Since 1990, I have been pursuing a photographic series called Urban Wilderness?Chaos Transformed. The series embodies the images I've captured while randomly walking the blighted neighborhoods and back alleys of large, densely populated cities like New York, Paris, Rome, London, Havana, San Francisco's Chinatown, and Los Angeles.
Amidst the litter, decay and blight---condemned by most (but not me) as unsightly---I find beauty, a beauty that I endeavor to portray in my photography. The neighborhoods I explore are old, but rich with character, a character that cannot be found in the tonier, upscale parts of town. As my exploration of these environments deepened over the years, I was able to discover that there is much beauty to be found amidst the grime. This is the beauty of ugliness, a beauty that escapes most as they never bother to stop and look. I have found hidden gems amidst the chaos and blight and that has been fulfilling.
The images are ephemeral and, like living organisms, change continuously as new layers of weather, grime, and graffiti overlap and obliterate the old. And, sadly, the neighborhoods where these images were found are rapidly changing, the old being replaced by gentrification and urban renewal undertaken in the name of progress. I mourn the transformation from authenticity and uniqueness into sameness. As a Washington Post review of my 2000 Washington DC show reported: "Urban renewal and gentrification are supposed to be good things. But here [in Greines' world of Urban Wilderness] these improvements seem almost sad." I'm glad I had the opportunity to document what no longer exists.
The Urban Wilderness images are shown exactly as I found them. I've religiously abided by a self-imposed rule: I will not alter anything that I find, either physically or through digital manipulation. What you see is exactly what I saw, without embellishment.
While I commenced and shot the series for many years on film using Hasselblad, Pentax and Mamiya medium format cameras and a tripod, I now work exclusively digitally. While I make routine Lightroom adjustmensts of brightness, color temperature and contrast, I do not alter the images in other ways. There is zero digital trickery; I apply only those adjustments that would be available in a film darkroom.
Gallery 1: Chaos Transformed
Urban Wilderness started here in 1990. My goal was to capture each image exactly as I found it, using medium format cameras and doing all my cropping in the camera. Each image is identified by address and date of capture to document and also enable interested persons to visit the image site in person. The images are exhibited in sizes ranging from 30x30" to 50x50" and are archivally mounted unframed on aluminum to simulate the way the images appeared on the street. The images are ephemeral---there one moment, gone the next.
Gallery 2: Portraits
The Portraits series is a subset of the Urban Wilderness series. The images were discovered by chance during my random city wanderings. The images are exhibited in sizes ranging from 17x22" to 30x45."
Gallery 3: The American Hotel
These images reveal a 15-year documentation of the ever-changing south-facing wall of The American Hotel situtated in downtown Los Angeles. For many years, the wall served as a free-art and free-speech platform that changed constantly as new layers of personal expression overlapped the old. Gentrification has destroyed the wall.
Gallery 4: Street Signs
The street sign series is a subset of Urban Wilderness, consisting of signs randomly discovered during endless wanderings of the blighted areas of urban centers. Once again, beauty can be found in the decayed and mundane.
Gallery 5: The Mercer Street Puppies
These images were tough to capture. They were situated at ground level on Mercer Street in Manhattan---at a time when that part of Soho was grimy, before gentrification.