Down by the Hudson

4 - 27 February 2021

Caleb Stein

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'Down by the Hudson' is my personal ode to Poughkeepsie, NY, a small town in upstate NY where I lived for five years. I was raised in big cities and didn’t know much about small American towns other than conceptions I had inherited from things like Norman Rockwell illustrations, Grant Wood paintings, and Life Magazine spreads. So, I started to walk along the town's Main Street - every day, I walked for years, learning and responding to its rhythms.

These walks became a way of forming my own sense of place. I've realized that a lot of what I do is try to understand my relationship to the U.S., my adopted home.

In 2016, the presidential and local elections were almost neck-and-neck between political parties in Poughkeepsie, to the point where you could have fit the difference into a bar on a Saturday night. The day after the election, the sense of tension and conflict became palpable as I walked down Poughkeepsie's Main Street. I learned that in the 1990s, IBM's local headquarters downsized and left thousands unemployed. In many ways, Poughkeepsie is like countless other small American towns grappling with the effects of post-industrialization.

The town’s watering hole felt like a counterpoint to the rest of the town because so much of its political tension dissipates in this safe haven. It's right by a drive-in movie theater on the outskirts of town, across from the local American Legion outpost. Families have been going there for generations. In this space, Trump supporters swam next to people of many different backgrounds. The sense of conflict that is usually so pronounced in this country relaxes in this space. The watering hole feels like a modern-day Eden to me.

- Caleb Stein