abandoned, aging, American Beauty, Art, artifact, backstory, beautify, beauty, decay, discarded, forgotten, hidden, history, indifference, Life, loneliness, nostalgia, objects, photography, time, timeline, unwanted, urban, visual
It was one of those days when it’s a minute away from snowing and there’s this electricity in the air, you can almost hear it. Right? And this bag was just dancing with me. Like a little kid begging me to play with it. For fifteen minutes. That’s the day I realized that there was this entire life behind things, and this incredibly benevolent force that wanted me to know there was no reason to be afraid, ever. Video’s a poor excuse, I know. But it helps me remember… I need to remember… Sometimes there’s so much beauty in the world, I feel like I can’t take it, and my heart is just going to cave in.
– Ricky Fitts (American Beauty – 1999)
Photographs of urban decay, artifacts and discarded objects fascinate me. I’ve been asked why on a couple of occasions and I don’t think I was successful in conveying succinctly the way this particular photographic subject matter makes me feel. Shots of beautiful landscapes are, well, beautiful, but I’m not moved by them. I suppose there are multiple reasons why I’m so drawn to photographs depicting dark, graffitied alleys, abandoned structures, lonely neons signs, and forsaken objects. Whatever their backstory, these unwanted objects or abandoned places have timelines. I would find it fascinating to listen to their stories if only it were possible.
But if I were to describe it, I would say the appeal may be that of voyeurism, a bit of nostalgia, being witness to the gritty byproduct of time passed, romanticized loneliness, and the evidence of things made by human hands, then destroyed by human indifference.
I find it intriguing that every object has a life, and if it were sentient, a point of view. I don’t know if people ever give much thought to the lives of objects. A thing was created with a purpose and so began its narrative. Immediately it was put to use and became part of the lives of those that interacted with it. It could be anything…a dirt road, an office building, a teddy bear, a park bench. But time passes and the object falls out of favor. It was used until it broke. It is now obsolete. Perhaps its function was no longer necessary. I often see discarded things that make me wonder how it lived its life and how it came to be in that spot: a creepy doll head, a single athletic shoe or a discarded reclining chair. The people who once bought and utilized those things are real: Amanda, 5, accidentally dropped her doll out of the car window while her family was driving from San Diego to Anaheim to vacation at Disneyland for the weekend. Joseph, 40, who works in the HR department at the Lowe’s on Rawson and 27th, jogs daily along Lake Michigan and replaces his old Nikes every three months or so for a new pair. Paula, 72, who’s husband, James, passed away four years ago, decided it was time to move from Morgantown, WV to be closer to her daughter in Pittsburgh, even though she hates big city life. James’ Barcalounger was one of the large items left at the curb to be collected by the local Goodwill but two neighborhood boys absconded with it and eventually ditched it in a nearby vacant lot. These are the potential backstories of everyday objects that are now left to languish.
Although perhaps in a diminished capacity, these derelict structures and objects were still functional and probably utilized by the disenfranchised until reaching a point where even those marginalized people no longer found them useful. Yet these places and things still exist. For no purpose now. They still exist. And time continues to abuse them. Eventually we give them different descriptors such as “wreckage” and “garbage” and “junk.” Still they persist. And more time passes. Until the day they become beautiful. Even though they haven’t changed. They’re still broken down. They’re still weathered and neglected. But each discarded object, every derelict building, the forgotten backroads and alleyways, they all have a history, known or unknown. They are personified. They have character. In their broken down state, they are beauty. And I feel lucky to have viewed them, interacted with them. To have connected with them by acknowledging: “I see you.”
Because they are now tucked away from the well-traveled paths, only those that venture into a random, unknown direction will find them. And they will be difficult to find because society will not illuminate them. Society will not point a sign at them. Yet they’re still beautiful, while cloaked in darkness. They do not ask to be viewed. They no longer feel beautiful. But they are beautiful, again.