Small town America: Port Orford, OR / by Nigel Rumsey

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I have a great fondness for small town America. That eclectic mix of industry, commerce and residence rarely fails to entrance me. One of my longest-held ambitions is to take a few months out and complete a long-term documentary photography project in a small American town. I rather ambitiously see it as a scaled-down version of W. Eugene Smith's Pittsburgh project, with maybe slightly fewer than his 17,000 images. We spent our holiday in Oregon last year and in a small echo of that ambition while there I tried to document the buildings along US Route 101 in the town of Port Orford.

documentary photography shot of unmarked building, Port Orford, OR

For those who are in a hurry to get somewhere, and who are not flying, US Route 101 has been superseded by Interstate 5, but at one time it was the route along America's West coast. For 1,550 miles it runs near the mighty Pacific ocean.

..... a scaled-down version of W. Eugene Smith's Pittsburgh project .... slightly fewer than his 17,000 images

Even despite its inter-state scope when it runs through hundreds of small towns it becomes Main Street, the strip onto which stores open their doors. Onto its sidewalks churches open and schools empty, thousands of small General Stores, fast food restaurants and industry trades along its length. When you pull out of Coos Curry Supply in Port Orford it's easy to forget you're on ribbon of blacktop stretching from Port Angeles at the very top of Washington state, a wet two miles from the Canadian border, to Los Angeles in sunny Southern California.

documentary photography shot of Coos Curry Supply a hardware store in Port Orford, OR

On this trip I ran out of time in Port Orford, route 101 was pulling me ever northward, but I'm sure I'll be back to both to Port Orford and hopefully for even longer to some, as yet, unknown small town at which I can point my lens.

documentary photography shot of Chevron gas station, Port Orford, OR

documentary photography shot of gas filling rig, Port Orford, OR