Written by: Eric Shanteau
Over the past few years, I have put my photography and words on social media and thus have received many comments and messages. However, during the past few, I received two all the way from Australia. These messages were transcended from photography taken around NW Ohio and have practically reached around the world. These messages inspired me to proceed with a project that is near and dear to my heart (details at the end) and I think it impacts home; here in Toledo and around the world.
The first message was brief and it was sent to my Instagram account. It was from a woman who (as I mentioned) lives in Australia. She told me that she thought Toledo was absolutely beautiful. She followed my page daily to try to envision what it would be like to experience it for herself. She proceeded to tell me that she is dealing with a life threatening cancer that is threatening to take her sight and these photos are keeping her “eyes open” and allowing her mind and heart to capture beauty of our tiny world here in Toledo from her own home across the world.
The second email was from a woman who was originally from Toledo but has moved to Australia. (One of the most beautiful countries in the world) I want you to know that if you love or hate Toledo, it captures your heart forever. These are her words:
When I was 16, I decided that I wanted to be an exchange student to Australia. As a kid, I’d always been obsessed with Australia. I wasn’t drawn to anything in particular, just the idea of going there. After I was accepted into the Rotary Youth Exchange Program, I learned that the US didn’t have strong exchange ties with Australia. I was asked to rank a list of countries from one to ten in order of my preferences, but there was no guarantee where I would actually get placed. It never occurred to me that I would go anywhere other than Australia. I was politely told not to get my hopes up and to choose ten countries. Several months later, I got the call that I would be one of only twenty American students who would spend twelve months in Australia. I had no idea how that year would impact the rest of my life.
I grew up surrounded by cornfields outside of a small town in Williams County. By the time I was in high school, I had decided that I hated small town life and couldn’t wait to get out by going off to college. Being an exchange student would enable me to leave a year sooner as I would participate in the program for my entire senior year. I played sports, had a job I liked, and genuinely enjoyed high school. However, I felt there was more out there for me that I couldn’t wait to explore. I didn’t shed a single tear as I boarded that plane in July 1999.
After an amazing year being submersed in a new culture and traveling all over Australia, I returned home and went straight to college at the University of Toledo. After graduating, I landed a job in the suburbs. During this period of my life, I would have never described myself as a lover of Toledo. I honestly couldn’t believe that I spent ten years there by the time I made the decision to move to Australia in 2010.
When you’re an expat, the most-asked question is about where you’re from. Sometimes that isn’t a simple answer. My response differs depending on how much the person really wants to know. I’m from America. The Midwest. Between Chicago and Detroit. Ohio. Toledo. A tiny town surrounded by cornfields. After being asked that question a thousand times, you really have to think about what defines you.
I haven’t been back to NW Ohio for nearly four years now. I don’t really get homesick, but there are certainly things I miss. I obviously miss my friends and family, but technology makes keeping in touch really easy. I miss the change of seasons, especially fall. There are so many unique experiences to that time of the year – smells, tastes, traditions. Christmas just isn’t the same when it’s 90 degrees in a country that is severely lacking in air conditioning. I miss going to football, baseball, and hockey games and the atmosphere that makes them unique. Don’t even get me started on all the foods I miss.
There’s a comfort in missing things that are familiar. Just describing my favorite place to spend a lazy summer day or that obscure restaurant I swear I discovered before anyone else did brings me feelings of comfort, not sadness. I can vividly picture a certain country road where the trees create a beautiful tunnel, a particular abandoned house that seems stuck in time, and a bridge where more pictures should be taken. It’s these sorts of things and memories that play a part in defining where I’m from and who I am.
I now get to experience my “home-home” (my term for NW Ohio) through the perceptions of my Australian partner, who hasn’t been to America yet. When you have to explain high school rivalries, Thanksgiving family traditions, county fairs, summer festivals, and so many other things seen on Facebook or Instagram, it stirs up all sorts of memories. And with that comes feelings of pride.
My Aussie partner is so excited to be submerged in Americana, and NW Ohio offers plenty – watching a parade with marching bands, experiencing Halloween, smelling pumpkin and cinnamon spices, seeing deer in a field, and eating BBQ ribs. I’m looking forward to pointing out trees and birds in the Metroparks that aren’t found in Australia, explaining what a mud hen is, sampling a hundred restaurants I’ve been talking about for ages, and driving around country roads without getting lost because of their convenient grid design.
The effects of nostalgia might play tricks on your mind, but I do feel now that I love NW Ohio. It’s a huge part of my journey. We didn’t always have a positive relationship, and maybe it’s a case of not fully appreciating something until it’s gone, but it will always be my home-home. Perhaps, for me, it took the experience of living in one of the most beautiful places in Australia to recognize the true beauty of NW Ohio. Regardless, I now find myself describing places, events, and memories with happiness and pride.
I love you NW Ohio, and I cannot wait to see you again.
These two strangers inspired my project @travelinginstantcamera.
Photo project. I’ve been thinking a lot recently about a concept that could combine Instagram/human connection/photography and a bit of compassion with a hands on approach. As we all know, the concept of Instagram/Facebook is truly amazing. It’s made sharing photography effortless. On the other hand, it sometimes misses that real human interaction or physical aspect of photography that you can possess. (Film) My idea was to send my fuji polaroid camera to each of the 50 States. 50 photos in 50 States. Or 50 Instagrammers, etc. This isn’t groundbreaking but I thought it would be inspiring to see it’s journey and others as the film, photos and camera are passed along and documented as well through Instagram. Words are written down in a journal and everyone keeps their one instant photo in the box as your home is enjoyed by the next person to receive it. You’d pass it along to another in a nearby state and on and on as it is documented on Instagram @travelinginstantcamera. This camera was from Toledo and currently it is headed to Kentucky and from there California. I’ve received so many requests that I can’t keep track. Vancouver, Russia, Montana, New York and India. This is my tribute to the ladies from Australia. To capture your home-home, as I stay in the one I love. It’s where our heart lies. Enjoy the show..