NOTE: Since this site was created a year after I began the photography for this project, this is more of a recap than a journal entry.
On my first couple of trips to the former steel towns, I tried to do a little bit of everything. I shot a moonrise over the open hearth stacks of the old U.S. Steel Works in Homestead, made some images in Braddock and spent an afternoon at the Carrie Furnaces. Then I started spending more time in the Aliquippa and Ambridge areas, bouncing back and forth across the Ohio river shooting both towns.
But after a while, I found myself spending more time in Aliquippa, probably because I was more familiar with it, since that’s where my family is from. It also seemed easier to meet and talk to people in Aliquippa. All I had to do was mention that my mother and father were born there, and I was welcomed as family. Such is the way of small-town America.
About midway through my trips last year, I made an appointment with MaryAnne Golon, the director of photography at The Washington Post, to show her the work and get her opinion. I was not trying to sell her on publishing it as much as I wanted her insight and possibly some guidance. One thing she made clear after looking through the images of the different towns, was that I needed to focus on Aliquippa for the time being. She said it was obvious from looking at the imagery that I understood that town best, and because of my family history there, I was emotionally invested.
She also felt that by completing the Aliquippa portion of the project and getting it published, I would be better positioned to apply for grants and other funding to complete the work in the other steel towns. At that point, she offered to publish the Aliquippa essay on The Washington Post photography blog, In Sight, where it eventually ran as a two-part series. (Part 1, Part 2)
Overall, I made about 5 trips to Aliquippa, meeting more people in the town and photographing everything from a religious festival to a high school football game. I will continue to make stops in the town to look for images and stories to add to the essay. The more time I spend there, the more I learn about people and uncover stories that need to be told.
In addition to the occasional return trips to Aliquippa, I will begin the next phase of the project by visiting and photographing the towns of Duquesne, Clairton and Homestead. I hope to complete most of the photography in these towns in 2016. I have spent much of the winter months researching these communities to determine who and what to photograph, but, of course, everything changes once you are on the ground working. I am excited about meeting the people in these towns and listening to their stories.