A look at the unused spaces within Hope High School.Read More
A Christmas Eve post for all my friends at the FP-4+ Party & to good people everywhere.
Erudite Vulcan, quondam forger of alliances, uniter of distant lands, close confidant to power brokers and the crafters of contract, acquisition and merger. No boardroom portrait was complete with out you, shoulder to shoulder you stood with the principals, yet discreet, name never mentioned. There was a time when no wheel could turn on the nation’s rails without you, but that was long ago.
Now you find yourself struck from the masthead, unwelcome in the corridors of power, banished from the corporate style guide. You’ve been done in by the manufactured word, the brittle acronym, the awkward portmanteau. Reduced to sleeping rough on a park bench and to endure the worst indignity of all: spelling your name out in full.
How the mighty doth fall.
"Give me your license and meet me there".Read More
I will have more to say on this over the coming months but I'm excited to share this news. Erik Carlson and I have been awarded a Rhode Island Council for the Humanities grant to create a performance piece about our 1997 Gorham Manufacturing Co. complex documentation. This is in partnership with UPP Arts and Holly Ewald who first envisioned the project.
This means the photogaphs I made will get scanned and made available digitally. I'm thrilled about this, Gorham had such a central role in the growth and reputation of Providence as a manufacturing and design center. The work Gorham produced, especially the fine silver, occupies a prominent place in the collection of the RISD Museum, my employer. I will be very busy making new photographs of that silver collection for the major book and show the museum is planning for 2019. My photographic career seems to be intertwined with Gorham and I'm excited about this latest chapter.
A walk through the East Side railroad tunnel
A few weeks ago I had the chance to walk the length (and record sound) of the former New Haven Railroad tunnel that lies beneath the historic streets of Providence's east side. It is a very interesting walking experience. The only entrance is from the east portal, just below Gano Street. There is a good amount of standing water there both outside the portal and within, probably close to a foot deep. The portals have been blocked up with steel panels but attempts to keep the tunnel totally closed are regularly thwarted, in fact it looks as though someone with a torch cut a small door in one side. Aside from what light comes through the door and the gaps in the steel it is very dark and very cool. Although it was built for two tracks only one remains and the roof is very high, probably to accommodate the electric catenary that once was strung above one of the tracks.
The water recedes some as you travel west, the ballasted road bed is mostly dry with small streams along both walls. The line is very straight, and only hooks near the western end. The walls are decorated with graffiti and there are the scattered remains of many adventures and parties, and the rusted hulk of one abandoned car. Near the western portal sunlight streams through gaps in the steel panels and again there is deep standing water on the tracks.
Water drips constantly and reverberates throughout the tunnel. There is a sulfur smell in the air and in places it seems very cave like with stalactites hanging from the roof and partnered stalagmites forming on the rail bed and in one spot on the top of the rail. There is no way out on the western side down below Benefit street so it's a there and back walk. The distance one way is a little more than a mile. Bring rubber boots and flashlights and don't go alone. It is state property and technically it is trespassing so take care.
A number of years ago I put this research together for an exhibition. East Side Monthly thought so much of it that they lifted it whole and published it without credit as part of a story they did on the tunnel, just in case it seems familiar.
The East Side railroad tunnel opened with much fanfare on November 15th, 1908. Tunnel laborers held a small demonstration and the story headlined that Sunday's Providence Journal. On that day the emperor of China died, Governor Higgins issued the annual Thanksgiving proclamation and a somber ceremony marking the closing of the Fox Point railroad station followed the last "transfer car" downtown. The Fox Point station had served the city for 73 years but had been made obsolete by the tunnel which would bring trains directly in to Union Station on Exchange Terrace.
The tunnel project had begun two years before, on the 20th of April, 1906. Also on that day a streetcar jumped track on Plainfield Street and a massive fire following an earthquake destroyed most of the city of San Francisco. Crews working east from Benefit Street. and west from Gano Street met below Cooke Street on April 7, 1908, a day earlier than expected. The night shift of the westerly section won the honors for digging the farthest in one shift, and every one was given the next day off. On that day the New York Conference of Methodists rescinded a long standing ban on dancing.
Originally the tunnel had two tracks, one of which was electrified, as the line to Bristol and Fall River was served by electric interurban cars until 1934. The tunnel also provided a route to Boston for trains that did not need to stop at Pawtucket. Traffic patterns changed, the second track was removed in the 1950's and the tunnel became a route for freight trains only. The line to Bristol was abandoned in 1976. In 1981 ownership of the tunnel itself was transferred to the State of Rhode Island and the last train traveled through it shortly after that. No ceremony was noted.
