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.
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:
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!
This trip was the perfect antidote to the children’s asylum in the previous post. Beautiful weather, full access to the grounds and a very positive vibe at the site all contributed to a great day to explore and photograph. Plus I met a baby wallaby. I didn’t photograph her; she was very shy and I didn’t want to frighten her.
This was a school and home for children with disabilities. The institution closed in the late 1980’s, and in its sixty-two years thousands of children with myriad diagnoses were housed in the wards of several buildings that made up the campus. The institution was self-contained, with recreational facilities, play areas, gardens and greenhouses and treatment rooms. I was allowed access to two buildings and these are some of the images created.
These factories hold their histories together with dust and concrete. Paint peels from the walls and ceilings, there is evidence of vandalism, artifacts are left to crumble. But rooms and objects in them are brushed to a soft patina by the spirits of the people who worked and gossiped and played here. Light filters through dusted, broken glass and breaches through walls and ceilings. Water finds its way to vast galleries to sit still as glass. Even as we pass through it we try not to cause a ripple; we hold a great reverence for the place and what it once meant to its people.