I know. The title is colorful and I promise, if you keep reading, it shall all become clear to you. I promise. Keep reading. Or don’t. Scroll down to just skip all of this awesome prose I am pouring out here and go right to the photographs.
Great. You decided to stay. Get ready for the (meandering) ride of your life.
Recently I saw that a book called “The Orange Line” had been published about you guessed it, THE ORANGE LINE. Well, which orange line do you ask? The orange line in Boston that is, the area that I live in. I was immediately interested in this. First of course because of the photography aspect, but also because of the nature of the project.
A photographer named Jack Lueders-Booth photographed the old elevated orange line just before the elevated train was taken down in 1987 and the train was taken underground. What Lueders-Booth did was take the pictures with a 8 by 10 view camera. For those of you who don’t spend your spare time spelunking through YouTube videos about historic cameras, an 8 by 10 view camera is one of those old fashioned cameras with that little hood you throw over you before you take the photo. Forget medium format, 35mm or digital. This is a serious commitment. Can’t fit your phone into your jacket??? How about lugging around a camera that is the size of large toaster oven. OK yes, I’m American and yes I will use anything except the metric system. LOL.
Anyway, from this project Lueders-Booth produced this beautiful chronicle of the neighborhood’s and the people on the old orange line. He met the people that lived in the neighborhoods, transit workers, just documented life in those areas before it was all utterly changed. It was a strange experience for me looking through that book because the places look somewhat familiar but at the same time completely unfamiliar to me. The city has changed that much in the 35 or so years since the pictures had been taken.
The portraits in the book are beautiful and this incredible chronicle of a place that was about to change, drastically. Like the photography nerd that I am, I sat there with rapt attention watching Lueders-Booth talking about his book in a lecture on YouTube, hearing the stories of how he had gotten his photos. As is usual in these situations, I was consumed with horrible jealousy. No not really but I thought what an incredible project this would be to be able to do. I always say that if I could have anything in my life, it would be to have a year off to do a photography project. That would be my biggest wish. Me, a fully funded year and my myriad of cameras. That’s all I want.
Kind of though inadvertently I realized I had done my own mini Orange Line photography project, without even knowing it.
After college, as I have mentioned up here many times, I lived on Capitol Hill. My post college life was extremely complicated and full of all kinds of complicated, difficult emotions. I loved living on the hill but I didn’t have a community up there. Once I left, I never really went back. If I had had a community up there, I’d probably still be living there now.
The hill itself at the time was a really fascinating place. Again my complex emotions come into play when I talk about it. At the time I lived in this house that cost $400 a month in rent and believe me, I got what I paid for. There were bars on the windows. Famously, as I have mentioned before, the living room had a hole in the ceiling, a rather sizable one.
My roommate at the time was in this deep denial that she actually lived there. My erstwhile friendship with this roommate of mine is inextricably linked to my complex feelings about Capitol Hill. My roommate at the time kinda styled herself as a rich person, except she lacked the one thing rich people usually possess. She didn’t have any actual money. She’d been raised with by her own telling a lot of money and acted like she still had that money. What I didn’t know at the time, what I could not have known at the time was that her family had experienced a financial reversal. Still she held on to her money loving ways. She was Edith Bouvier Beale, who had been presented to New York society at the Pierre Hotel, little Edie. Except little Edie now had to ride the D6 bus, the one that runs from Union Station to my old house on Capitol Hill. To this decrepit old house on Capitol Hill. She was on the bus and she wasn’t too happy about it.
Capitol Hill Little Edie would come home and point to things on the TV screen and ask why our house didn’t have whatever expensive thing was on the screen at the time. It took me years to realize that little Edie really thought she was still a debutante at the Pierre and not living in that house. Life at the house really did resemble Grey Gardens, the documentary where the world met the real Big and Little Edie, except our house wasn’t full of raccoons and feral cats. I’m also not sure if I was really Big Edie in that place. I think maybe I was more of a Joe Pesci straight talking kinda character trying to knock some sense into poor lost little Edie.
Little Edie though would decamp for her boyfriends most of the time, leaving me to kinda have the place to myself, which suited me just fine. As I said, Capitol Hill was an incredibly interesting place at the time, full of surprises. Being there at the time, you could almost feel that a big change was about to come to the area, that gentrification was absolutely on its way. But first, I was going to capture what the place was like before that all happened.
My usual weekend routine was to grab a camera and kinda just walk around the neighborhood. I’d walk over to Eastern Market or I’d just go over to the little supermarket towards the Capitol or the Safeway that was towards Bladensburg Road.
So I’m going to do my kinda mini-exhibit here and kinda tell everyone about this funny, weird little corner of Washington DC I was so blessed to have called home between the ages of 23 and 26. I have chosen some specific pictures for this entry. I did not curate them. We do not use that word here at the blog.