King Street: Cultural and Physical Change

This summer I explored cultural and physical change on the main street of Charleston, South Carolina. I used a diptych format to pair two images, each centered on a societal theme. Below is the introductory text.

In America, main streets are the spines of our cities. Main streets are not only the physical center of a community, but also where we adopt, display, and change cultural norms. In Charleston, King Street is no different. A look into the past, juxtaposed with the present, reveals both the changes and consistencies in our community over time. This photography project consists of diptychs (two images paired together) that focus on a theme by visually connecting an old image of King Street with a new image. Each pair serves as a nonliteral vignette of King Street’s physical and cultural past and present. The ambiguity encourages the viewer to think of their own experiences of tradition and change on King Street.

Socialization | While the settings might change, socialization is human nature. As technology advances, our social norms change and affect the way we interact with one another. Left: Charleston County Public Library, August 1967, (Photo courtesy of the Charleston County Public Library). Right: Stars Rooftop Bar, June 2017.
The Holy City | Many historic churches maintain original aesthetic in Charleston. St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church was incorporated on Dec. 3, 1840, and is an example of the architectural and historic consistency that King Street holds. Left: St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church, taken between 1977-1983, (Photo courtesy of the Charleston County Public Library). Right: St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church, July 2017.
Sports | On upper King Street, Al “Hollywood” Megget’s Charleston Boxing Club keeps many youth off the streets and focused on an active outlet. Megget, 86, is an example of a living tradition-maker for the community. He has trained athletes and their children, an example of how an individual’s impact can stay consistent over many generations. Left: Charleston Boxing Club, December 1992. Right: Charleston Boxing Club, June 2017.
Necessities | While culture may change, necessities such as gas remain constant on King Street. The Shell gas station at left is where the current Exxon Station operates, at 1227 King Street. Left: Shell, 1227 King Street, 1965, (Photo courtesy of the Historic Charleston Foundation). Right: Shell, 737 King Street, June 2017.
Celebrated Women | The Azalea Festival took place in Charleston from 1934 to 1953, and crowning the Azalea Queen (left) was the highlight of the festival. The queen was selected during a beauty pageant of queens from across South Carolina, and is an example of the way women were recognized and valued. Today, while the Azalea festival no longer takes place in Charleston, our modern day queens are the brides and the bachelorette parties who visit King Street in celebration of their marriage. Left: The Azalea Queen, April 1953. Right: Julia Bebry, of Long Island, NY, July 2017.
Buildings | Building decay is a threat to a city like Charleston, where structures form the character of the historic city. The City of Charleston developed the King Street Facade Program in 1980 order to “stimulate the rehabilitation of commercial facades on King Street between Calhoun and George.” The old Lincoln Theater, at left, was torn down in 1989, after heavy damage from Hurricane Hugo. The store Bob Ellis shoes, at right, closed in 2016, but the old-fashioned store sign can still be seen above the Spoleto Festival poster. Left: Lincoln Theater, September 1987. Photo by Charles Francis/The Post and Courier. Right: Bob Ellis Shoes, June 2017.
Small Businesses |  King Street’s small businesses are giving way to bustling bars and restaurants. Service and repair shops, merchants, and other locally-owned stores such as Reeves & Son Shoe Repair Shop, right, are less common today. Many longtime Charleston merchants such as George’s Loan and Music Co., Morris Sokol Furniture, Hughes Lumber & Supply Co., Bob Ellis Shoes, and Dixie Furniture, have closed or are in the process of closing. Dixon says she will remain in her store, which was originally opened in 1860, for as long as possible. Left: Mel Wyland of People’s Clothing helps long time customer Keith Sexton, unknown date. Photo by Tom Spain/The Post and Courier. Right: Doris Dixon speaking with a customer in her shoe repair shop, June 2017.
Flora | Charleston is known for its architecture, churches, and buildings that contribute to the rich history of the South. Part of the cityscape are the vines and plants that contribute to the Southern aesthetic. Vines are the literal connection between the historic buildings and the natural world; a reminder of the humble beginnings of King Street as the “Broad Path,” which cut straight through the thick Southern forest. Left: 55 King Street, Grimke-Fraser Tenements Carriage House, taken between 1977-1983, (Photo courtesy of the Charleston County Public Library). Right: Upper King, June 2017.
Fashion | These platform sneakers, right, were photographed at Shoes on King, one of the many clothing and boutique stores on King St. The street is known for being one of the most popular shopping locations in South Carolina, keeping a pulse on the current fashions and styles as they ebb and flow. Left: Unknown date. Right: Shoes on King, July 2017.
Parks and Squares |  In the bustle of street life, Marion Square and the Waterfront Park are an oasis for moments with family and friends. Performers and passersby alike utilize the trees for recreation and performance. Amidst the cars, shops, and restaurants, the trees in the parks are a way for people to connect with nature and with each other. Left: Azalea Festival, April 1953. Right: Breakdancer Kyle “K’Otic” Johnson and fan Julian Verona, age 6, July 2017.

One challenge I faced in this project was pitching it to my editors for newspaper publication. Since this project is a blend of visual journalism and art, my editors were wary of their readers “getting it.”  In the end, the paper ran one diptych in print (in the Lifestyle, Arts & Culture section) and the rest online. Moving forward, I would like to improve my ability to articulate my more abstract ideas to editors.

Photographers: what experiences have you had with nonliteral projects in newspapers or traditional news outlets, and how have you learned to articulate your ideas? Do you think abstract or artistic projects belong in journalism?


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