On May 1st. 1993, a group of students gathered at the western portal below Benefit Street for a May Day party. They lit fires, put on animal masks, pounded on drums until early the next morning, when police arrived. Fearing the activities in the tunnel were unsafe, they attempted to get the students to leave. The situation escalated quickly as some students refused to go, the police responded with pepper spray and the students answered with rocks and bricks. The ensuing melee ended with many injuries and a badly damaged police car, and the police charge in the next day's paper that they had encountered "satanic rituals". As a result the portals on both ends were sealed up with steel doors, which soon were forced open.
The Benefit St. Armory was moved to its present location to make way for the tunnel. The building was leased by the state to the Providence Marine Corps of Artillery, an organized military company, for a term of one thousand years from June 23, 1852, at a yearly rental of six and a quarter cents. The military company wished to maintain this lease arrangement rather than have a new building built, so the New Haven Railroad made the necessary land purchases and moved the armory building with mule teams and logs.
The cost of the project, which included the bridge over the Seekonk river and the approach to Union station was two million dollars. No casualties were reported during construction. The area surrounding the west portal, the scene of the "student riot" is now a parking lot.
Making the photographs for the 2015 Most Endangered Properities show.Read More
PPS MEP20 Exhibit Opening.Read More
I have a number of questions about the proposed Providence streetcar line as many people do, most of which can be summed up as "what the hell?". The route is an interesting choice. It seems like a nice gift to Brown to tie together their two growing campuses or campii if I may. That gets me thinking that we shouldn't stop and there and I've come up with a few other ideas along those lines. Johnson and Wales could have a water taxi to bring together their downtown home at the Hall of Justice with the ever expanding Harborside campus. Providence College doesn't seem to need much more than better late night food delivery so each student can be given a four year Foodler account. RISD can have a mag-lev elevated line. It wouldn't actually go anywhere as each stop would be self-referential but it would look really cool and the wayfinding graphics would be elegantly incomprehensible. Finally, I propose a high speed rail link for URI from downtown to Kingston. As no one in Rhode Island would ever consider a trip of such distance, that one can remain theoretical, with only a modest perpetual taxpayer investment. I'm ready to jump on this band wagon before it leaves the station to get my ticket punched to cross the bridge to the future, how about you?
This post first appeared on the Endangered Places, Emerging Stories blog of the Providence Preservation Society. The post can be found here, along with other interesting pieces on buildings lost, saved and on the bubble in Providence.
Harris Avenue was one of the very first places I would explore in Providence shortly after I arrived in 1992. I can clearly recall the first trip out with the 4x5 camera to that part of town. A spring afternoon, Sunday, the sun clear and warm. Red brick, dusty streets and not a soul around. The area felt ignored and forgotten, as if time had slowed to a crawl. Activity ceased or barely persisting in the evidence of one or two boxcar loads on a siding and a scattering of trucks at a few loading docks. Perfect for me and my slow camera. Plenty of time and none. For if there had been little change over the previous 25 years on Harris Ave. the next 25 would be otherwise.
There were several structures of interest that together made up the fabric of the district, held together by railroad tracks and the river channel. An ivy covered signal tower from the New Haven railroad era, a single story track side warehouse with a curving wooden dock, the hulking Providence Cold Storage warehouse, and the iconic Silver Top diner.
Anchoring the street was the concrete art deco of the Providence Fruit and Produce Warehouse. Long (almost 900 feet) and low it was built in 1929 when rail was king to hold produce unloaded from boxcars for distribution through the city. In 1992 there was some activity but it was hardly a bustling place. One by one these places were pulled from the fabric, torn down or in the case of the Silver Top, moved. The space itself was intruded upon by new highway off ramps.
When the warehouse was finally pulled down in 2008 I wrote this: ...[the warehouse] has great value because it connects us to our past, it is real in a way that buildings like the Providence Place Mall will never be. This is our heritage, built for an honest hard working purpose, not a sham echo of something it is not. This is not a decorated box, which is almost surely what we will get in the place of the warehouse." The rest of this rather angry blog post can be found here.
So far all we get in place of what might have been is an empty lot. Perhaps it could have become the year round farmers market that Providence so desperately needs. Perhaps not. Although tons of produce still moves by rail it is not the fruit and veg that the new farm to table trade is built on. Perhaps it could have been arts space. We'll never know. Looking at these pictures reminds me that the only time we have is now, and if we wish to maintain a connection to the past we have to work at it, or all that will remain is a photograph. That said, you can view more photographs here.
