Featured: Ryan Mason - "Roots"

The first spot for the feature belongs to Ryan Mason from Connecticut. He will be sharing his project “Roots“ with us, a project about his home town. So let's jump right into it:

“'Roots' is a project that centers on the concept of origin. Mine traces back to rural New Jersey where I lived in a minuscule town of approximately 100 people from birth up until age 10.  My parents divorced when I was seven, prompting my mother to eventually move me and my brother to North Carolina.  Although I lived in the south for almost two decades I would visit my home town at least once a year, sometimes spending the summer with my father working for his graphic design company. No matter how long I lived in the south, I always looked forward to my trips back up to New Jersey. There was just something different about my home town. Perhaps it was just pure nostalgia, but I always got the feeling I was stepping back into my childhood every time I returned. The older I became the longer I went between visits and the more my memories of this place faded.

In the decade of my being a photographer I have struggled at times to find subject matter that I felt passionate about. Often this resulted in me spending endless hours exploring unfamiliar streets, avenues, and towns. I strayed from telling my own story as I felt it to be too specific and perhaps too personal to be relatable, but I soon realized that many of my friends could relate to retracing their roots.  On the eve of my thirtieth birthday I began undoubtedly my most personal project yet: I set out to document my first home.

The images in this series depict many seemingly banal scenes, yet each hold great personal meaning to me. What to some is a simple tree stump to me was a favorite seat in which to watch local baseball games from my backyard. A renovated church was actually a library filled with books that fed my imagination.  Abandoned rail road tracks were a magical path for my grandfather and I to explore.

This was my childhood swimming pool where my family spent many summer and early fall days hanging out, socializing and listening to music (I still remember the sound of my father's tunes playing through the outdoor speakers). It was really shocking for me to come back to see the pool again in such a state of decay as when I was younger the pool was spotless and filled with cool, crystal clear water.

This was my childhood swimming pool where my family spent many summer and early fall days hanging out, socializing and listening to music (I still remember the sound of my father's tunes playing through the outdoor speakers). It was really shocking for me to come back to see the pool again in such a state of decay as when I was younger the pool was spotless and filled with cool, crystal clear water.

This is part of downtown Rockaway, NJ. I used to frequent that sports card stores lusting over the latest batches of Marvel Comics Trading cards, begging my mother to buy me just one pack.

This is part of downtown Rockaway, NJ. I used to frequent that sports card stores lusting over the latest batches of Marvel Comics Trading cards, begging my mother to buy me just one pack.

While this was originally a church, I never knew it as such. This was actually the Hibernia, NJ library which was only about 50 yard from my house. My grandmother was the town's head librarian and would always reserve the latest Shark books for me when they would arrive (I was fascinated by sharks as a child). Only now do I realize how lucky I was to live so close to a library. I still remember the smell of aging paperbacks permeating the inside of that library.

While this was originally a church, I never knew it as such. This was actually the Hibernia, NJ library which was only about 50 yard from my house. My grandmother was the town's head librarian and would always reserve the latest Shark books for me when they would arrive (I was fascinated by sharks as a child). Only now do I realize how lucky I was to live so close to a library. I still remember the smell of aging paperbacks permeating the inside of that library.

Not only did I live just steps away from the town's library, but I also was fortunate to have the town's baseball field as my backyard. For many summer nights growing up my brother and I would take turns sitting on this tree stump with perfect seats to watch the local youth baseball and softball teams play until the sun went down. If we were lucky we'd get to catch the occasional home run...

Not only did I live just steps away from the town's library, but I also was fortunate to have the town's baseball field as my backyard. For many summer nights growing up my brother and I would take turns sitting on this tree stump with perfect seats to watch the local youth baseball and softball teams play until the sun went down. If we were lucky we'd get to catch the occasional home run...

This was (and still is) the favorite watering hold of my father and his friends, who were all local volunteer firefighters. Growing up I would accompany my father to Smiths once every couple of weeks and watch the Yankees play baseball on TV while enjoying a soda. Whenever I come back to Smith's I always get a chuckle ordering a pint of beer at a place where for so long I wasn't allowed to even sit at the bar with the adults.

This was (and still is) the favorite watering hold of my father and his friends, who were all local volunteer firefighters. Growing up I would accompany my father to Smiths once every couple of weeks and watch the Yankees play baseball on TV while enjoying a soda. Whenever I come back to Smith's I always get a chuckle ordering a pint of beer at a place where for so long I wasn't allowed to even sit at the bar with the adults.

This is my grandfather. Growing up, I relished my "Poppa Joe" day (aka Saturday) where I would spend time with him, traveling around town in his old pickup truck. When we weren't stopping by the local deli to grab sodas and snacks we could be hanging out together playing cards, or walking some of the old abandoned rail road tracks around town. I'm so thankful to still have him around.

This is my grandfather. Growing up, I relished my "Poppa Joe" day (aka Saturday) where I would spend time with him, traveling around town in his old pickup truck. When we weren't stopping by the local deli to grab sodas and snacks we could be hanging out together playing cards, or walking some of the old abandoned rail road tracks around town. I'm so thankful to still have him around.

