Book Review: Ghosts in the Wilderness: Abandoned America

Abandoned but thankfully not forgotten

Fortunately for a lot of photographers abandoned man-made America seems to be just about everywhere and what a visual treat it produces. This handsome, large (check out the dimensions in the Product Details above) book of photos is a cut above the usual offering though. Rather than shoot the predictable broken and rusty commercialism everywhere the Worobiec's had the great idea of capturing one particular area of the Nation, the northwest. Here the railroads were the catalyst to opening up the landscape with towns created about every ten miles or so to service track and train. Predictably many of these settlements lacked natural resources and decent farmland so it was inevitable that the weather, depression, and technical advances in transport made so many of these towns uneconomic and many folk just left.

What I find amazing is the nature of the leaving. Many photos show inside abandoned houses still with kitchen units, phones, furniture and personal effects. Page sixty-five shows a wall calendar for July 1959 in a house in Wildrose, Nebraska and as the caption explains these were useful indicators to reveal the date of the owner's departure. Sometimes the Worobiec's found small schools abandoned, as the photo on page 117 shows, the floor awash with textbooks. As expected there are many photos of abandoned vehicles (possibly thirty-six was just a bit too many) surrounded by vegetation, rich pickings nowadays for collectors, I bet.

Another reason why I like this book is because 'Ghosts in the Wilderness' is not just a collection of photos but a travelogue as well, six chapters have lively and interesting essays about the social and economic aspects of the area. These words give more meaning to the poignancy of the images.

The printing and design is excellent, the photos are mostly one to a page with generous white, black and light grey backgrounds. I do have a criticism of the production though, the last five pages show all the photos as thumbnails with the relevant technical details, all this information could easily have been accommodated on the page with the photo and so avoid having to keep turning to the back.

I think the Worobiec's have done a wonderful job producing a book of regional photography. Oh yes, thank you Mark and Sarah who gave me this lovely book as a Christmas present.

Ghosts in the Wilderness: Abandoned America is available at Amazon (US | CA | UK | DE | FR | IT | ES | JP | CN) and Book Depository

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Typical photo spread.

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