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
We didn’t call them selfies then. It wasn’t just holding a smartphone at arm’s length and pushing the button. You needed a
tripod and a camera with a self timer. There was no autofocus, so
you had to pre-focus the camera without the subject -- you --
actually in view and hope you got it right. You wouldn’t know for
sure until your film was developed, anywhere from hours to a week
later. It took a bit of skill, some effort, and patience. We
wouldn’t have called the resulting pictures anything so flip as
American was changing in 1974. 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 economy was sliding 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.”
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.
Back to JohnBendel.com