Walking the hidden landscape of the Moshassuck river.Read More
As I have been putting this website together I've been going through the archives here at the Rhode Island Photographic Survey office looking for hidden treasure and rescanning old favorites. I've been paying attention recently to places that have been on Providence Preservation Society's Most Endangered list.
One of those sites is one that sadly has been torn down: the Providence Fruit and Produce warehouse that was on Harris Ave. I have scanned a number of images but this one caught my eye. Not because it's such a great image but because of a small detail that I've only just noticed now (or perhaps I had forgotten).
I call your attention to the upper right quadrant:
When this photo was taken in 1998 they had just begun to demolish the Providence Cold Storage building. This was the massive brick building behind the Silver Top diner. See the photo at the top of this post. The sign on the roof that spelled out the words Providence Cold Storage was dismantled letter by letter. Here only the "O" remains. "O". Zero, no time left on the clock for this piece of Providence.
Photographs by Erik Gould, Adrienne Adeyemi and Sothdra Nguon-Devereaux
Audio recordings by Adrienne and Sothdra, audio montage edited by Erik
This photo essay is a collaboration of sorts between myself and two students I worked with while as a mentor at New Urban Arts, an arts based after school program for Providence high school students. Both Sothdra and Adrienne had assisted me on a project I did in partnership with NUA called the Providence Project. This was a neighborhood by neighborhood photo survey of Providence. We talked many times of going to take pictures of the Broad Street food trucks but during the time of the Providence Project we never did it. I so enjoyed doing photography with the two of them that during the summer before they both went on to pursue college careers we did a number of photo outings. Jesse Banks, studio manager at NUA, good friend and NUA alum also joined in. This trip to Broad Street was one of those outings.
On beautiful Providence July evening Jesse, Adrienne, Sothdra and I set out for Broad Street on Providence's South side to visit the Chimi trucks that set up there nightly. These mobile food vendors park along a stretch of Broad Street from Trinity Square to the Cranston line. I have long had an interest in these food trucks, they seem emblematic to me of new Americans making their way in business, working with what they know and what they have, free of corporate franchises. As a photographer I'm always on the look out for the hand-painted sign and the owner-operated business, that's where you the best stuff. We found a lively energy around these trucks and in the various shops up and down the street. People gathered to talk and hang out, guys with flashy cars would come by to show off. Music came from all over.
We talked about the contrast between that energy and the more subdued atmosphere we found in some other city neighborhoods we had photographed, which are really just a few blocks away. That is something else that I notice about Providence: Providence people keep to their own neighborhoods and they often don't know much of what's happening a few streets away. The Chimi truck scene couldn't be more public but I think many people who live in other neighborhoods would have no idea what I mean if I asked "what do you know about La Casa Del Chimi?" Well, I'm no Chimi expert either so that's why we went over to check it out. As for the Chimi sandwich itself, just like the hot dogs at the ballpark, all food tastes better when eaten out of doors on a summer night.
This piece is also an example of another idea: looking at one scene or one event from multiple points of view and with different recording media. Here we have 4 photographers, one with a big 8x10 camera on a tripod, the other's with more mobile cameras and digital audio recordings. These different sources reflect our individual points of view and also explore the ways that different materials produce different renditions of seemingly the same subject. This aspect of documenting the documentation and looking at how the actions of recording can change the event is something I have often examined and is central to much of my recent work. The 8x10 camera always attracts attention and Sothdra and Adrienne quickly became pros and dealing with interested onlookers while I got my pictures. Recording digital audio was originally Adrienne's idea and came out of many such experiences we had with passers by and the humorous, interesting and sometimes crazy remarks we would often get. The audio here captures street noise, conversation, music, and the steady roar of the Chimi truck generators. Inexplicably it also includes me saying the name "Pee Wee Herman." Have a listen.
Intimations of Spring
We replaced the regular camera in this photographer's bike bag with one made from a decaf coffee can. Let's see what happens:
The camera has my preferred 3 pinhole set up. I drill holes in the can and spray paint the inside flat black. I make pinholes in cinefoil which is just black aluminum foil, and then taped those in on the inside. Black tape for a shutter and all done. It's just that easy.
I use photo paper to make paper negatives. This time out I've been trying different ways to reduce contrast so i can get some better tonality in the images. Photo paper is made to be exposed to lamps in the 3200K range. This is multigrade paper and in normal printing you manipulate the contrast by exposing through colored filters, altering the color of light over a range from magenta to yellow. So I taped some yellow filtration behind the pinholes to cut down on the blue (high contrast) light reaching the paper. I had some success.
I also diluted the paper developer by half to slow the process down and give lighter tones a chance to develop, which is only fair.
These pictures were made mostly along my bike commute in various locations in Providence, RI. September 2014.
