Steeltown

A tribute to a rare beauty

This is a small photo project I made over four days, from 22 April to 25 April 2012. I am not the best photographer, nor do I have the best equipment - in fact there is a speck on each picture, from some dirt in the camera that I never got around to having cleaned.
It is a tribute to a rare beauty - as in hard to find, delicate and almost raw. The Katowice area, including a number of other towns, holds millions of residents in a huge, messy urban area, where houses and coalmines are neighbours, where children play between red brick buildings coloured black by pollution. Some of them are condemned, while others are their homes. The difference can be hard to spot from 50 meters away. Industry, brick houses, high-rises, churches, football pitches, parks and wastelands in an unplanned landscape. It reminds me of a Sim-City gone terribly wrong.
The name Steeltown is the title of a song by the Scottish rock band Big Country. Stuart Adamson (may he rest in peace) presented it as a song about pollution and the industrial wasteland in Europe. This area is certainly an industrial wasteland. But things are changing. The old industrial sites are being turned in to museums, shopping centres and monuments. Buildings are being renovated and new are being build. Fine culture and underground culture mix like the huge villas and industrial sites. People are proud to be from Katowice, Chorzˇw, Bytom and other towns. There are plenty of jobs and it is a thriving society.
I have been through Katowice several times by train, and for a long time wanting to get off the train there. This time I did. Already when entering the general area, coal dust was coming in through the open train window, making a thin layer in the sill, and making the air in the corridor glitter in the early sunshine. The smell of burning coal hangs over most of the area, especially in the evenings when people are firing up their furnaces. Other smells blend in, such as the smell of cellars, blooming trees and exhaust. But the rare beauty of the place is not the blooms, the pregnant mothers nor the white butterfly on a dirty sidewalk. There is a beauty in the chimneys, mine-towers, power-lines, shiny tram-rails, elevated car-lanes, colourful advertisings, ruins and dirty buildings. It is a beauty that defies all logic and aesthetics. And when the darkness falls on the place, the lights put on a show of their own.
This is a tribute to Steeltown and all its inhabitants. It seemed to me a tough place with hardened people. I would fear for my health if I were to live there, but it is a sight worth seeing and a rare beauty indeed.

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