NEW YORK, NY.-
Brooklyn's Domino Sugar Refinery, once the largest in the world, shut down in 2004 after a long struggle. Most New Yorkers know this 135-year-old industrial relic only as an icon on the skyline, multiplied on T-shirts and skateboard graphics. In 2013, Paul Raphaelson, known for his formally intricate urban landscape photographs, looked past the facade. He received permission from the developers of the Domino site to explore every square foot of the refinery just weeks before its gutting and demolition. Raphaelson is the last photographer given access to the factory.
Large scale prints of Raphaelson's stunning photographs are currently on view at the Front Room Gallery
(48 Hester Street, New York, NY 10002) through January 14, 2018.
Brooklyn's Sweet Ruin includes an essay by the photographer on living and photographing in post-industrial America, and a historical text compiled by Raphaelson in collaboration with architectural historian Matthew Postal, PhD. The text draws from historic images and maps, newspaper and magazine articles, corporate documents, unpublished manuscripts, and interviews with former refinery employees.
The History of Domino and its Workers
Inside the cavernous buildings, the punishing noise levels and tropical heat of the industrial revolution had been replaced by eerie silence and cold. Here, Raphaelson felt surrounded by specters of both the refinery's history and its looming destruction. However, he writes in his essay in the book, "I felt the strongest haunting in the machinery itself, in the human interfaces comprised of valves, gauges, switches and panels, together representing technologies of two centuries, merged in a collage that looked part science fiction, part ancient shipwreck ..."
Raphaelson mused on the fates of the workers trained to operate one-of-a-kind machinery now obsolete. "Of the workers I spoke with, most had been old enough to retire. One had formal education and had been young enough to move on. Then there were the rest, who faced chronic unemployment." The workers he interviewed talk about the harsh, often hazardous working conditions, but also the camaraderie and great pride they took in the products they made.
Brooklyn's Sweet Ruin's historical text takes us through the refinery's early years, including the story of the Havemeyer family who passed company leadership between sons, grandsons and extended family members for over 100 years. It recounts the devastating fire of 1882 and reconstruction; the boom years and the birth of the famous Domino Brand; the monopolistic trust (and anti-trust suits) as Domino expanded; the company's fraught relationship with plantation slavery and indentured servitude; the process of refining sugar "Brooklyn Style;" and the factory's ultimate closure under pressure of economic circumstances and a protracted war between labor and management.
Brooklyn's Sweet Ruin is a thrilling mashup of art, document, industrial history and Brooklyn visual culture. Together with the exhibition at Front Room Gallery, Raphaelson hopes his project will speak to a wide audience, including lovers of contemporary art and photography, art curators and historians, fans of urban exploration and all-things-Brooklyn, and former Domino Refinery workers and their families, to whom he dedicates his book.
Raphaelson's world-class team of contributors to Brooklyn's Sweet Ruin includes Pulitzer Prize-winning photography editor Stella Kramer and art director Christopher Truch.
"I wanted to show the ruin as its majestic self, and also as a lens through which to see the history of the place and its people ... I found myself working in the abstract, seeing how much chaos I could allow into the frame, while still making a coherent picture. The visual density and confusion of the place invited this kind of formal experiment."-- Paul Raphaelson (from his introduction)
Paul Raphaelson is a Brookly-based artist known for urban landscape photographs, mostly made in liminal spaces between the residential and industrial, occupied and abandoned, domesticated and feral. He has also photographed fragmented and disorienting views offered by the New York City Subway, and experimented with images and text (and text without images). His work has been exhibited and collected internationally.