I don’t really have a death wish, it just seems that way. For the last eight years, my photographs have captured a fictional urban landscape focusing on what’s left after: an aquarium after a flood, a church after a fire, a beauty parlor after…who knows what? Mankind is gone, and what remains are fragments of vacant buildings, a few slowly being reclaimed by nature.
These photos began their lives as complex dioramas sculpted out of foam board, paint, plaster and wood. Built in great detail from scratch, the structures reflect their previous inhabitants’ daily lives before the unspecified disasters struck.
As a child growing up in 1970s western Kansas, I personally experienced tornados, floods, blizzards and drought. Since I had my parents to worry about the danger, these calamities just excited me. I also grew up on a steady diet of 1970s television and film. Saturday night meant The Carol Burnett Show, and my small town of Norton, population 3,500, had a single movie house that showed a genre that was popular at the time: dystopian cinema. It was in this small theater reeking of popcorn and sticky floors that I watched movies such as Towering Inferno, Earthquake and Airport 1975 when I was only about 6 years old. I believe this had a profound effect on the art I create today. My work can be described as disaster mixed with subtle humor.
I began The City after moving to New York in 1999. The series imagines what New York City would look like if mankind suddenly disappeared. The exact cause for the desertion is left vague. Was it a natural disaster, a virus, global warming, war? A few images hint at the destructive history of the space—a library dome crushed by a tornado or a subway car filled with sand. To me, imagining something so catastrophic is both chilling and exciting. It makes me wonder about my own survival instincts.
Because my work features a model and not a real place, it creates a safe space to think about these larger ideas of disaster. Buildings are not only structures to protect us from wind and rain, but also examples of man’s creativity, skill and ambition. Time and Mother Nature become the great equalizer in these deserted spaces. Grand cultural chambers acquire the same gritty patina as the local laundromat or industrial control room. While somber at first glance, the details in the scenes reveal the optimism, ambitions and even humor of the previous inhabitants.