A couple of years ago, Jason Bitner stumbled upon a stash of 18,000 photos in the back room of a diner in the small Midwestern town of LaPorte, Indiana. Jason’s good at finding rare and raw treasures: he’s co-creator of the bad, bold, and beautiful Found magazine. But still, he knew this was something extra special, what he calls his “greatest find ever.” “I immediately knew they had to be shared with more people—they’re totally awesome,” he says, enthusiastically as usual. Shelved next to the cases of ketchup and mustard were photos taken by one photographer, Frank Pease, shot after shot of one small American town from the ’40s to the ’60s— “revealing its public and private faces, its secrets and its stories.” The boxes and boxes that Bitner found were nothing short of a major cultural excavation. The result is a book, LaPorte, Indiana (Princeton Architectural Press), that SMITH is totally pleased to excerpt here.
Next: Faces on the pages start turning up.
Leading up to the book’s release, the town’s local paper, LaPorte Herald-Argus, has been running a half-dozen photos each Friday and asking readers to let the paper know if they can identify anyone. Hundreds of phone calls and e-mails have poured in, and mysteries are beginning to be solved, some of them found in the captions in our excerpt. “It’s nuts,” says Bitner, “we’ve been staring at these photos for years, and they’ve suddenly sprung to life. And as more people come forward, we’re beginning to reconstruct the town and reunite some friends from across the country—the book’s becoming a community event.”
What’s more, the book has been blurbed by the Prince of Indiana himself, John Mellencamp, who coronates this find with these words gracing the back cover: “These are real people. The grace and dignity one sees in their faces should be a source of hope for us all.” He should know, he was born in a small town.
If that’s not enough, check out the new issue of Dirty Found, also edited by Bitner. DF is the version of Found full of the stuff that’s too hot, dirty, perverted, or Just Plain Wrong to handle. Issue #2 has just been published: hide it under your mattress so the kids don’t find it.
See also: John’s recent blog about June, Diego and Susy Goldberg’s annual, individual portraits, a project that photo by photo tells the story of their lives.