“A photographer needs rectangular eyeballs and horse blinders to frame and focus the vision of what is seen.”
One of our many stops this summer as we made our way north toward Asheville, NC was an overnight in Durham, NC. We decided to explore a bit and were rewarded with a very interesting visit to their revitalized Tobacco District. The capture above gives a glimpse of what awaits you reflected in the mirrored doors of the American Tobacco Institute. While tobacco is certainly nothing to glorify, when framed (pun intended) within the history of a tobacco-centric town like Durham it becomes a very interesting and entertaining walk through an amazing national change in perspective.
“To photograph is to frame, and to frame is to exclude.”
Anyone over the age of 30 can certainly recall billboards, movies, TV shows and magazine articles with glamorous scenes of people smoking. Once the downsides of tobacco were identified and promoted, the glamour disappeared and the dangers to smokers’ health, and that of those around them became a much more prevalent subject. The surgeon general drove a move to put warnings on tobacco products and the decline in numbers of smokers was dramatic.
“A photographer can sit at the edge of paradise and may only see unframable beauty.”
One of the negative effects of this massive shift in public perception was the decline of towns where tobacco had been king. Durham, NC was definitely one of those places. The once-profitable town became a dreary has-been of a place as factories closed and jobs became scarce. Rather than accept their fate and continue to decline, Durham has become a benchmark for creative revitalization. The centerpiece of the effort is the metamorphosis of the factory district into the American Tobacco Complex, a downtown extension of the American Tobacco Trail.
“A still photograph is simply an isolated frame taken out of the infinite cinema.”
Durham has made the most of this iconic period of American history. The centerpieces of the area are the old Lucky Strike smokestack and water tower, but they are now surrounded by beautiful waterfalls, playful statues, plaques describing history, a restored train, and most importantly, locals and tourists enjoying a wonderful environment. Nearby, creative restauranteurs are delivering delicious food and once-decaying buildings have been restored as lovely condos and apartments. Healthy products from the worldwide headquarters of iconic Burts Bees completes the scene.