For 125 years the Bethlehem Steel mill in Baltimore’s Sparrows Point provided work for tens of thousands of men and women. For those employees, the work was a way of life. The mill not only provided jobs but also led to stable communities — things that give people identity. When the mill shut down, those things eroded, decayed and vanished.
Baltimore photojournalist J.M. Giordano has trained his lens on this erosion for the last 15-plus years. His gritty, stark black-and-white images follow the decline and its impact on Baltimore in sharp relief. And they are on view now at the Baltimore Museum of Industry in “Shuttered: The Fall of Bethlehem Steel.”
Giordano, the grandson of a steelworker, began the project when the mills in Baltimore sputtered and then descended into a downward spiral. Giordano’s photos show us the bleak, crumbling landscape and introduce us to some of the people left behind. Amid the shuttered, abandoned union halls and blown-off facades of the former Bethlehem Steel headquarters, Giordano introduces us to people like Pete, Lee and Elizabeth, all former steelworkers who put decades into their jobs. Pete worked at Bethlehem Steel from 1956 to 1992, while Lee, a former Marine, put in over four decades at Sparrows Point.
Giordano told me he sees his work as a “sobering pill” to the pro-industrial work of photographic greats like Bill Brandt, W. Eugene Smith and Margaret Bourke White. Those photographers were documenting a robust industrial time. Giordano’s work shows the detritus left when the boom ended. In many ways, Giordano’s work is a metaphor for the changes impacting our lives in the past few decades, when we have increasingly become a service economy.
If you’re in the area, you can catch “Shuttered: The Fall of Bethlehem Steel” at the Baltimore Museum of Industry through April. More information can be found here.
In Sight is The Washington Post’s photography blog for visual narrative. This platform showcases compelling and diverse imagery from staff members and freelance photographers, news agencies and archives. If you are interested in submitting a story to In Sight, please complete this form.
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