Opening on Saturday February 1st. Providence in Silver: photographs by John Nanian, Warren Eve, Paul Shelasky and Erik Gould @AS220 Project Space, Providence RI.
I'm very excited to be part of this group show and to show some new work. 40 photographs with text and audio.
to walk the Moshassuck River, only 8.9 miles in length, flowing from Lincoln RI to the bay at Providence. Used and abused, this river makes its way almost unseen through a built landscape including former textile mills, a casket factory, three cemeteries, a major rail line and an interstate highway.
I relate my experience in photographs, words and field audio.
"Even under the open sky it is difficult to see and to get to, well guarded by a thicket of trees and vines and exit ramps. There's water there? Hiding in plain sight until comes a rainy spring and with great flood announces to the unlucky that although it may be your house or workshop YES indeed: a river flows (temporarily) through it..."
book on Blurb:
Well, to start, I didn't take a vacation... I worked for Providence instead. I lead a team of young photographers as part of a city Summer Youth Employment program. Because of the recession the city expanded the summer programs to include the arts. Go Providence!
This is the City Photo Crew.
Over 8 weeks in July and August went all over the city shooting digital photos, videos and instant film.
Thank you to Yessenia, Jossmill, Amber, Markia, Kenny and Hayden. Thanks too to my assistants Hannah and Brett. Lots of work and Lots of fun.
Check out the work on our youtube channel. follow the link or tune in to 09photocrew.
For more info on the city program follow this linkage: press release
also, the Mayor's wrap up press conference. mayor speaks
and I have to give a shout out to my fellow project artists: the tapeart crew. They did some amazing things with their group check it out here. Look at Ocean Riser... incredible!
All this and more possible in part because of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act -- The Stimulus Program.
Well, it's happening, the Providence Fruit and Produce Warehouse is coming down. Shortly after the Judge gave the go ahead demolition began. How is it that it can take months to get a contractor going on even the smallest of projects yet there always seems to be a demolition crew ready to go at a moments notice. Weekends, holidays, midnight? No problem.
Demolition was forced to pause for a little bit when Eric Bright and Clay Rockefeller (and their dogs) climbed on to the roof. They were hoping to buy some time for a State appeal, but no appeal was filed. Nice try anyway, guys. Good to see someone from PPS get involved and get out there, seems like a while since they have been vocal on a demolition issue.
A lot of questions remain around this case. What did the developer agree to regarding preservation? How does a structure become so "unsound" so quickly? With a State budget in crisis and furloughs looming, why does a property get sold at a price below its value on the basis of a vague promise to redevelop?
Finally, why does it seem that the ProJo always comes down on the wrong side of an issue? In two pieces in today's opinion section they make it clear that they only care about pretty buildings that rich people once lived in. In the editorial they state "We shed no tears for the 79-year-old structure..." while at the same time bemoaning the fact that a parking lot now occupies the site of the former Police and Fire headquarters. Well, if you do nothing, don't be surprised when buildings are razed.
The column by David Brussart expands on this narrow-minded vision (expand on narrow-mindedness?). He states flatly: "Don't save the produce terminal". Basing his judgement on the evidence of a few renderings he dismisses out of hand any idea of adaptive reuse. He states "So if its exterior were no longer going to look as it did when it was still in use, then what good would it be as a historical artifact? Not much." I say, a lot. First, I reject the idea that it would not be possible to maintain the look of the building in reuse. The extreme proportions, the art deco elements cast into the exterior, the distinctive profile of the roof line, all of this could be kept quite recognizable. No one is looking to keep the building as a museum piece. Secondly, it has great value because it connects us to our past, it is real in a way that buildings like the Providence Place Mall will never be. This is our heritage, built for an honest hard working purpose, not a sham echo of something it is not. This is not a decorated box, which is almost surely what we will get in the place of the warehouse. This building has character which could be imparted onto a new enterprise. People could go there once again to do things and in so doing they could look around and understand what people once did, and perhaps feel some connection to those who came before.
Brussart also states that the building should come down because it isn't beautiful. Well, I disagree, and so do many others, judging by the comments on Urban Planet. Anyway, that is in the eye of the beholder for sure. As to his other points, I'll finish with a particularly idiotic passage where he says: "If you can’t demolish a building like the produce warehouse, what can you demolish? Yet, to construct new buildings without threatening more and more green space requires demolishing existing buildings. Better they be ugly ones." So this building has to come down to protect green space. Tree hugger.
David, do you want to demolish some buildings? I suggest almost anything on Route 2 from Cranston to South County would be a good start. Leave the properties on the National Register of Historic Places alone.