Time, distance, and nostalgia sure can change things. It can certainly change how a photograph is viewed. In general photography, in the documentary sense, freezes its subject in a specific time and place. Especially when the photo is about a place. In the human-made world things change all the time. Buildings go up and get torn down, roads get built, and business come and go. Take a photo of a place and it may look the same the next day but what about ten years later? Or twenty? Or thirty? Change wins out in the end.

I went to college in the mid to late 1980s at a small school in Westchester NY. It was a state school so it was called SUNY Purchase. I had a fun time there and enjoyed my time as an undergrad. The campus was a bit odd compared to any other place I’ve been. It was designed in the late 1960s and is one of the last great projects of modernist architecture. It’s built with a reddish brown brick and there is a lot of it. Brick to the left of me and brick to the right. The buildings were brick and the walkways and “Mall” were all brick. The trees were even all lined up in straight lines. There were very few reminders of the natural world.

The Mall was kind of the center of campus. It was a football field sized flat area with an all brick floor that faced all the brick buildings. You crossed the mall to get from one part of campus to the other. In front of the mall was the “Great Lawn” a large rectangular piece of green grass with a big tree in the middle of it. It was at least a few football fields big. Lots of room to play frisbee. In the middle of the Mall was a large bronze Henry Moore sculpture. It was the real centerpiece of the whole campus. It was big enough that you could sit on/inside it and students often did. “Meet me by the Henry Moore” was a sentence that was repeated time after time.

I describe this all to you because a lot of it is gone now. Being that is’s been thirty years since I first saw SUNY Purchase you can imagine that things have changed. I haven’t been there to see the changes but I’ve heard about them and seen pictures. The first and most egregious thing that they did was to move the Henry Moore. They moved it off the Mall and put it a couple miles away near the entrance of campus. A place where nobody goes except in a car to enter or leave. What was once the center of campus life has disappeared from it. That makes all the students of my generation and the ones before a bit sad.

The other thing they did is to tear up the Mall almost entirely and put down grass and plants where it was. They also tore up the the brick walkways and replaced them with larger three foot by three foot paving tiles in about four different shades. I’m not saying any of those changes to the campus are bad. I haven’t been there to see them but I have to think they were improvements. We students of the old SUNY Purchase campus usually had a mixed relationship with the space we lived and studied in. The clean lines and well defined architecture were certainly a sight to behold but the brick could get relentless. One brown color everywhere. The dorms were brick. The library was brick. The performing arts center was brick. All the buildings were brick. Two, three, or four stories worth of brick everywhere you looked. The ground we walked on was that same brick. It could get tiresome and we often did get tired of it.

I bring this all up because of a Facebook group I’m in. It’s a group of former SUNY Purchase students who were all there about the same time as I was. A typical Facebook group. I’ve been in it for a few years but only recently have I posted some old campus photos there. Back in the days before digital photography I used to shoot film like everybody else. I don’t have a ton of photos of the campus because in the days of film it was way more expensive to shoot than it is today. Yet I did go out on a couple of occasions to take pictures of the campus in general.

A second reason I don’t have more campus photos is that the ones I did take are generally pretty boring. I found it tough to make something interesting out of all that brick and all those straight lines. The pictures were as monotonous as the environment. Another reason they were failures was the format. There were no thirty inch computer screens in those days. I processed my film at a normal commercial lab and got back four by six inch prints just like everyone else. A four by six inch print of giant brick buildings isn’t that impressive. Almost any time anyone looked at my photo albums they skipped right over those campus photos. So did I.

Recently I dug those old campus photos out again. I scanned them in years ago along with all my other negatives and they’ve sat there in their folder without me thinking about them very much. They look better on a large computer monitor than they ever did as a small print. That inspired me to fix them up a bit in Photoshop (lots of dust and scratches on those old negatives) and post one for my Purchase Facebook group.

That act transformed those photos. After nearly thirty years the photos were finally interesting. They were of a place that was now mostly gone except in our collective memories. The place was especially gone because most people didn’t take photos in the mid to late 1980s and if they did it was photos of friends and not of the campus in general. Most of my college photos are of people and not places. Plus many more people can relate to the photos of place than can relate to photos of people. After all if you don’t know the person what does it matter if it was taken at SUNY Purchase or the White House? But a picture of SUNY Purchase? Everyone who went there can relate to that.

Nostalgia. That sure played a part in making these photos more interesting but so did presentation. That’s why I never throw out or delete my photos that I don’t like. Someday I might find a way to make something better out of them.