Monday, June 24, 2013


Like a lot of other Midwestern cities founded on an industrial base, Milwaukee enjoyed its greatest commercial expansion from the late 19th century through the middle of the 20th century.  With the decline of heavy industry in the latter part of the 20th century, the city has lagged other cities in architectural development and innovation.  In other words, a lot of Milwaukee's architecture is older and a fair amount is vacant or underutilized and continues to molder.  That's not necessarily a bad thing for architectural photography; it just means that the subject matter may be a bit different.

Not really sure what I was looking for, I found myself back at the old Pabst and Schlitz campuses.  Both campuses are undergoing a slow but palpable revitalization, as a number of commercial (as opposed to industrial) businesses have been moving into renovated buildings that for years had lain vacant.  That's not to say that the renovation is complete, as there are still ample opportunities for images that illustrate a continuing decay.

The foundations of many of the buildings show signs of structural issues that have (or have not) been plastered over, as the two following shots from the Pabst campus illustrate.

And the following, also from the Pabst campus, demonstrate a number of attempts to paint over problems.

Rust presents another opportunity to illustrate decline.

I particularly liked the above shot because, in addition to the obvious rust problem, it illustrates a secondary problem of paint residue running down the piece of sheet iron.  In short, I liked it as an abstract.

Here is another shot, also from the Pabst campus, that I liked.

This was of a window at sidewalk level (if there had been a sidewalk, which had actually disappeared years ago).  The window had originally been "protected" by an iron grillwork which had then been covered over by screening.  More recently, the window had been covered over on the inside by plywood sheeting.  At some point the screen had been torn, leaving the above gash.  I took this shot when the warm light from the evening sun was bathing this west-facing window.  

My regret on this shot is that the gash occupies too much of the overall image.  I wish I had taken a shot with a wider view, leaving more "negative space" around the gash.  This raises the issue of the conflict between, on the one hand, taking a close-up that makes clear to the viewer the primary subject of the shot and, on the other, taking a broader shot that provides a context for the subject.  More often than not, I find myself focusing on the detail that I am interested in at the sacrifice of the larger context.  It is an issue that I have to keep reminding myself of.  The following pair of shots illustrates this idea.  Here, again from the Pabst campus, is a shot that focuses in on the unusual way in which a paint failure manifested itself.

OK as an abstract, perhaps, but I think the following broader shot does a better job of creating a context but without losing sight of the primary subject.

On to the Schlitz campus and environs.  The following is of a door knocker at the entrance to what had been a pub at some point in the past.

Although the door had seen much neglect, the elegant knocker would certainly be salvageable.  I thought a close-up of the knocker worked well as a black & white.

The following is of the back (north side) of a what had been a large commercial/industrial building adjacent to the Schlitz complex.  The building appears to be housing a number of smaller commercial enterprises, but, for the most part, stands vacant.

Finally, on the west side of this building there were a number of drain pipes that had an interesting construction and that had seen some deterioration and/or decoration.

Here, again, I thought the second shot did a better job of providing context.  I used my tripod to take each of these shots, as the evening light was beginning to fail, particularly in the alley in which these were located.  I was pleased with how sharp the images came out.

I'm not sure why I am being drawn to these scenes of decay.  Perhaps it is because there is a story, even if the photos just give a hint of its plot.


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