bioephemera

The following is another post from the “old” bioephemera (originally published June 18, 2007).

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Last weekend I discovered Seattle’s Gas Works Park. By accident. And ended up on a tour through the derelict gasworks – led by the park’s designer, Richard Haag. The structures are fenced off, so I got the impression this was an unusual privilege. Fortunately my camera’s battery wasn’t completely exhausted, though I was torn between taking photos and listening to Haag recount his efforts several decades ago to convince the city that this industrial site could be bioremediated. Among his persuasive arguments: growing a nice crop of tomatoes in what was thought to be dead soil.


A former refinery that converted oil and coal to gas, the plant became obsolete in the 1950s, leaving the ground beneath saturated with tar and aromatic hydrocarbons. It was one of the first toxic industrial sites to be successfully reclaimed for public use through bioremediation (although it is still monitored, and intermittent cleanup efforts continue).

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My first reaction was WTF?!? How could I know nothing about this extraordinary place? I am so impressed with the city of Seattle (and Haag) for maintaining the towers in their rusty steampunk glory, instead of leveling them, as the original plans for the site demanded. Out of 1400 such gasification plants once operating across the US, this is the largest remnant left standing.

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From the park outside, the gasworks now resemble a gigantic modern sculpture with a fashionably distressed patina. The unreal blue-green of the Seattle grass contrasts so strongly with the red rust that it stings the eyes. But in among the towers, the scene is ghostly. Blackberries twine lushly through the iron girders, obviously undaunted by any lingering contamination in the soil. Small piles of bleached bones, perhaps from rodents or birds, litter the ruins. Only a few dangling loops of slender T1 cable, probably from a security system, betray that the Internet Age has supplanted the Industrial.

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Although the refinery is barely over 100 years old (and despite its rivets and cogs, not properly “steampunk” at all), rain and benign neglect have left it seemingly ancient, like a half-exposed fossil. I hope these images capture its aura of timeless decay.

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(all my own digital photos, balances adjusted in PS7 & layered with captured natural textures)

Comments

  1. #1 Sandra Porter
    March 16, 2008

    Great pictures! I love Gas Works park. I hope you got to see the clock at the top of the hill.

  2. #2 Abel Pharmboy
    March 17, 2008

    Wow, Jennifer – these are truly magnificient images. Very reminiscent of my own upbringing on the other side of the continent. You should be able to sell these as prints – I’d buy the one of the “duck” with the two turbines.

    Many thanks to Sandi Porter for the tip!

  3. #3 Jessica Palmer
    March 17, 2008

    Heh heh, don’t get me started on prints. . . pain in the behind. ;) I’ve been promising to make them for years and by now everyone knows I’m way too lazy to do it. But thanks!

  4. #4 julie schuler
    March 17, 2008

    Really gorgeous pictures! Very photogenic industrial ruins you have there! Thanks!

  5. #5 PhysioProf
    March 18, 2008

    Yes, beautiful.

  6. #6 becky
    October 16, 2008

    LOOVE the images!! Are these available to be used in any way for collage etc.? Either way….thank you!

  7. #7 Pudding Tame
    November 14, 2008

    Ran across your page in a search. Now I am stuck here. Gee! Go figure I dont want to stay on the page or make it my home page. How ignorant of me. Have your webcoder fix the problem so we can leave and go and maybe come back or at least finish our search. Thank you so much for helping me refreash my search results by starting it over again. Oh and thanks to Google for making sure that I get the same results again and can visit again. Have a swell weekend

  8. #8 Jonathan
    January 8, 2010

    These are awesome! I love the framing of your shots. Your choice of textures really makes the images otherworldly. Thanks for sharing.