Abandoned America Comes to InVision
Photographer Matthew Christopher Talks Vacant Spaces & Shifting Values
By Emily Cummins, Public Relations Coordinator
On Nov. 4, world-renowned industrial landscape photographer Matthew Christopher headlines the InVision Photo Festival with an exclusive photo tour at Easton’s iconic Dixie Cup Factory. Ahead of his trip to the Lehigh Valley, he talked to us about his website and photo series “Abandoned America,” how he got started more than a decade ago and where he’s headed next.
AQ: Why have you chosen to focus on abandoned spaces? What draws you to them and what do you think makes your photos so popular?
MC: It’s different for every person. For some they represent adventure or an undefined space. For others it’s history or nostalgia, but they are also indicative of where we’re at right now as a country and a society. We’re seeing more empty schools and closed factories, and things that were valued in the past are now vacant.
I first started taking photos at abandoned state hospitals after working in mental health for about 10 years, and it snowballed from there. While a lot of people may think of “American Horror Story,” state hospitals were originally founded to get people out of prisons and off the streets. With changes in the industry and care, a lot of these places were shut down and now some people find themselves in the same position.
So, I think abandoned spaces are important because they give you a forum for talking about different issues. Even if they are typically thought of as representing the past, they say a lot about where we are and where we’re headed.
What is the coolest place you have visited?
I love so many places for so many different reasons. Churches are beautiful because you get to see a lot of form over function, power plants have this grand architecture that really no one gets to see and industrial sites, each one is so intricately different… it’s hard for me to even pick within a type.
The one that was the most poignant for me was the Hershey Chocolate Factory demolition. I grew up there, and my dad worked there so even if the photos aren’t the most aesthetically pleasing, the experience means a lot to me.
What is the strangest thing you’ve ever seen?
There are tons of strange things to find in these surreal places, but the supernatural element had never been my thing, and I can say I never ran into anything ghostly. One time I shot in a building in New York that had what looked like blood splattered on the floor and ceiling, and I wound up making an anonymous call to the sheriff’s department. They laughed at me and said a movie had just filmed there.
Can you explain the what “Abandoned America: An Autopsy of the American Dream” means to you?
I think it means different things in relation to different site. One thing I can say on that is for example – I think of schools. The American dream is this idea that you can rise above your station. Through hard work and determination, the son of a poor shoe maker can one day own a shoe factory. It’s this idea that you can better yourself. When you really think about what “Abandoned America,” means, you see abandoned beliefs. And that’s only one way that’s relevant. Some are factories that destroyed environments, some are factories that built towns.
Have you ever photographed in the Lehigh Valley before?
A bunch! I photographed buildings at the Bethlehem Steel plant in 2007 and I’ve also been in the Neuweiler Brewery in Allentown a few times.
What will the InVision Photowalk include?
I like to give people as much freedom as possible, especially because we usually have a broad range of talents and experience shooting among participants, so I walk around and work with people individually. Depending on a photographer’s interests we can talk about camera settings, shooting in raw, exposure bracketing and using a two-second timer, as well as editing, layering and Photoshop.
I’ve been doing workshops since 2013, I’ve done about 40 workshops this year. What started out regional has grown to stops around the country and next year I’ll be launching international trips.
What do you hope people take away from this experience?
Well I hope they enjoy it and learn something in terms of photography skills, but I really want people to love and respect the places they are in, to take them seriously and not see it as an eyesore. Abandoned places are significant and meaningful to their communities, and they often represent loss.
InVision Photowalk: Dixie Cup Building
with Matthew Christopher
Sunday, Nov. 4 | 9 a.m.-12 p.m.
Price: $149 | $134 ArtsQuest Member