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I am a month into The New Project, and I had a first this morning.

The project is “Northside Garage.”

Northside Richmond real estate listings are peppered with all sorts of features such as “cottage garden!” or “9-foot ceilings!” or “Northside Garage!”

“Northside Garage”  is a euphemism for a building that may fit the following description: 

  • It is generally 40-70 years old.
  • It probably was – at one time – a functioning garage.
  • It is probably made of [now rusting] corrugated metal, [now crumbling] stucco or [now disintegrating] wood.
  • It may (or may not) have doors on it.
  • If it has doors on it , one or more statements may be true:
    a. The doors may or may not be able to open.
    b. The doors may be blocked by trash cans, logs, cinder blocks, yard clippings.
    c. The doors may be completely engulfed by ivy or Virginia creeper and/or morning glory vine.
  • It probably has more than one lock on it.
  • If there are windows, they may be
    a. cracked
    b. broken
    c. boarded up
    d. so overgrown with aforementioned flora that you can’t see them anyway
  • It may or may not be plumb.
  • It may house cars, it may house “stuff,” it may house nothing or (rare case) – someone might be using it as a house.

The “Ladies of the Alley” are in varying degrees of disrepair.

Some owners have embraced them (e.g. cleaned them up; landscaped around them; painted murals on them; hung wall art on them).

Some owners seem grateful to have some extra onsite storage (after all: many of the homes here were built in the 1920s, 30s and 40s….pre-walk-in closet era).

Some owners have given up on them completely (why? Maybe all the renovation money has gone into the actual house? Maybe period replacement parts are too expensive? Maybe the patient is too far gone and care at this late stage wouldn’t make a difference?…whoops, don’t get me started on nationalized health care).

Whatever the case, whatever the “state” of the “garage” – there is a lot of very interesting architecture in the alleys. And since some of these structures are on their “last legs,” so to speak, I want to document them before engraver beetles have them for dessert or groves of bamboo swallow them whole.

The goal is to commemorate these buildings with overviews, portraits and details.

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What I usually do is (try to) force myself out of bed early each morning to walk (yay! exercise) and shoot (at least) 36 exposures of 35 mm film.

It’s just me, my camera and a house key – no business cards or anything (and herein lies my “ooops?”).

Becca did a similar project more than a year ago, and I recently asked her if anyone ever stopped and asked her what she was doing. After all: if you saw some girl with a camera, climbing in weeds and photographing people’s sheds and garages, what would you think?

She said no one ever said a word, and she just chalked it up to the part of town we live in (e.g., there is stranger stuff going on in these alleys than middle-aged women walking around with cameras. To wit: yesterday, I SWEAR I saw someone casting a fishing line – from a real fishing rod – in the alley behind my house).

But I figured the day would come and someone would say to me, “Hey, what are you doing?”.

And that day was TODAY!

I met a very nice man who came to check out what I was doing by his garage.
I didn’t have any of my cards on me (should I shove some down my bra?? I don’t have pockets!!!), but I introduced myself and explained my project. And in doing so, we learned that we both have an affinity for the alley treasures around us.

So: I’m documenting today’s session so
     a. If anyone else sees me in the alley, they’ll know what I’m up to
     b. Remind people that it never hurts to be observant – and vocal (people – look out your windows. What’s happening??)
     c. Validate to my new acquaintance that I’m legit

*****
I’ll end by saying that if you know of any very interesting or very dilapidated garages in Northside Richmond, VA – please tell me about them. I’d like to include them in the project, if possible.

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