Nick Meyer on creating a project that’s close to home

The photographer talks to us about his new book The Local, a personal reckoning with the realities of his hometown in Western Massachusetts caught between affluence and poverty

“When Trump was elected in 2016, I was kind of punched in the gut, I guess, and feeling that I had been ignoring the world,” Nick Meyer recalls. The photographer had been back living in Greenfield, Massachusetts – the former mill town where he grew up – for around ten years. At the time, he knew of people who were travelling down to the Mexican border to document the crisis. With two young children at home, he instead set about exploring his more local environs.

“I started looking more at what was immediately around me and where I am here in western Massachusetts. It’s an interesting area because there’s a lot of colleges and there is a lot of affluence that is in the area, but there’s also a lot of poverty,” he tells us. The photographs he made would evolve into The Local, his new photo book published by Mack, which examines the area’s social backdrop and topography from a place of both familiarity and discovery.

Like many of New England’s towns and small cities, Greenfield remains in the shadows of an industrial and agricultural past. The city’s main major industry had been producing tools and parts, home to machine shops and tap and die factories where screws, nuts and bolts were manufactured. The industry petered out in the region around the 1950s, and with it the economic lifeblood.

Much of this had happened before Meyer’s lifetime; when he was young, the major tap and die factory had already become an abandoned building where teenagers would go and drink. “It was never a booming town, but it’s a very Americana type thing where these small towns had their industries that kept them alive,” he says, estimating that there’s only one major factory left nearby. “In my lifetime the industry was never here. By the 80s, everything had already gone away.”

All images by Nick Meyer from The Local published by Mack, 2021, courtesy the artist and Mack

The book’s title draws inspiration from William Carlos Williams’ epic five-part poem Paterson, which treats “Paterson both as Paterson, New Jersey, the city that he was from, but Paterson also becomes a character in the poem. I really liked that idea that you’re both from a place and of a place.”

A less seminal yet more recent cultural reference that bears parallels with the project is an especially poignant episode of the late Anthony Bourdain’s travel food series Parts Unknown. In it, Bourdain visits both Provincetown and Greenfield in Massachusetts to uncover the realities of an area struck by the opioid crisis against the backdrop of his own past struggles with addiction.