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connected - Portside Power Plant*
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There are a lot of ways to die doing what I do. This particular site was probably one of the more dangerous I've been to; in the cathedral-like main turbine hall, huge chunks of concrete and plaster dangle overhead, occasionally plummeting nearly 200 feet to smash onto the
main floor below. As I was on the walkway connecting to the main control room I saw one of them tumble end over end, landing with a meaty thud, breaking in two, and then falling into the flooded subbasement below.

There is also the rusty metal grating. I don't trust rusty metal, particularly not anything in the state that the upper floors were in. I've stepped on seemingly solid metal before only to have it dissolve beneath me as though I were stepping on a sandwich or a piece of paper-mache. I took photos of these areas as best I could but wouldn't venture into them any further than the doorway. I was alone and didn't particularly want to spend the remainder of my life bleeding to death, mangled on the floor several stories below.

Probably the worst threat, however, were the ubiquitous pools of water. They were on every level, and in every part of the plant. While they seemed harmless enough, wires snaked in and out of them, and there was no way of determining which ones might be active. It did not appear that the power plant had any electricity, but one can never be certain. Every time I set up my metal tripod I half expected to be electrocuted. There is a lot of risk in what I do, and I thought a lot that day about why it is that I take such foolish chances. I'm smart enough to be aware of most of the potential dangers in the sites I enter, and am very cautious not to do anything to endanger myself any more than I already am by entering such sites to begin with.

Some would call it educated idiocy, and perhaps rightfully so. I could come up with an endless list of justifications for my actions, but one that kept coming back to me was that it has only been on the verge of death that I truly feel alive. Entering such massive sites is awe-inspiring and profound, and I feel connected so something far greater than the scope of my own problems and worries. For the period that i am focusing on my photography I am no longer myself, no longer anything but what I am doing. In this sweet oblivion there is a peace far beyond anything I have ever felt elsewhere, and I suppose if it costs me my life I would consider it a fair price to pay to know and see things that so few ever will. There are no words to describe the amazement one feels, the wonder at the magical world of unchecked ruin. However, like all magical things, there is an inherent wildness and unpredictability to these other worlds I like to visit, and a price to be paid for the trip. Even if I do not die in a catastrophic accident, the accumulation of mercury, lead paint, asbestos, toxic mold, PCBs, and other poisons in my body will doubtlessly shorten my stay here as well.

When I finally leave a site with my memory cards full and my head swimming with all I have seen, there is no greater joy than returning to the waking world. It is a sort of rebirth, a resurrection; simple things like getting food and a shower are pleasurable beyond words. I am reminded of everyday securities that we take for granted: that the air I am breathing is (relatively) clean, that the roof will probably not cave in on me, that the floor I am on will not collapse - these things are amplified, and I am grateful again for the comparative stability of my own existence, and the company of those in the waking world around me.

Life is finite anyway. I try not to be careless. I try to calculate the dangers in situations before I enter them, to minimize the potential for injury, but one day I will cease to be regardless. Until then I will continue doing what I do, and bringing you the fruits of my labor. Thank you again for being part of the world I reconnect to upon my return.

Portside Power Plant (a pseudonym), 2006. Photograph and text by Matthew Christopher of Abandoned America

Also in: Portside Power Plant*

a certain kind of emptiness
echoes from the life behind
rendered drab by the shadows of time
of forms assembled in the light
locked from the inside
counterpoint to our fundamental failures
a symbol for the century
the trail of the past
in things continually vanishing
hard to say
what i wanted