Artist Statement – The American Landscape
At the beginning of 2016 I decided to expand the scope of my preferred subject matter—historic downtowns, 19th Century Houses and architectural landscapes—to focus on the more widespread and unnoticed aspects of the American Landscape.
My first photographs for the project showed darker images and I wanted to continue in that direction. In truth, though, I go wherever my eye and inclination take me. I know what I like and I set out to photograph it. Some of these pictures are dark and brooding, and yet others have a lighter feel. I suppose it depends on my mood on a particular day but in general I’m not a nihilist nor do I see the world in a dark and disturbed way. Quite the opposite, actually. Of course, the camera will sometimes show me something unexpected, or I'll get some feedback that alerts me to other aspects of my pictures that inspire me to explore further...and it's intriguing to follow those paths. But here I seem to be creating the images I have in my mind.
While editing the current body of work I started to notice that the pictures work best in groups so I divided them into several sub series that can also stand on their own under the American Landscape project name: Abandoned Industrial Spaces, Bethlehem Steel, Asbury Park, Architectural Landscapes, 19th Century Houses, Abandoned and Historic Railroads, and Unfinished Highways. These are the things I'm compelled to photograph and so that is the direction for this phase of the project.
NOTE: I am currently writing the statements for all the sub parts of this project, so they are not all done yet.
ABANDONED AND HISTORIC RAILROADS: THE CENRAL RAILROAD OF NEW JERSEY’S FLEMINGTON AND FREEHOLD BRANCHES
Both of these former branch lines of the Central Railroad of New Jersey hold a personal connection and interest for me. And since I love exploring, researching and photographing abandoned or defunct railroads and their derelict (in some cases, repurposed or restored) buildings and structures, they are one of my favorite subjects. Railroad photographers typically like to stand by the side of the tracks and wait for a train to come by. I’m more drawn to the ghostly and mysterious remains were railroads used to run.
The Flemington and Freehold branches both connect back to my childhood 50 years ago. The former (also known as the South Branch Railroad) originally ran from Somerville to Lambertville, which sits on the New Jersey side of the Delaware River. It’s abandoned except for a short segment between 3 Bridges to Ringoes, which is now called the Black River & Western Railroad. When I was a kid in the mid-1960s my father took us on the historic steam engine train ride from Flemington to Ringoes. That train still runs today. At Neshanic Station on the abandoned part there is a historic depot (now an apartment house) and an old iron truss bridge over the South Branch of the Raritan River. They are romantic and ‘enduring symbols’ (see my blog post about this concept) and fantastic subjects that I have photographed over several years’ time. While these structtures don’t have a direct connection to my past they are part of the same railroad I rode on, so I have been compelled to research and photograph them.
I didn’t discover any of this until 10 years ago. I had just moved to the area and began exploring subject matter to photograph for my graduate studies in photography.
I never rode on the Freehold Branch but I did ride its counterpart, the Seashore Branch, a virtual continuation of it east of the Garden State Parkway. My father also took me on that train in its final days in the mid-1960s. The two sort of connected just south of Matawan station on what is now New Jersey Transit’s North Jersey Coast Line. So the Freehold line relates for me, and its roadbed courses through my native Central Monmouth County so I know it well. I also started researching it in 2005 to learn its history. I’ve crossed its tracks so many times at different points over the years without ever knowing or thinking about what they were. Now it’s fascinating to explore my own history by walking or riding the trail along those points and thinking about where I was in my life at each crossing. I crossed more at a particular location depending on what period of my life I was in. Each time I drove over the tracks I would just know the landmark. Now, as I explore the right of way at each crossing I get a completely different perspective. It makes the railroad a kind of virtual timeline of my life that triggers memories from different eras.
In that respect the railroad is like a Time Machine.
Passenger service on these railroads stopped long ago and on both lines and I often like to imagine sitting at one of the remaining depots and waiting for the train. I did that recently at Freehold; while photographing the old platform I stopped for a short while and just leaned against the building, immersing myself in the transit of time, feeling what it was like to wait for the train there decades ago. On the abandoned sections of these lines a train has not rumbled along in more than 40 years (freight continued into the early 70s). You look at the rusted rails and wonder when was the last time a train rolled over them. This is the fascination for me…that element of Time…the history, and how it connects with my own personal history.
I've been fascinated with certain unfinished highways in New Jersey. The pictures I have made so far for this subset are of the Route 206 Bypass in Hillsborough Township where I live. I made them in the summer of 2017 around the July 4th weekend. No work had been done at the site for about 4 years and it had the eerie feel of an abandoned place. Work has now begun to finish it but it sat unfinished and even ‘abandoned’ (as far as my involvement with it is concerned) for 4 years. In these photographs it has all the hallmarks of an abandoned structure: closed off to traffic, removed from public access, nature is reclaiming it, and I felt removed from the normal flow of time when I stood in that space. In short, I experienced the dilation of time flow. In fact, time seemed to virtually stand still there, as it does at my other abandoned subjects, whether railroad bridges, industrial buildings or houses. This idea applies to many subjects in my American Landscape project and it also gets into the realm of the ‘Enduring and Romantic symbol’ versus ‘Decay as Process’. (Please see my blog post about this subject.) While these concepts don’t necessarily apply to this subject it is still interesting to consider in how we see ruins.