RW Hawkins characterizes his project Industria, prints from which are on exhibit in Viewpoint’s Step Up Gallery in August, as “part ‘urbex’ [urban exploration], part world travel, part historical documentation, and part mechanical obsession.” It explores industrial “locales and equipment from the Machine Age, remnants from the 20th century that are rapidly fading.... It is a creative response to that ephemera, not an attempt to document the people or final products of that era.”
Hawkins defines urbex as “a rebellious pursuit of youth so often told ‘don’t go there, it’s dangerous.’” His first urbex outing occurred in 1993 when he and a college friend hiked to an abandoned oil refinery in Southern California to explore and make photos for a photography class. He thought the pictures were great, but urbex locations were limited in California, so for the next fifteen years “I pursued more ‘photogenic’ landscape projects, until I heard of a workshop put on by Viewpoint at the Gladding McBean pottery factory. The opportunity to spend an entire weekend wandering a factory and responding creatively via my camera was intoxicating, I attended every session possible until the workshop ended in 2011.”
The Gladding McBean experience convinced Hawkins that, with a little work, he could continue making industrial landscapes. He connected with fellow photographers in Detroit who were willing to help him explore the abandoned automotive factories there. With the aid of an experienced filmmaker who knew Chernobyl well, he gained access to some of the unique locations in the Chernobyl exclusion zone, where stays are limited to four days due to risk of radiation exposure.
Over the course of the project, Hawkins found that certain themes emerged: “my interest in control panels, and my obsession with anything reflected in water. I also have a fascination, going all the way back to childhood, with working machines.” Many of the sites he photographs “have the most amazing machines, and I often spend hours examining them in detail, imagining how they worked, and even researching them afterwards.”
Befitting his subject matter, Hawkins works with a view camera using 4x5-inch film and makes traditional silver gelatin prints – photographic technologies that have been all but abandoned in favor of digital imaging. “For me,” he states, “it feels right to artistically explore the Industria of the 20th century with the photographic materials of the same time.”
For more about the photography of RW Hawkins, visit his website at rwhawkins.com.
RW Hawkins, Railroad Kiln, Lincoln, California
RW Hawkins, Reflection, Chernobyl, Ukraine
RW Hawkins, Death Star, Detroit, Michigan
RW Hawkins, Blast Furnace, Hattingen, Germany