[Image: “Micro Marsh” by Troy Paiva, from his new book Night Vision. Troy’s own beautifully surreal caption for the photo reads: “A marsh grows in the pool outside the gym at the long abandoned Air Force base on the mountain above San Jose, CA. Mysterious animals were splashing and rustling around in the pool.”]
Over the weekend, Ballardian posted a long interview with photographer Troy Paiva. Troy is the author, most recently, of Night Vision – the black-backgrounded pages of which practically leak color across your desk.
In the interview, Troy explains one of many origins for his attraction to desert dereliction and decay:
When I was 13 my family went on a road trip, one of many, and we somehow found ourselves bouncing down 15 miles of bad dirt road to the classic “wild west” ghost town of Bodie, arguably the most authentic ghost town in America. Today Bodie is kept in a state of “arrested decay” and is a major tourist destination. Much of the road is paved and the parking lot is filled with tour buses, and in the summer the town is crawling with thousands of tourists from around the world. But back in the early 70s you could drive right into the center of town and park. When we climbed out of the car we found we were the only ones there! I wandered that town alone for hours, slack-jawed at the thought that people would just walk away from furnished houses and businesses, a whole city, and never come back. I was hooked for life.
Briefly, though, this reminds me of a moment in BLDGBLOG’s earlier interview with author Patrick McGrath:
BLDGBLOG: I’m also curious about weather and climate. For instance, a wet climate – with thunderstorms, humidity, and damp – seems to play a major, arguably indispensable, role in the Gothic imagination. Your own novels illustrate this point quite well: from rain-soaked country homes to the Lambeth marshes, from coastal fishing towns to Central American swamps. But can aridity ever be Gothic? In other words, if the constant presence of moisture contributes to a malarial atmosphere of decay, mold, infestation, and disease, might there be a whole other world of psychological implications in a climate where things don’t decay – where there is no mold, where bodies turn to leather and everything can be preserved? Is indefinite preservation perhaps a Gothic horror of its own?
McGrath: Aridity does interest me. It’s an unusual application of the Gothic mood. You usually think of northern European or north American climates and landscapes, but that’s merely because, traditionally, that’s where these sorts of stories have been set. But I can very well imagine aridity being a place, or a site, for such a story.
I think you could safely say that one of the themes of the Gothic is the sins of the father being visited upon the sons – in other words, there is no escaping the past. The past will always haunt the present. And this is certainly true of Gothic stories that are set in crumbling old houses: there’s always some piece of evil that has occurred in a previous generation that will work itself out on the current generation. So that continuation – or persistence – of the past is what you’re expressing: it’s the skeleton that can’t be disposed of.
What new sorts of cultural hauntings exist, then, in the desert Gothic, where the past never manages to fade and we’re left staring at a whole world of things that were supposed to disappear? It’s the “sins of the father” in material form: here, in Troy’s work, abandoned air warfare ranges, roadside automobile dumps, and entire lost towns lit by nothing but the moon.