I’m a lifelong Midwesterner, and the imagery of the region has always been so deeply ingrained in my mind that for a long time it all blurred together. I think I bought into the cliche that there’s nothing interesting here to see. Whatever the case, I had a lot of trouble picking out anything interesting enough to really examine closely–as a poet, a photographer, or even just a daily commuter with an hour a day of road time to kill. At some point I began to understand that the problem wasn’t the Midwest, which is plenty interesting, but me, my mental approach. Rather than looking for a landscape or an object interesting enough to examine, I needed to examine a landscape or an object until I could see what was interesting about it. When I started to think this way, the whole region opened up to me, and it has been a deep love of mine ever since. I started taking pictures to help me write poems, and eventually the pictures became a pursuit in their own right.
The pictures here actually come from two different stops. I have a friend who shoots film with vintage cameras and when he saw some of the photos from the first time I shot the car and the abandoned gas station, he wanted to capture similar images with his equipment too. We shoot together occasionally, and it can be interesting to incorporate his equipment into some of my pictures, which is how the in-camera photo came about. I have a poem called “Last Lesson in Ruin,” the title poem of my first collection, and in it are the lines “Rust, you are a Heartland / impressionist painter,” and, later, “[you are] a coffin suit to keep the corpse / of my Midwest dressed.”
I wrote that about the same time I was taking pictures like these, and though the poem wasn’t written specifically for these images, I think the connection is fairly clear.
About the Artist
Justin Hamm is the author of a full length collection of poems, Lessons in Ruin, and two poetry chapbooks. He is the founding editor of the museum of americana and his work has appeared in Nimrod, The Midwest Quarterly, Sugar House Review, Hobart, the Weekly Rumpus, and elsewhere. Justin has also received the Stanley Hanks Memorial Prize from the St. Louis Poetry Center.