Photography: Urban Ruins, with commentary
I have always been fascinated with photographing abandoned buildings. This image is the house that started the fascination. It is a picture taken on a Pentax 35mm SLR when I was a high school student, taking a photography class. The house was an abandoned farmhouse near the home I grew up in, in rural Saratoga County. The house no longer stands. It was on a piece of property owned by my father, and my father had to demolish it because local teens were using it to party, and it was dangerous.
As a teen, I spent time inside the house. It was a real curiosity to me for how the stair-well to the second floor wound behind the living-room fire-place. There was a hole in the roof, and grass grew out of the second floor. An upstairs room had a soiled mattress in it, and stacks of pornography. This house would eventually lead me, in a round-about way, to the topic of my Masters thesis.
Fayette was a former industry town, near Escanaba, Michigan, where my mother grew up. The town smelted iron ore, and shipped it around the Great Lakes. When smelting methods improved, the town was abandoned. Eventually, the town became a tourist attraction, and, I think, a national park. During one of my visits to family, we visited Lafeyette, and I took these with a Pentax 35 mm SLR. These images were taken in 1999:
In 2002, I moved permanently to Albany, NY, to go to college. I photographed many city land-marks with an HP digital camera. Because the files had to be transferred from computer to computer over the years, the quality of those images is poor, and most of my photos from that time are unrecoverable.
Albany has a rich history, and many of its historical landmarks have fallen into disrepair. Nevertheless, Albany remains a rich tapestry for my photographic interests. Here are some examples of significant, and insignificant urban ruins I have shot in Albany.
For my camera lens, This building has been the gift that keeps on giving. Not only is it prominent entering downtown Albany by car or bus, the damn thing burned for three days and is still there. One-time a cold storage warehouse, it’s massive and stark. Abandoned for decades, a one-time contractor entered the building to take scrap metal. The building caught fire and spewed smoke over Albany for days. The train tracks that run through north Albany (some are still in use) run practically up to the door, and the condition of near-by structures are hardly better. I’ve gotten a lot of shots over the years within blocks of this building.
Image of Trinity Church. An out-of-town landlord bought this historic building, and let it crumble until it was lost to an emergency demolition. The building shares an architect with land-mark buildings in NYC and DC.
When I was a literacy teacher in a GED program, I became interested in the architectural style of psychiatric hospitals popularized by Thomas Story Kirkbride. My interest in Kirkbride hospitals wedded my architectural and photographic interests to my literary and academic interests. I would eventually write my masters thesis about the Kirkbride hospitals. When I first floated the idea to my graduate adviser, I was pretty sure there was no way the school and department would let me take my degree with a paper written about Foucault’s theories, as they relate to an architectural style of state mental hospitals. I got proven wrong on that point. Here are some images so far of sites (and former sites) of the state hospitals my academic research focused on.
While I was a teacher in a GED program, I developed a casual interest in the psychiatric reform movement of the latter half of the 19th-century. Since most of my academic research focused around the 19th-century, it was pretty natural to let a personal interest coalesce with an academic one. So, I wrote my thesis about Kirkbride hospitals, and the “Moral Treatment” movement.
(more to come)