Fall Collaboration: Part 1

[While it is redundant to say this, I’m going to anyway: This writing and, in particular, this project and the posts regarding this project are copyrighted, and protected, in some cases, under contract.]

This fall, a photographer from the craft school and I will be collaborating on a project I proposed to Our State magazine, a North Carolina based publication with 110,000 subscribers that pays respectably, publishes decent writing, and is enthusiastically read by its intended audience. While the article I’m writing for them will only be about 1,200 words, Shane (the photographer) and I are so passionate about the project that we are going to make it a weeks-long adventure, follow our intuitions, and see where we end up.

In short, there are 23 swinging footbridges in the state of North Carolina. Two of them are closed, and 11 of the remaining 21 are in Yancey and Mitchell counties. The oldest one is but a few miles from my house, built in 1947 and still fully functional. These footbridges are maintained by the state highway department and the process for removing one is so complex, that it is actually easier and sometimes more affordable to simply maintain them despite the fact that they are rarely used anymore.

If you’ve never seen one of these, most of the time they cross a river or creek and lead from one byway to another. So much has changed since many of them were built, though, which means that some footbridges now go from a highway over a river and onto private property (such as someone’s backyard).

Here goes:

I can hear Shane’s Honda Passport barrelling up Fork Mountain before I actually see him. I’m busy at the stove, making stir fry and green tea, a late afternoon lunch. A minute later, I hear him at the upper entrance to the house.

“Hello?” he says.

“I’m down here,” I yell.

He’s in the loft, but slowly finds his way down the narrow steps. Backpack and maps in hand, he greets me with a smile and hug; always the gentleman in a good mood. The photographs he’s taking for this project are the first major magazine assignment in his career.

“I’ve been thinking completely differently for the past three weeks—since we got this gig,” he says. “There’s a market for everything out there! And lots of places appreciate creative work.”

“Yup,” I say, then hand him an old copy of The Photographer’s Market. “If you like this, get yourself an updated version and you’ll be blown away. Everybody wants a picture of something, and most people are willing to pay for it.”

He hops up on the kitchen counter, legs dangling over the edge, and flips through the book. “Sweet,” he says. “I’ll check this out.” Then, “Can I have some snow peas?”

I point to the frying pan, where a mélange of shitakes, spinach, peas, and carrots sprinkled with ginger and sesame seeds awaits. “Help yourself.”

Once I finish my lunch, we clear off my desk and get to work. Cross-referencing the database information I got from DOT with the map blowups and print outs Shane found, we are able to map and locate all 11 footbridges in our counties.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be calling magazines and newspapers to try and get someone interested in publishing personal narratives and photos that document our excursions (in addition to what will be published a year from now in Our State). Likewise, Shane will ask his art mentors about potential publishing opportunities. Starting September 22nd, we’ll hit the road, spending one or two days per week driving to the footbridges, crossing them, photographing them, researching them, and interviewing nearby residents.

“I want to be a part of as much of this as I can,” he says. “Even the interviews, so I can work on my portrait shots. The way I see it, even just one image of someone will help complete our record of what we’re doing, regardless of the magazine needs it.”

“Sounds good,” I say. Shane has an independent study for his “class” at the school this fall and my days off from the coffeehouse are during the week. This is what will allow us to spend so much time on our excursions, following leads and letting the stories surface the deeper into the project we get. I’ve never had a photographer accompany me to an interview, but I trust Shane and this will be a learning experience for both of us.

Our maps complete, we talk shop for a little more and I tell him more about the other writing projects I have going on (they’re spread all over my desk, after all). As he readies to leave, we go over our mental checklists. The magazines I will call. The people he will talk to. The dates we need to keep open for our excursions.

“I want this to be big, Shane,” I say. “I mean, if you lived in BigCity, wouldn’t you just love to sit down and read the Sunday paper every day for a month or two, and read a feature like this? A little essay and beautiful photos to accompany it?”

“Totally,” he says. “This is gonna be fun, no matter what happens.”

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