In Rebecca Skinner’s two exhibits, at 6 Bridges Gallery and the Brookline Arts Center, striking images depict abandoned mills and factories in total ruin. Decay has thoroughly set in. Elements of nature have begun to re-establish their territory. Her photographs portray spaces once bustling with workers and loaded with products of every description, now standing, after years of neglect, totally dilapidated.
Some words come to mind in observing Skinner’s images of these buildings: curiosity, exploration, observation, documentation, reverence. Her extensive and varied works reflect a progression in her sensibilities from the enthusiasm of her first discovery of an abandoned location to the respect she feels when reflecting on the lives lived amid the humming activity of the once-thriving factory.
For Skinner, the portrayal of these locations is a summation of their history and their beauty. The manufacturing spaces are vast and hushed, but the occasional office chair or decrepit sofa left behind, the stacks of crated, unshipped products reveal human traces. Mills that, for generations were filled with the commotion inherent to productivity, are now silent and empty.
You sense Skinner’s lingering observation as she captures the remnants of the factory floors. Her works nudge us into contemplating what we can easily discern from the visible remains and what our imaginations can project from the image presented to us.
Skinner cites her father as the initial influence for her current work. “It started with my dad,” she said. “He has a farm near Asheville, North Carolina. He has always pointed out old things. If we are taking a ride down the road, he will point out an old car and tell me what it is. He’ll point out the structure of an old barn and describe how it was made. I think it started with that.”
Skinner is taken with the actual construction of the spaces. Line, proportion, pattern and natural light capture the architecture of the buildings. “I did quite a bit of film photography over 20 years ago when I lived in North Carolina, just driving out to the country and photographing old barns,” she explained. “I also did AutoCAD drafting and architectural work, but photography was always there.” Images of large interiors reflect her training with computer-aided design and architectural rendering. The perspective in the works indicates a real appreciation, not only for the lines of the structure but also the patterning of the materials she found within the buildings. The photographs combine her appreciation of architecture with the influence of her father, making her approach like an archeologist’s: trying to find human traces among the ruins.