Cheyenne Snow is fascinated with the look of abandoned buildings, the forgotten places where brick and mortar are crumbling, nature is reasserting its hold and the sounds of bustling industry are only a memory.
The Lebanon-based photographer is completing work on a book focused on post-industrial places in Lebanon County, where the last vestiges of the once-thriving steel industry are slowly eroding.
“I’ve lived in Lebanon my whole life,” says 20-year-old Snow. “Over the last year I’ve really been focusing on Lebanon, photographing all round the town. And I’ve always loved abandoned buildings.”
Snow — whose last name is Tobias but uses her middle name “Snow” for business purposes — says she started studying photography in high school when she “took a couple darkroom classes and fell in love with it.” Now she’s studying photography and video, with a minor in art history and visual culture, at Pennsylvania College of Art & Design in Lancaster.
“I would like to do freelance photography,” she said. “My ultimate goal is to work for National Geographic. We’ll see how that works out. It’s a pretty big goal.” (Full disclosure: Snow is currently an occasional freelance photographer for LebTown.)
The book, she explains, was spurred by a class assignment at PCA&D. She was tasked to put together a collection of photos, and she wanted to “make it something cohesive and important, something people could identify with.”
As a child, she said, her parents often pointed out local sites – foundries and factories – that were connected to the steel industry. So finding locations for her shoots was “mostly just remembering what my parents said when I was growing up.” She talked with local residents who worked in the industry to get more ideas, she said, and she “spent a lot of time walking and driving” to find the right sites.
And she found what she was looking for. A small sample of photos from the collection shows shattered windows, broken bricks, rust and graffiti, gaping roofs and ivy growing into the empty spaces.
“I really love nature taking over, so there’s a lot of that in my work,” Snow said.
“I’ve pretty much been photographing older buildings and abandoned sites for two years now. I’m trying to understand the history, because I’m fascinated by history. It’s around us all the time,” she adds. “I like showing the things that are left behind.”
The book also includes photos of people who worked in the industry, she notes.
“The goal of this project is to connect my personal life and feelings about Lebanon and the collapsing of the steel industry and the deep rooted ties it has to my family,” she said in her artist’s statement. “While also connecting these feelings and experiences not only to the local community but also to the hundreds of other towns and people in America that have also experienced similar decline and devastation.”
Lebanon, she said in her statement, “was directly impacted by the decline of industrial America, specifically the steel industry. There have been a lot of people throughout the history of my family that have worked hard in the steel industry. … Businesses such as Cleaver Brooks, Bethlehem Steel, Lebanon Steel Foundry, Bethlehem and Cornwall Mines, and the Lebanon Concentrator shut down operations due to (foreign) competition and cheaper prices of raw ore. These businesses employed such a large number of people around Lebanon County and left many of them with no pensions and jobs.”
The collection relies mostly on the art to do the talking. Snow told LebTown there won’t be much text, besides her artist’s statement and some quotes from the people she’s photographed.
“I’ve mostly been talking to the people who experienced, who lived it, rather than from the perspective of a professional historian,” she said.
The book’s title, “Annealing America,” refers to a steel-working term.
“‘Anneal’ means to heat metal and allow it to cool slowly in order to remove internal stress and toughen it,” Snow explains. “So in my context, it would represent how the steel industry affected America and how it heated it up during the prime of the industry and allowed it to slowly cool down before dying out only to, in the long term of things, toughen America.”
The self-published book will include 40 to 50 photos, which were taken over a 13-week period. Anyone interested in ordering a copy should contact Snow directly, either by calling her at 717-639-5282, emailing her at email@example.com or contacting her at facebook.com/cheyennetobiasx.
Work on the book should wrap up within the next two weeks, Snow said. The first copies should be available a month or so after that.
In an announcement on social media, Snow said she will be selling special edition copies of the book for $70 and cheaper versions that will go for $25 to $35.
So, what’s the next project for this young artist?
“I’m kind of all over the place right now,” she said with a laugh. “I’m going to take December to brainstorm and think about what’s next for me.”
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