If you’ve poked around the rest of my site you may have noticed my Sun City, AZ series. After noticing, you may have asked yourself why a Minnesota boy would be spending time photographing in an Arizona retirement community.
Well, the first reason is that my grandparents lived there throughout the 1990s, and now my Mom lives there. That adds up to quite a few visits over the years, and quite a few walks around. And I’ve got to say that for about the first 17 years I walked around completely overwhelmed by the sheer sense of place: neighborhoods of practically identical cinder block houses laid out in concentric circles, decorated with cactus and gravel, jarring yard art, pinks and mint greens. Retired folks toodling around in golf carts. It’s crazy.
The second reason is that the place fascinates me. It would be one thing if all Sun City had going for it were the kitsch factor, but it’s so much more complicated than that. It’s a full-fledged planned community that started 50 years ago in the middle of the desert, that’s since been consumed by the Phoenix sprawl; it’s a place that tries hard to create a sense of community out of full-time and half-time residents, shut ins, energetic doers, and everybody in between; and it’s a place where end of life issues naturally collide with the end-of-the-rainbow feeling of a retirement community. It’s only been in the past few years that I’ve started getting out and doing portraits on my visits, and it’s been a blast, because Sun City residents have led – and continue to lead – really interesting lives. And they love where they live. They’re fun people to talk to.
My wife and I went for a visit last week, and we didn’t get a lot of time to shoot, but we did pay a visit to the Sun City Table Tennis club to talk to Dottie. Dottie is 86, and has been competing in the Senior Olympic Games for 20 years. She told us that on every Olympic trip she’s at least won some kind of medal, but this year she won gold in three events. How cool is that? She plays 3 – 6 times a week with the club, for a couple hours at a stretch. And these people play hard. They love to compete, and they know how to put the hurt on a ping pong ball for sure. In fact, Dottie told us that on her way out to San Francisco for this year’s Olympics, she was invited to a church get together with a table. She took on all comers of all ages – twenty people in all – and she beat ‘em all in games to 21. I have a lot of respect for Dottie.
And a few suburban landscapes from the trip. . .
More of the Sun City experience available for viewing here.