When I was but a youth, my father brought me back to his hometown of Youngstown, Ohio. It was the city of my birth, but one I had little recollection of. Driving over cracked and worn streets we saw the blasted remains of long abandoned businesses, empty lots where row upon row of workers’ houses once stood, and the rotting hulks of massive steel mills. I remember being transfixed at the site of such desolation. It felt as if we were viewing the ruins of a bygone era—a world that, unlike my father, I had never seen and could not comprehend. I pondered those images for sometime: “What happened here?” “What was the meaning of this?”
Years later, I returned to Youngstown—this time with a camera—to capture these images before they disappeared forever. Over the ensuing months I traveled back into the past—making my way through closed businesses, shuffling through abandoned houses, and disturbing the dust and silence of steel mills that had long become strangers to human footsteps. Though I came to know the people and the city that is Youngstown today, I kept returning to the ruins to commune with the past in a quest to understand what the city once was.
I think of these photographs as representing a lost civilization—a civilization born of industrialization. However, instead of viewing them with a sense of bereavement and sadness, I view these photographs with a sense of possibility. By understanding what happened here, we can better guide ourselves through the post-industrial world we now inhabit.
Sean Posey is a graduate of the Academy of Art University in San Francisco and a freelance photographer. He’s spent the past few years documenting Youngstown on both film and video. Currently, he’s a graduate student at Youngstown State University where’s he writing a thesis on the origins of socioeconomic problems in the Youngstown area.