Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Lenni, Pennsylvania, 1974 (I)

Lenni, Pennsylvania

In the summer of 1974 I'd been working as a free-lance photographer for a couple of years, with clients around Philadelphia, PA, and Wilmington, DE. I drove through the tiny village of Lenni on my way home from an assignment at a nuclear power plant, for the Philadelphia Electric Company's annual report. The town, even back then, seemed locked in a previous era. It was only about 15 miles outside of Philly, surrounded by rapidly expanding suburban sprawl. But it sat on the side of a steep hill, near noisy railroad tracks. All the houses, and the few businesses, were old construction. The place fascinated me, and all summer I spent any time not on assignment hanging around the small town with a couple of cameras. This slow immersion let people get used to seeing me and the cameras. Eventually I became more or less invisible to them.

I noticed that most of the time, the kids played outside in the street, on the porch, or in the woods at the top of the hill. This contrasted to what I'd seen in the New York and Philadelphia suburbs. The term "soccer Mom" wouldn't be coined until years later, but organized, programmed, childhood was already becoming the suburban norm. I remember thinking these kids were lucky to avoid that. Lenni was a neighborhood. That was one of the things I wanted to document about the place.


Scott Kirkpatrick said...

How did you happen into Wilmington DE? I grew up there. They had drive-in theaters, too, but located where there is probably wall-to-wall no sales tax outlets now. Did you ever come in contact with George Gardner (a Danny Lyon wannabe from that time)?


Carl said...

Scott, Tina was attending the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philly. That brought us to the area. Wilmington is the land of the corporate headquarters, and some of my early clients were corporate magazines at places like DuPont and Hercules and the area's "lifestyle" mag called Delaware Today.

I wasn't interested in DI theaters at that point so I can't be certain, but I'm pretty sure there weren't any around there by 1974.

Scott Kirkpatrick said...

Ah, "Better things for better living, through chemistry." We got that one every month. More interesting than the Reader's Digest, but the covers weren't as nice as the Saturday Evening Post.


Ernest Theisen said...

Hey Carl. I really like this series. It reminds me of growing up in Yakima Washington. We played outside unsupervised all the time. I really had not thought of that before and contrasted it with today's world. Just like you we spent a lot of time on the porch. There was usually a “day bed” or a swing rocker to nap on. My grand kids live about 6 miles from us. My daughter and her husband run a flower farm. Those kids play outside all the time, rain or shine and I mean rain or shine as it rains more than it shines. Typical Hawaiian houses have a lanai that sometimes runs the whole width of the house. That is where everybody hangs out. Different world from most track home developments on the mainland.