The state of Indiana may say it’s re-opening but downtown Indianapolis is a very different picture.
Yes, I do still have a good camera. Yes, I still remember how to use it. Having not shot anything new since February, though, I had to dust it off and clean the lenses before taking everything out early Thursday morning and venture into downtown Indianapolis. I was itching to shoot something, anything, and after hearing about all the protests downtown and the Arts Council’s project for painting boarded-up shops, I was fairly certain I would find littered streets juxtaposed against incredible murals.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
I hit downtown at 8:20 AM, right smack in the middle of what should have been one of the busiest times of the day. Instead, I encountered practically no traffic at all once I was inside the mile square. I parked less than a block North of the Circle. The place was empty.
Sure, there were some construction people doing construction things, but there were no pedestrians, no one rushing to get to work on time, no one grabbing that last cup of coffee before trudging into an office, no police, no lingering protestors, nothing. Almost everything was boarded up but most the boards were still bare and the few on the Circle that had been painted were amateur attempts at prettying-up a hard message: Black Lives Matter. The streets themselves were perhaps the most clean I’ve ever seen them. No sign of the previous night’s protest remained. Even the trash cans had been emptied.
I walked south out of the circle to Washington then west to Illinois. Seeing Circle Center Mall boarded up was surreal. Even more unnerving, though, was being able to stand in the middle of an intersection, multiple times, and take my time framing my shot without having to worry about being run over. Traffic was practically non-existent. I walked on down to Georgia Street where a lone couple sat snuggling on one of the concrete supports. There was some utility construction nearby, but beyond that, everything was quiet.
The one image that stands out in need of comment is the statue of Governor Oliver Morton with what appears to be bird poop squarely down his face. I couldn’t think of anything more appropriate. Morton, on one hand, got the state of Indiana through the Civil War without it being torn to shreds. He fought off white supremacist groups and made Indiana one of the most supportive states in the Union. Sounds like a good guy, right?
Hardly. While he might be applauded for his support of the Union, the methods he used in the process were nonetheless detestable. He illegally borrowed millions of dollars in federal and personal loans to support the state budget because he wouldn’t let the state legislature meet. He hired thugs who beat up, kidnapped, and allegedly killed political opponents. When Confederate troops crossed the Ohio River into Indiana, not only did he illegally call up the state militia to fight them but he had them ransack and burn the homes and barns of any Hoosier family who displayed the flag of the Golden Circle, a group sympathetic to the Confederacy. Perhaps difficult times call for difficult measures, but seeing bird poop on his face still feels appropriate.
Seeing the city this way was a reminder that regardless of what other issues we might face there is still a pandemic to fight. While people out in the suburbs might be reckless and running around without a care, the few people who were downtown were taking matters seriously. Mosts wore masks. They all avoided getting too close to anyone else. And the whole place felt a bit like a ghost town.
I can’t say the following photographs are exciting. If they are interesting it is on a documentary level as we consider where we are and what is really taking place. While it was nice to get the camera out again, I must say that I prefer more lively subjects. I kept looking for tumbleweeds; at least they would have been interesting.