Why Dallas smells like cookies, and other lessons from an indefatigable pedestrian

Dallas can be a difficult place to walk around, but don’t say that D Magazine editor Zac Crain has spent the past four years exploring every last street and alley in town. Journeys that he has documented in photographs, the shape, light and and shadow to find beauty in places where you may not have noticed.

These images are collected in a new book, A Pedestrian’s Recent History of Dallas, published this month by La Reunion, a division of the local independent Deep Vellum devoted to books on Dallas. Dallas Morning News architecture critic Mark Lamster, a die-hard pedestrian himself, spoke to Crain about his book:

ORG XMIT: * S19727296 * Zac Crain was photographed at his home in Dallas, TX on Wednesday June 24th, 2009.(Jason Janik / 141615)

ML: What I appreciate about this book is how to find beauty in the quotidian city. This is not a book of beauty shots of iconic buildings. Was it part of your goal here to demonstrate that downtown Dallas, despite its reputation for being ugly and inhospitable, can also be a place of visual enjoyment?

ZC: Absolutely. I had been walking around for a while before I really started taking pictures and every day I saw something that really impressed me. Sometimes it was something that was intentional and sometimes it was a wonderful accident that I ran into. I wanted the book to reflect both and show that Dallas really is.

ML: That reminds me of a nice passage from your introduction. “You can never stop looking when you want to see. Nothing is like it was before. “What has changed in the years that you have made the book?

ZC: When we finished the layout, I noticed how many places I had shot that no longer existed. It feels like these photos disappeared in a jiffy, but most of them that I saw disappeared day after day, little by little. On another level, there is one place that I would go at least once a week – the little footbridge over the triple underpass. You look directly at the city. And what you see is never the same. The sky is bluer. The sun hits the buildings in a different way. It affects your mood. You can always see the same view in new ways.

ML: You write that you are a self-taught photographer, and this book was a learning curve. How has it changed your perception of the city?

ZC: The only thing I knew about photography was something I remember from my boyfriend [Dallas photographer] Allison V. Smith says (not to me): Find your light. I think that search drew me around town at times. Sometimes the light reveals things; sometimes it reveals things by casting shadows on them. So I paused and thought about what I was looking at from every possible angle.

Dallas editor Zac Crain turned his walks around Dallas into a sleek new photo book published by Deep Vellum that captures interesting details, colors, and perspectives of the architecture.  His pictures appear in the book, Dallas editor Zac Crain turned his walks around Dallas into a sleek new photo book published by Deep Vellum that captures interesting details, colors, and perspectives of the architecture. His pictures appear in the book “A Pedestrian’s Recent History of Dallas” published by Deep Vellum.(Zac Crain)

ML: Good advice. My own urban photography leads to interesting conversations. What was the funniest or most remarkable thing someone said to you when you were on one of your walks?

ZC: Well, often people stop and turn around and look at what I’m trying to see and look at me kind of mystified. I’m kind of in my own little world when I go so I don’t have a lot of conversations. What I often get, or what I’ve done, is someone text me and say, “Hey, that person who yells at you and honks the horn was me.”

ML: One of the things that you’ve reportedly discovered is why downtown often smells like cookies. What gives?

ZC: I should get people to learn on their own, but I’m gonna spill it: it’s the Hines Nut Company on St. Paul. It’s a wholesaler, and when it gets strong, the region smells like a pan of freshly baked cookies.

Dallas editor Zac Crain turned his walks around Dallas into a sleek new photo book published by Deep Vellum that captures interesting details, colors, and perspectives of the architecture.  His pictures appear in the book, Dallas editor Zac Crain turned his walks around Dallas into a sleek new photo book published by Deep Vellum that captures interesting details, colors, and perspectives of the architecture. His pictures appear in the book “A Pedestrian’s Recent History of Dallas” published by Deep Vellum.(Zac Crain)

ML: Last thought: you walked through all the streets of the city. What are some specific things the city could do to improve it?

ZC: Spread every sidewalk downtown and when you do add bike lanes everywhere. Makes the streets quieter and gives drivers, cyclists and pedestrians the same weight. And the outlaw turns right on red. It just makes the drivers look for their first opportunity. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve almost been hit – and then yelled at by a driver who never looked my direction.

ML: Amen.

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$ 20 from store.deepvellum.org

Photo illustration by Jeff Meddaugh / Staff DesignerThe Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center is a huge, bombastic crowd puller designed by architect IM Pei.Artist's impression of the Nancy Best Fountain in Klyde Warren with the highest jets of water in the world.  Construction on the $ 10 million project will begin this summer.  Completion is expected in December 2021.

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