Artist Interview: Lewis Francis

Who are you and how long have you been an artist?
I’m Lewis Francis, single father of two and I work for a digital interactive agency in D.C.

When I was young I had competing interests: photography and music, but as I was also young and poor, one had to go. The music thing didn’t pan out, and many years later I found myself exploring abandoned sites with my iPhone and adventurous compatriots. After a few locations fell to the wrecking ball I realized I wanted to become more serious about my photography, and again picked up a camera and the challenge of learning the art and craft of photography.

What medium(s) do you work in & why?
There are many names for this photographic genre: UE and Urbex, acronym and abbreviation for “Urban Exploration,” there’s Urban Archeology, the denigrating and lurid Ruin Porn, and so on. Urban Spelunking is as good as any at naming the drive to research, explore and document contemporary ruins and abandonments that often go unnoticed in our very own back yards.

I’m not entirely sure why I’m drawn to this world. When visiting these sites, you can’t help but wonder what forces drove a place to abandonment, and which conspired or conspire to keep it that way.

What is your creative process like?
I spend a surprising amount of my time researching locations, using online tools such as search engines and satellite mapping services to uncover potential sites fro exploration, how best to gain entry, and to learn their story. These locations are often poorly lit or even completely dark so typically require longer exposures and a certain amount of post-processing to bring out detail. I’m happy to be connected to a community of like-minded sorts that pool research and experience and accompany each other both for reasons of safety and companionship.

What is the best art-related advice you’ve received?
I’m not sure I’ve received much thus far in the way of tested advice, other than that of example, and encouragement to step up and present my work, for which I’m incredibly grateful!

What is the biggest challenge you face as an artist?
Many of the places I photograph are not necessarily safe or legal to visit, and while I try to get permission, it’s not always possible to find a site’s owner — legal squabbles over failed operations are often why a site becomes abandoned in the first place. People have died at places I’ve visited, so it’s important to keep your head and footing while at the same time allowing the creative parts of your mind to be open to opportunities.

Choose one piece that you currently have on display at Artomatic and tell the story of that piece:

"Control Panel: Closer" by Lewis Francis

“Control Panel: Closer” by Lewis Francis

I’ve chosen to write about my photo of a control station at what was once the world’s largest coal breaker. Built in 1931, closed since the late sixties, and currently undergoing demolition, Pennsylvania’s ten-story tall St. Nicholas Breaker was the last of the large, historic coal breakers, which at full capacity processed 25,000 tons of coal daily.

The control panel is an imposing monolith offset from surrounding equipment in near complete darkness. It wasn’t until after I processed the long-exposure images that its blue surface became apparent. Most of the switches had long been scavenged by souvenir hunters or scrappers for their copper, gauges glass shattered by vandals, and still, several wheel-like dials and labels remain to describe their control’s function. Rust lines travel and break through the blue like microbial colonies in petri dishes.

I’m fascinated by control surfaces, as you can probably pick up on looking at the rest of my Artomatic prints. I try to imagine what this station’s operator experienced in use, the racket of stories of crushers and conveyor lines must have been impressive, indeed, here at the heart of the breaker.

What is your favorite part of the Artomatic experience so far?
I think it’s just the opportunity to present my work in the company of all the really amazing artists of Artomatic. Walking the halls, meeting folks and seeing what people have done with their spaces has been inspirational. I’ve wanted to participate for years so this feels like quite a milestone for me.

What is your website (or other method of contact):
http://lewisfrancis.com/

Additional photos from the show:
https://www.flickr.com/photos/lewisfrancis/14316571755/in/album-72157644880322506/
https://www.flickr.com/photos/lewisfrancis/15304351312/in/datetaken/

You can see more of Lewis’ work on display at Artomatic 2015 on the fourth floor, space 7-108.