The Rust Belt: Photos by Howard Hsu

The great thing about blogging is the connections you make.

In a post a while back, I called for photos of the Rust Belt–and was subsequently linked to Howard Hsu, a photographer living in Seattle, who was kind enough to let me feature his work on my site. This post, and my previous post, feature photographs Howard took on his Rust Belt tour in 2014.

Been to any of these places? Were you as surprised as I was to learn that Toledo was once a major glass-making hub? Visited any of these spots since 2014? How have they changed.

Here’s what Howard Hsu, photographer, wrote about his Rust Belt visit:

Transition and reinvention in the U.S. rust belt in 2014–Cleveland, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Youngstown and Toledo.

The former bastions of the 20th Century industrial machine–empires built on auto, steel, glass, rubber and large-scale manufacturing–that changed the modern world but now struggle to keep up.

From art to biomedical and robotics to urban farming and community programs, each city is searching for ways to transform its economy and perhaps identity.

 

Part 3 of “‘Ruin Porn’ to Rust Belt beauty: her place in resurrecting the American Dream in the Belt,” and a 212-page prize

Kristen Hunninen, Senior Apprentice, Braddock Farms, PA
Photo by Howard Hsu, from his 2014 rust belt collection. Subject: “Kristen Hunninen, Senior Apprentice at Braddock Farms, an urban farm in the shadow of a working steel mill in Braddock, Pennsylvania.”

Essay continued from Part 2:

Salvage. To reclaim, recoup. In an often very subtle way, Bonnie Jo Campbell, Michigan author of 2009 story collection American Salvage (finalist for the National Book Award) saves her characters—and us in the reading. Her characters and the predicaments in which they find themselves are not pretty; yet, Campbell provides a modicum of redemption—the American Dream renewed—I’m looking for in the writing of the Rust Belt.

Campbell’s stories center on everyday people with everyday struggles—from farmers to salvage yard workers, meth addicts to the unemployed—striving to make do with the hand they’ve been dealt in the tough Michigan landscape. These stories are what Ruin Porn could do more of: show us the despairing scene and then populate it with characters to care about.

One of Campbell’s young characters, a 14-year old girl (whose story Campbell expands on for her gem of a novel, Once Upon a River), encapsulates the heart of Campbell’s fiction. In “Family Reunion,” the reader understands that the girl will take revenge by shooting the uncle who violated her. One sentence speaks volumes:

She had to do this thing for herself; nobody is going to do it for her.

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