Maybe old buildings are in my blood. For forty years, my dad worked as a draftsman and designer for structural engineering firms, drawing up plans by hand. On trips into Cleveland for the art museum or bagels, Dad would point out the buildings he’d had a hand in. His job: ensuring they would stay standing.
So, it feels like a personal affront to watch buildings–especially beautiful historic places–go to ruin, abandoned.
I’ve talked on the blog before about “Ruin Porn,” a type of photography that glorifies falling-down structures, often in post-industrial places, like my native Cleveland. I’ve said before, that to me Ruin Porn looks like the American Dream on its knees with no dreamer in the scene. (I wrote a three-part essay you can read here, here, and here.) So, what do we do? How to salvage falling-down places?
Rebecca here–happy to highlight the work of Rust Belt photographer Johnny Joo, who captures the remains and the history of historic landmarks–like Buffalo, New York’s Central Terminal, an art-deco jewel of an old train station.
I have a soft spot for Buffalo, the Rust Belt city near where my mom was raised and where much of her side still lives. If our winters in Cleveland were tough (and they were), winters in Buffalo were tougher. This seemed to increase not only my relatives’ struggles, there, but their grit to overcome them, along with their infectious wit and humor to laugh through them.
Joo’s type of photography is called “Abandonment Photography,” but by recalling these places, he resurrects them, in a way, as he resurrects wonderful memories for me. Certainly, this Buffalo landmark should not be forgotten, and I will follow its story, as the city around it is enjoying a renaissance.
Joo reports, “In October of 2017, the World Monuments Fund selected Central Terminal as part of it’s 2018 World Monument Watch List – one of only two selections from the United States, and one of 25 selections total.”
Buffalo’s Central Terminal was an active train station from 1929-1979. The structure was built in Art Deco style, designed by architects Fellheimer & Wagner for the New York Central Railroad. The main building stands 15 stories (271 feet) tall. The station had sat abandoned and almost forgotten for years, but with the incredible work of an amazing preservation group, new life has been brought back through this incredible piece of Buffalo history. Most of the photos shown below show the derelict, decaying areas of the former station. I will update this piece later with photos from inside the area undergoing renovation.
Abandoned East Central Station Buffalo New York
Abandoned East Central Station Buffalo New York
Construction of the station took place from 1925-1929. By the late 19th century, the city of Buffalo was home to several railroad stations, but people desperately wanted a single union station to be constructed. Plans were…
The stadium had hosted over 1,500 football games for the high schools in Akron, as well as for Ohio High School Athletic Association playoff games. The Cleveland Browns had also used the stadium for 19 preseason games over the years.
Rebecca here: Photographer Johnny Joo is “Preserving History Through Imagery” at his site, Architectural Afterlife. You don’t have to be a Northeast Ohio native (like Johnny and this gal) to appreciate his stirring photography. Much more than capturing abandoned sites, he provides the history behind the sites–separating his work from the likes of “ruin porn,” in my opinion.
What do you think?
What’s on your plate today? Photography? A good summer read? I can’t get enough of discussing A Gentleman in Moscow. Otherwise, I’m buried under work-writing but hope to surface soon!
We writers love to talk about finding our literary voice (good piece on that here), along with our favorite tropes, motifs, and images. Basically…stuff we know.
We’ve all heard the “write what you know” advice, often attributed to ol’ Papa Hemingway. What he really said (and more Hemingway writing advice here):
Write about what you know and write truly and tell them all where they can place it…Books should be about the people you know, that you love and hate, not about the people you study about.
So, we read, travel, meet, live, repeat, and read some more–to amass the places, people, and ideas that we know fully, that become an integral part of us. So much so that these places, people, and ideas pop up in our writing as setting, characters, tropes and all those other fun literary terms.
All that’s to say that our writerly voice and our place in the world (weekly photo challenge) go hand-in-hand. For me, the way to discovering my literary voice–my place on the page (definitely still a work in progress)–and my place in the world are parallel journeys. And both follow water.
They say the apple doesn’t fall far… My dad, a lifelong Lake Erie boater, went around the world’s waterways as a young man in the Navy and still didn’t get enough of the stuff. Being landlocked makes him itchy. (Here he is on his 1942 Lyman he restored himself.) I suppose I inherited some of his itch.
From the Great Lake of my girlhood to the river I’m on now (header photo)–water makes its way into much of my creative writing. Not only as setting and a handy trope, but I’m interested in water’s relationship with our human bodies (which are so much water!), and I wish I could fish and swim and dive with an expert’s ease. And there’s where I write what I don’t know, because I want to know more.
This summer I will do more to know more to write more. How’s that? And I’ll do it in a dinghy! Yep, we bought a dinghy–my little family’s first foray onto the water.
Does your place in the world inform your place on the page? I’d love to hear about it and to see pics!
An island in the rust belt,
once perhaps a wayward
rhinestone jewel and now?
