Book Review: Abandoned America: Dismantling the Dream by Matthew Christopher

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Palace Theater, Gary, IN

A Proper Ceremony to Remember

If the creation of a structure represents the values and ideals of a time, so too does its subsequent abandonment and eventual destruction. In Abandoned America: Dismantling the Dream, photographer Matthew Christopher continues his tour of the quiet catastrophes dotting American cities, examining the losses and failures that led these ruins to become forsaken by communities that once embraced them.

From the heartbreaking story of a state school that would become home to one of the country’s worst cases of fatal neglect and abuse, to the shattered remains of what was once the largest mall in the United States, Abandoned America: Dismantling the Dream questions what leads us to leave places behind and what are the consequences of doing so.

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Randall Park Mall, Cleveland, OH
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Lee Plaza Hotel, Detroit, MI

Matthew Christopher’s journey to document abandoned sites began a decade ago while researching the decline of the state hospital system. Realizing that words alone could not adequately convey the harsh realities of institutional care, Christopher embarked on a journey to visit and photograph the crumbling state schools and asylums in our midst. Ten years later, Christopher’s focus had broadened to include the ruins of American infrastructure, industry, churches, schools, theaters, hospitals, prisons, resorts and hotels as realized in his best-selling book, Abandoned America: The Age of Consequences (Jonglez Publishing) and his 2016 follow up, Abandoned America: Dismantling the Dream (Carpet Bombing Culture). From Taunton State Hospital in Massachusetts to the US Air Force’s aircraft boneyard in Tucson, Arizona, Christopher’s extensive collection of derelict sites is featured on his website Abandoned America.

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Fallside Hotel, Niagra Falls, NY
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Fort Pitt Casting Company, McKeesport, PA

While looking through Christopher’s images of these places and locations of historic or personal importance, I thought of a story that has stuck with me for over a decade. It is a story about an abandoned house. In the house, boys who had gone exploring found a treasure trove of letters written by or about the former residents of the home. In the radio documentary story, The House on Loon Lake by Adam Beckman, This American Life  #199, Adam’s mother recalls the house in question when he interviews her for the story. In speaking about the house and objects Beckman found there almost 25 years earlier, she says, The abandonment is melancholy. In a way, it’s worse than throwing away, much worse. I can understand one family being obliged to flee or run or abandon, but that nobody else cared. That it was so overwhelmingly abandoned by everybody, that nobody had cared to solve something, to resolve something. That was very offensive to me. It was like leaving a corpse. You don’t leave a corpse. And that’s a little bit the feeling that I had. That here was a carcass, the carcass of a house, of a life, of a private, and nobody cared to pick it up and give it a proper burial. I thought that it was important that somebody should care. …Objects have lives. They are witness to things. And these objects were like that. So I was, in a way, glad that you were listening.”

Through his writings and his images, we know Matthew Christopher is looking and listening to these places that quietly sit, and for better or worse, remind us of the history passing through the spaces he documents; the lives that were touched, and the bitter-sweet memories that remain.

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Taunton State Hospital, Taunton, MA

In speaking about the haunting Taunton State Hospital, which housed the mentally ill from the late 1800’s until the main hospital building was officially closed in 1975, Christopher writes in Poe-like sentiment:

Perching high up on the old infirmary’s roofs at sunrise and
trying to balance myself on the steep, crumbling slate,
it is amazing to witness that something once so ornate, so filled with hope
disintegrated into the mess of rubble and debris behind me –
where once there was a great ornamental dome, a magnificent auditorium,
an administrative hub that was this mighty beast’s nerve center
now there is only the whisper of what once was, what could have been.
It is a beautiful morning to be at such a vantage point,
even if it is atop the decaying remains of a dream gone horribly wrong
If you were able to look across it all, you’d feel it in your very bones and blood –
the weight of its history, the many things it represented to so many people.
Maybe if you could just see it, you’d understand.


Matthew Christopher earned his MFA in Imaging Arts and Sciences from Rochester Institute of Technology in 2012. His work has been exhibited in museums and galleries across the East Coast, and featured in many national and international publications.

