Huntington, W.Va., has experienced a renaissance of late. Glad to see it. As a cub reporter there for the Huntington Herald-Dispatch in 1980-86, I wrote endless stories on the many failed attempts to develop the ‘Superblock,’ the key parcel of downtown property now occupied by the Pullman Square development, which appears to be thriving.
This well-designed development effectively relocated the locus of Huntington’s downtown 200 foot closer to the Ohio River, along whose banks the city sprawls. You can hardly imagine the change if you ever once witnessed the barren block that used to be there. The big, weed-strewn empty lot was bifurcated by a road teenagers, driving dad’s car, would cruise, circling the block for another go-round and then another, come Friday and Saturday nights.
Footloose and restless, a single man in my first newspaper job, an Ohio boy transplanted to Appalachia, I’d stroll the streets at night or on weekend afternoons. I was, besides diverting myself, trying to get the measure of the town. Huntington has a wealth of alleyways. You find them between each block downtown. You find them between each block in the residential neighborhoods that you encounter once you cross underneath the viaduct and the railroad track that snips the town in half. (If you board the train at the Huntington station and head east, you can be in Washington, D.C. in a half-day. In downtown Chicago in a day, headed West.)
Alleys are curious places. It is where you witness a city or town in a state of deshabile. Alleys are where a town’s careful pose to visitors droops. Trash spills out. Graffiti sprouts. I kind of love alleys. They are shortcuts. They are snapshots. At night, if you’re brave and confident enough to walk down them, they offer vistas, glimpses and urban snapshots no one else in the city that night may be seeing except for us alley-walkers.
The light in alleys is also curious. This is light designed purposefully, to illuminate, not necessarily to decorate or entice, as commercial establishments require. One way of looking at it, photography is simply the capturing of a moment of light, shadow and non-light. Alleys are good set-pieces for this interplay.
I don’t know why I don’t feel threatened walking down alleys at night. Maybe it’s the Leatherman Blast I wear on my belt (not that I have any knife-fighting mojo, except in my delusions). Maybe it’s the thought the bad guys are probably hoovering up potential marks in more populated places. Maybe it’s a foolish trust in my own karmic safety. Maybe it’s the confident stride that tries to say: ‘Don’t fuck with me, I’m a complete motherfucker, too.’ A complete lie. Yet it can help to, peacock-like, project a show.
All I know is I like to walk alleys. I especially like walking alleys in towns where I learned how to be alone. To survive on my own. You see things you don’t normally see. You see lights you don’t normally see. You get places quicker.
These are some iPhone shots from a recent alley stroll and downtown walk through Huntington, W.Va., this Winter of 2012. Huntington is a city I could not countenance for many years because of old ghosts I would encounter there. Not the least of them, maybe chief among them, was the ghost of a younger, naive self who had no idea what lay around the curve after departing the place.
Funny. The ghosts are gone now. Pullman Square and its spin-off, spillover growth on adjacent streets, helped redraw, revive and re-frame the city in my mind’s eye. Or maybe Huntington’s new confidence, the pleasure I now take in visiting there, says something about my own development, my own confidence. It’s a long story, the reason I left and the things that happened afterwards. But I am glad to be here, far older, only occasionally wiser, once again walking the town’s alleys and streets, still seeking what they will teach. What they might conceal or reveal.
~ douglas imbrogno, december 2012
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All photos by Douglas Imbrogno. | click photos bigger
westvirginiaville.com photos by douglas imbrogno
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