Andre Cantelmo Photography | The Facinating Lure of Impermanence

The Facinating Lure of Impermanence

March 10, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

I make it a point to review my own work on a regular basis. From time to time, I go over my "keepers" and deconstruct the work I've done. I look at patterns in subject choice, and anything else that links the work. Its a good way to keep my creative GPS calibrated. There is something about abandoned and decaying architecture that always gets me to squeeze the shutter button. The question that comes to mind is why am I so fascinated by it, especially when our society puts high value on all things new?

The most obvious reason that comes to mind first is the form and textures that can be found in abandoned buildings. Steel, brick, wood, plaster, and ceramic materials all begin to change as soon as maintenance ceases. They take on additional unintended color and textures, each material at a different pace. Surprising results take place when two substances that once sat side by side in harmony, now sit as polar opposites. If you look and concentrate enough, you can find rust and soil marks that resemble faces, dogs, cats, and other objects. Painted wood surfaces change very fast. Peels and blisters catch stray shafts of light and wonderful textures are the result. Colors fade and loose saturation, while at the same time taking on new hues born out of the decay. It is a challenge to work at such low light levels with bright shafts of light piercing the room. Here the challenge is contrast control, and getting detail in the dark areas while taking care not to blow out the highlights.

Another element that draws me to these decaying gems is the very fact that they are no longer considered of value. I think about the optimism that went into the planning and construction phases. Skilled craftspeople and long hours went into this creation. This building had purpose and dreams built into it from the ground up. Now, reconstruction and preservation costs rule its future. These days it takes a person of vision and stamina to take on a preservation project that can take decades, with fund raising the governing force at work.

I enjoy the surprises in store for me once I am inside one of these gems. There are forgotten objects, still sitting right where they stood when the door was last shut tight. A cup sits on a bathroom sink, an antique labeled aspirin bottle on a shelf, old shoes in a closet, and pots and pans in a kitchen. Many years ago I was fortunate enough to gain access to Ellis Island just before the reconstruction began. In those days the Department of the Interior administered the site. I was in a section of the basement when I discovered an ironing board still set up, and right next to it a sapling tree growing in the light of a window. Walking around and exploring revealed a chair with a coat draped over the back and a pair of gloves sitting on the chair. How long have they been there? Who left them there? Later that same day I found myself walking through the Great Hall. Keep in mind no reconstruction had yet begun. As I walked this wonderful room the only sound was the echo of my footsteps, above me a ceiling of the most impressive tile work. The deep silence broken only by the sounds of the building, and distant New York City. All four of my Grandparents walked through here, as did my Mom. I was shooting film at that time and I vividly remember the loud echo of my camera shutter as it bounced off the walls and ceiling. Standing very still, being very quiet, I swear I felt the presence of those brave people who passed through here with their dreams.

The allure of abandoned buildings is strong in me. There is no escaping the photographic potential evolving as these building constantly change. My artistic side will never tire of the color, texture, form, and play of light within decaying buildings. There are obvious questions that arise also. Does our society place enough value on our own past? Are economics going to continue to be the force behind whether these buildings survive or not? Have we evolved into a society that sees everything as disposable? Are we willing to forget our past?


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