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Family Run's video poster

This book is a photographic document of small family-owned-and-operated businesses in America, circa 1976. Read more

Chicago, IL Photography
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This project was successfully funded on May 1, 2012.

This book is a photographic document of small family-owned-and-operated businesses in America, circa 1976.

Chicago, IL Photography
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About this project

Family Run: A Photographic Document
by David Gremp

I began photographing small family-owned-and-operated businesses in 1976. 
I was living in Carterville, Illinois, a small rural town about 100 miles southeast of St. Louis, and noticed that some of the local shops were closing, largely because of competition from a new shopping mall in a neighboring town. 

I had always enjoyed doing business with these small retail stores, many of which were ma-and-pa-type operations with little or no hired help beyond direct-family members. They were warm, personable and trusting people who brought a sense of pride to their jobs, products and services. And they actually appreciated my business; like I was doing them a favor.

In turn, I admired their sense of individual freedom, personal control and the self-realization that being their own bosses gave them. Most of all, I respected the importance they placed true family values. Committed, it seemed to me, to achieving their version of the great, and often elusive, American Dream.

As a graduate-school photography student in need of a thesis project, I chose to concentrate on those family-owned-and-operated businesses. With an old
5 x 7" view camera and black-and-white film, I traveled throughout the area and to nearby cities such as St. Louis and Chicago, searching for as many different types of these businesses as I could find: groceries, bakeries, cleaners, gas stations, hardware stores, restaurants, motels, farmers, produce stands, etc.

"Hattie and Dutch Hearn; Makanda, Illinois" 

"Busalacki Produce Stand; St. Louis, Missouri"

"Humboldt's Hardware; Chicago, Illinois"

"Kate and Mark Winter; Colp, Illinois"

Upon completion of school, I applied for and received a humanities grant from the Rockefeller Foundation in 1980, which enabled me to travel through 35 states over a five-month period and record an even broader range of family businesses, including this small lumber and firewood business and worm farm.

"Ward's Lumber & Wood; Bethel, Vermont"

"Gold Coast Bait Farm; Bandon, Oregon" 

From the over 200 environmental family portraits I produced over those four years, I've selected 30 of my favorites (some shown here) to produce a book on this project. While I did interview many of my subjects, and record their thoughts regarding their businesses, families, and the ups and downs of being their own boss, I have chosen to make this book a purely photographic experience, concentrating on the faces and places that make the small family business so unique, and yet so fragile. 

Contrary to my fears at the time when I started this project over 30 years ago , the small family-owned-and-operated business is still alive and well in America today, including some of those that I photographed. My hopes for publishing this book are to remind those that see it just what an important part of our culture and society the small business is, and that family is at the heart of many of them.

Your Kickstarter support will go towards the printing costs of a short-run edition book printed by Edition One Books, that will include an insightful introductory essay by Alan Teller, a noted expert and lecturer on photo history and anthropology. It will also go towards keeping an American dream alive. 

If my goal is reached, and exceeded, all additional funds from supporters will go towards the printing, signing and shipping costs of more books.


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    A post card with image from the book signed and sent by the photographer.

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    A signed copy of the book and post card with image from the book signed and sent by the photographer.

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Funding period

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