As an artist who uses a camera to record the urban landscape of America I see my work as both interpretation and preservation. My images border on documentary but are more accurately my own personal feelings for a particular place. We cannot save every aspect of our heritage as we move forward in time, but those of us who record what we see can sometimes remind others of what is missing. I suppose this is how we as artists deal with the world we can’t make sense of. We create images that make sense to us, thereby incorporating our view of the world into the world itself.
This project began in 2003 during a family vacation to Boston, Massachusetts and Providence, Rhode Island. Experiencing these cities so rich in historic architectural splendor and thinking about Miami where there is very little, if any, visible historic legacy I began to wonder why. What factors might contribute to this disinterest in architectural heritage in the city of Miami? My first thought was of the annual hurricane season which results in the occasional leveling of parts of South Florida. This undeniable regional factor coupled with the fact that many of Florida’s citizens are not permanent residents, makes for a suspicious brew. I believe a combination of these two factors leads to the fact that even though people have populated the southern tip of our state for over 2000 years, preserving a sense of heritage seems futile or unimportant.
Upon my return from New England I began to search for those places that might reveal to me the life and design of the Miami of the past. There are those rare architectural gems that seemed to have survived the fierce storms, but most of what survives in Miami is memory. Even the sites inhabited by Native Americans have long since disappeared or have been built over. In 1998 we learned of the Tequesta site known as the “Miami Circle” which places human inhabitants in the southern tip of Florida 2400 years ago. Had it not been for the efforts of archeologists this site would be just another high rise along Brickell Avenue.
My research began in the South Florida Historical Museum. There I found many photographs of early Miami as well as maps, drawings and most notably the written descriptions of what life was like in the past. It was never my intent to create a “then and now” document. I want to photograph these places on my own terms as if the original structure is still there. I use these resources to locate the earliest structures in and around the original settlement that would become Miami. From 19th century fire insurance maps I can identify the exact location of many of the original buildings. In other words I am photographing places that are no longer in existence. To create a sense of what is not there I use excerpts from written accounts, journal entries, and diaries to describe what you can’t see. The text on each photograph is divided into two parts. The first part describes the original property in historic terms and the second portion is a quote from some remembrance of an inhabitant of that time. The number of sites photographed as of this date is twenty. The resulting effort, although still a work in progress, is beginning to form a visual record of a city that appears here in front of my camera but possess a very different past. The goal is to photograph as many sites as I can accurately identify.