Pictured above is an abandoned house on Talbot Avenue in Braddock, PA, photographed by Sean Hemmerle. I have a work space in Braddock and usually drive down Talbot Avenue once or twice a week. It’s off the beaten path, close to the bank of the Monongahela River. Though Braddock is a favorite location for photographers snapping shots of urban decay, it’s always strange to see a photograph of a house that I recognize when looking at a national photographer’s work.
That’s not to say it’s all that surprising. In an effort to build a collection of post-industrial imagery, Hemmerle most likely heard about Braddock’s plight. In fairness to him, this photograph was taken back in 2008, when Braddock was just surfacing again on the national radar. This time for its bust rather than its boom. The town also ranks fairly high in Google’s search hierarchy thanks to the national media’s interest in Mayor John Fetterman, a man that Rolling Stone dubbed the “Mayor of Hell” in 2011.
I have a Google alert set for the term “Rust Belt” and that’s what brought me to this photograph today, which is part of Hemmerle’s forthcoming Rust Belt opening at Front Room Gallery in Brooklyn next month. Each year more and more houses disappear from Talbot Avenue. Sometimes due to fire, other times the result of a wrecking ball. A few weeks back, the North Braddock Fire Department conducted a controlled burn of a vacant home on Talbot as part of a training exercise.
With no context, this photograph is somewhat misleading. Hundreds of houses remain on the avenue. Just out of frame to the left there are houses. And from the vantage point of this photograph is another side to the street, lined with more homes. And contrary to what passersby might think, people still live in this part of Braddock.
(Photograph: Talbot Avenue in Braddock, Pennsylvania, by Sean Hemmerle)