Trascendental South | A Personal Essay

Words and visuals by Frankie Climenhage

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A month ago, my band went on tour for three weeks in the United States. We drove from Montreal to Texas, with shows along the way there and back. This was the longest amount of time my bandmates and I had spent on the road and our first time in the South.

“It’s 9 AM in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The air is is sticky and grey from the neighboring hurricane and I am restless. I go for a walk around a little suburb tucked behind the highway and sprawl of motels and strip malls where we had stayed the night before.

The houses on these streets sit on large plots of land. Some are well kept with fresh coats of paint and well trimmed lawns that display politics and football team preferences. The other houses are decomposing. There are no sidewalks. It’s a cross between farmland and subdivision. A flock of domestic ducks waddle from yard to yard between cactus gardens. I see acres of land and rotting barns but only rusted trucks sit on the back plots. Rocking chairs and strollers on sunken front porches indicate multi generational households.

Residents give me dirty looks from their driveways. Maybe it’s because I am not a neighbor or a familiar face to them. Or maybe it’s because I look like a “weirdo”. A young girl waves at me from her yard and I relax my shoulders and feel like a person again.

I don’t take any photographs in this neighborhood.”

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On tour, there is never enough time to really explore the cities where we play. The days are spent in the car, driving from one show to the next. I see the states through highways and gas stations, fast food chains and farm land. It doesn’t really look all that different from Canada this way. It is in the bumper stickers, BBQ joints, cotton fields, firework stands, gun stores, discount liquor warehouses and dirty looks that I am reminded that I’m not at home. I take photos of my meals and the places we sleep in the morning light before getting back on the road. The taco bell menu is better in America and I feel less safe using its bathrooms. I opt for the single stall washrooms at coffee chains like Dunkin Donuts and Krispy Kreme to keep negative eye contact and comments to a minimum. The cashier at a Dunkin Donuts in North Carolina tells me to “be careful out there” as she hands me my sour cream glazed and small coffee and for a moment I forget that she is talking about the hurricane.

These American landscapes- the neon signs and beat up station wagons, bungalows, star spangled flags and old school diners- are all scenes I had admired in the works of my favourite American photographers. These men that I look up to who have the confidence to ask someone if they mind being photographed and who navigate most American streets with ease. Maybe this confidence can be learned, or maybe it's not safe for me to ask a blue collar Tennessee truck driver if I can make a portrait of them.

And so, for now, I photograph myself and empty parking lots. Motel signs and houses that I can only speculate as to who might live inside them.