- Posted January 16, 2014 by
Team iReport featured this story
This iReport is part of an assignment:
- dsashin, CNN iReport producer
The best museum installations have fascinating materials to educate, inspire, and preserve history. They are carefully structured to present a narrative that is often sanitized and easy for the masses to patronize. A museum is not the prism though which I like to view history. My preferred view requires getting dirty, wearing a respirator, exposure to tetanus, tick bites, and a host of other hazards.
For the past few years I have been seeking out and photographing places that get pushed to the fringes. Each location is unique in its history. Not only do I get a physical thrill photographing these places, but an intellectual thrill uncovering their stories. Places like Schlitz Brewery in Milwaukee, Ravenswood Hospital in Chicago, Armour Meat Packing in East St. Louis, North Wilkesboro Speedway in North Carolina and many others have a dearth of American history associated with them.
These locations are taboo to go to. But they offer a view that a museum could only describe or recreate in simulation. The massive Schlitz Brewery made Milwaukee famous and used to be the largest domestic brewer. To see first-hand the massive brewhouse and ponder how they once did it all without electrical equipment is mind boggling. The experience is lost now that the brewhouse is being torn down to make room for a park.
Along the way I have also had experiences that one would never have in a museum. One hospital had an entire room full of mouldering medical records dating back decades. Intricately detailed ledgers showing salaries, business costs, and a host of sensitive numbers have been left on shelves. There have been countless photographs showing people in happier times. The homeless have showed me how they stay warm during bitter winter months. Police have demanded I delete photos, but are okay with my Constitutional right to record video.
At the end of the day I am often covered head to toe in all kinds of grime; bird feces, dirt, sawdust, glass, and other detritus. There is nothing more satisfying than coming home after a full day of exploration and taking a shower. There is satisfaction is seeing something that most will not dare to venture to.
Photo 1: Flag w/ Tanks, March 2012 - This location is the top floor of the now demolished Schlitz Brewhouse in Milwaukee, WI. This is where they produced the “Beer that made Milwaukee Famous” until it ceased operation in the early 1980s. Schlitz was once the largest domestic brewer by volume.
As a Wisconsin native I took a bit of personal pride in getting to experience first-hand a bit of local history. This is one of my favorite locations of all time, but it is sadly been torn down to make way for greenspace. All other remaining Schlitz buildings have been renovated and repurposed into a business park.
Photo 2: Work Desks, December 2013 - This Wisconsin furniture factory closed after over a century of operation. The factory still had many tools and inventory left behind. Documents showing the minutes of meetings, employee salaries, and other information about day-to-day business operations were littered throughout the complex.
This is a location I initially spotted five years ago when it was still in operation. Even before closing it looked old and abandoned. When I read in a news source that it had closed I made it a point to visit at the first opportunity I had.
Photo 3: Mansion, Summer 2013 - The wooden facade of this hall is in a mansion on the grounds of a major southern university. The rest of the home has fallen into an irrevocable state of decay, though the hall remains beautifully intact.
Upon discovery this room took my breath away. If you research a location you can anticipate what may lie ahead. The beauty of this one room caught me by surprise.
Photo 4: Washroom, December 2013 - The washroom of an abandoned insurance company headquarters with ornate fixtures.
While exploring abandoned locations it is common that fixtures such as mirrors, toilets, sinks, etcetera will fall victim to vandalism. To discover these items in good condition is a treat and makes for a compelling photo.
Photo 5: Executive Suite w/ Chair & Desk, December 2013 - An executive office of the same abandoned insurance company. The light cast from the window made me reflect on the financial might this insurance company once wielded.
Photo 6: Self-Portrait in Prison, July 2013 - Photo of me wearing a respirator, an essential safety precaution in areas with lead paint, asbestos, and other carcinogenic compounds in the air. This photo is taken on an upper tier of a prison block.
Photo 7: Bowling Ball & Pins, July 2011 - Photo of a bowling ball and pins taken in the gymnasium an abandoned Cleveland area school. For some reason unbeknownst to me this is a very popular photo among those who see my work.
Photo 8: Current General Ledger, October 2013 - This is a ledger documenting all business transactions for the Brown County Asylum for the Chronic Insane from the 1950s and 1960s. It was left behind during active demolition.
The building was relatively barren and did not have much to photograph throughout. This is one of those discoveries that makes you question, “How and why is this important record still here?”
Photo 9: Nuclear Power Plant Cooling Tower, July 2013 - The cooling tower of a nuclear power plant that never materialized due to budget issues. It sticks out like a sore thumb in the quiet rural Appalachia valley where it resides.
The scale of this cooling tower was really indescribable. The acoustics were also amazing and even the slightest ping from my cellphone resonated in echo.