Documenting Social Change

Around 1978 I began using photographs to study social change.

Clearly not all social change is visible, but much of it is, especially the environments people build and alter. After working on a study of the visual manifestations of changing rural demographics, I realized the ideal approach would be to focus on change over time, because a photograph could preserve moments in time that could then be compared.

I had already photographed more than 100 sites around Ontonagon County, on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, in 1970 as part of a different research project. Using these photos as a baseline, in 1985 I rephotographed the area to document what had changed. The overriding visual theme was economic decline.

Since then I’ve returned almost yearly to Ontonagan County to rephotograph these scenes, and I’ve added many new sites to the catalog…