Continuing the Small Town Pennsylvania Series.
All photographs taken with the X100, X-Pro1 and 18mm, 35mm and 56mm lenses.
Click on images to view in gallery and light-box modes.
This is McKean County, Pennsylvania. Once the Allegheny hills were a forest of oil derricks, stretching as far as the eye could see along the ridges and valleys between Bradford, Olean, Kane and Smethport. But then after the second world war the Mid-West oil industry collapsed when richer and easier pickings were found elsewhere. Now the trees have returned to the hills of McKean County, where they tactfully mask the industrial scars of old leaking pipes and rusting machinery. Here in the deep forest you hike and hunt alone at your peril. Folk have fallen through the rotting boards covering the shafts of old oil wells. A sudden snap and then a long agonising tumble, a broken leg and no phone reception - miles from civilisation. So I made sure I stuck to the roadside for my photography.
But still, here and there nestled in isolated pockets on the winding country roads, industry survives. Smoke rises from the stacks. Steam boils from the pipes. You can hear the hum of machinery and the clanking of gears and wheels. This is rust belt America, but here and there you can see signs of recovery. The county capital of Bradford may have lost half her population in the crash that followed the 1940's, but unlike the deprived ex-mining communities in the valleys of South Wales there's still hope.
Rust the dirty red of dried blood. Tarmac a blue slick bruise. A bright overcast sky like bleached bone and metal glinting before a tartan backdrop of autumn trees. This is the colour of industry in North Western Pennsylvania.
And then there's the tangle of wires threading the tilted telegraph poles, the snaking pipes and towering chimney stacks. You walk back and forth, shifting position until all these elements break apart from each other and the scene falls into place - like actors finding their marks upon a stage.
Colour and composition making a strange, brutal sort of beauty that I find it oddly compelling.
Good Cars Go to Heaven
I pull away from the factory, take a road steeply sloping up the hillside. I crest the ridge and the road plunges away snaking crazily through a series of tight valleys. Here and there sits an isolated homestead, trapped in the eternal shade of the densely wooded, high hills. In many rural counties you can find cars choking the riverbanks, having been pushed off the side of the road and rolled on down towards the overgrown shadows of the canopied river bed. But here between Smethport and Bradford old cars have a kinder fate. I spy them from the car window, scattered like rusting cattle in an open field, proudly displayed for all photographers to enjoy.
Oh wait, 'No Trespassing'. Blood and sand. I decide not to risk further blows to the head this holiday - or worse yet a shotgun blast - and stick to shooting from the grass verge, keeping shy of the gate.
There's no denying it. Cars looked cooler back then.
Going Against the Grain
In the centre of Bradford sits a giant series of concrete grain silos. No longer in use, they stand there sullenly, having shrugged off the attempts by puny humans to destroy them with dynamite. They were simply too well constructed to be destroyed, apparently the explosives just bounced off. And I can't see nature beating them down any century soon either. So there they will remain, like giant tombs. And man will have to muddle on around them as best he can.
This is one of the glorious things about having a nation as big as America, you can just afford to walk away from such things and redevelop some place else. And when things decay, they decay with style.
Beauty is where you find it. Ugliness waits only for that special light to transform it into something quite striking. The way the early evening sun brushed its light upon the face of the cylinders, leaving the contours wrapped in shadow - well, it's a simple thing but it gives me pleasure.
I hope you enjoyed this little rust belt pilgrimage. Stick around for more upcoming Fuji X-Ploits this year, with further small town America stuff and a return to the wind and rain of winter Wales!