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Abandoned America: Dismantling The Dream by Matthew Christopher
With introduction by Don Wildman
Hardcover: 240 pages
Publisher: Carpet Bombing Culture; Lam edition (September 15, 2016)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1908211423
ISBN-13: 978-1908211422

All images © Matthew Christopher, used by permission.


To find out more about this book, or order a signed copy of Abandoned America, visit Christopher’s website: http://www.dismantlingthedream.com

(This review was originally published in F-Stop Magazine)

Book Review: MTWTFSS by Sophie Harris-Taylor

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Capturing luminous moments between the momentous

‘MTWTFSS: Chapter 1. 2010-2015’ is a vulnerable, honest and intimate photo book by the emerging photographer Sophie Harris-Taylor whose autobiographical body of work is made of images taken from her photographic diary of the past five years.

The book is laid out in a traditional journal form, much like a decent sized Moleskin notebook, complete with a strip of fabric to mark your place. The front and back cover are stamped/faux-embossed with the book title and short statement. I appreciated its understated presentation, especially in a time when larger photobook publishers are really trying to vie for the attention of their customers. The handcrafted design esthetic of MTWTFSS is definitely in the ‘Win’ column.

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© Sophie Harris-Taylor

Harris-Taylor has compiled a collection of images spanning a five year period, in a diary-style fashion. Her images are presented almost exclusively as single image pages, with the occasional blank or two-page spread for visual pacing. The limited first edition of 500 copies are hand numbered and signed.

In describing the book, Harris-Taylor says, “MTWTFSS is an autobiographical, fragmented, sporadic photo diary. It is a reflection of myself and those I know and love. In familiar, often mundane surroundings I seek to capture some element of truth of our lives. For me these ‘everyday, forgotten nothings’ are more important and truthful than any other. These are the moments between the momentous.”

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© Sophie Harris-Taylor
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© Sophie Harris-Taylor
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© Sophie Harris-Taylor
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© Sophie Harris-Taylor

Harris-Taylor relates the personal aspect of the book by saying, “MTWTFSS is the most personal to me. It’s only become apparent recently that although I’m representing aspects of other people, I’m seeking the aspects I’m familiar with and which I can relate to the most. So I’m really using them to express myself.”

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© Sophie Harris-Taylor
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© Sophie Harris-Taylor
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© Sophie Harris-Taylor

I truly did get the feeling I was privy to a photo diary, where the author had chosen certain places, people and images that evoked a sense of vulnerable moments captured between her and the people in her life. The book’s presentation didn’t feel forced, and while the promotion for the book describes the images as “spontaneous”, I would be more apt to describe the style as “informal” despite the acute attention Harris-Taylor gives to light, composition, and the connection to the people sitting before her lens.

“At the same time as seeking their vulnerability I was in awe of their confidence and ability to be comfortable in their own skin. In truth, I was in awe of my friends. One girlfriend in particular; she let me in, she gave me what to capture and I became almost obsessed with the act of photographing her. There were moments of sadness, moments of vulnerability, she never put up a front or undermined what I was doing, she let her guard down and this is what I became interested in.”

The understated moments that make up much of what we construct in our minds as the memories of what has taken place, where we have gone, and who we have encountered, are the memories we recall when reminiscing. Harris-Taylor has taken the reader/viewer into her own memories and revealed the mostly hidden, simple moments by being our (sometimes literally) bare and vulnerable self, our true moments without facade.


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Limited 1st edition of 500 (hand numbered)
Leather-effect binding and blind embossed cover.
16x20cm, 176 pages
Offset lithograph printed on 140gsm uncoated paper.
Designed by Joseph Carter.


Sophie Harris-Taylor is a British fine art photographer and lecturer in photography. Born in 1988 in London, where she still resides, she received both her MA and BA (Hons) in Photography from Kingston University.

Harris-Taylor’s work has been nominated for the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize and The Renaissance Photography Prize. Her work has also been exhibited in a range of shows, including The Young Masters.


