One day last fall, my wife, my mom and I were driving back to New York City from the Catskills, when I took this photograph:
What I love about this picture is that it is an example of how one exceptional image can tell the same story as a series of lesser ones covering the same subject. I don't mean to come off sounding as though I'm some sort of rare talent, but I have been working at developing my photographic eye for about twenty years, so by now I posses a fairly good sense of what makes an image "work".
The picture has everything going for it. I think it is well composed, the rusty and charred color palette underline the fact that this is a place that has seen destruction, and the tight framing helps to avoid the distraction of superfluous information. But aesthetics aside, I think the story embedded in the image is clearly discernible and is what makes it so successful. Here was a classic American roadside diner, that burned down. Despite being ruined, one can clearly understand what this place was and what happened to it from the information presented in the photograph. I find it to be poetic and sad that the table for two was still standing in the same location after the building burned down around it, complete with ketchup, salt and pepper shakers and menus still in place. It makes me think about all the people who patronized the diner, its employees, and the owner, and how their lives are all different now, in big and small ways, depending on their relationship to the place. Can a work of photojournalism, removed from its editorial context, stand alone as a work of art? I think so and this picture is my submission.
What makes the picture even more compelling to me is that I have a personal history with the diner - not that it is at all relevant to the photograph itself - but I think it is an interesting addendum to the overall story of how the picture came into existence. As it happens, over the past few years I have spent some time housesitting in Kerhonkson, and have eaten at the Rainbow diner on a few occasions. As we were going to be driving through the area on our way home, the Rainbow diner, in fact, had been our chosen destination to stop for lunch. Imagine then my surprise and shock to arrive and find the place decimated. It was a most bizarre but also fascinating moment. The camera came out and the pictures were taken. I later found a number of local news stories that covered the fire, which had happened a few months earlier.
As a supplement to the photograph that is the main subject of this post, here are a number of additional pictures that I took at the site of the destroyed diner. I present them to show how none of them are able to tell the story in as succinct a manner as the main image, but each contributes to the narrative to some degree.
- William Laviano