The Mystery Man Who Spent 20 Years Photographing North American Buildings

10 Jul
Grand Forks, North Dakota, May 1990.

Grand Forks, North Dakota, May 1990.

In May of 1982, Barry Gfeller left his home in Camas, Washington,* got into his car, and began to drive.

His plan was similar to eight previous road trips he’d already taken, and 14 more he would embark on in the years to come: to photograph the streets and buildings of towns across the United States and Canada. For nearly two decades, Gfeller would periodically hit the road to continue what became a mammoth photographic survey. In May 1982 alone, he photographed over 200 towns, traveling as far north as Edmonton and as far east as Milwaukee. When Gfeller died in 1999, his collection—which he arranged alphabetically, stored in long wooden boxes—consisted of 50,000 prints and negatives.

“Ultimately, Gfeller drove over 100,000 miles across 44 states and six Canadian provinces between 1977 and 1996,” says Mike O’Neill, a political strategist who first learned about Gfeller in 2016. After Gfeller died, the collection made its way from his estate to a Canadian charity. Sixteen years later, the charity asked O’Neill to help find a buyer who could donate the work to a museum. They didn’t have to look far. Fascinated, O’Neill purchased the collection himself in 2017. He’s now begun to digitize the prints, and is searching for a long-term home for Gfeller’s archive.

So begins Anika Burgess’s fascinating post about Barry Gfeller the photographer. You may read the rest of story, with sample photographs, at Atlas Obscura here.

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