Saturday, August 16, 2014

Abandoned wood schoolhouse: Crosby, Mississippi

While driving on Highway 33 through the Homochitto National Forest in southwestern Mississippi, you pass through the small town of Crosby. It is pretty quiet. The photograph above shows the view towards Oak Street.

Just east of 33, a driveway leads up an incline to a parking lot. This is the site of the Old Crosby School House. It was closed and unoccupied as of January 2014, and a commercial real estate company had it listed for sale.
This was a long, low wood-frame building with cheerful windows facing the north to let in plenty of light (compare and contrast with modern super schools, which look like windowless penitentiaries to me).
This was the door on the east side, facing Oak Street.
The south side was a mirror image of the north, with tall windows. I wonder if the building originally had girls' and boys' sides, separated by an interior wall?
I did not go in but took this photograph through a window. I can't tell if this shows original tongue-and-groove walls or if someone put paneling up over the original walls. I emailed the Realtor about the site. She wrote back that the school was built in 1945-50 and had recently been used as residential. It was rented to a family for about 12 years, but had been vacant for a year after they moved. Current status: unknown. If any reader has information, please add to the comments.

A few minutes to the south is Coles, Mississippi, a town that appears to be drying up entirely. I wrote about Coles earlier this year (click the link).

Photographs taken with a Fujifilm X-E1 digital camera. Black and white processed in-camera or using PhotoNinja.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Philadelphia Underground

Like most historic East Coast U.S. cities, Philadelphia has a well-developed infrastructure of rail lines and subways running in and through the city. When railroads developed in the mid-1800s, connecting the major cities was an obvious goal, and, once the rail networks had been laid, the train was the fastest way to travel along the Eastern Seaboard. Ships and ferries still existed, but they were subject to weather delays, although a luxury cabin may have been more comfortable than a smoky, bumpy, noisy train. Regardless, rail companies got concessions to lay rails into the heart of cities, and, with their growing wealth after the Civil War, built ornate train stations.

Philadelphia's train stations are pretty business-like, without much ornamentation. But they work, carrying thousands of commuters every day. Take the SEPTA train or subway through Philadelphia, and you enter an odd underground world. It is pretty tame today compared to the 1970s, but is still interesting.
The SEPTA is a convenient ride into town from the airport. Much of the way, the line is above-ground.
Suburban Station is an oddly prosaic name. It once had more of an above-ground presence, but now is a confusing mess of underground passages and tunnels.
Businesses of the underworld.
Emerge from the underground, and here is City Hall. I wrote about this ornate Second Empire-style building in a previous article.
Night falls, and here are some of Philadelphia's denizens of the evening all dressed up and nowhere to go. The elegant lady in the tan safari dress is ready to head off to the Serengeti.
All too soon, it is time to return to Suburban Station and make our way back to the airport.
This is the 30th Street Station, where Amtrak and commuter rail lined merge or cross. It is not very glamorous compared to the extravagant Union Station in Chicago (please see the previous article).

Photographs taken with a Nexus 4 telephone.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Black and White in Chicago

In March of 1914, Carl Sandburg penned a famous poem in Poetry about Chicago:

Hog Butcher for the World,
   Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,
   Player with Railroads and the Nation's Freight Handler;
   Stormy, husky, brawling,
   City of the Big Shoulders:

Chicago today is no longer the world's hog butcher, but it still is the nation's freight handler and a city of big shoulders, with a stunning lakefront and ambitious proud architecture. Let us take a short tour from east to west, starting at the sophisticated shore of Lake Michigan and proceeding to the northwest suburbs.

First, a gorgeous sunset view of the skyline, taken from the Shedd Aquarium, where I was attending a private reception. You can rent the aquarium if you want to host an event. They will feed the otters for you. The park in the distance beyond the marina is Millennium Park.
Millennium Park is an oasis of grass, trees, and breezes when you emerge from the skyscraper jungle. The silver tubes are part of the Pritzker Pavilion, where concerts are held throughout the summer.

Much of this land along the lake is fill, built during the grand reconstruction of the lakefront from the 1920s through the 1940s. This was part of the implementation of the Burnham Plan, the popular name for the ambitious 1909 Plan of Chicago, co-authored by Daniel Burnham and Edward H. Bennett. This 1929 aerial photograph shows construction of Northerly Island, with Grant Park in the upper right (photograph from U.S. Army Corps of Engineers). All the flat land is artificially-placed fill.  The Shedd Aquarium is the domed building in the center, the location from where I took the first photograph in this article.
I wrote earlier how Chicago is a rail hub. These are the Metra commuter tracks running literally next to the Art Institute of Chicago. These trains run south and east into Indiana.
These are the Divvy bicycles that you rent at one station and can deposit at another location. The Mayor got the idea during a visit to Paris. The Divvy plan started in Chicago in 2013.
Look west towards the city, and you see the thin lady statue.

She resembles the thin lady I saw in Venice last summer - possibly the same artist?

