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”.
Inspiration, whether it be stumbled upon, pushed toward or forced into, can be a powerful motivator. My ever-increasing thirst for improvement led me to discover a photographer named Mike Moats. I was instantly pulled in by his compositions, both found and created, which he called “Tiny Landscapes”. His laid back approach inspired me to look closer when shooting an event in the field and at home.
The next step in my learning how to walk, through this type of photography, came more like a big push… or ‘shove’ towards what was actually in front of me all along. This enlightenment came when I was privileged to attend a solo showing by fellow photographer Pat Worley. Her creative eye on what could be done with flowers, light and most of all one’s take on art, was electrifying, to say the least. Seeing prints blossom from the almost mystical to up close and personal, was the final nudge for me to explore what I had overlooked in the past.
I jumped in with both feet, and a couple of not so gentle hands, by taking a workshop with Denise Ippolito. Two things drew me to this choice… one being the venue, Longwood Gardens, which was a place I had never shot or even visited, and the second being Denise. I knew she had a strong vision of what she liked to create, but what took me by surprise was how impactful this vision would be on my photography. The many teachable moments and discussions she presented, were priceless, as it opened my mind and lens to endless compositions. Denise, Joe and Lou led by example and guidance throughout this venture for me into a secluded, but extensive living environment. Their familiarity with the place, was enriched by them also being outstanding creatives themselves, helped me to find not just the standard shot, but forced me to look further and to think outside of my self-imposed box. The true test of any teacher / leader is not just about their portfolio, but what they can share and inspire in others… Denise is a true teacher.
Having been tripped, pushed and forced to see what others already knew about flower photography… this softening of my ‘edges’ has truly reinforced my mantra of to always be willing to grow and learn, but most of all… create.
I was treated to an early gift this season… it was a dusty, old, dark, and very magical treat to this photographer’s eyes. The present I am referring to, was my visit to the last intact silk mill left in the US. Built in 1907, and known as Klotz Throwing Company, it is located in Lonaconing, MD which is about a five and a half hour drive from where I live.
On rare occasions, you can feel a presence of history in a place. I felt it instantly, when I set foot inside this mill. What also set the mood was the ambient light I had to work in. The smell and feel of a past life lets your thoughts drift back to when it was a booming factory. Seeing the thousands of spools, and their links to the machinery, led you to actually imagine the sounds and visualize the people who had worked on the factory floor.
Throwing, as used in the name of the mill, constituted pulling and twisting the raw material into a thread that was used in the making of garments and later parachutes. By the 1920’s, the mill employed 359 workers. Just imagining that many people in the factory, made you realize how it must have been an incredibly busy place. The town alone, with its tiny twisting streets, seemed to be developed and tied to a company mindset where everything and everyone relied on the factory. A railroad passed through the center of town which helps to better understand its location since, WV coal mines were not very far down the road. Klotz Throwing Co., just like the Nation, went from feast to famine during the depression which was closely followed by WW II.
The mill went through a number of growing spurts that saw sanctions on raw silk from Japan, which almost closed the facility, to the start of a synthetic silk called rayon. By the 1950’s, silk demand was dwindling and the workers’ pay had also declined. In 1957, due to the poverty level of wages, they decided to strike and without warning, the owners closed the factory. The mill was shut down so quickly that to this day when you arrive on the second floor, you can still find a room with bins of shoes and other personal belongings. This sudden abandonment lends to the atmosphere of human trauma and decay that you can still feel permeates the building.
We see it throughout our nation… factories and businesses, both large and small are closing. Like a spider’s web, each thread spun is interconnected and leads to the center. The heart of our society is also woven one thread at a time. That thread of life is not just a single factory in Lonaconing but also one that connects us to each of the families that worked there. This emotion is as prevalent today as it was on that factory floor, where each incomplete severed piece of silk thread represents a family’s hopelessness…. or rebirth.
Old, useless, discarded… these words could be used to describe people or things. As I would never like to describe people in that sense, I will be describing things as in trains, trolleys and buses. They had seen better times and have been discarded to make way for newer models. To me this graveyard of useless vehicles became my treasure.
I was invited to shoot at “Shore Line Trolley Museum” in East Haven,CT, by two very creative professional photographers, Roman Kurywczak and Susan Candelario. We were there to shoot trains, some of them restored and others left to be worked on another day. While shooting, I quickly became entranced by all the discarded heaps of metal. They seemed to ooze with history. The rust and decay became enticing abstracts. You could envision the memories of days gone by. Other shots transformed their past into an “Old is the new NEW”
There is comfort in the past, some would say we should have a greater appreciation of it. Old is not useless, for these trolleys and buses their time is now. I believe the past can give us a sense of stability. You can feel this as you walk between each of these relics. When I began, I didn’t know where I would end up. This is so true with my photography…. I began with one preconceived idea, and after arriving, this sense of place and of times gone, but not forgotten, transformed my vision into timeless treasures.