Goodnight, Manny.

Everything changes. Nothing is forever. Everyone knows this, some in Pittsburgh more than others. I’m sure Manny never thought he’d see the day when he would lay down his hard hat for the last time because the once might mill was closing. Many years ago, on an editorial assignment, I was granted access to a shuttered mill in McKeesport. I had an hour. Not enough time to explore a place so vast as a once active steel mill. It was, at best, akin to salvage archeology; hurry up and gather as much as you can in as short a time as you can. But that’s often the job.  In this case, all I could do is look for the basics to illustrate the story. I needed something wide to set the scene, something closer, and details. I was more documentarian than anything else. 

In that brief time, I thought of the photographers from the Farm Security Administration who documented America for Americans in the 30’s and 40’s. People like Walker Evans. And, of course, Clyde “Red” Hare who photographed Pittsburgh first as part of Roy Stryker’s Pittsburgh Photographic Library, then stayed after falling in love with the city. 

My mind was racing, and my eyes were wildly scanning the scene for images to add to the narrative. I needed to tell the story, show what was there before it was gone, before time ran out. I wanted more time to explore. Request denied. It was time to go and leave this history behind. Within weeks the mill was razed. Everything is now gone. Just a memory. Another footnote in Pittsburgh’s history. 

Never take for granted the responsibility we hold as photographers. We don’t make history; we record it for future generations because, everything changes, nothing is forever.

 

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