Some parts have seen
better times and some
have seen bitter times,…
…some hang around
like the ghosts of a
history of light and dark,…
…and some don’t see time
at all, but time sees them
Like a rag or a bag snagged
on a stick in the river, some
parts moving, some standing still,…
…a city that seems at
times not to know where— or even when—it is.
“Watching Time” poem and images by Johnny Crabcakes at A Prayer Like Gravity
Rebecca here: thank you, thank you to Johnny Crabcakes at A Prayer Like Gravity for these fine photographs and words. Together, they provide a window into the Rust Belt city of St. Louis, always changing, ever still. Please visit A Prayer Like Gravity for much more.
I’ve said before that my lack of talent with a camera has turned out to be a blessing. Wanting to feature regional photography here at Rust Belt Girl, I’ve turned to the experts–like Johnny Crabcakes; along with my fellow Northeast Ohio native, Johnny Joo, who specializes in abandonment photography at architecturalafterlife.com; and Michelle Cole, who posts her thoughts and photography at Intensity Without Masteryand who shared with Rust Belt Girlhere and here what her life is like today in Lima, Ohio.
Want more photography? Check out my handy-dandy Categories.
Are you a photographer in a Rust Belt-ish place? I’d love to hear from you!
I suppose there’s always been a certain amount of fear around kids at school. There’s the letting go, the separation from family and home. For me, this means a willful disentanglement of my heart from my kids’, as I drop them off at school every day. There’s no drama, no tears–it’s a wonderful school–but I do have to tamp down my mother love, or else I’d never let them go.
Making the decision to have a child…is to decide forever to have your heart go walking outside your body.
She was right. So my little hearts leave my sight to beat and grow, and I have to remind myself it’s been eight years since we were skin to skin in the hospital at their birth. They are in their own skins now; they don’t need my mother heat like that.
They are strong. I tell myself this when they come home telling me–so nonchalantly–about lock down drills.
I don’t remember lock down drills in elementary school. I remember tornado drills, my knees pressed against the painted cement block walls of the hallway outside our classroom, my body curled like a potato bug, one in a long line of kids, our hands over the napes of our necks. I remember the Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster in fifth grade; when I returned home from school my mom was crying while folding laundry in the basement.
I wonder if my kids will associate school with fear or if, instead, they’ll think of my hand taking theirs and squeezing it before they tumble out of the car each morning, looking like mini sherpas with their packs and bags. I hope that’s all the burden they’ll ever have to carry.
Go ahead and call it nostalgia. Or rose-colored glasses, cockeyed Midwestern optimism, or plain delusion. (Or, as snow remains in the forecast well into April here in my adopted southern home, call it willful reversion.) Whatever.
I dream of childhood summers in Ohio.
Summer, especially, felt like a gift from the heavens after enduring a frigid (Daily Prompt) winter in the Snowbelt and a five-minute spring that brought little more than a white Easter, a lackluster Maple Festival, and mud.
Summer, glorious, oblivious 1980s summer brought us SeaWorld.
Yep, that SeaWorld–not in California or Florida but in Ohio. No joke. The smallest of the SeaWorld parks, at 50 acres, SeaWorld Ohio opened in 1970 and was located on Geauga Lake, where 1950s-esque good-guy-gets-the-girl acts were performed atop pyramids of water-skiers. (How I wanted to be one of those girls!) Then there were the animals: the sea lions show, the jumping dolphins, the otters who were made to “talk” with piped-in chipmunk voices. The shark and penguin encounters. And, of course, the stars: Shamu and Mamu, the killer whales.
This was long before your average theme park attendee called them orcas or gave a thought to the health and socialization of large animals in captivity. Zoos still thrived; the circus hadn’t died.
By 2004, SeaWorld Ohio was basically abandoned. You can view eerie before and after photos taken by former SeaWorld Ohio animal trainer Nico Maragos.
More of a thrill-seeker? Geauga Lake amusement park was right across the lake from SeaWorld’s water-ski shows and called to us with her skyline of roller coasters. Ohio-based photographer Johnny Joo has captured stunning images of the theme park (like the one at the top of this post), which closed in 2007.
I’ve included Rust Belt photography on my blog before, but Joo covers not only abandoned places of work but of play.
I’ve also railed against abandonment photography, sometimes called ruin porn, for forgetting the people the places left behind. (Of course many of us did leave these places behind, in droves, often for warmer climes.) Still, Joo’s mission is exactly the opposite for his blog Architectural Afterlife: Preserving History Through Imagery. I hope you’ll check it out.
Are you a Rust Belt photographer with images to share? Let me know! Just summer-dreaming?
LaToya Ruby Frazier grew up in Braddock [Pennsylvania]. She’s a photographer who’s been taking pictures of her hometown for two decades, and she says that neither of [the common narratives of this place–as the birthplace of steel or a Rust Belt town revitalized] represent the Braddock she knows. Her Braddock is primarily black, primarily female and primarily poor.
