Two weeks ago my friend Andrew Phelps was visiting from Austria, he just left town this morning to attend a lecture in New York. Andy and I attended the same high school and spent many days together during our young adult years traversing the state of Arizona in search of adventure. We often took our cameras and our skateboards on our trips, with hopes of finding a drainage ditch or empty backyard pool to consume the time. Back then we did not have to travel far to reach the edge of town, and once beyond, the empty space was ours for the taking. Little did we know that the landscape which we played would be a major part of our lives and the focus of our photography today. Last week, while Andy was in town, we had the opportunity to go out into the abyss once again in search of lost luxury. He suggested we head to Maricopa which was one of the cities worst hit during the real estate crash that began in late 2008. When we arrived in Maricopa just after sunrise, it became apparent that much had changed since the late 80s, however it seemed that much of the developers got out in time, and the city had not suffered as dramatically as we had thought. I was under the impression that Anthem was looking into a development in Maricopa, but we found no signs of such. We did discover that Home Depot and an unknown movie theater had pulled the plug in the nick of time, however many homeowners and Walmart were not as lucky and remain stranded in the void many miles from anything. These home owners were taking advantage of the amount of home that they could purchase compared to a home half the size in town. Today in Maricopa you will find a handful of track home communities in which you will find homes huddled together, like desert wildlife taking shelter from the elements. These small groups of homes are surrounded by vacant lots with streets, gutters and light poles, and the scene takes on new meaning. Surrounded by a 6' block wall fence tumble weeds take rest as they are trapped in corners while the top edge of the wall creates a new horizon.
We made a couple exposures then headed west on Maricopa Road in search of a site where an individual had collected 10 million used tires with plans of converting them to fuel. Tire story we located the site but were unable to enter due to a locked gate and a posted sign with the words No Trespassing State Property. Neither of us were willing to take the chance......so we headed back in the direction we had came to photograph an abandoned double wide off the side of the road which we had seen on the way out. On approach the home seemed to be in great condition, and I wondered why someone would leave a perfectly good home in the middle of nowhere. The windows were covered with screens as if the owner had planned to return. A golf club was inlayed in the thin top crust of the desert soil.
Two iron stakes emerged from the ground with a short distance between, which Andy determined was the remains of horse shoe pit. Both of us remembered the Brew and Shoe, which was a yearly event held at his families cabin on the rim, and symbolized a happy and care free time in our lives. I found a single horse shoe later in the bathroom of the home, and on the way to the car I pitched it at the pin, the shoe hit the metal pole and rang out loudly. It remained close enough to yield a point. But before I had flung the shoe, I decided to exit the trailer from the front door, instead of the side door which I had entered, in hopes of discovering new photo opportunities, which I did...however, I discovered after jumping off of what remained of the front porch, I was surrounded by a thick pile of tumbleweeds.
At first I thought I could just blaze a trail through, so I started forward but changed my mind at the last second. At that moment I stepped into the tumbleweeds and onto a board hidden in the weeds. A sharp pain entered my foot, I lifted my foot up to inspect as the board was stuck to it. I pulled the board off my foot with much resistance, similar to removing a nail from wood with a hammer. I then thought of Tetnus. I hobbled back to the car expressed to Andy that I had stepped onto a nail and we needed to stop at a store in town and purchase supplies to clean it my wound. The pain was hardly bearable, and I could feel that it was bleeding inside my shoe. I did not even want to take my shoe off since there was nothing I could do at that point. On the way back to town, we discussed how dangerous some of these locations are, and I had brought up the story of the photographer who died in a building in Detroit.
Richard Nickel was interested in documenting with photographs abandoned buildings in Detroit, designed by Architect Louis Sullivan. Through Richards work many of the buildings would be preserved. Like Richard I am very aware of hazards in and around abandoned buildings and take precautions to minimize injury, but I also realize that accidents happen. Richard payed the ultimate price for his documentation of Detroit's disappearing architecture, and I a sore foot for about 4 days. I will live to shoot another day...... see more pics from the trip