Artist Statement "Urban Wilderness---Chaos Transformed"

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 my hometown 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.  For me, wear, weathering and deteriration is more interesting and attractive than shiny and new.

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 my goal has been to find ways to transform the chaos---hence, "Urban Wilderness---Chaos Transformed.

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.  Good or bad, it is what it is.

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 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. 

Share this by email
Enter your search terms below.