“Cars,” once said New York City-based photographer Jill Freedman, “are sort of like our country.” From Henry Ford to American Graffiti, the car has long embodied America’s dual spirit of industry and freedom. And just as America has undergone drastic transformation, so has the automobile —Detroit struggles; the growl of the American muscle car has been supplanted by the whir of tinny engines run by computerized fuel injection systems. The changing spirit of the American car echoed the changing spirit of America itself as the Industrial Age drew to a close.
New Haven is no stranger to these changes, which seem to have infected it with the particular malaise of being an industrial city in a post-industrial world. New Haven was built from steel and oil. At its heart was its harbor, which supported a thriving shipping industry. During the Civil War, the United States contracted its weapons from New Haven Arms (later renamed Winchester Arms), and the arms manufacturing industry became an economic cornerstone of the city. Today, the harbor rarely seems busy; its massive cranes tower unused as a single ship unloads. The enormous, sprawling Winchester Arms factory (pictured left) sits abandoned, hollowed out, as plans to repurpose it as premium loft apartments are discussed. It’s a story repeated again and again, and one especially visible from the Yale campus as the university attempts to plant the seeds of gentrification in formerly industrial neighborhoods like Science Park.
I hope to convey this narrative through the microcosm of New Haven’s transportation: the growl and rumble of dirty diesel engines still heard and felt in city buses; the tires that sink into the sand on an underused harbor; the clicks of a bicycle freewheel driven by a system of spinning gears, cranks, and roller chain; the dozens of tons of steel sheets that plate railway cars. And — as discarded automobile frames return to the earth as dirt and rust — I hope these photographs will capture something of an age in passing.