About the exhibit

MAY 2009: "And The Iron Did Swim” is the first installment of Mary Barnett’s multiphased project that documents the closing and demolition of Chattanooga’s most prominent remaining industrial site, U.S. Pipe and Foundry plant.

As a site, the U.S. Pipe and Foundry, quite emblematically embodies Chattanooga's early economic boom and the city's socioeconomic interdependence on the iron industry, dating as far back as 1830.

While the broader project explores occupational folklore, social history, and the end of the industrial era, “And The Iron Did Swim” begins with a focus on the emerging absence of the industrial worker, and the meaning of endings conveyed through the act of demolition.

Barnett began taking this series of photographs a few months after production had ceased in 2006, through and beyond the last days of demolition in 2008. The images chosen for exhibition were selected based on stories shared by the workers Barnett interviewed. The collection of images captures the short after-life of the emptied warehouse spaces and machinery rooms, and the peculiar assortment of memorabilia that remained housed in the buildings just before the demolition.

The series also takes into account the exterior of the historical site and its relation to its natural and urban surroundings. Finally it explores the ironic aspects of demolition that physically and visually distort the place of memory and yet brings to the eye's attention a new fascinating array of images, of the graveyard machinery and industrial debris: images which appear to have a life of their own.


Artistic Statement

Mary Frances Barnett

As a documentary photographer I am actively engaged and mindfully present while remaining invisible in the narratives that are unfolding.  I use the immediacy and power of photography to capture then tell a story in a single shot or a keen series of images that will connect to a viewer in an intimate and compelling way.  It is this intimacy that documentary photography provides within the acts of capturing a subject, to the resulting final image that is distinctive in fostering the understanding and sharing of a human experience.

Once arriving on a particular scene and moving into action, my mind and eyes are immediately working in competing yet complimentary directions. I see abstractly how I might use the material even as it is occurring, while I zero in on the aesthetic and editorial components of the visual narrative that are at once obvious and quite subtle. My curiosity and self-discipline are peaked in the active process of documenting and it is within this tension that I feel completely engaged. Documentary photography allows me the opportunity to synthesize all of these elements and skillfully combine them with my role as an artist, observer, communicator and preservationist. 

Attentive to multiple systems of value, my work aims to provoke social reflection and aesthetic appreciation. The textures I see and utilize to reframe and deepen a story's context are of great interest to me. I view this aesthetic component as an important part of the documentary process, equal to its social and historical aspects: by providing a compelling vision of our shared history, documentary photography deepens conscience remembrance.

As an artist, the journey thru a story and back out again as art, as documentary, as history, is one of the most fulfilling and challenging ways I have found to view the world, share experience, and express myself. The dynamics which arise between myself and my surroundings, the subjects I am drawn to, and the art that emerges inspire me to create a meaningful dialogue with the world thru photography.