My TrIP experience was, by design, undertaken with a destination in mind. As a photographer and native Central Floridian, it was my intention to use my transit experience as a means of reaching a visually stimulating destination that would fulfill my ongoing desire to create impactful images of my hometown and the places that I believe define it. With this in mind, I chose the 9, a route that services Winter Park to Rosemont. I planned on disembarking at whichever location along this route I found the most intriguing, with a vague notion of where that might be.
My vague notion proved largely accurate; in selecting this route, I was aware that the 9 services all of historic Eatonville and I had some inclination this might be the place I wanted to photograph for this occasion. Eatonville commands particular importance in the historical trajectory of Central Florida’s development. The town was incorporated in 1887 and holds a place on the United States National Register of Historic Places, as one of the oldest African American municipalities in the country. The cultural and social implications of this are enormous. As a native Floridian and self identified Southerner, I am keenly aware of the unfortunate history of racial strife and violence that long plagued Central Florida. Any degree of state or hometown pride must also come with a complete understanding of the more grim and unsavory elements of our state’s history – to love Florida is to also accept, if not condone, the bizarre and often unsettling elements of its development.
To be clear, however, Eatonville is not a grim place. Eatonville was once a beacon, a safe haven for the African American population of Central Florida; a place where the constant vigilance and fear that defined life for so many individuals in our community could finally be abandoned. This legacy is displayed throughout the town, primarily through historical markers that attempt to convey the significance this place once – and still does hold – for a particularly community.
I spent the afternoon attempting to document the town, with the intention of creating a series of final images that express the complicated and delicate balance of emotions that compelled me to visit Eatonville in the first place. While I have visited and driven through Eatonville on countless occasions, and have familiarized myself with its historical significance through the abundance of literature on the subject of Florida’s history, I have never spent an entire afternoon fully immersing myself in the town, although it has always been less than fifteen minutes by car from my own neighborhood. I hope in some ways the images I captured during this afternoon adequately document or convey my own reaction and emotions to complete immersion in such a deeply important and historically rich community.
My transit experience itself was notable on a completely independent level. Having grown up in Central Florida and having almost always had access to a vehicle, I have only taken public transportation a handful of times. During a period in my life where I had no access to my own vehicle, I was still fortunate enough to live in a part of Orlando that permitted me to travel on foot to almost any destination I would care to visit. Taking public transportation in my own city somehow felt more alien to me than riding public transportation as a visitor to other cities and countries has ever felt – places where public transit is the primary means of transit for a significant portion of its residents.
Being a photographer to some degree inherently means being a natural voyeur – it entails always remaining slightly apart and disconnected from the moment. Somehow being on the bus amplified that sense of disassociation exponentially, to the point where I almost felt like an intruder upon a culture and a community I knew little to nothing about. The implications of all of this in relation to my desire to explore historic Eatonville are not lost on me; I was an outsider taking the inside route to a place that provided historical shelter to a population that at one time couldn’t feel at ease elsewhere. All the outsiders looking in.