Whether nature provides the patterns or if they are man-made, our eyes are attracted to them. Some are architectural, some are a play with light and shadows, and some are grown. I know I am certainly attracted to whichever is made available to me.
Last fall, my son and I had a full day of photographing smoke and fire. As a result of this, I realized a new respect, one of the titles of my images, for the violence and destruction of fire. Yet the opposite is also true. The force of combustion not only creates the chaos of fire, but also creates the delicate and elegant dancing of smoke in the air. While they may both not be present at the same time, the spectrum of beauty and rage is all part of one system of fury.
There is an odd beauty in the destruction of an old building, especially when there is a color that jumps out to grab the eye. This is the scene that made me get my camera and walk back to shoot. Upon further inspection of the debris, other intriguing elements presented themselves. An intact light bulb in a pile of bricks and pipes; the different block forms and materials that held them together; and the soft curve of a circle amid the sharp corners of pyramid like bricks of varying hues. All these details add to the sad and lovely pile of rubble that used to be a school.
A couple of years ago, a friend invited me along to create what was to be a photographic archive of the Republic Steel Corporate Office, located in Massillon, Ohio, before its demolition. This type of experience was relatively new to me. I had been on shoots before where we were photographing buildings in the midst of decay, but we didn’t go in…we photographed from the outside looking in through windows and broken doors. Looking at the beauty that was this building and knowing it was being prepared for destruction was a bit heart-breaking. Thinking of all the history, which was the reason for the archive, and what had been done to try and keep the building economically functional was a testament to those who believed in keeping the history alive. I found myself thankful that the folks in charge of the demolition were dismantling the building in such a way that most of the inside could be recycled. The glass panels, the oak doors, the special tiles on the walls of the lobby, all were laboriously being removed. Those details would live to see another day, but the staircases? Probably not.
This building was a crown jewel of architecture for the area when it was built. It had huge, domed ceilings over the ballrooms on the top floor, complete with ornate medallions. The basement was riddled with vaults and safes that were bigger than my living room. The kitchen, with all its cupboards and fixtures, was a room that held me spellbound. I loved the pantries. They were the same design that I have in my own home, only I have three doors, not a huge wall or two. Now, the domed ceilings had been hidden by a drop ceiling panels to try and conserve heat, covering over the medallions, which were left to have paint peel away in darkness. The glass walls in the offices were also met with the drop ceiling treatment and miles of wire were hidden above the mesh. Drawers were missing from pantries, as well as their hardware. Everything that could be recycled was being recycled.
There were secret rooms in the attic that could be reached by climbing along a catwalk. It was in one such room that I found a poor, dead bird. Because it fell where it did and was undisturbed, all that was left was a bunch of bones surrounded by a puff of feathers. Another room had the wall to which a large clock had been attached on the face of the building to be seen from the street . (I also discovered the bird’s perilous entry point in that room.)
The most amazing thing about the building, and what was preserved by the Massillon Museum of Art, was the front pediment. It was lovely and ornate like the medallions, but without the paint. The gargoyles were more like large fans, and the tiles that supported them were showing their wear. I drove past often hoping to finally catch the day when the pieces of that puzzle were off the facade and stowed away safely. It made my heart glad to know it was not being destroyed, yet it saddened me to think that my new, old friend would soon be gone…which it was by my next venture to the area. I had thought that it would be interesting to see it come down, but in the end, I am glad I wasn’t there to watch. Besides, what was left was a shell. All that was important and memorable had been on the inside, and my friend and I had captured that on film.
Summer in the area watersheds is always interesting. Plant-life and critters abound.