Introduction to Centroid Towns
Centroid Towns is a fine-art documentary project using photography, oral history interviews, and local archive research to study the twenty-five cities that have been the mean center of population of the United States. The project puts a face to statistical data, chronicling these towns and their inhabitants to illuminate the ongoing social and political transformation of America.The Centroid, or mean center of population, is described by the U.S. Census Bureau as “the point at which an imaginary, flat, weightless, and rigid map of the United States would balance perfectly if weights of identical value were placed on it so that each weight represented the location of one person on the date of the census.” This point is calculated every ten years to accompany the Census, first located in 1790 near Chestertown, Maryland, and moving steadily westward, currently residing near Plato, Missouri. The path of these twenty-five coordinates spans eight states, tracing the population growth of the nation and following the routes of settlement from the Atlantic to the interior. It also mirrors my personal history, linking my home in Maryland to my Midwestern roots in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri.
My project uses this idea of the “symbolic center” of the country as a fulcrum to examine the challenges facing the United States. I have photographed in all twenty-five project cities and am currently working on long-term fieldwork in six of them, with additional fieldwork under development. The chapters of the project completed to date examine the environmental impact of overdevelopment, historical legacies of colonial settlers, the changing face of industrial manufacturing, the evolution of American Christianity, economic pressures created by corporations on small business, and civic engagement in small towns. Baker support would enable additional fieldwork, both continuing the established engagements and the creation of new community partnerships to begin new chapters of the project.
This section is a selection of historical images collected by the artist as context for the larger project. Please see below for samples from the six current chapters of the project.