Forsaken photos

‘Abandoned’ photography show at Featherstone takes account of things left behind.

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One of Max Skjoldebrand's photos for Featherstone's "Abandoned" show. — Max Skjoldebrand

Perhaps appropriately for the season, the selection of photos in Featherstone’s latest group show all have a haunting quality to them. “Abandoned” is the name of the exhibit, and though the subjects range from buildings to cars and boats to, in a couple of cases, people, there’s an eerie sense of desolation running through the collection.

“The artists really responded to the theme in very different ways,” says Kate Hancock, who came up with the idea and curated the show.

About a dozen photographers responded to the call for artists. Some are professionals, some hobbyists. Three of the contributing artists are high schoolers from Chris Baer’s photography group.

Abandoned buildings make up the majority of the subjects. It’s not surprising that Max Skjoldebrand has chosen to focus on decaying homes and other structures. “I’m an architect, so I’ve always been interested in buildings,” he says. “I think it’s the mystery that draws me to abandoned structures. You wonder what they were used for. You start to imagine the people who might have lived in the houses, and speculate on why they became abandoned.”

In 2016 Mr. Skjoldebrand had a solo show at the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse. He hung 20 black-and-white images of abandoned Vineyard buildings and called the show “Distant Voices.” The three photos that he has contributed to the Featherstone exhibit are from that collection.

Patti Roberts has also focused on abandoned buildings, but her selection comes from farther afield. For the Featherstone show she selected two images taken from the former Ellis Island Immigrant Hospital, which was in operation during the beginning of the 20th century. Her artist’s statement describes the history of the building and her attraction to her chosen subject: “Although it’s abandoned, I find beautiful irony in the decaying ceilings and walls as the surprising light illuminates the reality that at the very least, the hospital offered the newcomers hope — regardless of their station in life.”

For years, Paul Doherty has turned his lens to scenes of decay and disuse, finding beauty in nature’s reclamation of manmade objects. For the Featherstone show he has contributed a photo of an abandoned church, an old Coke machine, and a rusting backhoe. Of the latter he says, “I love the look and feel of these big old faded beauties. They had their glory days, and are now out to pasture” (literally, in the case of the old machinery that he discovered in a field in Connecticut). The images that first inspired his series, which he has titled “Faded Beauty,” were decrepit old barns. Then he discovered the site of the abandoned machinery and snapped a number of images. That set him in search of similar subjects. “I started looking for these things. The more I looked, the more I found. The first I found were the barns.”

Bob Kimberly is similarly drawn to signs of former vitality left to ruin. Among his three photos in the show is an image of an old building in Springfield. “Maybe 100 years ago it was an apartment building,” he says. “I went to the city right after a tornado came through in 2013. It tore up a big part of Springfield. It ripped off part of the roof. There was something noble about this building; it was crowned with a decorative metal top. Partly because of that tornado, and partly because Springfield has been down and out, it was actually decided to tear out that whole part of the city and build a casino.”

In Brockton, Mr. Kimberly found a very different scene of desolation. He took a photo of a woman sitting on the curb outside a liquor store. Behind the woman, who is sitting with her head resting on one hand, her eyes closed, one can see a neon sign in the store window posting the multimillion-dollar numbers for the lottery. Mr. Kimberly found the contrast compelling.

A scene outside a liquor store in Brockton.

“I didn’t want to seem like a voyeur,” he says. “It just seemed like an essential image to me. That face to me looks like a face I’ve seen ever since I was a little kid. That face has been around as long as humanity has been around. I look for things that are essential.”

The other photographer who has contributed a portrait is Jean McCarthy, who chose an image from her travels. For a number of years, Ms. McCarthy taught East Asian studies. While visiting China with her husband in the 1980s, she encountered a set of twin girls standing alone at an outdoor market. “This was the year of the one child,” she says. “In most cases that one child had better be a boy.” During her time in China, she had noted that little boys were treated with special attention, almost reverence, while girls were often neglected. “In many cases when we saw the boy toddlers, they were so pampered, so spoiled. They were called little emperors — fat kids cherished by the family.”

The faces of the two little girls spoke volumes to Ms. McCarthy. “I just saw these two and the look of the children was so arresting. It was just haunting. I don’t know where the mother was, but there was a feeling of abandonment to the scene.”

“Abandoned” will hang at the Featherstone Center for the Arts’ Virginia Weston Besse Gallery through Nov. 12. The gallery is open daily from 12 to 4 pm.