I hope you’ll check out this eye-opening piece about a Rust Belt photographer, who provides an alternative view of the Mon Valley (former steel industry center, outside Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) to the one featured in the novel, American Rust.
How did we get here? Not here at Rust Belt Girl so much as here—writing, blogging, connecting? (Anyone else have that Talking Heads song running on repeat in their minds? You’re welcome.)
For me, it was my mom who was the reader in my young life, who made it okay to “waste” an hour or a day on a good book. She was my biggest fan, even when my writing hadn’t a prayer of reaching a larger audience than my immediate family. She made me feel like a writer—and sometimes a vote of confidence from someone you love is enough to begin to believe it, yourself.
As I emerge from my Thanksgiving Day food coma, I say thanks to memories of my mom and to everyone else who makes me feel like something of a writer.
For Part 2, I wanted to see where Michelle finds her inspiration, what sparks her creativity.
Michelle—what inspires you to take photographs, especially of your Ohio city? What do you shoot with?
I must first credit my parents with impressing me with the notion that hobbies are vital to happiness. My dad kept an aquarium and made pictures of ships with strings pulled around pins painstakingly positioned on canvas or velvet (there is a name for these sort of pictures that escapes me now; its popularity rose and fell alongside macramé). My mom painted and drew. She also read an ocean of genre fiction.
My dad had a significant interest in photography in the 70s. My parents’ bathroom did double duty as a dark room for a few years. My dad’s interest in photography was mostly confined to portraits of family members and some architectural photos. One of my earliest memories involves taking the elevator to the top of what was then the tallest building in Indianapolis, probably the National Bank Building. We went to the top so Dad could take a cityscape picture from that vantage point.
Like for so many Rust Belt families, the prosperity we knew in the 70s did not last, so Dad put aside his photography habit due to cost.
Despite that our fortunes rose and fell, the example of their hobbies endured. Creative pursuits had value. Eventually, my history of major depression intersected with this notion. When digital photography became widespread, I decided to try it because I wanted to see if I could develop a skill that I knew was not a total waste of my time. My parents taught me by example that all creative expression had inherent value.
Then I was struck by the idea that photography could remind me that life was worth living, that my life itself had value. The places I saw, my city especially, were a part of that value.
As I took more pictures of the places I had seen so often, I began to feel something akin to teaching a dying language. I was capturing scenes that should not be forgotten: this is how we lived, the good, the bad, the ugly . . .
I also have an enduring interest in nature photography. I feel serenity in documenting the change of seasons.
I shoot with three different cameras, a Nikon D5200, a Canon Rebel T6, and my cell phone camera (a budget LG V8). None of my equipment is expensive or super sophisticated. There is still much I should learn about the technical points of photography. My favorite shooting combo is my Nikon D5200 with a Nikkor 55-200 mm f4-5.6 VR lens.
What moves you to provide a short essay or story around your photographs?
I wish I had the time and consistent motivation to write about the pictures in every photography post on my blog. When I look at my pictures, I see shorthand for memories that I wish others could read. I suppose that great photographs past and present tell that story with no annotation necessary.
I feel like my inclination to write an essay to accompany a picture is a function of two things: time and depression. If my depression is flaring up, my picture posts have little or no text offered, and the writing is perfunctory or clinical in tone. If the text is short but optimistic in nature, I am simply too busy with work or parenting to write much more.
The photos I take of places in my city usually tap a rich vein of memory for me because I’ve seen them so often, and I really should offer an anecdote to accompany them.
Today I took a picture of a house near the downtown area that intrigues me with its longevity.
While this home has some striking Victorian details, its greatest distinction is being the last home left standing in its area. Every other home along that street for several blocks was taken by eminent domain for the construction of a new high school and stadium. I don’t know how this house escaped this dragnet that resulted in the razing of many aging homes and row houses in the vicinity. The powers that be made the school’s lawn large beyond reason to justify demolishing a problem public housing project that had been built in the 80s. This house reminds me that the place we call home stirs feelings of ambivalence.
At heart, I feel this project was like liposuction to this town; poverty and crime can’t be erased just by demolishing buildings and planting perfect lawns where they once stood. I wish some of the other houses had been spared. The perfect lawn and angled brick of the new high school are reminders that the Lima my parents and grandparents knew cannot be resurrected. At least we have this one home left from the old era.
Michelle—thank you for giving me a window into your world. Your personal journey captured in stunning images inspires me to keep growing by creating and connecting with bloggers like you. Anything else you’d like to say?
We live in a golden era of photography. Chances are you have at least one camera within reach almost all the time. No one’s life is just like yours. No one sees all of the places you’ve seen. What you’ve seen today could be gone tomorrow. Now is the time to share those images with the world.
Thanks again to Michelle Cole at Intensity Without Mastery for reminding us to keep sharing our visions in words and images. And don’t forget to visit Michelle’s site.
Do you feel you, too, are “teaching a dying language” by resurrecting memories of the past through your writing or photography?