America is a young country. Attracting people from all over the world seeking new opportunities and livelihoods. The nation grew rapidly and in its growth built many buildings to accommodate the population and its needs. There were factories for jobs, schools for children, hospitals for care, and theaters for the arts. Times change though, and companies dry up; hospitals require upgrades and people migrate to other cities for work. Costing more to destroy or repair the buildings, they were fenced off and left abandoned.
Ten years ago Matthew Christopher was working in the mental health field and took an interest in the rise and fall of the state hospital system. He visited some of the hospitals, taking photos in their derelict state. Moved, he realized that words alone could not adequately convey the dire realities of institutional care. Thus began a journey for him to capture images in other parts of society that were left discarded. He initially went to schools and asylums, yet as his awareness grew, he continued exploring abandoned buildings that included factories, churches, prisons, power plants and hotels.
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His imagery is captivating and tells a unique chapter of American history and what can be learned from it. Powerful lessons regarding job loss, cultural legacy, and historic preservation are expressed. While some of the structures have weathered and become quite decrepit, some of the buildings still have hope to be repurposed and with a critical mass of people and action, some of these “lost gems” can be restored and utilized again. Some of Christopher’s images have already assisted in advocacy efforts for such campaigns.
What began as an small interest for Christopher has evolved into a full time journey to preserve America’s endangered architectural history. Christopher is now considered a leading expert on urban blight and has exhibited his images at such galleries as OK Harris (New York), the Open Lens Gallery (Philadelphia), and the Edward Hopper House (Nyack, NY). He also lectures on topics of abandoned spaces and mental health history. See more of his body of work at his website and Facebook.