A going business has a sign that tells you what it is. Unless the architecture is unusual, I’d need to get paid to take a picture. Should the venture close and still have its signage, the words become sufficiently ambiguous to trigger my modernist sensibilities. Such a statement of the transitory character of trade gets my attention. If nature is working to reclaim the site and make it habitable for birds, bats, wasps, mice, spiders and snakes, the wreckage almost certainly would be worth half a dozen exposures. I’m in recovery from Romanticism but obviously I’ve lapsed.
Coming upon a weather-beaten abandoned farmhouse brings up feelings more traditional than modern. Evaluating the pictorial potential of a busted commercial enterprise, I am not pulled into any whirlpools of mythic agrarian memory. The back story of a bypassed gas station or grocery store is melodrama not tragedy. Lost family farms are too often the end of a way of life. Retailers may suffer setbacks but usually live on to sell another day—at a better location.
At Jerico Springs the collection of closed businesses has the dramatic look of a film set. The name of the town sounds like a movie title. Its dozen derelict buildings could be the backdrop for an existential drama. My photos might be better in black and white. Pointing my lens west, I frame a park with old trees, greenish grass (even in this drought) and a rock bandstand. The spring water, once believed to have curative benefits, trickles into a basin, staining the concrete burnt sienna. Jerico Springs the unscripted, unmade movie should have, if not a Hollywood ending, a hopeful last act.
I returned and shot an alternate, more upbeat conclusion to the Jericho Springs story. On a crisp September morn, with some tinges of pink in a blue sky, I redid the broken block of buildings and the rock rubble bandstand. As the movie industry knows, aging actors need the most flattering lighting.
Eldorado Springs, sixteen miles north, has ensconced its mineralized spring outlet in an elaborate stonework setting. Architecture themed on unscientific belief can produce good results. Rivaling for a time Eureka Springs, Arkansas as a health spa, this small town still uses the park as a community gathering place. Located at the edge of the prairie plain, Eldorado lacks the “semi-alpine” setting of the famous Arkansas tourist attraction.
Although the spas ultimately failed, the region continued to court recreationalists. Truman and Stockton lakes have attracted fishermen and boaters, but few family vacationers. Branson is 100 miles south with clearer reservoirs, forested hills, accessibility to population centers and a heritage of aggressive promotion and development. Turkey and deer hunting in the Ozark-prairie border are good. Guys with shotguns and rifles unfortunately don’t leave a lot of money behind.
For gallery of Leland Payton’s photographs of trade centers, click on any image.