Looking for Decay
I went looking for decay with about 20 other photographers this morning. We headed to the Schulze Baking Company, or what is left of it. The ovens, cooling racks, and wrapping machines are long gone. Was the equipment sold for scrap by the owner, or did vandals scavenge it?
The upper floor was noticeably warped. Nobody would want to make a meal of the peeling paint chips that clung to the stairwells. We found decay, but a very abstract and isolated form of it. The type of decay that photographers love. Urbex!
To get to the plant, it is necessary to drive through some of the most decayed neighborhoods in the country. When the Chicago Tribune or Hey Jackass reports another of the thousands of shootings that Chicago has tallied each year for the last decade, there is a good chance that the incident happened in the area that surrounds the bakery.
The decay that can be seen safely from the roof of the Schultz building is a much more human form of decay. Vacant lots, a run down housing stock, and lots of individuals aimlessly wandering the streets with nowhere to go. As I drove, I could sense how the heat of summer sucks the energy out of the area.
A few blocks from the factory, I encountered a police cruiser parked, with its engine idling. The cop inside was yakking away on his cellphone while smoking a cheap, fat cigar. I glanced to my left, seeing three other police cruisers with lights flashing, a fire truck, and I think an ambulance. Was that a mid-day shooting? I'll check the paper tonight.
I also noticed a storefront church--the Church of Hope read the dirt stained glass sign that hung over the entrance. If I read the scene correctly, the windows were boarded up. Not much hope in that house of worship.
I did see one gentlemen mowing his lawn. No doubt, others residents will be doing the same during the upcoming three-day weekend. They are trying to fight the decay, but without good schools and good paying jobs, it may be a losing cause, but let's hope not.
So today, we photographed decay, but I think our lenses missed the more important and costly decay. Photographers claim to see more than the average Joe, but their eyes are just as myopic.
As for Schulze Baking Company, it was where Hostess Brands produced Butternut Bread until 2004. There is some dispute as to when the company was formed. According to filings with the SEC, the business was formed in 1927, but others claim that it dates to 1893 when Paul Schulze, who was the President of the National Association of Master Bakers, started the company.
The white terra cotta clad structure was built in 1914 based on a design by John Ahschlager. As the photographs indicate, it is made of reinforced concrete, with massive pillars supporting the floors. It pays homage to Louis Sullivan. I once worked on the rehab of a similar building--it had been a printing plant.
The Schulze structure was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on November 1982. Obviously, such a listing will buy you a Twinkie if you've got $1.79 in your pocket. It certainly doesn't guarantee preservation of the past.
Schulze Baking Company: What Remains
Over, Under, Sideways, Down
Rudy Giuliani Incarnate
Blues Over the South Side
The Jaguar and the Baptist
Rain the Schizoprenic
Audrey Hepburn Waits for a Phone Call
High Voltage Trash
Practicing for a Box Car
Exit from the Pit
When I Get to the Bottom . . .
Photographer's Notes: Acknowledge your mistakes, and then make them again. The photograph entitled "Over, Under, Sideways, Down" was a mistake, but what a mistake. I was layering four photographs (different exposures) together, but one of the photographs was accidentally taken from the next series of exposures. The camera was level in the first series. I purposely tilted it downward in the second to capture the ceiling reflected in the huge puddle of water. When the four photographs were composited together, the composition became the level layer, with the same layer repeated below it. Superimposed was the reflection of the ceiling in the puddle. It works for me, and I plan to work on a series of similar mistakes this summer.