Made in America Series: 2003
In the past, my artworks rarely addressed actual places. Rather, they were recollections – amalgamations of years of looking at the American industrial landscape. One of my earliest childhood memories is of riding past the steel mills and refineries of Gary, Indiana, during a very gray, autumn dusk. As a child, the images of those mills frightened, but also mesmerized me, and they pleasantly haunt and inspire me to this day. For most of my career, the places I created existed only in my mind, yet many held real identities that were strong enough to suggest that the places portrayed might be just down the road, around the corner.
Made in America is an apt title for this exhibition, because from my perspective the making of America has always been and will hopefully remain a great work in progress. But, I have noticed that as a nation, we generally overlook, or worse, we never even consider that America was actually made somewhere – and that it was made through invention and innovation applied on a colossal scale. Most certainly, it was made with the blood and sweat of millions of workers – many like my Hungarian grandfathers, came here to build better lives and breathe the clean fresh air of freedom, even if it was tinged with coal dust and smoke. The poet Carl Sandburg, called them “Lives proud of what they made with their hands”. They invested their lives in the workplace.
What is of great concern to me is that over the 30 years that I have been observing the American industrial landscape, many of the places that have regularly inspired me, are vanishing, and at a rate far faster than anyone imagined. I recently heard serious speculation that in less than 50 years, the majority of the industrial sites that have served as the icons of our industrial age will have disappeared. Places like Ambridge and Homestead have been dismantled. The signature and monumental structures they produced which define our great urban vistas still remain, but without a real history of where they were made.
The urgency engendered by the rapid demolition of the American industrial landscape led me to seek more efficient means of capturing and generating my images, most notably, the digital camera and the computer. I simply consider them another canvas and paint brush – new electronic tools of my trade. I continue to reconstruct my images using traditional media but with these new tools a sense of site specific places has gained a special status and importance in my art.
Over the years I have photographed many industrial locations, primarily for resource material – shapes, forms, surfaces – and generally from the vantage points most of us experience these places, which is driving by, outside the walls and fences. I have always been fascinated by the way factories are situated on the landscape. In places like the Cleveland Flats and Bethlehem, PA they are the landscape. I am still intrigued by and drawn to the efficiency of form following function that is the hallmark of industrial architecture. It is efficient, but it is also quite beautiful, especially in its details – rivets, welds, corrugation, I-beams, safety plate and rust – always rust.
Yet, one cannot pass these places without wondering what goes on inside. In the past I have been fortunate enough to gain access to working mills – the melt shops, rolling mills and finishing facilities of the former ARMCO Steel Works in Butler, PA and Mansfield, OH. Those were profound experiences, but they have been surpassed by my introduction to The Steel, as the integrated mill facility in Bethlehem was commonly known.
In 2003, with the support and encouragement of the National Museum of Industrial History, I was given access to document the remaining 163 acres of the Bethlehem Steel Works. The result was a singular event for me, both artistically and personally. Even though the site is silent, it is incredibly rich visually and can not be experienced without eliciting deep emotional responses.
As it happens, my wife Diana and I shot our last photographs of the Bethlehem Works on April 20, 2003. Two days later, after nearly 150 years of making steel, the Bethlehem Steel Corporation ceased to exist. While the furnaces are cold and the workers no longer stream through the gates, an overpowering spirit lives on in this place. One can almost hear the roar of the furnaces and see the fire and smoke fill the air. The clamor of the mills and shops still resonates. There is no doubt that something important happened here – something every American should see – the place where America was made.”
Janos Enyedi, 2003
excerpted from Made in America, catalog.