“My foothold is tenoned and mortised in granite,
I laugh at what you call dissolution,
And I know the amplitude of time.”
—Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass (p. 36)
The following photographs depict the city of Camden, New Jersey through images of what people leave behind—words, signs, and symbols, from graffiti to grave stones, created by people as way to leave a mark of remembrance on the place where they live. While none of the photographs have people in them, they clearly illustrate places that people have been. The words and symbols shown in this series of photographs would not exist without a human intent to create something tangible. People continue to leave physical traces of themselves throughout the city, sometimes manifesting as urban decay and destruction. Despite Camden’s common association with urban life and street crime, these photographs also capture natural elements of landscape juxtaposed with the city setting.
Originally, I wanted to photograph Walt Whitman’s grave, located in Harleigh Cemetery in Camden. After reflecting on Whitman’s poetry, I realized its words and meaning would be better represented in images found throughout the city, as he speaks of humanity as a whole without segregating individuals based on environmental factors. I adapted my plan to additionally visit a street that showcases graffiti by different artists. However, once I arrived in Camden, I was overwhelmed by the amount of material that not only related to Whitman’s poetry, but that also depicted Camden and its citizens through words, signs, and symbols. Moreover, the images I was surrounded by were visually striking, so narrowing down particular places to photograph was difficult. In the end, I chose to focus on three main areas: several blocks of urban decay including the street with graffiti, a home destroyed by fire, and the area near Walt Whitman’s grave in Harleigh Cemetery. The following series of photographs show Camden as a living organism, from destruction to creation to rebirth, in an environment that combines the natural world with urban decay, and all that lies in between.
Here you can find the published photo essay, Presence in Absence: A Visual Exploration of Camden, New Jersey, which includes larger photographs and an in depth analysis.