Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Long Gone (but not forgotten)

I'm essentially a nostalgia junkie. For all my attachment to my beloved BlackBerry and MacBook Pro, one of my most prized possessions is my table-top Victrola. The 78 rpm records that spin on the green felted turntable are a little scratchy and they are easily broken. (Just ask my father who, as a teen, used them for discus practice in his back yard...that way he "always broke a record."I kid you not.) But the sound that comes out the doors of this beautiful little gem is unlike any other music you'll hear. In all honestly I'd much rather hear Benny Goodman or either of the Dorsey brothers--scratches and all--on a 78 than on some luxe Bose sound machine.

Anyway, the other evening I was spinning tunes on the Victrola (Les Paul and Mary Ford's Tiger Rag played more than once...) I got to thinking of all the things that were once taken for granted as stable and long lasting and now are no more. Whether it is a job or profession or an electronic appliance, the obsolescence rate is a little overwhelming when you really stop to think about it. And as industries and our way of life change, what we embrace of the new and what we choose to cling to of the old becomes more and more difficult to decide upon. 

I know this is not terribly groundbreaking thought here, but it really did hit me...between my Victrola--which would have been a staple in many if not most homes throughout the early years of the 20th century--and some of the photographs I've taken lately I was reminded by how cyclical our world is. 

Drive by any strip mall or, much more sadly, any Main Street in much of the country and see how many buildings and storefronts are empty. And as industry moves to other countries and leaves a community completely, there are large campuses that will be let to go to seed if someone else can't find a way to utilize them. It is the way of the world and I understand that. And not everything that we're losing needs or deserves to be saved, I fully understand that as well. But contemplating how to move forward and embrace the new without shunning the best of the old is a tricky bit of navigating.

My photographs from yesterday's post show the ruin of what was once a bustling part of port life on the Hudson River. Today they stand as a reminder to a way of life that once was...but one which would make very little sense to many of us today. 

And a the photographs that follow are of a similar nature. These places are long gone...but I think still worthy of consideration.

The two photographs above are of the Harlem Valley State Hospital (top) and Wingdale Prison power plant (The Sing-Sing Country Club.) Part of the campus was a state hospital for the insane and part of it was used as a prison facility for the "criminally" insane. A kindly State Trooper was good enough to share this info with me (as I was nearly trespassing) and then I of course researched it a little further when I got home. The campus is quite something and the buildings, which mostly seem to have been built ca1910-1920s have some wonderful details to them. Here's a great link with more details and some great vintage postcard views:

This is about all that remains of Pier 54 in NYC where the survivors of the Titanic, aboard the RMS Carpathia, disembarked. If you enlarge the photo you can see where White Star and Cunard painted signage overlap. This is also the pier where the Lusitania left from, so there is a lot of great history here. Another link to a little more detailed info:

And finally, since I'm a little obsessed with iron work (as with the remaining piece of Pier 54), this is a little piece of highway to nowhere. New Yorker's will recognize it because there are sports fields and courts underneath it on the UWS. I love the graceful sweeping arches and the play of light and shadow.
Driving past the Harlem Valley campus or past an abandoned farm or estate always makes me wonder about the people who lived and worked there, their stories. All these ruins once contributed to a community and served a, they are shells and remnants. I can't help but wonder what pillars of our community, what places we depend on today will end up like this. 


jennifer said...

What a great post! I always feel the same way driving by old abandoned buildings; there is something so immensely sad and beautiful about them.

Your examples are of the utilitarian sort; like an old steel mill they had their job that they're no longer needed for. But these old buildings are really more aesthetically pleasing to me, I feel like modern spaces of the same sort seem so cold in comparison.

Don't get me started on the great libraries, theaters, etc, etc...:)

sid fernando said...

It's amazing that unless we pause to look around our hurried lives, we never see the ruins of ages past--only the modern, or young, symbols of today. It's the same with old people, who never stand out unless you look very carefully, and then the poignancy of the past is as evident on their faces as the old structures you just as poignantly depicted (and depict in your body of work).

Kerry M Thomas said...

Well written! I agree with you Sid very much. So much is right before us everyday, yet it is lost. Not because we cannot see it, but because we do not seek it. racing history, baseball history, family history, human history... We may see the pretty flower, smell the scent, but yet we move on by and rarely appreciate the intrivate beauty that is within each individual petal...