chantal stone photography: the blog

April 15, 2006

Book Review:LaPorte, Indiana, by Jason Bitner

Filed under: News — chantal @ 12:33 am

An awkward preteen in a dance costume, a crying baby, a young toddler with white, scuffed walking shoes.

These are images found in Jason Bitner’s Laporte, Indiana.

Jason Bitner, of Found Magazine, makes a living collecting the things we leave behind, and compiling for all to see. Lost love letters, a to-do list, a note from an angry neighbor have all found their way into Bitner’s Found Magazine. This time, instead of gathering the snippets of memories and messages left behind, Bitner has compiled a wonderful collection of lives, a veritable diary of a small American town.

When visiting the small town of LaPorte, IN one afternoon for the LaPorte County Fair, Bitner and a friend stopped for lunch at a local diner called BJ’s American Café, in a building that formerly housed the Muralcraft Studio, owned by Frank and Gladys Pease during the 50’s and 60’s. The Pease’s specialized in children’s portraits, family portraits, engagement announcements, and the like. After Frank Pease’s death in the early 70’s, the photos remained in storage in the building, until the early 90’s, when the owners of the Café discovered the treasure.

Bitner noticed a small display of black and white portraits for sale and asked the waitress about it. She directed him to a small room in the back of the restaurant where thousands of photographs were located. Customers could browse through the boxes to see if there were any recognizable faces, perhaps a family member, an old friend, a long-lost love.
Bitner and his friend then spent the next few days going through the photos, collecting the ones they wished to purchase for a the book that would become LaPorte, Indiana.

Cleverly edited and grouped together, glancing at the faces of this book can make one wonder: Who are these people? What were their dreams, and did they ever achieve them? Are they still alive? Did the young man in uniform have to fight in Vietnam? Did the African-American sisters face many hardships there in LaPorte during the civil rights movement?

Often there can be a picture of a child placed next to a familiar looking adult…are they related? A mother and daughter? Or simply a fast-forwarded view of years to come?

Here we have a time capsule, a look back to a time and place where optimism prevailed, when we strove to put a man on the moon, and knew that we could succeed. There are portraits of children in the prime of their innocence, when America was still idealistic, before Vietnam and the turmoil of the civil rights movement, and before the cynicism of today.

More than a collection of old photographs, LaPorte, Indiana has given the world a glimpse into our own collective history. This is bigger than just LaPorte, Indiana…this is America, your family, your neighbors. This book evokes a feeling of nostalgia and holds a piece of all of us back in time, when our collective consciousness told us all things were possible.

Jason Bitner has given us a glorious gift of time standing still.

This review originally appeared on Blogcritics.org.

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