To view more work by Sophie Harris-Taylor, visit her website athttp://www.sophieharristaylor.com/

To order a copy of MTWTFSS, click here

(This review was originally published in F-Stop Magazine)

Photography Is a Marathon, Not a Sprint

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Wobneb Magazine archives – William Olmsted interview, September 2015

It has been just over a year since the first big interview published in Wobneb Magazine. The old Tumblr site archive is sitting quietly, ready for a travel back in time, but I will point back to the companion post in Vantage on Medium.com so the work of William Olmstead can shine.

Thanks to everyone who has watched Wobneb Magazine patiently evolve and grow. – Cary Benbow

“Photography Is a Marathon, Not a Sprint”


William Olmsted is a photographer originally based in Maine. Follow him on Flickr andTumblr

A Process of Healing – Interview with photographer Tarah Sloan

I came across a series of images by Tarah Sloan when reviewing work in the F-Stop Magazine exhibition, Family, earlier this year. The exhibition took place at a time when Sloan was not able to give her input for an interview, but I had the chance to revisit her work; and I am glad for the opportunity. In our interview, she revealed the back-story for her series of images dealing with her mother, cancer, and loss. By dealing with her Mother’s life after the loss of family members, one could presume this work is catharsis for her as well.

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New Day

Cary Benbow (CB): Why do you photograph? Why did you become a photographer?

Tarah Sloan (TS): I photograph because it is a way of expression and a form of storytelling, for myself and the viewer. The environment I am surrounded by typically compels me to create images. I started photographing at a young age, so over time my skills developed and my love never wavered. After graduating from high school, I knew I wanted to attend an art college to receive my BFA in photography, and that’s exactly what I did.

CB: Your images in this series definitely come across as storytelling. Can you please explain the idea behind your series?

TS: These images are unlike any other project I have created before. My concept behind this photo series is the emotional plunge of grief a person will face in their lifetime. This project is significantly different because it is personal to my family and me, documenting my mother as the subject. I also normally would not have one person as my main focus through a whole body of work. Many of my ideas for my personal work come from observing the behaviors of others in my environment; such as, this work of my mother.

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Staying in Bed

CB: In your opinion, what makes a good photograph?

TS: A good photograph should pull you in and make you think, feel, react or respond in some way. Photography, after all, is art.

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Classroom

CB: How would you describe your work to someone viewing it for the first time?

TS: That’s a hard question for me, because I can be a little too critical of my own work. I want the viewer to gain some sort of emotional connection from the image. Whether that’s from wonder, amazement, sadness, or joy. Within this series of photographs, I documented my mother.

“I started documenting my mother a few months after my brother Daron passed away in July of 2015.
 I watched her daily struggle with grief after the loss of her husband, sister, and her only son – each who had suffered with cancer; all within 5 years.
I watched her put on the daily brave face and try to continue with life as usual.
I watched as the feelings of depression kept her in its grip.
After many lonely hours, days, and nights, I began to see her gaining strength as she finds new life in the comfort of her garden and the surroundings of her music and art students.”
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Yard Work

CB: What/who are your photography inspirations – and why?

TS: Paul Strand, Ansel Adams, Sally Mann, Diane Arbus, Uta Barth, and Shelby Lee Adams- to name a few from a broad range of individually talented and inspirational photographers. There are many people who I draw inspiration from, including my past professors and colleagues. Why are these people my inspirations? The majority of their photographs are captivating and striking on a number of photographic levels. I think it would be hard for someone to not find inspiration in some way.

 

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CB: What work are you currently working on? Any new projects?

TS: This past summer my mom and I spent 40 days straight on the road, traveling a full circle around the US to visit different grad schools I have looked into. From visiting family in West Virginia, we journeyed upwards to the first art school in Chicago, across to the University of Oregon, down to San Francisco Art Institute, across to the University of New Mexico, then back across to Georgia. Of course, we stopped at as many National Parks as we could along the way, including Devil’s Tower, Yellowstone, Grand Tetons, Yosemite, Grand Canyon, and the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. It was an amazing, exhausting, and eye-opening experience to see the grand, ever changing landscapes of the United States- totally worth it! As a (mostly) landscape photographer, I was in heaven the majority of the trip.  I’m pretty excited to see where my future leads me.


