Sunday, July 02, 2006

American Ruins.

On Thursday I went to see the new exhibition in the Gallery of Photography entitled American Ruins showing the work of Camilo José Vergara. Born in Chile in 1944 Camilo has been photographing working class areas of the United States for over 30 years. Thats him in the photograph with two of his Fern Street photographs behind him.

The photographs on display show 30 years of urban decay, mostly from the city of Camden in New Jersey. The main set of photographs show the view down Fern Street. Starting in 1979 with two solid rows of houses, houses are gradually demolished, photograph by photograph, until in 2006 all that remains are a few individual, run down, houses separated by empty lots. One lady ahead of me described it as a set of teeth gradually falling out with age.

Another series of photographs trace the fortunes of two shops from 1977 to 2004 when the shops were finally demolished to make one large store. I wondered what the reaction of the photographer had when he saw the last photograph and knew that a 27 year project was complete. My favorite set were not from Camden but from the Bronx showing a lovely old New York apartment building that over 13 years suffers possible arson and falls into disuse and is eventually demolished and replaced with a nondescript row of houses. It shows how urban redevelopment can destroy a cities character as it tries to save it.

I like this type of photography. The photographs document something. The subject is more important than the photograph itself. I also admire Camilos dedication, to go back and take basically the same photograph year after year, watching how things change and never knowing what the final outcome of 30 years worth of photographs will be. I know I'd loose interest after a couple of years. This exhibit is well worth a visit, especially since all exhibits in the Gallery are free so you have no excuse.

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