Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Photo Opportunity or Just Plain Opportunist?

No photos today, but I've had this on my mind and I'd love to hear what other people think.

They started demolition on the last building remaining at the Cabrini-Green Public Housing project here in Chicago today.

For those who don't know, Cabrini-Green was a monster public housing development that was everything you think of when you think of urban public housing in the 70's and 80's and into the 90's.  It was rat-ridden and drug-ridden and graffitied and gang-ridden and all of that. I remember driving by it once or twice as a kid and just finding it really freaking scary looking. Not because of the people, but because of the odd structural design. It was very, very reminiscent of a prison. The halls between the apartments looked over a courtyard, but there were floor to ceiling fences on that inside wall to keep people from being tossed overboard. There were some of these fence-walls on the outside too. There was the infamous case of "Girl X" - a nine year old girl who was brutally raped and beaten and then poisoned and left in a Cabrini-Green stairwell to die. Only she didn't, but was severely brain-damaged by the poison and traumatized by the attack. This is how 99% of the world remembers Cabrini-Green.

There are many very scary things about this place. I know that there were generations of families who lived there and felt that was their community and didn't want to leave when the city started moving them out a few years back, but from the outside we only heard about crime after crime after crime on those grounds.

From the Wikipedia Page:
During the worst years of Cabrini–Green's problems, vandalism increased substantially. Gang members and miscreants covered interior walls with graffiti and damaged doors, windows, and elevators. Rat and cockroach infestations were commonplace, rotting garbage stacked up in clogged trash chutes (it once piled up to the 15th floor), and basic utilities (water, electricity, etc.) often malfunctioned and were left unrepaired. On the exterior, boarded-up windows, burned-out areas of the facade, and pavement instead of green space—all in the name of economizing on maintenance—created an atmosphere of neglect and decay. The high "open galleries" were enclosed with steel fencing along the entire height of the building to prevent residents from falling or being thrown off to their deaths (giving the visual appearance of a large prison tier, or animal cages, which further enraged community leaders).[6]
So they've moved everyone out as of last winter (I believe) and they'd been consolidating and destroying buildings in the complex for a few years now. Last night I heard on the news that the last building was going to start being torn down today.

I seriously thought about grabbing my camera and finding a good vantage point and shooting the demolition. But I couldn't decide if that was just weird. I mean, if they were leveling some random building in my neighborhood, I would have been there in a heartbeat. Wrecking balls + concrete and steel = cool shooting, right? But I just couldn't decide if the appeal here was that it was such a notorious place with such a history behind it.

I asked myself how I'd feel if someone wanted to stand around and take pictures of the house I grew up in being demolished and decided that well, it's not like I'd try to get an injunction to stop them or anything, but I'm not sure I'd want to see the shots. Too much of my history is tied up in that house. Would other people find it freaky that I wanted to watch them tear down their childhood home?

I didn't go. I just couldn't quite square it with the "that's a little weird" in my brain. But I've been thinking about it all day. If they wanted to take down the grocery story and associated apartments around the corner from me, I'd totally go. So why did this strike me as different?

What do you all think? Would you have gone? Where's the line between "photographic opportunity" and just being "opportunist"?

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