From the 1920s through the 1960s, the Catskill Mountains of New York were a popular vacation destination for millions of Americans, especially Jewish vacationers. Known as the Borscht Belt, the region combined recreational activities with nighttime entertainment, especially stand-up comedy, which was born in the region’s theaters and showrooms. Many of these entertainers became household names in American culture. Photographer Marisa Scheinfeld has been documenting the dramatic degradation of some of the most famous Borscht Belt hotels and colonies. The images reveal ghostly remnants of the glory years of the era, as well as powerful evidence of nature’s claim on the resorts and their landscapes, and new uses to which the spaces have been put in recent years. Scheinfeld, who grew up in the region, began her documentary photo project in 2010. She will share her work and experiences on this project.
The exhibit is now on view February 1- March 31 at Madron Gallery in Chicago.
Edward Rothstein wrote in The New York Times: “These photographs, taken from 2010 to 2014, portray an almost casual apocalypse. It’s as if places like those I had visited had not just closed but had been abandoned to an encroaching wilderness, with nothing taking their place. We see the remains of resorts like Grossinger’s or the Pines being gradually assailed by entropy or subsumed by natural surroundings. Strips of insulation drop from ceilings; moss and fern sprout from moist carpets; graffiti and plunder deface grand spaces. Some photographs also seem to be commenting on earlier vanity or vulgarity: In one, bar stools with turquoise cushions stand in a row like shunned roués, rusting in the wreckage.
These images are affectionate without being nostalgic. The wreckage they show is almost lush with new growth. And while they really can’t compete with history’s vast iconography of ruin, their effect is unusual: The landscape of abandonment still retains signs of vitality — and we’re aware of the remarkable impact that this vitality had on American popular culture.”