Historian, Artist, & Linguist
In the old days we didn’t quite know what was over the next hill, in the next town, over the mountain. Some people went over to find out. Most never do. Take that feeling, add history.
The name is Dan Turner. I am an urban photographer and writer whose passion is to reclaim buried history and unite people with the past that belongs to them. I have always been fascinated by the process by which the world became the way it is, and, more often than not, the answer is history.
My love letter to abandoned America would start something like, “Hi, I’m a restless geek with a penchant for peeling paint pics,” and would end with, “See you some Saturday night, if you think you’ll like a guy like me.” By that last part I mean that I spend a lot of time thinking about the places I visit–who lived, worked, died, loved, ate, slept, learned, worshipped, cried, and hugged here, and why, and how? One of the furtive motivations for this project is just to get these ideas off my chest and to reconstruct the experiences in a way that makes them processable.
People live where they are for a reason, usually an economic one. Industries define cultural geography; explore one and you will discover the other. You can not have factories without facts.
As a linguist I operate under the assumption of homomorphism and compositionally; that form and meaning are inextricably connected and the meaning of the whole can be summarized by the sum of its parts. This approach is applicable to social architectures as well.
One cannot understand a neighborhood without taking to account the places where the residents spent their time working, and one cannot analyze the factory without knowing about the its vital–literally alive–component. So I approach the historical sites while trying to keep in mind the economic and social forces that play between the abandonment, those that abandoned it, and those that were abandoned with it, and the cultural consequences.
If history is written only by the winners, we are all losers. I come from a place where history is something you can walk on and climb on, something to be found and felt. Come with me.
Our past has been relegated to weighty dusty bookshelves in this culture, treated as dead weight that holds modernity, innovation and progress itself back—I disagree. Our past is always obscured behind the veil of contemporary interpretation, and this work represents mine: a world where the past is freed from rotting pages and can teach us who we are.
Is this real history?
Some people ask me if the history I do is real–if the adventure and discovery is somehow invalidated because x-number of years before people knew the exact layout and function and even the sociocultural impact of the places I research.
Let me say first: this is not the history you’re used to. The way I see it, studying the past puts time in a context–just like photography, the way one sees their subject depends more on where one is standing than the lens that is used. It so happens that my perspective is less conventional than my lenses, but that does not mean the value is drained from my research, in fact it’s even more important to delve into our industrial past because of our distance.
Staring into the unfamiliar past, artificial environments and composites of micro-histories is a way to construct a depth perception for our own timeline. Looking at an abandoned building like its blueprint is like considering a corpse on the facts of its DNA. These things lived and changed, and seeing them right before they get knocked down is culturally valuable.
History moves so fast sometimes you have to run to catch it. I’m racing where I can to document the changing American culture and economy from industrial to post, before it all rusts away.
The purpose of this project is to provide a photojournalistic approach to document our dusty footprints where others can’t (or won’t) tread any longer. I want to reclaim the cultural past of the neighborhoods, cities and countries that I explore: something that belongs to everyone, not whoever puts up the most barbed wire.
Feel free to contact me through the Substreet Facebook page.
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