Hello internet. Long time no see, dear one.
This past semester I enrolled in Photography 201, a portfolio class in which students chose a single project to work on all semester. The variety of topics chosen by my classmates was amazing! One woman bought a ball jointed doll. Before she received it she talked about how odd the ball jointed doll community was. People take pictures with each other, write stories about their doll, even dedicate blogs written from the doll’s perspective. They treated them as people, basically. By the very next week, she had named her own doll and had switched from using “it” to “her” herself! She quickly got caught up in the personality of the amazingly life-like doll. Another man made beautiful portraits of a naked, pregnant woman doing yoga. Another, a series of toy cars and figures made to look life-sized just by using perspective. My favorite project was a series of breathtaking landscapes printed using a double printing method. They were so full of energy and depth!
My project is called “America’s Past Lives.” I explored the physical remains of eras and ideologies of the past. What once was a hospital, a factory, or a school is suddenly, completely abandoned. These structures have one of three fates: decay, reclamation, or destruction. I chose to focus on photographing those that were in decay this semester. And first the images are textural, interesting, and even hauntingly beautiful. Learning about the history of each location sheds an entirely different light on the photograph.
(And hopefully some meaning, too.)
The first building is the remains of the Bethlehem Steel Mill. After its founding in 1857, it became one of the most important, if not the most important steel mill in America. It supplied the steel used to build the Empire State Building, the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Island, and the Hoover Dam, among many other important railways and structures in America. After a few decades of poor money management and outsourcing, Bethlehem Steel ceased operations in 1995. It survived the Civil War, the Carnegie monopolization of the steel industry, and two World Wars, but in the end its machinery was left to rust alongside American industry.
All printed 18 x 24 in.
After being saved by the Smithsonian Institution, the site was renamed Bethlehem Works…and went bankrupt in 2001. It was bought in 2007 and is being converted into an arts and music venue, SteelStacks. The neighboring facility is a casino built where the plant once stood. Iron-ically enough, they had a hard time finding enough steel to build the casino. A majority of the plant, including the blast furnaces, were left alone and are still being slowly reclaimed by weeds and rust.
I never thought I would consider decaying industrial equipment to be beautiful, but this majestic site proved me wrong. I loved brilliant clash of the shining new steel of the chain link fence against the ruins (as much as I wanted to climb them to get better pictures of the interior).
To be continued!