When you think of the city of Charleston, you may imagine horse and buggies clopping down quaint city streets, historic homes and the quintessential southern charm of South Carolina. But did you know there's another Charleston?
In 1994, Charleston, West Virginia was described by photographer Lauren Henkin as "downtrodden, industrial and hardscrabble."
Just 10 years later, as a college graduate, Henkin reexamined the small town on her way to St. Louis and had a completely different opinion. She appreciated the irony of what she saw: Architectural gems like Victorian homes, industrial areas full of steel warehouses, natural beauty of the surrounding mountains and a river splitting the town in half. It inspired her to create a series on the city.
The project, "The Other Charleston," has now won first place in the 2007 Px3 Paris ("Prix de la Photographie, Paris") competition.
"There is great beauty waiting to be noticed in our ignored cities," said Henkin, 33, who grew up in a Maryland suburb. "We should be paying more attention to them."
In 2005, as a trained architect, Henkin saw the valley town through the eyes of a poet.
"The mornings are foggy and unpredictable," she wrote in her contest entry description. "The mountains are always visible, always acting as a backdrop to the city's most elegant and abused buildings. . ."
She added: "I have always had a belief that everything has a soul, and nowhere have buildings communicated so clearly to me as they did in Charleston."
The Px3 contest promotes photography appreciation, discovers emerging talent and introduces photographers from around the globe to the Parisian artistic community. Henkin's winning photographs were exhibited in 13 Sevigne Gallery in Paris and will be published in the annual Px3 book. The architect's photos of this small town were selected from more than 8,000 submissions from 85 countries. The notoriety has kicked-off more exhibit showings of "The Other Charleston" in cities throughout the northeast.
A former manager at Washington, D.C.'s Corcoran Gallery of Art, Henkin describes herself as a "self-taught" photographer. While her college training included some photography and lighting classes, Henkin has furthered her knowledge by taking workshops with Michael Eastman, Chan Chao and Gordon Hutchings. Photography suits her personality more than architecture.
"I'm a shy person," she has said. "Looking at things from behind the camera gives me the opportunity to study the world."
Henkin may be young, but she's an old soul when it comes to her architecture-inspired black-and-white film methodology. A film shooter, she only uses traditional medium and large-format cameras such as her Yashica. Most of those Charleston images are either 6x7 or 4x5. Technically speaking, realizing the importance of printmaking has made her a better photographer. This step, she said, forces her to pay closer attention to composition.
Whether a beat-up building fašade, the peeling paint of a window sill or a remote grassy patch in a park, it is "quietness" that first attracts Henkin to her subjects. Next, she is drawn to things she perceives as being endangered, such as a warehouse, or even a way of life. American vernacular also inspires her-- like purely American landscapes and buildings.
Her love of architecture clearly played a role in "The Other Charleston."
"Where much of today's architecture is casually disposed and instantly outdated, the buildings there seem indomitable and enduring by contrast," she said.
Currently, Henkin is working on a project called "New Scotland" based on her summer in Nova Scotia, Canada. She will have a solo show there in July at the Anderson Gallery.
For more visit www.laurenhenkin.com.