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
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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