Double Exposure: Silos by Andria Hickey and Matthew Chasney


Photographs by Matthew Chasney

Text by Andria Hickey

The Great Plains of America are vast . . . its villages turned inward as if time had stood still . . . Over time the silos rose with ever greater assurance and created the landscape of the New World.

—Aldo Rossi

Silos dot the fields of the Rust Belt like landlocked lighthouses for the plains. On road trips that stretch long against the mo-notony of gray road and gray sky, you can see them from the highway, and further away, white beacons that signal things have happened here. They store grain and cement and sawdust and coal. Or they might have.

Sometimes you can’t see the silos. They are hidden, or con-cealed; bunkers that are buried beneath the ground. They may still hold weapons and places to hide. You can buy an aban-doned bunker on the internet. They may mostly be abandoned; they may mostly be empty.

The silos disrupt and define this great gray landscape. Steel mill gray. Lake Erie gray. Faded paint gray. Factory gray. Park-ing lot gray. Social assistance gray. Urgent Care gray. Broken car gray. Strip mall gray.

The towers and bunkers are containers that accumulate ab-stract resources (and wealth), playing at protection by burying perspective, withholding the ability to see inside walls without windows. The silo is an invention, a warehouse for ideas, an arsenal of security, stabilities, long-gone lifestyles.

And anyway, it is hard to see anything clearly against all the gray.

And what is there to see?

There are miles and miles of houses, far enough from the highway to keep them from eyesight, but not so far that escape can be quick. Fences and driveways and two-car garages circle wide along the edges of streets that have memorable names like Starkweather, Carnegie, Jennings. People live in the houses, but you are not likely to see them if you drive by. The houses are in-side neighborhoods with small yards and detailed schedules for work time and sleep time and outside time. If you look at the sta-tistics that define places for people who make decisions, you will know that some miles of these outer rings are places where all of the people work in factories, or in hospitals, or in car plants, or in retail, or they don’t work at all. Some places are for people who go to church on Sundays, and maybe Wednesdays too.

There are pockets of land between the places that have names you won’t remember, where people live in smaller quar-ters, less orderly. There are rectangular mobile homes with cement foundations that have wooden stairs painted brown to match the roof, and maybe there are tractor trailers in the driveway and rusty swing sets. The numbers don’t tell you about how you make the decision to cement a home and stop moving, how you pick the color to paint the stairs or the roof, how much it cost you and how much you paid to get there. They tell you that hardly anyone lives in some places. They re-mind you that hardly anyone has been to college in some plac-es. Hardly anyone is not white in some places. Hardly anyone is young. Hardly anyone has jobs. They list how many infants die in their first year. How many men, and how many women live in some places. There is not much that has changed from year to year. There is not much about the why.

Silos above and below are windowless. Inside you are blind, separate, static, hidden. From inside, you can paint a picture of how you imagine the outside will be. Inside you can know all of the numbers, all of the demographics, all the facts gathered from property records, and income taxes, and birth certificates, and knocking on doors that are answered and unanswered. You can trace the history of industry, of economics, of the movement of people from one generation to the next. You can place that information alongside The American Dream and see how it grows into a picture that you can keep in your mind while you make friends and laws and visions for the future from inside.

If you somehow find a tunnel beneath the silo, or something you can scrape away at, you might find a way out into a vivid and palpable landscape. It is so close it is surprising that you had forgotten it existed, that you had forgotten you were inside the silo. Parts of the picture you made from all of the information and history and dreaming are how you imagined they would be. There are houses for families and there are cars and streets and trees planted in a line. There are buildings that people work in. There are highways that people move across every day.

But there are unexpected cracks in the siloed picture you imagined, in the story it kept for you. There is a deer in an empty field, with electrical wires lining the tracks and a barbed wire fence that keeps it empty. There are two yellow chairs next to the front door of the brick duplex—kitchen chairs that should be indoors. They are tender against the dullness of brick on the government housing. There is a complete darkness that articulates a silence you have never heard before in the park-ing lot of an office complex that is exactly the same as every other office complex along the turnpike. Who else recognizes that sound? There are colors that interrupt the faded paint of a house with new boards to replace windows and doors, holding the building up. It may be empty, but who has taken the care to keep it from falling apart?

The texture of these images against the recorded numbers of a census, of election polls, and of campaign surveys tears fissures in what you imagine a place might be. They are bright and concrete ruptures revealing the brittle frameworks we put our trust in. Truth, like a silo, is an invented idea. It is not ab-solute, it is not black and white, it is as gray as the sky above Lake Erie from November to March. It is as temporal and as manageable as a swing state.


Posted in Double Exposure


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Silos by Andria Hickey and Matthew Chasney

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