AGregory Halpern(J&L Books, 2011)
A is a region, a condition, an encounter—it’s the old industrial cities of America’s Rust Belt, the post-productive manufacturing powerhouses of Baltimore, Cincinnati, Detroit and Pittsburgh. Known once as the ‘foundry of the nation,’ these economically depressed cities are the decaying and impoverished industrial carcasses that form Halpern’s experience of a dilapidated union.
What happens to a place and a people when hope is lost? When production, prosperity and ambition are replaced by the plague of despair, fear and decline? Halpern discovers a scarred urban wilderness and a narrative that is as intricate as it is desperate. As the photographer notes, “Our surroundings are complex…to the point of being visually or verbally indescribable. I want my photographs to reflect that impossibility, to respond to that complexity and create an equally complex, perhaps impenetrable, thing.”
Gregory Halpern’s portrait is indiscriminate; it is a journey through an American post-industrial experience, and the resulting imagery makes no reference to the individual cities he encounters– it doesn’t need to. The locations are anonymous, unvisited and redundant destinations, and the buildings and the people that inhabit A are exhausted, ignored and desolate—an unwanted footnote in America’s industrial history.
Nostalgia has been wrenched from Halpern’s America and any form of hope is difficult to discover in this enigmatic body of work. There is a threatening aggressiveness that lingers in these images, and the potential of violence lurks in every frame. However, there is a tender beauty in much of the decay, and amongst the cities’ rot, there is a resolve—a will to survive, and in the darkness, maybe even a desire to hope.