By Abbey Doyle
The Herald Bulletin
ANDERSON, Ind. —
John Bower has committed the number 2,099 to memory. That’s the number of Hoosier cities and towns he’s visited while shooting photos for his seven books.
“Sometimes you can drive for hours and hours and not see anything worth photographing,” Bower said. “And then you will go around the corner and say, ‘Wow! That really needs to have its picture taken.”
Bower, of Bloomington, will discuss his work at the Anderson Public Library on Tuesday and at the Alexandria Public Library on Saturday as part of National Library Week.
Bower will be speaking at the Anderson library at 6 p.m. Tuesday and at 2 p.m. Saturday in Alexandria.
He hasn’t always been a photographer. Bower only started taking photos about 10 years ago and since has driven more than 100,000 miles exploring the Hoosier state with his camera.
He joked that he was surprised he had “an eye” for photography and was shocked at the quality of his pictures when he first began. But putting the images into a book was an easy move. Each book’s production has rolled into the next, making the seven books seem nearly seamless.
“As I’ve gone along, each one has evolved into the one I work on next,” Bower said.
He lives in Bloomington and began photographing “fading, forlorn and forgotten” places in central Indiana’s hill country. While working on that book he would often stop and eat a picnic lunch in a cemetery, as they are usually interesting, quiet and peaceful places. The second book featured many of the cemetery statues discovered on his lunch breaks.
While traveling to small towns to get photos for the second book, Bower noticed that many towns had buildings where the upper half was still preserved while the bottom half was remodeled.
“We looked at interesting details — stairways, attic spaces, the tops of buildings,” he said. “It was very interesting.”
And while working on the “Second Stories” project, Bower realized that the tallest things in most of these small towns were grain elevators which he decided to make the star of his fourth book. The focus was on grist mills and grain elevators, many of which had closed down.
Bower discovered there weren’t only a lot of shuttered mills and elevators, but also many other businesses — tanneries, gas stations, garages, factories.
“It was amazing the variety of places we discovered for that book,” he said, of the fifth, “Silent Workplaces.”
Many of those businesses were transportation-related, which Bower thought deserved its own book, “Journey’s End.” Its photographs included Ohio River tow boats that had been banked to a Studebaker factory in South Bend. That book opened Bower’s eyes to other shuttered buildings, this time public buildings — schools, churches and other kinds of public buildings.
“I love doing these kinds of presentations,” Bower said of the talks he’ll be giving at the libraries. “I think people will be really amazed at the diversity of the really fascinating places around the state photographed.”
In Anderson, Bower will talk about each of the seven different books, while in Alexandria he will focus on “Silent Workplace.”
“I don’t see these places as abandoned houses, barns, factories or schools,” he said. “I don’t see them as abandoned and forgotten and falling apart. What I see is a place that has so many stories that it could tell if they could talk. I see how important those places used to be to us.”
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