In this series of photographs, Dunker documents the dismantling of the Geneva Steel plant in Vineyard, Utah. Constructed during WWII, Geneva Steel was the largest steel plant west of the Mississippi River. In 2007 it was closed down permanently.
Chris Dunker grew up on a Navy base, surrounded by industrial and military architecture; he became increasingly engaged by this landscape and the culture within it. Later as a professor at Utah State, while driving along the I-15 corridor, Dunker came upon the Geneva Steel plant. After months of persistent phone calls, he was granted exclusive access to the plant (in exchange for which, he shot portraits of the remaining executives there).
Dunker’s compositions reflect the American industrial landscape of the twentieth century, a dotting of manufacturing plants from coast to coast. Images such as Central Maintenance Change Room give the viewer a look into the human casualties of America’s twenty-first century declining industrial age. In this photograph, drab clothing hangs from the ceiling, and work boots are discarded on the floor, as if their owners stepped out of them only minutes before. Natural light floods through the windows, permeating every surface within reach. The juxtaposition of human presence and absence or loss is dramatic. The clothes fade into the light, much as Geneva Steel Company has faded into mere memory by those who had worked and lived there. Yet amidst the destruction and demolition, Dunker finds beauty in the reductive elements of the building’s truss and the quietude of the once-bustling High Line.
The photographs, while documentary, have a surreal quality to them. While the viewer gazes at these giant remains of the industrial era, one can also see an unnatural environment created by the artificial glow of light sources and particles left in the air, which are captured by the camera lens. This effect can be seen in the image, Finishing Stands Dismantle, where a stream of radiant light emanates from an unidentifiable light source. The artist’s interest in the formal properties of photography and modernism are expressed in his focus on a depicted empty space with clean and precise visual indicators employed through a single-point perspective.