When I started photographing these abandoned places I was most interested in the dark side: the ugly underbelly of society turned beautiful by the camera’s eye. I photographed Pennhurst – an abandoned children’s asylum – with great excitement. The idea of exploring a place where so much life had gone wrong filled me with a strange power, perhaps akin to that idea of wrestling with our own demons. But afterwards I was reluctant to share the photographs. The empty, sheeted bed with the peeling walls behind it was so incredibly sad – and the bed itself a kind of relief map of those who had used it. I was almost embarrassed by bearing witness to the stark devastation of this place; not just the walls but the human spirits that seemed to haunt Pennhurst.
Photographing this theater is at the opposite side of that experience spectrum. The paint is faded, yes – the artifacts sit in silent storage. But they remind us of an era of opulence. The portrait of the projectionist hangs on the wall above his private sink in the projector room, celebrating and honoring his life. The machinery of the then state-of-the-art projectors is cheery with its red and yellow lettering, the bakelite knobs. And the theater is owned by a non profit organization that is actively restoring it as a music venue – hope abounds.
I don’t know if the experiences of photographing these two places and my responses to them are a map of my own psyche or not, but I’ve learned a lot about what moves me as an artist, and I’m looking forward to exploring that more.
Back to the Lower East Side, this time to tour a very few of the scores of community gardens in the neighborhood. The flourish of greenspace cultivation started in 1973 with the Green Guerillas, a movement that began with a single seed bomb tossed into a vacant lot. A reaction to the territorial divides brought about by the financial turmoil of the decade between the foreclosed, the city and urban pioneer developers, the movement quickly gained momentum. Gardeners educated themselves and began to organize; these urban oases sprang up all over the city, but are most concentrated in the East Village and the Lower East Side. This map lists 85 current and former gardens below 14th Street:
These are all from a trip to New Orleans a friend and I took this past week. The vibrant color is real and aptly represents the positive energy of the neighborhoods we visited. Most of these were taken in the Bywater, some in the Warehouse District.
Mia and I returned to Dead Horse Bay. She got busy working on a mandala – gathering beach glass, shells, metal objects and sorting them by color. She then used an old piling to create
a compass, and drew a large circle, then a spiral, in the sand. The collected objects went into the piece and it was a pleasure to watch her creative process unfold. I constructed some small weavings in the woods near the site, but I was mostly captivated by the place that day. The tide was going out quickly and, with each passing few minutes, more discards were revealed at the tide line. I walked south to discover some metal structures and other ruins along the beach. I photographed everything, and still can’t get enough of the tarnished magic of this place.
I took another trip to the Pennhurst School – a residential facility for children with disabilities that closed in 1987. The media had reported repeated instances of abuse and neglect, and the school did not keep up with advances in the treatment of mental disorders and differences. Most of the buildings and grounds of this immense facility are off limits. Here are a few images captured in the two buildings that are still open on occasion:
Sometimes it’s a good idea to stop the car and explore that abandoned building you’ve been passing on the way to Yonkers for the past 25 years. I actually got out of the car to check out what’s what with that. Next, I travelled 1/2 mile down the street and turned into the drive to the Lenoir Preserve. The last time I was here was the only time – with my young daughters to visit the nature center about ten years ago. This time I walked to the edge of the property and found an abandoned mansion with an insanely antebellum theme going on in the garden. I didn’t hop the wall today, but stole some images from a safe distance. Finally, on to Untermeyer Park, less then a mile from Lenoir, to move beyond the boundaries and photograph the edges of that site.
This is not my last visit to any of these places; just a start. Here’s a sample of what I found exploring closer to home.
This was one of the most fun and rewarding shoots I’ve done since I started the abandoned series. We went to a trolly graveyard in the rust belt. The owner of the trains collects these full-sized original train, trolly cars and buses and he keeps them on his property. They have taken on a lovely patina, and I’m intrigued by the way the sunlight describes the interiors of the cars. Enjoy!
Cheryl, Cris and I spent an hour or so looking for Tamarack Lodge, a former vacation spot in the Catskills. The Lodge started out as a B and B and evolved into a resort that almost, but didn’t quite, rival Grossinger’s and Kutsher’s. The resort has passed through several lives in recent years, including one as an Indian Casino. It’s now owned by the local Yeshiva, and seems to be in line to become a condo development, but that remains to be seen.
We finally found the site and walked in to begin photographing. There was abundant decay, but in among the rubble also evidence of good times. It looked like it was once a really nice, peaceful retreat.
These are just a few of the images captured that day.
Cheryl and I took a wonderful day trip to the Catskills last week. Our first stop was at our favorite roadside restaurant. After spending the better part of an hour enjoying the peeling paint, signage, barbed wire and grapevines we headed up to our favorite resort. There we visited the greenhouse and potting shed, spent some time at the indoor skating rink and in the game house. We moved on to the natatorium where we relaxed and whiled away an hour or so by the pool. Finally we wound our way up to the hotel and visited several rooms. Not much happening there so – back outside to explore the grounds a bit before heading home. I love the Catskills!