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it's all a matter of perspective

it's all a matter of perspective - Carrie Furnaces
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If you have followed my work for any length of time, you have probably noted that I am not what most people
would consider an optimist. If you were to ask me the standard question about whether the glass is half empty or
half full, for example, I am the one who tends to reply that since whatever is left in the glass will evaporate or be consumed over time, you might as well consider it completely empty and spare yourself the heartache of watching it gradually vanish.

That being said, I find it interesting how people react to abandoned sites and think it says a lot
about who the viewer is and their outlook on life. The comment I get the most consistently at gallery showings and through emails is (in condensed form) that the
sites that I visit are beautiful, but depressing. Such an outlook tends to focus on the former glory of these locations and lament the waste, the failure of ambitions, and the (perceived) anarchy of decay. While these are perfectly legitimate responses, particularly to things that are in a transitional period between serving whatever purposes we originally intended them for and their inevitable return to the oblivion of nonexistence, it is almost completely the opposite of my own reaction to abandonments and my stubborn attachment to them. To continue with the somewhat annoying half empty/half full schism, if you tend to believe the glass is or should be full, when you see half of it gone, I suppose that can be saddening.

If, on the other hand, you tend to focus on the complete emptiness that awaits, to see that there is still half a glass left can be very reassuring. What I mean is, if you look at a place like the Carrie Furnaces, you are seeing the remains of something truly magnificent. The furnaces may be covered with graffiti, rust, and dirt, but the fact is that they still tower over the surrounding area regardless of neglect, the abuses of time and nature, and the very laws of gravity and physics, which dictate that things so large and unwieldy must eventually fall and return to the ground from which they came. You can view their condition as the result of weakness or tragedy, or you can admire them as a triumph over the eroding forces which ultimately overcome us all. Maybe they won't be around in a year, maybe not even in a month - but for today, as I write this, they are still a monument to those who designed them, worked in them, and built them, and even perhaps an inspiration - to anyone who has been wounded and yet still struggles to survive, to those who fear their own ambitions and hopes may not outlive them, and maybe even to those who can't fathom what their own direction is beyond surviving another day. I feel that the Carrie Furnaces are an indicator that even if the clear meaning of a person or thing is no longer apparent, their ability to weather an uncertain future and an unkind present or past can be its own purpose, and a valid one at that. I do not feel that the scars that the Carrie Furnaces have received over the years detract from their glory - I think they are their glory. The loss of what they once were makes what is left of them all the more precious.

In the end, it probably doesn't matter. They are what they are, no matter what you or i think of them, and what will come of them is beyond most of our capabilities to change. Nevertheless, our ability to attribute meanings to things is one of the most fundamental building blocks of humanity's ability to reason. How we perceive objects, concepts, or events determines their overall relevance, their function, and the significance they take in our lives. In other words, if you see these furnaces as an eyesore, an obstacle to progress, or a painful reminder of some past defeat, then I could see where maybe you'd think it would be for the best if they were torn down. If, on the other hand, you see them as a marvel of engineering, a invaluable historical relic, a link to the achievements of our forefathers, or even just encouragement to personally suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune in hopes that a greater good will come of it, then the relevance of the Carrie Furnaces is much different. Like all things, they are symbols, to be interpreted through the lenses of our varied experiences and thus be incorporated into our overall outlook on life.

How you see them is all a matter of perspective.
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Carrie Furnaces, Rankin PA. 2009

Photograph by Matthew Christopher of Abandoned America. If you're interested in more Abandoned America blogs, follow this link. If you'd like to learn more about this location, it is a featured chapter in the new Abandoned America book Abandoned America: The Age of Consequences. Signed copies are available through my website, or you can find (unsigned) copies available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and many other online booksellers across the globe. I also teach photography workshops here periodically; to check availability follow this link.