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 returned to the SLC one sunny, hot Saturday because it was so huge I was convinced I hadn’t seen the whole thing the first time I visited. I was right. I crunched through vast rooms of interior landscapes, fascinated by reflecting pools, greenery, tiny waterfalls and a strange moss that covered some of the damper regions of the factory. There had been changes since my visit last fall. The bowling alley was in greater disrepair. The groovy yellow couch had been moved, so had the jaunty chair near the kitchen. I concentrated on the cavernous wide-open rooms, recording the various characters of each one. I found the “crate room” – missed on the previous visit, and the office with its wall of glass block and red mantle. I found the clock tower, previously missed. But I couldn’t bring myself to climb the final flight up inside to get the shot I wanted. The stairs were too steep and I am to afraid of heights. I never made it to the giant loom room, and I missed some interesting spaces in that wing.
But I’m going back. The complex is scheduled to be torn down in October. September 5th may be the last date that the factory will be opened up to urban exploration. So I’m taking it, and I’m determined to climb those steep steps up into the tower next time.
Picking up on my series of visits to abandoned places, this is a theater in New England. The venue presented some unique problems; unlike the factories, resorts and schools I’ve visited, the theater had no windows. I learned a bit about painting with light and filled in some of the dark corners. It was a pleasure to crunch around on uneven floors, work in silence and smell those familiar odors of abandonment once more. Looking forward to tripping up to the Catskills to explore another resort in a couple of weeks.
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:
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!