Twenty-five years ago, Chuck Schmidt was a Montana guy with a degree in anthropology. His future wife, Katie McNamara, a university student and photo hobbyist, had a darkroom in her house, where she taught him the basics of film photography and printing.

By the time the pair moved to Portland in 2000, his skills had improved. Among other projects, by 2007 he had started shooting homes for real estate agents, architects, and designers. “A lot of the homes I shot—especially on the east side—were like time capsules from the 1960s and ’70s,” he says. He found himself drawn to some oft-overlooked features: the light switches and outlet wall plates.

“I’ve always loved Americana and beauty in the mundane, so I started taking pictures of the switch plates,” Schmidt says. While most homes have the common white or beige plastic rectangle, he estimates he’s shot up to a hundred unique plates over the years. “I just thought they were these funny, sometimes gaudy, little personal details that told me more about the house (or room) than the rest of the décor.”

While running their company, Spin Photography, Schmidt and his wife have plans to diversify and get their own real estate licenses. But he’ll still keep a sharp eye out for notable on-off switches: “If I see a cool switch, have time, and a camera, I’ll take it.”

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