Urban Exploration Before it Had a Name
Photographs and Stories
by John Bendel

That’s me, 32 years old taking a picture of myself on the old Ford pier in Edgewater, N.J. It was in October of 1974.

American was changing. We were buying cars and TV sets from former enemies in Japan and Germany. The plants that once built them here had closed, so had the industries that supported them. Once mighty railroads had faltered, merged, and failed anyway. The year began with an Arab oil embargo that demonstrated just how dependent we were on them. We waited in long lines for gasoline while independent truckers blocked highways in spectacular protests. The economy was dropping into a deep recession.

In 1974, domestic industries and the middle class had rolled out of New York on an interstate highway system that was not even 20 years old. The city itself was on the verge of bankruptcy. In and around the great east coast cities, 1974 was a year between eras. The new one had not yet taken shape. All around were remnants of the old. In the fall of 1974 I began exploring and photographing those remnants. Today we call that urban exploring. If it had a name then, it was simply called “trespassing.”

Forgive me for beginning with an earlier picture. This was Colden Street in Newburgh, N.Y, in 1970 waiting for the bulldozers. Urban renewal from the 1950s into the 1970s turned out to be a very bad idea. Newburgh, where it failed miserably, became a prime example. This was the earliest shot I took of abandonment.


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