To this day it's still tradition when visiting my grandparent's place to venture to the back yard and have a go shooting the B-B gun at a row of cans, seeing who can shoot them all down the fastest. I can still remember as a young boy not having the strength to cock the gun myself, having to enlist the help of my grand father for each and every shot.

To this day it's still tradition when visiting my grandparent's place to venture to the back yard and have a go shooting the B-B gun at a row of cans, seeing who can shoot them all down the fastest. I can still remember as a young boy not having the strength to cock the gun myself, having to enlist the help of my grand father for each and every shot.

This was often the meeting place for all of my father's fellow firefighter friends. I have fond memories of sitting at the bar drinking root beer and listening to my father and his friends tell old stories.

This was often the meeting place for all of my father's fellow firefighter friends. I have fond memories of sitting at the bar drinking root beer and listening to my father and his friends tell old stories.

This is the local marsh near my child hood house. I was incredibly lucky on this particular morning to catch a low hanging fog at sunrise.

This is the local marsh near my child hood house. I was incredibly lucky on this particular morning to catch a low hanging fog at sunrise.

This sign sits at the entrance to the local wildlife preserve near my home. You can take one of two paths from this sign: One leads to a large bat cave situated inside of an abandoned iron mine. The other leads to a hiking trail, the end of which provided a very distant view of New York City (if you had strong enough binoculars).

This sign sits at the entrance to the local wildlife preserve near my home. You can take one of two paths from this sign: One leads to a large bat cave situated inside of an abandoned iron mine. The other leads to a hiking trail, the end of which provided a very distant view of New York City (if you had strong enough binoculars).

This image was taken from inside my Grandfather's so-called "club house" in his backyard. As a child he and I would hang out inside the club house on rainy days and play cards for hours while we listened to the rain falling outside.

This image was taken from inside my Grandfather's so-called "club house" in his backyard. As a child he and I would hang out inside the club house on rainy days and play cards for hours while we listened to the rain falling outside.

This is a shot of the Denville Dairy, a local ice cream shop where my family and I would stop by from time to time to grab dessert.

This is a shot of the Denville Dairy, a local ice cream shop where my family and I would stop by from time to time to grab dessert.

Some of my fondest memories as a child were walking along our towns numerous abandoned train tracks with my grand father, looking for loose rail road spikes to take home as a souvenir.

Some of my fondest memories as a child were walking along our towns numerous abandoned train tracks with my grand father, looking for loose rail road spikes to take home as a souvenir.

This is a shot taken at Green Pond, the local lake near my house where I would spend some summer days swimming or fishing with my father.

This is a shot taken at Green Pond, the local lake near my house where I would spend some summer days swimming or fishing with my father.

The value of this project, for me, has been to never forget my roots. While much in my life has changed since departing rural New Jersey, it is this place which formed the foundation of who I have become.  This project has concurrently helped me to find greater significance in the things that now seem so ordinary and to value the present as before long it will be nothing but the distant past.“

While the theme of home has been captured and approached by a variety of photographers before, including for example Daido Moriyama and Jacob Aue Sobol, they all commonly display a certain melancholy. How time is affecting places and most importantly people. And no matter how badly we wanted to, in the end we can never go back to that certain time and experience things in the same way as they once were. Sometimes, it feels like a tragedy that we want to go back and relive certain moments or change decision we made and therefore ultimately our path in life. But in the end, don’t all of these memories, people and places make us who we really are today as an individual? Don’t they make us all unique in our very own way? We tend to idealize the past, forget about most of the bad things that happened and therefore draw the wrong assumption that everything once was much better.

Ryan has managed to especially capture this exact feeling of melancholy, but at the same time his pictures don’t evoke the same resentment and bitterness about the past, as what can be associated to other projects on this topic. They seem to perfectly portray how things have changed and what effects those changes have had. Ultimately and decisively what memories you personally connect to them. How good things once were and that everything in life seems to have its time. We grow up in a certain place, but we will most likely move away from it at a certain point in our life. And I guess that this is the nature of it all, and not necessarily and sad or bitter thing, maybe we need and should accept it. Maybe we need to realize that everything has a certain time in ones life. And I think this is what Ryan has managed to capture through his images and project and why it instantly grabbed me. While it displays the melancholy, they also seem strangely positive about what once has been and how in comparison things are now. While he doesn’t show many people, the places tell all you need to know, maybe in a more intrusive and in a more subliminal way. Some places have no meaning, no recognition by others. But they may be meaningful to you because of what you associate with a certain place, a certain house or backyard. All of these places evoke a different feeling down deep in all of us because of what once has happened and what ultimately will never return.

I would like to thank Ryan for submitting his project and encourage you to go check out his website and social media.

You can submit your work now too! If you have created a project / series you would like to share with us, please send an email to info@wasteoffilm.com with a selection of the most representative images as well as a short description of the work itself.

 

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