Now that the Most Endangered Properties 20th Anniversary Photography Exhibit is now open I can share my contribution and how it was done. This year I took on the task of photographing three sites where the endangered property could not be saved. These are the former sites of the Grove Street school, Fruit Hill school and Providence Fruit and Produce warehouse. Two locations are currently empty lots and the third has some new commercial development. A full history of each site can be found here.
I took an approach with these locations to layer the current state with what was lost using in camera montage. Each space was photographed on a roll (two rolls) of 35mm film. I chose not to go with just one set point of view, rather I walked the site and recorded what saw and what interested me as I explored the space. I moved from wide views to details, looking for good coverage and nice juxtapositions. The film was then rewound, leaving just the leader exposed and identified by site.
Back in the studio I set up for basic copy photography, mounting the camera on a vertical stand and swapping in a macro lens. I had previously collected vintage images of each site, in the case of the Produce Warehouse I used my own images from the 1990s. I used archive images of the two schools including some vintage postcards. On each site I had about a half dozen different archival images to choose from. I used 5x7 prints of each. I then reloaded the film and cycled through the various images, sometimes altering cropping and exposure.
I then crossed my fingers and processed the film in the darkroom. I easily could have done this digitally but one of the wonderful aspects of shooting film is to open your work up to an element of chance. I always look for ways that I can introduce the "happy accident" or employ a chance operation. There is risk, but in risk their can be reward. Happily I felt I was rewarded here.
Astute photo history people no doubt notice that I was inspired in this by the work of the master photographer Harry Callahan. In the 1960s during his tenure as the head of the photo program at RISD he did an amazing series of in camera montages, photographing, most appropriately. in downtown Providence among other places. The image above features the storefront windows of Shepards department store. The Shepards building was one of the very first properties on the MEP list and happily has been saved.
As I was working on deadline, I hedged my bets and shot each site in a more conventional way. It never hurts to have a backup plan. These were also shot on film, this time on 120 format using a Graflex SLR. This type of camera lends itself to a low point of view which seemed appropriate to me for these vacant sites, especially the former school locations.