My use of photography to document, enlighten or just to visually interpret what is placed before me, has taken me on many journeys, with just as many side paths. The photographs below represent a creative vision that both revealed its beauty and exposed the art which was created by the decay.
An invitation to shoot a once state of the art lab that had been left abandoned and for the most part almost unrecognizable as its former self, was an offer not to be missed. The day was cold, but not unbearable, with a bright sun overhead. Snow covered many of the exposed areas surrounding the buildings, giving it an almost peaceful setting. A large opening in the front of the main building was the starting point of my exploration inside. The layout felt just like city streets, pretty much straight hallways with lab rooms and other halls branching off. I stayed in the first room and just took it all in, the light and geometric lines would guide both my eye and imagination. I quickly became enlightened by what the decomposed walls and floors offered my compositions. Colors and patterns would emerge so that I could isolate an image and bring a different twist to what was before me. This alternative view would be expanded upon later in the digital darkroom. Corridor, and room after room revealed just how the elements could break down a seemingly sound structure. The weakest part to this demise was the ceilings, and whatever they were made of, which just seemed to melt and opened up this place to the weather.
The decayed, deteriorated and degraded interior of this site enhanced the twist I alluded to earlier. With the many holes, came the opportunity of light to play a big part of what I could manipulate into my artistic vision of this place. To accentuate this raw ruin into an artistic photograph, I would have to take up to seven shots of the same scene in order to bring enough light into the shadows and tame the really bright areas.
The decay is like an ever-changing canvas upon which time will either enhance or remove its form till all that is left is a witness to its existence… a photograph. My hope is that you can see into and past the rot, corrosion and eventual collapse of this site while becoming entertained, even engaged by its art.
ps… for detailed background and another photographer’s vision on this place, please follow this link to Rich Lewis’ blog.
When visiting a place that has any history I always try to find the back story and related articles that can shed light on the subject. Letchworth Village is one such place. It is located in Rockland County, NY which for me was about a 2 and a half hour drive from my South Jersey home. While driving, I ran through some facts about my destination in my mind so I could better visualize the place, and try to figure out how to document it when I arrived. Opened in 1911 as a state of the art facility for the mentally ill, it closed in 1996 amid documented abuse of the patients and staff. Like many of the facilities from this time, the word asylum was to offer sanctuary and protection for its patients, but over time this shelter became a house of horrors for many. For me, growing up and reading the after effects of these places, the word “asylum” took on a whole other dark and menacing connotation.
After finally arriving, I had wanted the day to be gloomy and overcast, so to set the mood and background to what I perceived my experience would be. A little disappointed, I was greeted with a beautiful sunrise and bright skies. The initial look and feel of the place was anything other than beautiful. The buildings and grounds showed the decay and overgrowth that I had expected. What was unexpected was the way the ivy created a brilliant backdrop of different shades of red, yellow and orange. This impact of color, along with the decay, let my mind travel in a different direction. Suddenly the colors complemented the decay and changed the mood from melancholy to a more uplifting outlook on this place. Exploring, by myself and with other photographers, the many buildings and fall colors became a driving force in helping me find the beauty that existed in the exterior of this so-called sanctuary. Finding refuge from the bright outside light in a huge 3 story power plant, I began to feel its dark side only to be startled by the almost heavenly, broken and dirt stained windows. Again and again the light and colors blurred the lines between the past and the present.
This dichotomy of decay, sunlight,fall colors and disturbing history brought an almost uplifting shift to my compositions. I can’t thank Marty Joffee of AIP enough for making this available to us and also letting me shed a different light on the often horrendous side to the word “Asylum ”. Depending on our perspective, we can dwell on the “what was” or, as I hope my photos will help you, choose to view the beauty of life and “what is”.
Seasons… a common occurrence around the world. Where I live on the east coast of the USA, I get to experience all 4 of them. While taking photos around the US and abroad, I have mingled, interacted and shared with people from all over. The discussions included favorite places, and fantastic lighting, to name a few, but most times it invariably ended when we delved into places and times that are closest to what we call home.
