The Architecture of Cities: the Midwest

Peter Eisenman’s Wexner Center for the Arts: Ohio State, Columbus Ohio

Catnip: Catnip is one of the many pleasures that move me throughout my career: I find it in thee discovery of light: I find it in the adventures of landing on. New planets: I find it in the evolution of my work: I find it looking back at the many decades with a camera in hand: I find it in tomorrow.

I always wanted to feel like George Bowling in Orwells’ Coming up For Air: I wanted to see the canopy of trees and feel the air en route to the south of France:

I wanted to sit in the Ferrari as the basketball player, Wilt Chamberlain raced one-hundred miles an hour through the night across the country: He would regale me with his basketball and women conquests: I would feel the awe of America at night:

I wanted to be sitting alongside James Bond as he drove the French Atlantic coast after a night of clandestine activities and just a few martinis: The Bentley’s top down, the morning ocean spray alerted me to the pleasure of the endless life on the road.

I wanted to sit in the front seat between Thelma and Louise as their car was just about ready for lift off over the forever cliff: I wanted to experience the delirium.

It is what photographers get to do: dream about what they see, dream about dreams.

I was just about to land in what I refer to as O.E Rolvaag land; I for many years equated Giants in the Earth novel as my Midwest.

Some years ago I was driving alone on the road. A city boy pushing his car through America’s Midwest  that was part Stephen Kings’ Children of the Corn and part the essence of Americana: Worlds’ Fairs. It was a bit of humbling fun to make fun of what I didn’t know and what I may never know: The Midwest: My first professional foray into an American foreign land: I cannot remember the exact order, but I was zig zagging through Cincinnati, Dayton, Indianapolis, and cities in between before a two and a half hour rally drive from Fort Wayne, Indiana to Columbus, Ohio.

Michael Graves Hanselmann House: Fort Wayne, Indiana.

I was doused in catnip: every blink of an eye was a photograph: for a few seconds I was the photographer W.Eugene Smith shooting the portrait of the Country Doctor: He made his way through the tall grasses…But this is what catnip does, it stimulates your electrolytes, receptors.

I arrived in Fort Wayne Indiana to photograph Michael Graves’ Hanselmann House for AIA’s Twenty-Five Year Award.

The house was hidden amid a cluster of Sassafras, Pine and one Black Walnut tree.

I was alone in the shadows: Some may say it is special to have a house to photograph alone and alone: There are sights and sounds: There are the Children of the Corn and other psychological frights. I wondered how Bojangles might have navigated those initial steps: So I danced: Alone in the house I remembered that I had photographed more than half a dozen Graves works: Somehow this less imposing built house seemed the more important: putting history into perspective: award winning architecture is a reflection of a greater achievement: standing the test of time.

My efforts produced more frames, but also a concentration that might only be best understood as an homage to the architect.

So as I drove off from Fort Wayne to Columbus, Ohio I wondered why so many fabulous architects made something brilliant in the Midwest: The Midwest was their special studio. Oddly China became a similar platform for the best of a certain pedigree of architects: the platform to be the best of what they could be.

While alone on the road there is a certain sound of music that you can’t hear. You know it adds speed to the propellers that thrust you along the roads: the back roads: and the roads you inevitably get lost on: To be or not to be: I am lost, do I call for help: I am lost do I seek out something new: The pleasures of the music that you cannot hear makes me dance.

I arrived in Columbus, Ohio: My mind was filled with a card catalog of the “Prairie Writers”. My mind was aloft in the country fields watching time. I had pulled up to the gas station: It was also part five-and-dime and hardware store. While my gas tank was being filled I went in to get some nourishment of various importance.

I noticed a giant window attached to a local ice cream parlor. It was like looking into a Pee Wee Herman rehearsal: Lollipop colors as far as the eyes could see: A rotund couple wearing matching candy-colored “tees”. Their ice cream cones were subject to some sort of abuse.

I made my way to Ohio State’s Wexner Center for the Arts. It was designed by Peter Eisenman.

Not a soul to be seen. I have never seen people in any of the pictures by others. It made me feel as if this is what is meant by the prairie lands: the expanse and the beauty of America laid out for my eyes: Standing in the midst of the open, is a new architectural church: I am not a critic, so I never offer an opinion on such things: Say what you will about the quietude of being alone with your thoughts: The music still plays on: Snippety-snap-snap. What I believed to be a contemporary moment in the Midwest’s bucolic bliss.

If the Midwest had an ocean near by, I would live somewhere near by.


Richard Schulman is a photographer and writer. His books include Portraits of the New Architecture and Oxymoron & Pleonasmus. He lives in New York City.