These black-and-white pinhole photographs show how the iconic Bethlehem (Pennsylvania) steel plant — “The Steel” to those who worked there — appeared in 2005. The sprawling complex sat dark, rusting and abandoned behind chain link fencing.
The plant, which closed in 1998, had fueled the economic engines of the 20th Century, providing the ribs for battleships, skyscrapers, bridges and the interstate highway system. This year, part of the historic site has been developed into a Sands Casino and Resort.
While some of the lesser buildings have been bulldozed, the blast furnaces and several other core components remain. The Sands has said the tall furnaces will be repainted and illuminated with “architectural lighting.”
by Steve Rago
Image by Steve Rago (click to view at larger size)
Perfection wounds the single
leafed beauty pressing
against glass to blot
out a patch of grey light
splintering winter’s work,
its chill, its ice. We peer
through a window to sheen
of jungle bright, study leaf
rib and spine, find worn
symmetry in petiole and blade.
Is this how memory
is found, some unclaimed
thing, a trace of botany
blooming at the vanishing point?
by Pamela Hart
We started with a strategy, but to paraphrase John Lennon, art is what happens when you get busy making other plans. Our idea had been to wander around the New York Botanical Garden, independently and together, with camera and notepad, to dig for content. The Enid A. Haupt Conservatory and the 250-acre-garden grounds, seemed, especially in winter, like good locations for capturing germination and mutation. We had planned to spend time looking, photographing and writing on our own. Then we’d find a particular “thing” that called to us and share that beloved treasure (plant, sculpture, architecture, whatever) with the other. Once material was generated, studio work would proceed.
The best-laid plans went awry at the ticket counter when we learned we wouldn’t be able to visit the Conservatory (the place with all the cool plants) due to a holiday show. So we walked around the grounds. Frustrated by the lack of access, we peered from the outside into the beautiful hothouse, looking at the weird and wild plant life that pushed at the paneled glass.
This decision proved fruitful. From the outside looking in, Steve found and photographed leaves and reflections. Pam was intrigued by the way exotic plants seemed to clamor for escape, and by the layering of cityscape and Edenic scenery. Our stumbling block had become a platform for collaboration.
Later, in putting together image and text, both of us let go of brainstorming notions on arrangement to let the words and photographs collide and combine as we played with page layout, stanza and line breaks and even with the title. The Japanese notion of zuihitsu seemed a final important element. Ultimately, the piece — text and image — excerpted here exists as a series of interconnected essays, fragmented and then woven together on the page. These are our contemplations on the rather unnatural environment we discovered one winter afternoon, which turned out to be, quoting from poet Robert Duncan, a place of “first permission, everlasting omen of what is.”