PHOTOS BY MARTIN W. KANE

HOME

From 1982 to 1997, I documented the passing of the industrial era in the Northeastern United States. During that time I worked independently and as a staff photographer for the Hagley Museum and Library. The projects I worked on told the story of closing shipyards, lace mills, textile plants, oil refineries, steel mills, coal mines, railroad operations, and almost everything else that once made the “rust-belt” a production powerhouse. A historian that worked closely with me once quipped that I was the undertaker of American industry, making a memorable image of the workplace corpse before the wrecking crew arrived.

The photos for Cold Steel were made at the Bethlehem Steel Mill, in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, which ceased operation in March 1997. Today, much of the Bethlehem steel mill is gone, mined for the scrap metal value of its building. The Bethlehem Steel Corporation entered bankruptcy in 2002 and it disappeared as an entity in 2003. A museum may be built to preserve a small portion of the site.

It is hard to describe a facility that covers a thousand acres and has hundreds of buildings; it is even harder to photograph it. In many of my earlier projects I had worked to make a visual record of the place, but in Bethlehem I was trying to catch ghosts. I was seeking the spirit of the place, the echo of the workers that had once built and operated the vast enterprise. Nothing can match the experience of the steel mill in operation, or the feeling of desolation after the last worker has left.