Scott Weber

Ghosts: The Lost Architectural Heritage of Miami

As an artist who uses a camera to record the urban landscape of America I see my work as both interpretation and preservation. My images border on documentary but are more accurately my own personal feelings for a particular place. We cannot save every aspect of our heritage as we move forward in time, but those of us who record what we see can sometimes remind others of what is missing. I suppose this is how we as artists deal with the world we can’t make sense of. We create images that make sense to us, thereby incorporating our view of the world into the world itself.

This project began in 2003 during a family vacation to Boston, Massachusetts and Providence, Rhode Island. Experiencing these cities so rich in historic architectural splendor and thinking about Miami where there is very little, if any, visible historic legacy I began to wonder why. What factors might contribute to this disinterest in architectural heritage in the city of Miami? My first thought was of the annual hurricane season which results in the occasional leveling of parts of South Florida. This undeniable regional factor coupled with the fact that many of Florida’s citizens are not permanent residents, makes for a suspicious brew. I believe a combination of these two factors leads to the fact that even though people have populated the southern tip of our state for over 2000 years, preserving a sense of heritage seems futile or unimportant.

Upon my return from New England I began to search for those places that might reveal to me the life and design of the Miami of the past. There are those rare architectural gems that seemed to have survived the fierce storms, but most of what survives in Miami is memory. Even the sites inhabited by Native Americans have long since disappeared or have been built over. In 1998 we learned of the Tequesta site known as the “Miami Circle” which places human inhabitants in the southern tip of Florida 2400 years ago. Had it not been for the efforts of archeologists this site would be just another high rise along Brickell Avenue.

My research began in the South Florida Historical Museum. There I found many photographs of early Miami as well as maps, drawings and most notably the written descriptions of what life was like in the past. It was never my intent to create a “then and now” document. I want to photograph these places on my own terms as if the original structure is still there. I use these resources to locate the earliest structures in and around the original settlement that would become Miami. From 19th century fire insurance maps I can identify the exact location of many of the original buildings. In other words I am photographing places that are no longer in existence. To create a sense of what is not there I use excerpts from written accounts, journal entries, and diaries to describe what you can’t see. The text on each photograph is divided into two parts. The first part describes the original property in historic terms and the second portion is a quote from some remembrance of an inhabitant of that time. The number of sites photographed as of this date is twenty. The resulting effort, although still a work in progress, is beginning to form a visual record of a city that appears here in front of my camera but possess a very different past. The goal is to photograph as many sites as I can accurately identify.

Orchid Series 2010-2011

These prints are Palladium Toned Van Dyke prints 4x5 inches on 8.75x 11 inch paper

Process has always been a central component in my work. As the photographic world turns toward the electronic image for its speed and convenience I have begun to re- evaluate how I picture the world. A photographic image like any work of art must be authentic. The materials we choose to work with tell a lot about how we value our work.

The Van Dyke print is created by hand coating a sheet of fine art paper with a solution of iron and silver. The negative is placed in direct contact with the paper and exposed to sunlight. After processing the image it is toned in Palladium (a precious metal) which gives it that warm tone.

I use this method for several reasons. I believe it lends to the organic nature of the images, I am attracted to the unique and authentic process of making an image by hand, and this is also one of the most permanent image making processes known because of the use of precious metals.

I enjoy making photographs that speak with a soft voice, that reflect simplicity in both composition and content.

The South

No matter how much, or how little, humans change the world around them they are inextricably bound to the landscape they create. These photographs from the series “The South” were made in Florida, Louisiana, Arkansas, Alabama, North Carolina, Georgia, Virginia, and Texas. This work represents my continued exploration of the urban landscape.

Lincoln Heights Project

In 1982 I became involved with the Architectural and Historical section of the Community Redevelopment Agency of Los Angeles, California. My photographic study centered on the homes located in the Lincoln Heights neighborhood to the northeast of central L.A. A wealth of houses with historical significance and landmark churches, it was on the verge of extinction due to increased gang presence and ghetto stigma. The agency’s goal other than documenting those sites of historical interest was to inspire residents to recognize the rich heritage of their neighborhood and take a stand in their community. Approximately 80% of the 6000 houses were constructed before 1933. Two of the structures were eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, another seventeen have potential eligibility. Today Lincoln Heights is a vibrant community and a vital part of the heritage of Los Angeles. Many of the homes have been restored to their original glory.