See more of Tarah Sloan’s images at her website: www.tarahsloanphotography.com

Book Review: Out of the Ordinary: A Journey Through Everyday Scotland | Vol. 1 by Iain Sarjeant

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Inverness – 25/10/2011

Book Introduction by Iain Sarjeant:

Much of my photography is spontaneous in nature – I enjoy wandering, exploring, discovering, observing – often in everyday places. It’s a way of working that I find very fulfilling – just drifting and seeing what is round the next corner.

Out Of The Ordinary has developed from this approach, and reflects my interest in people’s relationship and interaction with their environment. The series explores the kind of places that most of us walk or drive past every day, without really noticing – places where the infrastructure of human habitation interacts with the natural environment. These are dynamic landscapes, constantly being altered, and part of the fascination for me is the element of chance involved in the photographs – coming across scenes that may look very different the following week or month.

I try not to have any plan or pre-conceived ideas when exploring. Sometimes I am simply drawn to the play of light and shadow, or colour and form, but often I am looking to create images that have an element of ambiguity, hopefully leaving the viewer with questions. By playing with composition and balancing visual elements, I hope to transform the ordinary and common-place into something interesting and unusual.

The project is ongoing and for me has become a journey through everyday Scotland.

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Macduff, Aberdeenshire – 04/05/2016

Sarjeant’s images of “everyday” Scotland are not ones you might find gracing the pages of glossy travel magazines trying to attract visitors to his country. Rather, these images would be more likely to be found in the galleries of Edinburgh or Glasgow, attracting many people nonetheless. His book, Out of the Ordinary: A Journey Through Everyday Scotland | Vol. 1 was published in the summer of 2016, and quickly sold out. A second printing of 100 copies was done, and a limited number of copies are available hereAn anticipated Volume 2 is in the works for 2017.

His views of his everyday surroundings are largely devoid of people. In the few images that include people, Sarjeant has carefully chosen to include them as elements in the scene to give us either a sense of scale, or mystery and inform the viewer that the spaces are not without use. The collection of images in this project are landscapes where the structures and infrastructures of the people of Scotland are revealed – often with blocks or lines of saturated color that punctuate the scene.

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Hawick, Borders – 03/04/2015
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Balerno, Edinburgh – 17/07/2015
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Dunbeath, Caithness – 21/05/2015

His visual lexicography includes vehicles in all manner of use and function (or disfunction), buildings both commercial and residential, markings on pavement, graffiti, shadows and shipping containers. Sarjeant’s wanderings take him through areas of Scotland that, in his words, “often look very different the following month, day, or even hour.” The decisive moments he choses are ones worth taking in and really looking at.

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Cowdenbeath, Fife – 14/04/2016
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Selkirk, Borders – 19/03/2013
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Lossiemouth, Moray – 01/11/2013

“Ultimately all photography is about light and I am fascinated by how it interacts with the lie of the land, whether in wild places or, as in this project, in man-made places. Light can create interest from the most ordinary of subjects.” Iain Sarjeant

These landscapes, communities, structures, and the geography created by them, reveal what exists beyond the ordinary. The way Sarjeant frames the images to draw our eyes through the scene, the way he juxtaposes forms, shadows, blocks of colors, and even tire tracks in snow covered lots, reveal a Scotland of beautiful repose; places for us to stop, and become drawn into the scenes.


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Iain Sarjeant is the founder and editor of Another Place, and Another Place Press which showcases contemporary landscape photography. He is a member of Documenting Britain, and works as a stock photographer.

For more information, or to view his personal work; please visit:

http://iainsarjeant.tumblr.com/

http://www.iainsarjeant.co.uk/

http://www.iainsarjeant.com/