In 2007 I started a personal project, Middletown USA. During research I learned there are 16 US states that all have a town named Middletown (PA has several, by county). Having grown up in Sweden I’ve always been fascinated with how, why, and where American’s live outside of New York and other major cities. I was also interested to experience how similar or different the Middletown’s would look and feel.
I think it’s safe to say that the Middletown’s are not often destinations or vacation spots. They are usually, as the name “Middle-Town” indicates, a spot on the map between two larger places going back to the stage coach days. Thanks to the interstate road system it’s not very likely one would ever visit a Middletown, unless you live, work, go to school, or have family there. Geographically, Middletown is mostly a Northeast and Midwestern occurrence. Kentucky and Virginia in the South and California in the West are the only exceptions.
The Middletown’s vary in many ways: from the upscale Middletown Rhode Island with its beautiful beaches and surf scene located next to Newport, to the hard hit industrial Middletown Ohio where unemployment is high and main street stores are boarded up. They also vary incredibly in size; from the smallest of 199 inhabitants in Missouri to the largest, in New Jersey, with 66,000+ inhabitants.
This is not documentary project about the decline of postindustrial (or) small town USA. Rather it’s a personal search for vernacular subjects outside my urban comfort zone. I search through housing subdivisions, main streets, office parks, recreational areas, industrial sites, and more, for scenes that appeal to me, viscerally. Though the body of work includes some portraits the places themselves are more important to me than the people that live there.
I’m also driven by an interest in movies where people go to “unknown” places to hide or start over and it fulfills my need for solitude and being unknown. Though I have visited all 16 Middletown’s, some of them several times, the project is still ongoing.