For two years, from September 1991 through August 1993, I lived in and documented Harper Park, a community of 402 mobile homes just outside Rochester, New York. The Park has been in existence since 1939, when it contained seven trailers. Most of the original occupants were workers at the Maplewood Inn, an upscale local tavern and restaurant. Ralph Harper, a chicken farmer, acquired the property and trailer park in 1954 from the estate of Mr. and Mrs. Guccimo.
The property became available when Mrs. Guccimo shot and wounded their minister, who was at the Guccimo’s house to resolve a domestic dispute. Mrs. Guccimo then shot and killed Mr. Guccimo, then killed herself with the same gun. The minister was saved when the bullet intended for him ricocheted off a pen in his breast pocket. The Harper family has operated the Park ever since.
I moved into the community to photograph the people and the landscape while teaching photography at Rochester Institute of Technology.
Arlene was one of my favorite people in the park. It took a year to be invited in to photograph her. When I first walked in, I was in awe, I was in Disneyland. What I saw was an artist who used space as folk art. She’s had a hard life, but she always had a pot of coffee going and wonderful park gossip to go along with it once I got to know her.
“I have a friend, a dreamy-minded musician, who carried a string of old Turkish coins around in his pocket. If this fellow finds that he has taken as many as two steps without his string of coins, he develops a frightening case of the jitters. And yet he insists that the coins are not a luck charm, that in fact they never brought him the mildest good fortune. I asked him, if not for luck, then what in God’s name they are for? ‘Ballast,’ he answered. ‘Those little things keep me from floating away altogether.’”
“Looking at Mary going through a day with her namesake doll. I think of my friend and of ballast, of the objects great and small, fashioned of metal, plastic, and flesh with which we attach ourselves to the world. Without her Mary doll, old Mary might very well float away for good. The doll is ballast, and loving it, she loves the world. ”