This was hands down, the strangest, most dangerous photo shoot I have ever been involved in.
Have you ever heard of Centralia Pennsylvania? Assuming you haven’t, Its a modern day ghost town located 70 miles southwest of Scranton. Abandoned in the 1980’s due to an underground mine fire that started in 1962, it has been burning ever since.
“This was a world where no human could live, hotter than the planet Mercury, its atmosphere as poisonous as Saturn’s. At the heart of the fire, temperatures easily exceeded 1,000 degrees [Fahrenheit]. Lethal clouds of carbon monoxide and other gases swirled through the rock chambers.” —David DeKok, Unseen Danger: A Tragedy of People, Government, and the Centralia Mine Fire (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1986)
So what better place to shoot the poster announcing the upcoming AIGA/NY Fresh Dialogue for 2003 right? I agreed to moderate and would join Jason Fulford, Leanne Shapton, Peter Buchanan-Smith and the band Timber! on stage at FIT in May.
We shot on a frigid day in December 2002, right in the middle (or should I say, on top of) the most active area of the fire. Ignoring the toxic fumes and the danger of a subsidence photographer Gus Powell calmly documented as we set up the stage exactly as it would appear months later in NYC (including drum kit, amp and crape paper letters).
The temperature that day was well below freezing yet there was standing water due to the heat of the fire (see foreground of poster).
After the ordeal of the shoot, Jason decided to rent a smoke machine to replicate the mine fire the night of the event. A nice touch.
We froze our asses off, but no one got hurt and perhaps more importantly, no one involved will ever forget.