For his latest book – "For Love and Money: Portraits of Wisconsin Family Business" – Hudson-based photographer Carl Corey had one criteria: Wisconsin family-owned businesses in existence a minimum of 50 years.
Corey traveled the state making photographs of businesses and business owners that met this criteria. He shot everywhere from Algoma to Wausau. He shot more than a half-dozen places in Milwaukee, as well businesses in Gills Rock, Durand, Phelps and Springbrook. And beyond.
He shot shoe stores, pharmacies, taverns, gun shops (and at least one combination tavern and gun shop), hardware stores, horse lodgers, clothing stores, funeral homes, restaurants and book binderies. And beyond.
He shot the shops and faces that have weathered decades of competition, first on main street, then from big box stores in the ‘burbs and later from the internet.
Like Corey’s previous book, "Tavern League: Portraits of Wisconsin Bars," "For Love and Money" (with a foreword by Michael Perry and an introduction by Museum of Wisconsin Art's Graeme Reid) relies on images to tell a powerful story of the state.
We asked Corey for some words to describe the images and the process of creating a hard-hitting set of photographs like the ones printed in "For Love and Money," published in hardcover by Wisconsin Historical Society Press.
OnMilwaukee.com: Can you tell me a bit about the genesis of the book? Is this something that kind of happened organically?
Carl Corey: "For Love and Money" was the natural evolution from "Tavern League." I realized many of the taverns were family-owned in in the same family for multiple generations. This became a catalyst to investigate long established family owned businesses further.
OMC: What is it about these folks that caught your interest, from a storytelling standpoint and a visual standpoint?
CC: The dynamic of working together to make a go of a small business then sitting down together for a holiday meal interested me. I also wanted to preserve this group of entrepreneurs by photographing them. I wanted to show support of the small business owner. Its not easy to remain viable as a small business in the face of the Walmart syndicate. Small business was America when it was healthy. There is a correlation to the success of small business and a healthy economy.
OMC: How have these folks managed to survive in a culture that tends not to value them?
CC: I believe success relies upon three things: passion, purpose and perseverance.
OMC: Was your goal, or part of your goal, to almost catalog this largely disappearing way of life?
CC: Not to catalogue so much as share some observations. I also want folks think about these people, their neighbors and friends, when they shop at Walmart to save a couple dollars.
OMC: Is there an image in the book that strikes you the most?
CC: I have favorites from a picture point of view: Edwin "Junior" Sprecher, Sprecher's Bar and Gun Shop, in North Freedom (and) Theresa Mezera, Panka Shoes, Prairie Du Chien.
OMC: Is there a story in the book that strikes you the most?
CC: They all have good stories but the first person I spoke with was Mary McCarrier at Globe House Furnishings in Marinette. I photographed Mary holding a picture of her grandfather, the business founder, a week after the store's inventory was liquidated. Globe, established in 1888, could no longer compete with the big box stores. Mary and her son ran the place.
Mary told me they were fine and relieved to be through fighting to survive. Her genuine concern was for her vendors and the salespeople that called on Globe and other businesses like it. Mary stated that the independent stores are dropping and the repercussion is that the traveling salespeople have no more customers to call on. This obviously affects the salespersons’ livelihood and that of the companies they represent, in turn causing more small businesses to fold as the big boxes buy cheaply made throw away goods from overseas.
Mary was really concerned for them. I was very impressed with her compassion in the face of Globe's demise.
OMC: Were there places you visited that were interesting but didn't make the cut for some reason?
CC: Oh yes, many. About 15 percent of what I photographed made the cut for the series. It's on me, though, not the subjects. I need the pictures to work as pictures. Editing is key in any documentary series. Sometimes you toss a good story because of a weak picture.
OMC: How did you make those decisions?
CC: Editing is so often overlooked and very very important. If I was on the fence with a picture I enlisted Kate Thompson at the WHS Press to help me decide. Kate is a wonderful person and talented editor. She is visually literate as well as a good storyteller. She was invaluable to me as a partner in the book’s edit.
OMC: I can't wait to see what you've got up your sleeve next.
CC: I stay busy. There are several other projects in the works including two more books. Interested folks can visit my website to learn more.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.