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A Violation of the Contract

Posted: 19th February 2013
In: Blog

Pleasure Beach was a small community located on a sandbar on the coast of Bridgeport, Connecticut that consisted of about 45 cottages and the remains of a small amusement park that had closed in 1958. When the bridge to Pleasure Beach burned in 1996, the city decided that rebuilding it was too costly. The residents were stranded with homes that were inaccessible except via boat or a long hike along a sandbar.

The period that followed saw the homes ransacked and burned, turning a once beautiful beachfront community into a heavily vandalized wasteland. Windows were smashed, possessions strewn about houses, and graffiti covered nearly every surface. When I visited Pleasure Beach in 2009, I had a hard time even photographing it because the lack of respect made me so angry. These had been homes of people who had probably saved their whole lives so that they could retire or spend summers by the beach, and with a decision they had no control over their homes were very literally abandoned by the town and left to ruin. Like many of the places I visit, I viewed Pleasure Beach as a sort of graveyard, an exposed wound where people had been wronged. The overall social contract we all expect to support us - that our homes will be connected to the world at large - was violated. It was sickening to me that the response to this indignity by those who visited Pleasure Beach was to heap more indignity upon it, to destroy the vestiges of the homes like they were meaningless. I thought about what I would feel like if this had been my home, my neighborhood, where I had spent good times with friends.

Part of my issue with the greater majority of people who visit abandoned sites for fun is the cavalier disregard for the inherent meaning and history of a place. For example, to reduce an asylum to a playground where you can take cutesy photos of yourself mugging in a wheelchair is, to me, an affront to the very real past of the place and the neglect that the remnants have suffered. In a way I see it as being as tasteless and macabre as posing for goofy photographs with an actual corpse. I understand that 'exploration' is an adventure to many and that is where the responsibility begins and ends; it is about having fun and all other considerations are secondary. I also am aware that one could consider my approach heavy-handed and pretentious if having fun is the only motive they have. The places we photograph meant something to people - often quite a bit. You can never lose sight of that.

Whether you agree with me or not, I feel the people that lived here deserved better than what they got. The stark evidence of the injustice that had been done - not only by the town but by the people who ransacked the community after the burning of the bridge - is gone now. The homes were razed in 2010-2011 and the sandbar bears almost no trace of the houses that were there. It is now a protected refuge for endangered birds and plants. Hopefully they'll have better luck with it than the people who once lived there did.

More photographs from Pleasure Beach are in this portfolio. Image and text by Matthew Christopher.

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Photo comment By John Bonnage: Matthew's comments hit the target. Too many view the world as just discrete entities whereas in reality there is an organicity to all human endeavors and creations. Any 'reality' is intrinsically connected to its contemporary realities. And the loss of one or more elements is a destruction of the organic relationships. Photography (and videography) are the placeholders of reality - both past and present - so that that the reality remains intact. Without the 're-presentation' of images, there are holes in reality. And our understanding of 'what has been' becomes flawed and false. So, it's critical to photograph, videograph and audio-record what has been. Unless this happens, the fabric of our civilization will become not a quilt of achievements and history, but a collection of rags. And who loses? Everyone.
Photo comment By JustMe: Why did they not just prolongate the street coming from the southwest along the sandbar?
Photo comment By August Muir-Nelson: I feel just as strongly as you do regarding abandoned buildings, be it villages, hospitals or factories. The fact that our younger By 40 years or less) have no regard for the history or lives that lived and were perhaps destroyed by conglomerates bigger than they, is an American tragedy. I cannot stand on these types of grounds as the grief and pain is so tangible and worse of all, no one cares.Usually after visiting or stumbling upon a shambled village or home, I cannot shake the residual pain that this was once someone's life.

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