An Historic Preservation

Last evening I had the pleasure of accompanying some friends to see a show of photographs by Jeff Stockbridge held at the Center for Emerging Visual Artists. Although I'd previously seen Jeff's work via the interweb, this was my first time seeing the pictures on a large scale, in person. And what a treat.

The show displayed a series of photographs documenting the now vacant Divine Lorraine hotel on North Broad Street in Philadelphia. To those who know it, mere mention of the structure's holy descriptor congers images of the graceful, elaborate facade, looming over Phiadelphia's central street ten stories in the air. The edifice has acquired such mythic status simply by enduring at its unlikely address--neighbored by blocks of ruined storefronts, dollar stores and fast food restaurants.

The personality that inhabits the Divine Lorraine stems mostly from its roots as a luxurious residential hotel, and this character carries the baggage of the building's mysterious passage through harder times, title transfers and eventual abandonment. Seeing it today, it is difficult to understand the period that lies between the hotel's heyday and present time and too, the city that watched it happen. For me, Jeff's photographs fill in some of the infinite gaps in the building's historical recollection. He captures rooms and hallways throughout the hotel as they are now, many of them cluttered with trash; mattresses lie naked and chairs stand strewn. While all has been seemingly stripped of its grandeur, Jeff's lens sheds brilliant light and color across the remaining triumphant architecture amidst melancholy scenes. And the resulting prints carry in them all the vibrance and texture of the hotel's charismatic life itself.

Jeff's Artist Statement explains his method, "Highlighting certain areas of a photograph in sharp focus and obscuring the rest, Stockbridge utilizes this method to recreate the act of seeing." Indeed, seeing the photos up close, the many areas of focus and blur in each piece are captivating and aid in further emphasizing the conflicting content therein.

I could write and write about these pictures. And I'd encourage you to see more of the work at Jeff's website. There you can find more Lorraine photos, as well as his photos of other abandoned buildings in Philadelphia, also of interest. The work alludes to an obsession with the cast off, forgotten urban spaces, which I find rather contagious. This same preoccupation with abandoned objects and places drives my own work as a scavenger and remaker of things. It is a tenet of FH, to be sure. Jeff's commitment and talent for documenting these places is important work and I am just so continuously impressed.

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