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Paving Paradise: Photos Of A Town's Forlorn Fate

by Claire O'Neill
Aug 11, 2010

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Claire O'Neill

The 400-ish people who live in Utica, Ind., are slowly coming to terms with a forlorn fate. The town, situated right on the Ohio river, which separates Indiana from Kentucky, will soon be paved over by a highway. The two states are planning to build a bridge over the river, and the highway leading to the bridge will cut right through Utica.

For the past five years, D.C.-based photographer Robb Hill has been returning to his home of Utica — what he calls "a self-proclaimed river rat town" — to document the land and its people before construction begins. The planned highway will fall within a half-mile of his house, which dates back to around 1860. Many of the homes and farmhouses in the area share that sort of history. And the people who own them are slowly saying goodbye.

On one hand, it might seem sad. But on the other, more practical hand, Hill explained, residents will appreciate a more direct way to cross the river. "I'm trying to approach the project as matter-of-factly as these people live their life," he said. "They know the bridge is coming. They just have to go on and live it." It seems appropriate that Hill himself is facing a big change: The film that he used for the first five years of this project has been retired. With only 30 rolls remaining, he will soon switch to another brand.

The moral of "HomeLand," Hill's project, is that change is inevitable. And that sometimes, the best thing you can do to save a place is to document it. "I don't think you need to go to far-flung war zones to make good photographs," he said over the phone. "You can do it in a backyard. And they don't have to be romanticized or sentimental; they're interesting on their own."

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