By Sophia Ricco
Items kept sacred can say many things about a person, but what about the pieces that are left behind? What stories can they tell?
Photographer Paul Mele explores what the forsaken have to say in a new exhibit, “In Absentia,” on display at fotofoto gallery, April 24 through May 18.
The Island Park native has pursued photography for the past 10 years. This is his fourth exhibit at the gallery.
Mele has previously shown photographs of the abandoned Kings Park Psychiatric Center.
“I’ve always had a fascination with abandoned areas and hospitals. This time I decided instead of focusing on the actual building I would focus on what was left behind by people,” Mele said.
Venturing to upstate New York and Connecticut, Mele spent months wandering through old hospitals and living facilities. What he found was an assortment of discarded oddities from desks to TVs to shower curtains to porcelain tubs.
“It’s all just remnants of what’s left behind ” Mele said.
A landscape photographer, Mele believes this project is a different form of landscape that puts greater focus on objects while still capturing the surroundings. The elements in his photographs are quite literal and don’t require further interpretation, he said. A smashed television is really just that, but it invites viewers to explore deeper.
“To me, it’s more about the light, the place, the objects, what was left behind and putting your own interpretation about why it was left behind,” Mele said.
While shooting, Mele was at the mercy of the rooms, relying on them to provide him natural light and an intriguing setting. Even the way an item was left is part of Mele’s exploration of the past’s presence. Desks splayed in every direction say much more than desks perfectly arranged in rows.
“I didn’t alter anything, I didn’t move anything,” Mele said. “Whatever was found was exactly the way it was found. Nothing was staged.”
In the past, Mele left his work without titles. He felt these photographs deserved differentiation.
“I actually started using song titles, because music is a big influence in my life,” Mele said. “I’m trying to find song titles, that to me, maybe not so much with the matter of the song, but to me goes along with the picture I’m looking at. It can be open to interpretation to however you want to look at it.”
Mele ponders why these buildings were shut down and no one ever came in to clean them up. Although, he may never know, Mele was able to explore these strangers’ lives through his lens. To accompany the exhibit name, Mele chose the quote, “While the person involved is not present”.
“When I was present, all of these people were not but I found the things they left behind and decided not to keep,” Mele said. “In the reversal, I was not there when these people were living there and using these things. I feel, it’s the past talking to the present and the present talking to the past, in duality.”
An artist reception will be held this Saturday, April 27, 5-7 p.m. at fotofoto gallery, 14 W Carver St, Huntington.