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In 'Course of Empire,' Lesley Horowitz unearths the industrial sublime

Ten minutes after Lesley Horowitz snapped a photograph of a derelict cement factory near Catskill, she found herself under arrest for trespassing.

She and her companion were shoved into the back seat of a New York State Police SUV, finger-printed, photographed and tossed into lockup for several hours. They later received six months probation for their offense.

But Horowitz considers the inconvenience worth it, because she got the shot.

Horowitz laughed as she told the story on a recent afternoon in Eleven Twenty Projects where her photography exhibition, "Course of Empire," runs through July 28.

In addition to her photograph of the light-filled cement factory in a state of picturesque disrepair, the exhibition features artful shots of post-industrial spaces, from coal-breakers and Pennsylvania power stations to the rusted-out hulls of long-dead steel plants. It also has a collection of ephemera gathered from years of illegal incursions, including a bowling trophy rescued from a dumpster near the former Bethlehem Steel plant in Lackawanna.

Lesley Horowitz's photograph of a Philadelphia power plant is the title image in her exhibition "Course of Empire" in Eleven Twenty Projects.

Question: What inspired the show?

Answer: About three years ago, I left Buffalo and decided to get serious with my work. I decided to focus on routes of power, from coal to steel to power plants. These places are all connected. I just decided to focus on industry with film.

This show is called "Course of Empire." That was what drove the selection: This is our empire. I feel now that I'm part of a legacy of the entire history of the country in a way, from early explorers and landscape artists to modern explorers and landscape artists.

Q: How does the show relate to Thomas Cole's "Course of Empire"?

A: "Course of Empire" is a five-series painting that Thomas Cole did. It's in the New-York Historical Society. It depicts five stages of civilization. The last painting is called "Desolation," and it focuses on one column, a Roman column standing, which is the reference in our bowling trophy that we found in the dumpster at Bethlehem Steel. In "Course of Empire," there's a bird's nest on the top and in our empire, there's a bowler missing his hand.

Q: That's so Buffalo. What are you looking for when you enter these derelict buildings?

A: I'm looking for that place where all the energy converges, and you can feel it. You walk in these places, and no matter who I'm exploring with, when we leave the building, we all feel the same thing. It's like when you go to Niagara Falls and you feel that little vibration: These places are chalices of energy, of pent-up energy. Whatever atomic things are happening in that space, you feel it physically.

People don't see this, they don't get to see this. This is forbidden landscape. So instead of taking pictures of things, I wanted to take a picture of the feeling I have when I'm in that place. So these are really paintings of feelings. They're not really pictures of places or pictures of things, only.

"Frozen Manifest," a photograph by industrial photographer Lesley Horowitz, is on view in Eleven Twenty Projects.

Q: How would you describe that feeling?

A: It's the sublime. This is the industrial sublime. It's humbling, because my grandparents all worked in these places. You feel a terror, an environmental terror, but also an awe, that these bolts were turned by hand. And you feel how powerful nature is, that nature destroys steel. It's overwhelming sometimes, and it's an emotional feeling.

I wanted to sort of telegraph the ambiance of these places. They are unique. There will never be places like this again.


"Course of Empire"

Exhibit runs through July 23 in Eleven Twenty Projects, 1120 Main St. Visit

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