photograph by Garvin Burke
My first visit to Stamford’s South End was in the late 1980s. I was a student at Parsons School of Design, and I had heard about “a reasonably priced art supply company” in the old Yale & Towne factory. This surprised me. At the time, the South End was considered a declining industrial neighborhood with abandoned buildings and drug dealers. I knew little of this area’s history, but after that first visit I researched its manufacturing past. I learned that in 1868, the inventors of the Yale tumbler padlock, Linus Yale Jr. and Henry Robinson Towne, picked the South End as an ideal site for manufacturing their locks and keys. The company’s huge success brought financial growth to the area and employed almost a quarter of Stamford’s population.
In 1978, when the area was already in decline, this red-bricked building became home to the Loft Artists Association (LAA), the arts community that hosts the annual Open Studios. Today the building is one of several luxury apartment complexes that make up Harbor Point, the redevelopment project that has been changing the South End landscape since 2008. But while the LAA was still housed at the Yale & Towne, I would attend their Open Studios weekend. During one visit, I brought my camera and began shooting photographs of surrounding buildings and old hand-painted ads that remained on the façades. What started out as spontaneous inspiration turned into an ongoing series of photographs I titled “Signs of Life.”
I don’t remember if what I captured of the South End then was the initial springboard for this series, but it definitely helped develop the concept. Whether on vacation or en route to work, I will often stop to shoot “ghost signs,” road signs, hand-painted type and old neon signs. The intersection of littered language in our urban landscape intrigued me then and continues to do so to this day. And in the process, I accidentally captured, what in some cases, is no longer there.