Sarah Hujber

Sarah Hujber: Reflections on the American Midwest
From the Adventurous Fordham Photographer

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by liam kenny

Sarah Hujber’s series of still photography was taken in the ghost towns and abandoned structures of every hidden cranny in America’s midwest. The gallery photos are shot on Ilford HP5+ black & white, medium format film stock. Six photographs are currently on display in the Visual Arts gallery. These photos are largely taken as a step back from and framing of collapsed architecture. Rarely does she approach the collapse and life-destitute remains that pile-up across this region, but instead, she allows the camera to reframe the destruction as she looks for patterns and signs of intrigue amongst the wreckage. Talking with Sarah and looking at the great collection of work prints she created, this selection of just six photographs illustrates a varied picture of the American landscape. Sarah does take influence from traditional architecture philosophy tropes commonly seen in the world of photography in 2021, but this is expertly placed beside a new and exciting look at the forgotten townships of America’s rural past. 

Sarah travelled last summer with the support of a travel grant that allowed her to visit, in large part, the abandoned towns of Arizona and California specifically. Many adventures were had on this road trip, but importantly there were not many human interactions along the way. Notably, Sarah ran into an unfriendly face who threatened her, confusing her interest with a malicious trespassing on his land. However, the results of this series exhibits the ghost towns and abandoned infrastructure across the country, so naturally there were not many people that Sarah met along the way. This was definitely ok with Sarah, however, as her interest lies in photographs of decay and this abandoned state of affairs, akin to being in an old cemetery. These ideas were fostered by a previous, shorter road trip, and there is certainly an interest to return to places like Arizona to further explore this interest that Sarah has. 

Of Sarah’s many prints to choose from and refine, she has ultimately decided to showcase six of them. These six photographs include a close-up of a shattered window and the building and doorway inside, alone building alongside some brush that sits in the foreground of the expansive plain, another shattered window amongst tossed furnishings and makeshift plywood buildings, a fenced yard among decrepit and empty buildings, a shack amongst the overgrowth, and a collection of mailboxes with nothing else in sight. Seeing Sarah’s prints, there is a lot to take in. However, the eye is almost always drawn to a specific section of the image because of the lines in architecture that are made noticeable from Sarah’s framing. One concept she pointed out to me when seeing her prints is the way she sees shadows. By stepping back from the subject, the way light falls becomes of the utmost importance. Broken support beams cause protruding shadows from the shattered remains of a gas station, towering cars in a pit of mud leave the only shade visible for miles, and collections of mailboxes leave little shadow strips in an otherwise barren desert.

Sarah Hujber, Abandoned America, 2021. Photographer Stephen Apicella-Hitchcock.

Sarah was instantly drawn to certain photographs she wanted to display for this installation, however I am surprised to see a few others here. Both pictures containing shattered glass and the picture of the mailboxes were pointed out to me as especially of interest to Sarah. With this knowledge, one can consider how different photographs compliment one another. What is magnificent about this selection of photographs is how they vary in style ever so slightly, thereby not becoming confined to one view of such an expansive topic and landscape. 

I found the photographs of windows with shattered glass especially interesting. These two photographs compliment each other, but also work in the context of the others, especially because of how they are placed on the wall with the other pictures. There is no immediate connection from picture to picture, but instead Sarah has elected to step in and out from pictures, creating a broader perspective on all the photos together as opposed to creating a connection between similar photographs. The mailboxes finish this collection with a question mark, leaving us wondering what could live in the decimation of these buildings. Sarah’s interest in returning to this landscape is certainly represented here, as she posits that there are many more questions to ask and answer with her photography. 

Sarah’s exploration of America’s expanse is certainly an exciting one with much more to show than is visible in this series. Sarah’s installation is limited to six pictures; however, her exhibition and photography of the midwest is certainly not to be passed up, as she is an exciting new eye that is willing to be adventurous and provide insight into the great expanse that America provides, one that is sometimes difficult to imagine in the confines of New York City.