After a devastating fire and a century and a half of decline following an economic nosedive, by 1920 Bodie, California — once a booming Wild West metropolis — remained home to fewer than 150 people.
Today, Bodie is home only to a transitory community of state employees and museum guides who work to preserve it in a state of “arrested decay” as a National Historic Landmark. Over the summer, Michaela Giesenkirchen Sawyer, associate professor and director of Humanities, joined this community to photograph and document Bodie’s disintegration. An exhibit displaying the outcome of her project, titled “Ghost Town,” opened Sept. 16 on the third floor of the Library.
In its prospecting heyday Bodie was one of California’s most populous and notorious cities, at one time boasting 65 saloons on its main street and a thriving red light district. Today, the crumbling homes and businesses are littered with thoroughly dusty turn-of-the-century artifacts, door frames and rafters lie in heaps of splinters among weathered floorboards and table settings remain as they were at their exact moment of abandonment. It was in these suspended details of mining life that Sawyer found and captured what she calls “the ghostliness of desertion.”
Arresting and strangely beautiful in its muted colors and disarrayed subjects, the series observes and even celebrates the melancholy juxtaposition of social and domestic spaces with now-obsolete machinery in the process of succumbing to the desert’s harsh climate and fading into its topography.
‘Ghost Town’ will be on display until Nov. 15 on the third floor of the library. The photographs in the series observe and sometimes celebrate the melancholy juxtaposition of social and domestic spaces.