Sasha and I drove to FOCS '95 in Milwaukee. On the way there, we were struck by Gary's ordered chaos and beautiful gloom. We were also tired of being in the car and antsy to get to Chicago, so we kept on going. On the way back, though, we stopped to take pictures. At the bottom of the page, there are a few more pictures, from when Alma and I visited Chicago in April of '97. They still didn't let us behind any fences, but we found some better vantage points.
I must emphasize that these pictures are of the Gary area---some of the actual sites are in surrounding cities or even Chicago proper.
The Gary area is beautiful. The refinery towers, the ruined factories, and the hulking mills are impressive. They exist in wholly inhuman scale that even spindly skyscrapers, with their person-sized floor divisions, cannot match. The sprays of pipes, stacks, and cables speak of a private world that is complex enough to be interesting, yet ordered enough to be mostly controlled. And the remains of defunct plants are tangible monuments of a sort that is less often produced these days. Contrast a blast furnace with the office furniture left behind when a software company goes bust.
To some, this is missing the point, and maybe even rejoicing in their pain: I may like steel mills, but for many, they're more a job source or a pollution source than a source of beauty. David Plowden, who has been behind a camera in front of industrial settings for far longer than I, addresses this contradiction in several of his books. In his photodocumentary of Gary, Hammond, and South Chicago, Industrial Landscape, Plowden quotes Thomas Bell's novel Out of This Furnace:
It is a terrible and beautiful thing to make iron
I think I took these first few pictures, but I'm not totally sure---we were passing Sasha's camera back and forth quite a bit.
Images Copyright (c) 1995,1997 David Rochberg. All rights reserved.