It has been a while since the last post, I know; I also said that they would be more consistent, again, I know. I have had some interviews and life stuff and though I doubt any of you readers would hold me to this blog over my other stuff, I can’t help but feel like Filter/Gauge has sort been neglected as of late. Well, hopefully, no more. Today, I hope to at least begin working on posts consistently to be able to post maybe every two weeks or so. And what is this week’s theme? Appropriately enough, this week we are going to look some art that is all about neglect and abandonment.
I love history; I am always fascinated by things that are old and have seen a lot of history come and go. So, what might come as no surprise is that objects like abandoned buildings and houses are an endless sort of infatuation for me. Mostly, I think, it is an object’s final moments of relevance that captivate me, the mystery of the time that has been lost.
As we explore the abandoned this week, let’s begin outside. Ben Marcin, our first artist, is no stranger to observing the forgotten. In his travels, the Baltimore-based Marcin photographs places and homes that have been all but abandoned. Two bodies of work in his portfolio (with a third in progress) are devoted to structures that have been left to die. One of those bodies of work, titled Last House Standing features buildings called row houses. Once a common sight in the 1800s in cities across the nation, an ever-dwindling number of row houses are actually still standing. Marcin has documented many of these buildings in various cities; in his own words, “One of the architectural quirks of certain cities on the eastern seaboard of the U.S. is the solo row house. Standing alone, in some of the worst neighborhoods, these nineteenth century structures were once attached to similar row houses that made up entire city blocks. Time and major demographic changes have resulted in the decay and demolition of many such blocks of row houses. Occasionally, one house is spared – literally cut off from its neighbors and left to the elements with whatever time it has left.”
For a different kind of abandonment, Jennifer Mehigan offers us some incredibly creative images of burning homes. In Armed/Luminous, Mehigan transforms the horror of fire into art by exposing the beauty of flame when she adds paint into the mixture; the vibrant color palettes are a contrast to the destruction behind them but nonetheless, they add depth to the photographs and a contrast to the negative force of nature behind them. Like artist Wayne White, Mehigan’s mixed media images are the result of adding a surrealistic layer of color to an existing image in order to create a new message. In this case, Mehigan is not denying the horrible nature of losing everything in a house fire, though that is certainly a connotation you might draw connections to. These images reflect the beauty of fire by emphasizing it’s transformative properties; she literally transforms the flames into something that is beautiful and engaging.
Moving from the outside, Philadelphia photographer Jeffrey Stockbridge brings us some haunting pictures from within abandoned structures, specifically from within homes. In a series titled Abandoned, Stockbridge captures scenes of quiet neglect. His pictures are so captivating to me because of the contrasting realities of what the home once was—a warm and safe place—and what it is now: cold, deteriorating, and forgotten, a remnant, a shell. I have said it before and will say it again, I think the best way to absorb the gravity of these pictures is to think about the stories we are missing. For instance, in the second image, when was the last time that bed was slept on? Who put it there, a landlord, a husband? Who sat at the vanity applying makeup and what would they think of what their room has become? The picture with the palm tree wallpaper: Who was trying to replicate the beach, and why; a vacation within the home? Here is what I think the treasure is within these photos; Stockbridge offers us not only a beautifully haunting picture, he gives us a chance to use something that might also be abandoned all too often: our imaginations.
Obviously, not just homes become abandoned. Times change, we live in economic booms and busts, dreams are realized and dreams are finally laid to rest. One pseudonymous photographer, Seph Lawless has set out to photograph and document the decay of a country (the United States) that it’s citizens might not even realize, or more likely just aren’t paying attention to. Lawless began by photographing derelict buildings and homes, trying to draw attention to the vast rift between our social classes and between the glorification of capitalism and the realities of a boom and bust economy. Focusing on the powerful symbol of abandoned shopping malls, Lawless has utilized social media to get his message out: Our cities are suffering and no one is listening. Cities like Detroit and Cleveland are shells of what they once were, and it is because the economy has moved on to cheaper labor, and that labor is elsewhere. Shopping centers, as photographers like Keith Yahrling I am sure would agree, are monuments to our money; opulent, bustling, and trendy, shopping malls are often a barometer for the economic health of a region. Images of former decadence connect with our own nightmares of losing it all. Unfortunately for so many, that has already happened. Lawless quickly and succinctly encapsulates this nightmare with his shots of vacant foyers and empty storefronts, the gold and glass of the eighties tarnished and broken, graveyards for the memories of shopping sprees long forgotten.
Lastly, we move from looking at abandoned structures to looking at an entire abandoned island. Christopher Payne has spent five years documenting North Brother Island in a book titled, North Brother Island: The Last Unknown Place in New York City. The island used to be home to a hospital that took in many patients with extremely communicable diseases, and was the final home—and place of death—for “Typhoid Mary.” But after being decommissioned in 1968, the island was abandoned and largely forgotten in the minds of New Yorkers. Payne asked to begin to document it 2008. Overgrown and unkempt, only nature itself has not forgotten North Brother Island and as such has essentially been untouched in the time since it’s abandonment; what we have left is an island that nature is reclaiming; transforming structure into chaos and the work of man into a ghost town. (It is, on a smaller scale, a similar story to what is happening in Detroit, a city that has experienced a much larger sense of abandonment, and a story that is much to large to devote to such a small amount of space. Look at the photography of Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre to see some very powerful images of the fall and decay of Detroit.)
I hope you haven’t felt too left in the cold in F/G’s absence and I hope to be a semi-regular poster again for the near future. Remember to check out each artist’s portfolios. Remember also that Filter/Gauge is social! Follow Filter/Gauge on Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, Google+, and Pinterest!