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The Forgotten of Tocks Island

Emily Yuengel


The following photographs are of a series of buildings on a deserted piece of property in Northern New Jersey, within the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. These buildings were not abandoned because of financial hardship or the owner's desire to relocate. Rather, the owners left them in the mid-1950s because the government bought their land (as well as land from some 600 other property owners) to make way for the Tocks Island Reservoir, a 40 mile-long lake that would hold over 250 billion gallons of water. Because of other costs, such as the Vietnam War, the project was put on hold. In 1975, New York, New Jersey, and Delaware voted to prevent the project from starting. Properties such as this one were already long deserted by this time. I have always been fascinated by abandoned buildings. For me, they hold a character that only comes about with the absence of humans. Their ghostly nature compels me to explore and imagine what they have seen. Nature has not yet truly begun to reclaim this property; clearly these buildings have seen some sort of maintenance over the years (perhaps due to their location within the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area). However, the interior of the buildings possess an eerie, vacant quality juxtaposed by the beautiful scenery beyond their walls. The buildings are now shadows of their original selves. According to Susan Sontag (1973), "all photographs are memento mori. To take a photograph is to participate in another person’s (or thing’s) mortality, vulnerability, mutability. Precisely by slicing out this moment and freezing it, all photographs testify to time’s relentless melt" (p. 8). Within the barn are scattered debris, stalls, light fixtures, and an abandoned piece of machinery. The house still contains cabinets, chairs, and tables—all unused (at least by legitimate inhabitants) for decades. These photos accentuate the mortality, vulnerability, and mutability of both the buildings and their inhabitants, and those who look at them. 1


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While I was visiting this location, I couldn't help but imagine what the buildings were like when they were inhabited, who had visited since, and what their walls had seen through the years. Through the photographs, I wanted to create the same feelings of eeriness and beauty I mentioned in my introduction. In an attempt to capture the photographs in this way, I decided to use my iPhone, the Instagram application, and the X-pro II and Amaro filters. My goal was to take a modern technology and create aesthetically older photos that highlighted the allure and vacancy of the location. Additionally, because I brought to the site my own interpretations and impressions of what I saw, I wanted the technology to reflect the same imposition of opinion. Using the technology this way amplifies Victor Burgin's (1977) assertion that "through the agency of the frame [of the photograph] the world is organised into a coherence which it actually lacks, into a parade of tableaux, a succession of 'decisive moments'" (p. 133). By using a filter to create an effect on the photograph that does not appear naturally, I am providing a decisive frame to the photo that does not exist. Without the applied filters, these photographs lose much of the implied haunting qualities I wish to illustrate. At first, I chose to use only the X-pro II filter for all of the photos. I chose X-pro II because it enhanced the darker elements, such as wood grains or shadows, and highlighted the rustic atmosphere in the outdoor photos. The X-pro II filter also brought out the shadows in the interior and magnified the inherent "spookiness" of the location. Additionally, X-pro II gave the photos the older aesthetic I desired. However, some of the photos became too dark after the filter was applied. Although this darkening slightly enhanced the emptiness of the buildings, it also minimized the detail in the photo. 18

For these photos, I used the Amaro filter. I felt that the Amaro filter provided the same "old"


feeling that the X-pro II filter had without eliminating elements of the photograph. For example, in the picture on page 13, the darkened X-pro II photo diminishes the appearance of the water bottle in the background. I felt that the bottle demonstrated the clear presence of people in the relatively recent past, which added to the ghostly atmosphere; someone had been here, despite the deserted state of the building. I chose not to create captions for my photos. Although I specifically applied the filters to the photos to enhance my own view of the scene, I did not want to restrict the reader from creating his or her own speculations about the photos as well. Roland Barthes (1977) states in his essay "Rhetoric of Image" that in a literal message, "the text helps to identify purely and simply the elements of the scene and the scene itself; it is a matter of a denoted description of the image." (p. 274) In contrast, he claims that text in a symbolic message "no longer guides identification but interpretation, constituting a kind of vice which holds the connoted meanings from proliferating, whether towards excessively individual regions ‌ or towards dysphoric values" (p. 275). I do not want to define the photos through captions, as I feel it would limit the viewers' reading of the essay. While viewers will certainly create their own meanings beyond my own, captions would anchor their initial interpretation of the photos and make it more difficult for them to broaden their perspectives. While I was taking the picture on page 17, the distance shot of the red building in the field, I considered three primary rules of composition: depth of field, rule of thirds, and diagonals. I loved the way the overgrown field looked at this angle, and I wanted to make it a primary focus in the photograph. Although my initial goal for the photograph was to capture the building, I found that

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the grass focused in the foreground enhances the depth of it. I used the rule of thirds in most of my photos, but in this particular photograph I wanted to be sure that the building was in the upper-right third of the photograph. Also, the line of piled grass in the foreground created a bottom third, while the line of ground at the building creates an upper third. The final rule of composition I considered while taking this photograph was the rule of diagonals. I tried to enhance the upward slope of the line of ground in the upper third with the contrast of the downward line of the grass in the bottom third. As I stated earlier, abandoned buildings have always appealed to me both for their beauty and the history I conjure up for them. Just as my interpretation of these images does not have to rely on my knowledge of the history of the location, Sontag asserts that "there is never any understanding in a photograph, but only an invitation to fantasy and speculation" (p. 12). Both the photographs themselves and the filters I applied to them mirror the subjective nature of my visit and enhance the character of the buildings.


References Barthes, R. (1977). Rhetoric of the image. In A. Trachtenberg (Ed.), Classic essays on

photography

(p. 269-285). New Haven, CT: Leete's Island Books. Burgin, V. (1977, 2003). Looking at photographs. In A. Wells (Ed.), The photography

reader (pp.

130–137). New York, NY: Routledge. [PDF] Sontag, S. (1973, October 18). Photography. The New York review of books. [PDF]

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The Forgotten of Tocks Island