It was 25 years ago when I started photographing downtown Columbia in earnest. For reasons both pragmatic and creative, nighttime offered me the best opportunity to wander our city’s streets in search of inspiration and vision. Equipped with a Nikon film camera, two or three lenses, and a tripod, I set out each week to photograph downtown Columbia during the late 1990s. My initial intention was not to document, but to artistically interpret the streets, alleys, bars, storefronts, and neon signs of this comfortable college town that I called home. Informed and inspired by the work of Brassai, Edward Steichen, Andre Kertesz, and Josef Sudek, my aims were artistic rather than documentary. I was captivated by the bewitching beauty and simplicity of a city at night, and I recognized the power of darkness to transform the quotidian into something elegant and mysterious.
I continued photographing Columbia in this fashion from 1998 until 2003, when life interrupted and took me to a new city. I moved back to Columbia in 2008, and in late summer 2009 I began to photograph the downtown area, once again bringing a film camera and tripod, but now with a new and compelling motivation.
Columbia’s skyline and infrastructure were changing rapidly in 2009 and 2010, and because of this my approach to photographing our downtown took on a documentary purpose. Some of the buildings and houses I had grown familiar with were being demolished and replaced with high rise developments. The softly weathered bricks and familiar neon signs of my 1990s Columbia were becoming glass, steel, and concrete structures, imposing rather than beckoning. My goal was now very clear, and it was to document the Columbia I knew before it changed and disappeared. In 2011 I started photographing with a Nikon D700, my first attempt at creating black and white from a digital camera. Using the new camera transformed my approach to photography, moving me from tripod-based photography to a handheld approach. It also increased the speed at which I could document the changing face of downtown Columbia.
The exhibit I recently displayed in the Larson Gallery at Columbia College is a tightly edited selection of black and white photographs of Columbia by night, ranging from 1997 to 2012. Because this exhibit was assembled approximately 25 years after I started photographing downtown Columbia at night, this seemed a very meaningful and appropriate vantage point to look retrospectively at the history of our downtown cityscape, 25 years later.