My home, which is located in the middle of a state forest in south Jersey, is one such place and this year my season of choice is inescapably winter. The frigid cold mornings, that brought frost and fog also opened my minds eye to every subtle optical shade of this season, and was without compare. I say ‘was’ in a whisper, as to not invoke the wrath of mother nature’s possible late spring snow… AGAIN. The change in temperature, the leaves gone and the first signs of ice on the ponds and lakes, helps slow down my busy life. I await the first snow like a child but, for a very different reason. Snow, that comes at night, is as haunting as it is soothing when I walk and bathe in its silence. The perfect snow for me is the one that happens during the daylight hours, for this is when I get to play. This year brought many different kinds of storms… wet sloppy, large flaky and mind-blowing sideways. The light that was hidden during a storm, when caught early enough, gave off just the right amount of color to make one want to stay and capture its ever fading hues.
I created this blog post as a kind of peace-offering to the weather gods. First to say thank you for letting my camera catch every subtle shade this season had to offer but also to pray I do not have to shovel my plowed in drive way for another third time in a single DAY!!!!!
Peace ‘Mother Nature’… I still love your “COOL” sense of humor.
All aboard for a blast to the past, a “Trolley Graveyard”. Before embarking on this workshop shoot I had preconceived ideas of what I would encounter, as I had shot old trains in Connecticut about a year back. The venue in CT provided wide open spaces that showcased the trains, along with overgrowth that reached over 6 feet high in many places. After my initial eye-opener to the area, I slowly made my way to the back of the property. You might say it was literally the end of the line, in so many ways, as the tracks ended and the overgrowth was even harder to get through.
I approached this place in a backwards type of planning, for when hiking in and past the trolleys, I would take mental notes on what to shoot on my way back. This proved very rewarding as most of the group started in the front. I could line up wide and distant shots without human ‘ghosts’ walking in and out of my long exposures. The trolleys gave up their past, through patterns of decay and framed windowless panels of the fall, throughout the day. Exploring and creating, while trying not to trip on stumps, played out like a game of where not to step. The overcast day provided the perfect flat light I needed to expose the colors and decomposition found all around me.
When the time came to process these relics of a time well past, I was torn between color and black and white. The colors found at this time of year spotlighted and gave the trolleys an almost peaceful place to rest their rusting bones. When the right image was flipped to B/W, the past came alive… you could hear the sound of bells and metal screeching on tracks… the area seemed to come to life again. When turning back after my trek, I could truly feel that this was their last stop… castaways in the woods but comfortably paired with each other as if to say “we are home… just out of service.“
In the past 2 months I had a very rewarding experience to do some photo shoots with Matt Christopher. Imagine being able to go up into an attic and rummage through books and objects from past eras that you grew up in… that is how it felt to me. The three places I visited below, brought back this deja vu type of experience to me. Looking through the lens and bringing back past life events, seemed very real to me at the time. Each room or object had a story that I hoped could be awakened through my compositions. I divided my visits into three sections that would represent each place visited.
The first was an abandoned slate mine. I had visions of going deep into the earth of the actual mine, only to be slapped back to reality when our guide explained that all the water from the winter flowed down into what looked like a football sized shaft, no tunnels or rails down into the earth… still frozen. The exploring of what was left, provided many vignettes of the past… from machinery and patterns of rust, to the left over slate mine just yards away.
The next chapter, from this ‘blast back to the past’, was found not far from where I live… an old theater in the city. Trying to find parking in an area that has not seen the best of times in quite a while, proved an adventure in itself. What struck me, from the minute I entered, was how colorful this place was. It still had more than enough dirt, dust and cracks to keep me entertained for the rest of the day. The back stage was a favorite of mine, as just looking out to the seats one could easily envision a packed house for the opening night of a movie. Exploring the rooms was a real treat, especially the projection room. ‘Whoa’, did that bring back memories of my being a projectionist back when film was shown on 20 minute reels and you had to switch from one projector to another.
Last in my odyssey of reliving the past, proved to be my most creative… an immense lace company in the middle of a steel town. The sheer size was evident when I was given a map and cell number in order to reach both the guide and our instructor. We were told to buddy up in order to lessen our chances of getting lost…. well 10 minutes in and we were both lost. The many levels and pass-throughs, some blocked and others just passable, proved both exciting and frustrating. To give you an idea of just how large this place is…. it had its own bowling alley and gym, complete with a stage for its workers. Creating in this environment was a joy, from the large open rooms to reflecting pools of perfectly calm water, it seemed to bring back both the echoes and activities of days gone by.
Each of these venues not only let me chronicle my explorations but to also bring back a memory of my past… reawakened through the lens and somehow brought back to life… truly unforgettable on so many levels.