Start walking west on East Adams, and you see interesting geometric patterns in the fire escapes.
This escape was directly across West Quincy Street (really just an alley) from my hotel window. So I did have a view.
The city has plenty of trendy young people - all checking with their phones. Isn't the activity of the city enough?
Continue west on West Adams and you cross the Chicago River. This is a Federal navigation project and there is still some barge traffic on it. During the day, tourist excursion boats and water taxis ferry people about.
Continue a block west and you reach the monumental Chicago Union Station. This huge Beaux-Arts-style building with massive Corinthian columns opened in 1925, replacing an 1881 station at the same site. This was built near the end of the era when railroads were the most powerful and rich corporations in America. But even then, automobiles were carrying more and more people, and by the opening of World War II, most US passenger railroads were running at a loss. The Chicago Union Station is still the 3rd busiest rail terminal in the United States, and, according to Wikipedia, handles about 120,000 passengers on an average weekday.
The monumental Great Hall is a 110-foot (34 m)-high atrium capped by a large barrel-vaulted skylight. Once, thousands of commuters and long-distance travelers passed through this hall daily. Smaller spaces contain restaurants and services, and various passageways lead off the Hall.
 One of the subterranean buffets might have been lifted from a 1940s movie set.
Walk way down and you reach the tracks. They parallel the Chicago River. Years ago, I took the Amtrak sleeper to Mississippi, and it pulled out of Union Station and took a convoluted route, following the Metra lines south past Hyde Park. The complicated route underscored how much train infrastructure exists in Chicago.
Let's take the subway to O'Hare Airport. This is the Blue Line station on Monroe. It is called the "L", but is underground here.
As the L reaches the suburbs, it is elevated. This is the Damen station.
 And this is the California station.
The view from the L shows the nature of many of the inner suburbs: 2- and 3-floor row houses built in the 1920s-1940s at modest cost - designed to house workers in a growing industrial city. My 2012 article on South Chicago shows other working-class neighborhoods.
Finally we reach O'Hare Airport, one of the busiest in the world. It is much nicer than I remember from a couple of decades ago, but it is still a hassle to travel by air nowadays. Anything flies nowadays. At least you can catch a non-stop to Europe or Asia.

I took most of the photographs with a FujiFilm X-E1 digital camera with a Fuji 18-55mm zoom lens, opened the RAW files with Adobe Camera Raw, and processed the files with DxO Filmpack 3. For most, I used the Kodak Tri-X emulation, with slightly reduced grain and mild toning. Next time, I will use real Tri-X.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Bombay Beach - Apocalypse in Monochrome

Dear Readers, one of my readers suggested that the color processed photographs of Bombay Beach in my previous article looked a bit odd and that this site really should be black and white. So let us try again. I did not have a real (film) camera with me, but I reprocessed many of the RAW files with DxO Filmpack 3 to simulate Kodak's famous Tri-X film.
Bombay Beach is a former resort/trailer court on the eastern shore of the Salton Sea, in Imperial county, California. To reach it, drive on California Highway 111 along the barren desert east of the Sea, and turn west on Avenue A.  
Well, it does not look too bad. There is a store and mailboxes. Human habitation, perhaps?
Oops, the view from Avenue A becomes a bit grim. To the north, beyond the one bush, is a dry and featureless plain.
To the south, well, it was trailer heaven once upon a time.
The gate leads to a sizeable deserted parking lot at the plage. They were optimistic.
Continue to the end of Avenue A, and the levee protects the town from flooding. Drive up onto the levee, and the land beyond is a mess of twisted trailer and collapsed sheds. It looks like the debris I saw along the Mississippi coast after Hurricane Katrina, but the Salton Sea does not have hurricanes.  Very odd.
In the water, the pilings are encrusted with salt, and the beach sediment consists of fish bone rubble. 
At least someone had fun with this old chimney.
Back in town, Fifth Street was the waterfront (levee-front?) corniche. Maybe the graffiti is more interesting.

Turn back inland along Avenue G. Someone collected classic Volkswagen Beetles. Rather cool. Someone else collected classic tires. Less cool. 
The well-known western author, Harold Bell Wright, wrote a novel about the formation of the present Salton Sea, The Winning of Barbara Worth.  I have not read it yet, but my daughter borrowed it from her local library. Her opinion was that it is one of those novels that doesn't age well. It lacks the pace or writing style that modern readers find interesting, but it does give an interesting window into the attitudes of the day. The primary assumption of the characters in the book is that by "reclaiming" the desert and making it fertile and lush, they are somehow doing a great work for the world or for God or something. The desert was something that was "broken" and had to be fixed. It is rather shocking to think that this was the attitude that caused us to make huge alterations to the West, and that a mere 100 years can shift attitudes so drastically.
Also, Barbara inspires all the desert reclamation workers by her "pure essence of womanhood" or something like that. Well, times have changed...
My daughter brought me to Bombay (she knows my photographic interests). The ground-level photographs were taken with a Fuji X-E1 digital camera, with RAW files processed with Adobe Camera Raw and DxO Filmpack 3.