I’ve decided to write a series of posts on photographing abandoned and decaying subjects. Since much of my fine art photography focuses on forgotten objects and places in the landscape I wanted to share what draws me to make these pictures. This is not a “Weird NJ” thing but a serious subject of my fine art photography, with a deep connection to me as an individual and artist. The subject matter consists of things that have interested me for most of my life so they are topics of substance that also have a history, and researching that is another aspect of my work. For this first installment I’m looking at the Route 206 Bypass in Hillsborough, New Jersey.
Unfinished highway projects have always held a fascination for me. Two that have long been of interest are Routes 18 and 33 in Monmouth County and I have plans to photograph and write about them soon. More recently, another state highway has appeared on my radar—the Route 206 Bypass in Hillsborough Township, my current place of residence. This project has been in the works for four decades and work was finally began in 2012. I became interested in exploring it when I was looking for new and accessible subject matter for my American Landscape project. The bypass has been sitting unfinished for 5 years and since it’s in close proximity to me I wanted to walk and photograph it.
(UPDATE: Work finally began in late 2018 to finish the north and south connections to the existing roadway, with completion scheduled for Spring 2020.)
Each individual artist has an intimate connection that draws them in…
It’s a wonderfully desolate place where I can experience the isolation I love working in when I make pictures…even when doing commercial photography I prefer to work alone. Since my photography projects are all based on a defined concept, I started thinking a lot about what draws me to these strange places and I came up with the answer: it’s the idea of decay and abandonment, two ideas that compel fine art photographers to seek out, explore, photograph and write about such things. Abandonment is obvious (although in this case it’s not really abandoned) and decay is the way the Earth reclaims anything paved over with our developments…like how grass and weeds are taking over this one.
But there’s more than that; each individual artist has an intimate connection that draws them in for their own reasons. For me it’s partly a love of architecture and certain engineering projects like this one. It’s also about an elated sense of isolation when I’m photographing out in the field; a frame of mind where I feel I’m in a place that no one else can go and where I can be fully present in my photographic process, as photographer Alec Soth talks about in this interview. I feel I’m living ‘on purpose’ and intimately connected with the subject when photographing in this way, being involved with and making the pictures of the things that fascinate and compel me.
And there’s more to this conceptual foundation that I’ve now discovered…
Walking this freeway is a lot like when I’m out sailing on a river or the bay—you’re separated from the traffic and the mad rush of daily life. The sound of tires whirring over bridges becomes muffled to the point that it’s a distant thought…another world that I have escaped temporarily. You become a lone explorer where all is quiet, serene and devoid of any other human presence. There is essentially nothing as far as the eye can see and you feel a hugeness in that space. I feel acutely aware and alive, yet calm. This state of being is addressed in the Tao Te Ching, which I have been reading and studying recently. Most importantly, being in this ‘space’ adds to my ability to think clearly and creatively. As the same verse in the Tao says, when your mind is still the muddied waters will become clear.
Moving forward I will be returning regularly to the bypass to make more pictures and I’m especially excited for the Fall. It’s my favorite time of year and I’ll be out there on the unfinished roadway and also at the south end where they have yet to pave. Walking and photographing it with the trees in bright fall colors, the sun lower in the sky and the days getting shorter, with the serene isolation…that’s where I’ll want to be.
Look for my next post on photographing decay and abandonment, and other posts I have forthcoming on a range of interesting subjects.
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