American dream.

But that was why I'd gone there, right? That's what I wanted to find. But the stillness was strange. Even a little oppressive. I followed the slope of the street down onto the valley floor. And there the buildings changed, appearances shifted. The homes become more weathered, more frayed and more lived in.

And it's down there, on the edges of the town centre, where I began to find people - just a few signs of life - out there walking the street... 

Stay tuned...