Uzzle Buzz: Just Down the Road

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“Uzzle Buzz” is a series of blog posts, written by various authors, that respond to or comment on some aspect of our exhibition All About America: Photographs by Burk Uzzle.

Molly Irwin is a junior at UNC-Chapel Hill, double-majoring in Biology and Studio Art. She is the Photography and Design Intern for the Carolina Asia Center. 

Anyone who has ever been on a road trip knows those long stretches where there is seemingly nothing to see. Endless trees line the sides of the road and a great expanse of highway lies ahead. Making good time guarantees seeing this same view for 200 miles. However, sometimes the desire to have a little adventure can change this road trip into a journey through American history.

Acland_2008.3.51, 7/23/14, 11:26 AM, 8C, 3476x4042 (559+1018), 58%, Feb'13, 1/25 s, R53.9, G26.0, B35.1

Burk Uzzle, American, born 1938: Star Warehouse, South Carolina, 1997,1997; gelatin silver print. Ackland Art Museum: The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Anonymous Gift, 2008.3.51.

Burk Uzzle’s more recent photography grants a glimpse into the life of a person who chooses to take the roads less traveled. Uzzle’s mission to find and document the everyday sites around the nation has allowed him to come across treasures that are rich in history, such as the scene of Star Warehouse, South Carolina, 1997.

This photograph evokes the memories of a once bustling town that was bypassed as time and progress marched ever onward. This little town is no longer one that is consistently driven through on road trips, but one that must be found by deviating from the interstate. The lack of cars and people along with the lonely Star Warehouse, water tower, and buildings create a sense of passing. Once a location of business and livelihood, the sidewalks were likely filled with people trekking from work to home and back again. But these are now just faded memories. The sun is seated deep in the sky, casting an elongated shadow over the street. It is possible that it is the dawn of a new day, but the tone of the image evokes the sense of a long day ending on this secluded town and society moving on.

On my own annual family road trip, consisting of driving from Texas to North Carolina for 20 hours, we have passed through towns like these when we temporarily exit the interstate. One such town only had a few stores remaining open: an ice cream parlor, a gas station, a convenience store. I love these old communities because they are among the few places where it feels like you go back in time. Coke in glass bottles can be purchased at the gas station or ice cream parlor. Red and white striped awnings above the store fronts provide the shade. The old factories tell the decades-old stories of a past life. Reliving history becomes possible.

Sometimes the nation’s most interesting sites require a person to make a slight detour from the highway. Burk Uzzle understood this and sought to find the joy of the journey—not just the destination. Star Warehouse, South Carolina, 1997 reminds us that though time continues on, the relics of the past remain for us to see—if we are willing to take the time to look for them.

Molly Irwin