|In 2001 I first heard about Centralia, the "ghost town"
in the anthracite coal country of northeastern Pennsylvania. When
I was able to detour to the area on a shooting expedition, I found
the nearly deserted town to be haunting and strangely beautiful.
Frequent return visits over the next two years to make more photographs
enhanced my fascination with the town. Centralia has been almost
entirely evacuated because of an uncontrolled underground coal
fire that has been burning for more than forty years. Sections
of the town, and highway 42, have subsided into the ground as
the coal below burns away, while dangerous combustion fumes vent
into the air. But the eerie beauty remains. Some of the remaining
structures are single units carved from the original row housing,
now standing forlorn and solitary.
On these visits I began to explore the towns surrounding Centralia.
There, less drastic but still dramatic visual evidence of the
region's coal mining history can be seen everywhere. Again I
found a surprising beauty to this human-altered landscape where
mountains of coal dwarf adjacent towns.
About the Prints
All of the pictures in this exhibit were made on 8x10-inch
or 7x17-inch film using traditional fully-adjustable view cameras
(a Deardorff built in the 1950s and a Korona dating back to
the 1920s). The lenses used, like the film, are modern. While
I also work with smaller cameras, including digital capture
equipment, nothing but a big piece of film could begin to capture
the tonal range and detail needed to describe the buildings
and landscape of Centralia and the Coal Country. I develop these
large negatives by hand, in trays, in a traditional darkroom.
To make the monochrome digital prints in this exhibit, I begin
by scanning the negative. The digital prints are interpretations
of the negative meant to make the best possible print in this
exciting new medium. It is only in the past two years that inksets
and printing hardware have been available to produce monochrome
digital prints that meet my standards for both beauty and longevity.
I "print" the scanned file-work on the tonal balance
of the picture-using Photoshop on a Macintosh computer, and
"output" the file with an Epson Pro Stylus 4800 printer
using highly stable pigment inks on cotton paper prepared for
digital printing. Getting the print exactly the way I want it
is a process of trial and error, quite similar to procedures
in the traditional silver or platinum darkroom. Many of these
pictures were made long before digital printing reached its
current level of maturity. The 7x17 negatives were too big to
enlarge with traditional optical equipment, so it has been a
fascinating experience to print the panoramic pictures at twice
the size of the negative, twice the size I ever expected to
print them. Details that I studied carefully while making the
pictures, but lost track of in contact (same size) prints suddenly
jump out at me, a pleasant surprise. The pictures are also available
as limited edition, hand-made platinum contact prints, a medium
that dates back to the 1870s but remains unsurpassed for richness
and subtlety of tone.