Industrial architecture holds a powerful allure. To a visual artist, it represents the near-perfect alignment of form and function. I fall under the spell of cylindrical silos, hourglass cooling towers, and intricate catwalks filtering the sky through a lacy grid. The red stripes of smoke stacks propel me into the zone faster than any golden hour. Perfect geometry, perfect textures, perfect grit. And yet, poetry aside, I often ponder the ethical conflict between my attraction to the imposing geometry of industrial landscape and its destructive impact on the environment. An informed, sober environmentalist in me demands to consider the poison creeping up the smoke stack as I am admiring the plumes.
I cannot quote the first thought that popped in my mind at the sight of the heavily industrialized landscape surrounding the Duwamish River, but I bet it was something along the lines of “Holy shit, this is beautiful!” It is with this fascination with industrial urbanity that I embarked on months-long obsessive exploration of the river’s banks. Sadly and ignorantly, I assumed the river was too polluted to support life. That is, until I saw an otter diving for fish near Spokane Street marina. With my eyes now open, I started noticing herons, ducks and fish, and learned about salmon habitat restoration and cleanup work led by the Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition. I also became aware of the communities surrounding the river, including the Duwamish Tribe, the original stewards of the river, whom the federal government still refuses to recognize as a nation.
I still ponder the ongoing conflict between the beauty and grit of industrial architecture and the harm its function inflicts on the environment. Industrial pollution anywhere must stop, without question. Will our civilization ever dismantle harmful means of production and switch to less invasive ways of generating goods and energy? I want to witness us return river banks to plant and animal sanctuaries and minimally destructive human habitats. At the same time, we could preserve the most prominent examples of industrial architecture. Provided the ground underneath can be cleaned of heavy chemicals, silos and cooling towers can serve as parks or monuments to our industrial past – and to perfect form.
To see more of my Duwamish photography, visit my Documentary Photography page.