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Photo exhibit takes trip through burning town of Centralia

Ground on fire

for The Brooklyn Paper

Take a walk on the warm side.

A photography exhibit shows art-goers one man’s journey through a ravaged coal-mining town that’s had a fire burning underneath it since 1962 — and is expected to continue for centuries.

Artist Travis Roozee and his wife ventured into the ghost town — the subject of numerous literary, musical, and graphic works — and they found access to Centralia was surprisingly lax despite the town being hazardous.

“There were warning signs indicating dangerous conditions, otherwise, I was able to freely walk around what remains of the town,” said Roozée.

“I encountered other ‘tourists’ who had come to see Centralia, but there are neither fences nor security to prevent anyone from getting as close as possible to the most concentrated heat.”

Nevertheless, with an active fire burning under his feet, he tread with care.

“I was cautious about getting too close to areas that were active, and presumably, more dangerous.”

But despite the notoriety of the place, Roozée’s photographs of the abandoned site aren’t as devastating as one might imagine. On the contrary, they are strikingly beautiful in an eerie yet enticing way. Scenes partially obscured by rising smoke gives the town an aura of mystery.

“Much of [the foliage] has been burned away, but there are spots where the heat is sufficient, but not too intense, to support unique ecosystems,” said Roozée, who spotted reddish-orange-green moss that grows year round because of the abnormal warmth.

On the other hand, fauna seem to have taken the hint.

“The smell of sulphur and chemicals is intense. I imagine animals would stay away,” he said.

The most dramatic shot in the series is that of Route 61, Centralia’s main road. The highway is split down the middle and steam issues from a deep crack caused by severe heat.

“It concisely illustrates how subterranean activity affects the surface,” said Roozée.

Centralia is currently on view at 0.00143 Acres gallery in Cobble Hill, accessible through the ‘Once Again Thrift Store.’ Curator Veronica Mijelshon leans towards exhibiting social political art.

“Everyone has their own way of seeing things. For me, it makes sense to convey a message beyond art for art’s sake,” says Mijelshon. “This is not what a town is supposed to look like.”

“Centralia” at 0.00156 Acres [114 Smith St. between Pacific and Dean streets in Cobble Hill, (917) 428–3810,] Through April 7. Open Sat & Sun 2–6 pm.

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