Views from along the lakePublished 5:47am Wednesday, November 12, 2008
By By JESSICA SIEFF / Niles Daily Star
SAINT JOSEPH – Vincent Musi understands the way a single stretch of road can tie together communities, experiences … a lifetime, people and even a country … to put it simply.
Musi, a photo essayist and world renowned photographer for National Geographic, Life and Time magazines among others, was the eye behind the lens that so famously captured Route 66 and put its images before people who may have never even been there.
At the Box Factory for the Arts in St. Joseph on Tuesday, Musi presented a look at another route – Route 31 – otherwise known as the West Michigan Pike.
Musi was commissioned by Michigan's Beachtowns Association for a special project, after they set about gaining certification of U.S. Route 31 as a Michigan Heritage Route.
The project meant giving Musi a chance to explore Michigan's western lakeside, capturing 7,000 images in a two-week tour that began in New Buffalo and ended in Ludington.
In an interview earlier this year, Musi said, "I have a hard time letting go of place."
And looking at his photographs – 40 of which were chosen for the special exhibit – it's easy to see why.
"The language of photography is anything but universal," he said Tuesday. In his photographs, he explained, everyone will see something else in them.
In one photograph, of young boys and girls waiting in line at movie theater, are shown from the point of view of behind the infamous popcorn machine.
"There's drama in the popcorn," Musi said. "Whose kids will be making-out and who will come home late?"
Another, what some might mistake for a simple shot of fish caught on a typical Lake Michigan outing evoked an almost comical and mythical view from Musi, as he said he liked the "sacred salmon dance," the picture was depicting. "Where you choose which fish you're going to weigh."
He crashed a birthday party in Muskegon, captured vintage clad baseball players in Douglas and bathed Ma's Coffee Pot, a diner in South Haven in a soft, luminous light that lent to the true character and charm of old fashioned diners.
"I like that things get old here," he said. "And they age. And they don't get painted over."
One photo which is especially moving, is a candid portrait of Saugatuck artist Sylvia Randolph, who Musi said made cookies for him when he arrived to take her photo.
"One of the great things about doing what I do is it leads me to wonderful people," Musi said. Randolph was at the age of 103 at the time of Musi's visit. Sadly, she passed away before having the chance to see Musi return, with a photo of her in tow.
The project was made possible by grants through several organizations, the Michigan Humanities Council, Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs and the Berrien County Community Foundation to name a few.
The Michigan Beachtowns Association consists of nine convention and visitors bureaus including the South West Michigan Tourist Council and the Harbor Country Convention &Visitors Bureau in New Buffalo.
The 40-photograph exhibit will tour West Michigan in 2009, according to a release by the Michigan Department of History, Arts and Libraries.
The world that is wrapped up in the winding road of the West Michigan Pike, Musi said as he concluded the show, "is a place to hand down, to preserve and to stubbornly protect. It is the distant relative you want to be introduced to and the friendship you will spend a lifetime sharing…"
It is, he continued. "More a lineage than a roadway. It's a pedigree for those experiences shared that influence our formative years and continue to build character throughout our adult ones. I'll be back."
He'll be welcome.