“You may hate gravity, but gravity doesn't care.”
    Clayton Christensen

I live in western Montana, a rural place surrounded by more of the same. Driving in any direction I'll pass through the occasional town or city, but for hours I'll be looking mainly at wilderness, punctuated here and there by farms, ranches, and pastures. There is endless subject material for the type of photography I like to do. If you've seen my pictures in galleries or on the Web, you know my preferred subjects rarely include anything man-made, or evidence of man's influence on the landscape. When composing a photo of a beautiful natural subject or scene, it's often a challenge to eliminate “the hand of man” from the composition, but I work very hard to do so. Still, I'm drawn to old, decaying buildings and other structures. These are common in nearby hills and valleys; I don't have to travel far to find collapsing barns, stables, shacks, pump houses, and of course, fences. In nearby Flathead Lake, and numerous smaller lakes and reservoirs in the region, there are countless old docks, piers, and pilings, many abandoned and long past their expiration dates.

Frozen fog, Polson, MT

Frozen in time and fog.

These structures seem to share a common life story: They are old, often more than a century. They were built for a purpose, apparently fulfilled long ago. Most received exactly zero maintenance since the last nail was hammered home. Many never saw a coat of paint; those that did were rarely painted a second time. They are invisible to their owners—these structures have been abandoned to time and gravity.

The Beauty's in the Detail

Lace curtain, near Philipsburg, MT

Lace and old wood, somewhere between Philipsburg and Georgetown Lake, Montana.

For me, the appeal of these derelicts lies in the fine details, the character of the remains. Sun-blasted, twisted, decaying wood; thick, rough boards stained with the patina of time. Roofs of rusted metal or warped and cracked wooden shingles, with gaps like missing teeth. In many cases, roofs have collapsed between exterior walls, which may themselves have fallen in. Windows, often without glass, like dark, vacant eyes staring at nothing. Fascinating hardware; hinges, nails, bolts and screws, always wearing a heavy rime of rust. Foundations, if they exist at all, are loose, piled stone, just enough to keep the timbers above ground, at least for a while.

Gravity is the controlling force. A tree grows tall and straight, the fibers of the wood aligned, thanks to natural selection, to resist gravity's demands. We cut the tree, rip it into boards, and then reassemble those boards into structures we expect to resist the relentless pull as well as the tree would have. Gravity would laugh if it could; perhaps in the end it does.

Gravity gets plenty of help, of course. Wind, water (including ice and snow), bugs, lightning and fire, geological events, even growing plants, are gravity's allies; alone or in combination they may deal the death blow, but it's gravity that eventually brings everything to the ground. Gravity has plenty of time, no reason to rush.

Gravity Always Wins

I have assigned myself a project: to photograph gravity at work as it brings down some of the more interesting structures I encounter on my travels. Some of the photos will be color, but I suspect much of the work will be black and white. The subjects will decide. You may think everyone has photos of old shacks and decaying fences, that these subjects have been “done to death”. I wouldn't argue. Many photographers have collections of such photos in their portfolios, and many of the photos are outstanding. My goal for this project is to find interesting subjects (not difficult), and photograph them in perfect light and perhaps interesting atmospherics (often difficult). This is what I hope will make the resulting body of work, perhaps two dozen photographs, both beautiful and somewhat different from the others. We'll see. I expect the project will take years to complete.

Leaning, Garryowen, MT

Gravity at work. A liberal-leaning shack in Garryowen, Montana.

Gravity rules, and gravity always wins. Nothing escapes it. As gravity does its work, the process, and the results, aren't always pretty. But sometimes they are, and that's what I hope to capture: photographs of gravity in action, in beautiful light.

December, 2011