Wednesday, January 23, 2013

On my interest in forgotten places

I usually refrain from writing at length about why I am so drawn to decayed and forlorn historic buildings and communities, but permit me to express exactly what it is that fascinates me in these places.

We live in a culture that has directly contributed to the deplorable conditions of countless urban, historic neighborhoods and towns. That is the culture of sprawl, the culture of "out with the old, in with the new," the disposable world we live in today, where nothing can or should be repaired, but replaced.  This includes our towns, which instead of being repaired, are replaced with bright, shiny, vinyl box suburbs, and gradually demolished or rebuilt until no trace remains of their former existence.

It seems as if the same culture that favors modern and new is afraid of anything that does not appear to be modern or new.  If an object is faded or worn, it has not aged beautifully, but must be replaced. If a face has a line, it must be filled.  There is no appreciation for the span of years that something or someone has endured, the history that it has witnessed, the patina that has been acquired.

I cannot relate to a building or a place that does not betray its origins, its experiences, the lives that have inhabited it, its identity and relation to its surroundings.

I can relate to the narrow, upright mill houses of the Mon Valley.  I can relate to the rusty art deco railings on West Carson Street.  When I look at a street or neighborhood full of once grand, now wrecked Victorians, I see beauty in the decay.  In many ways, I feel the way that this place looks. How can one exist in a disposable world, where people are held just as disposable as objects, and not understand the emotion that an abandoned building or community represents?

Most importantly, I see opportunity -- the opportunity to own and restore something beautiful, that someone else thought should be thrown away.


  1. Well said. I've got a 150 year old farmhouse in the now-suburbs, and everyone asks, "Why did you buy that when you could have something new?" I think people want to believe that they create themselves independently of history. I document local history, nature, and ruination at

  2. It is like you have removed a CD/flash drive/memory stick from my brain and put every glance, stare, admiration, pondering that I have had into a photograph. Even the ones I have forgotten, I recognize on your pages. You have captured them not only for now, but for posterity-- most importantly for the ones already destroyed or to be destroyed.

    Your photographs are so clear, sharp, in beautiful living color, perfectly balanced, a joy to behold and gaze upon. Old things have a spirit, a quality, a feeling. I think it is an imprint of all the lives and experiences that they have stood surrounded by--without and within. They speak to me and apparently to you too. However, you are able to capture them. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
    P.S. Snowandjaggers is another great site.