Portfolio: Kalpesh Lathigra
In its prime, in the early 1980s, the small town of Centralia in Pennsylvania was home to more than 1,000 residents, seven churches and 26 bars. The main source of employment and wealth was a rich seam of coal running for eight miles underneath the town. But since 1962, an underground fire had been slowly burning through the vast deposits and was causing a growing number of adverse health and environmental effects among the population.
Blighted by toxic fumes and further subsidence in the early 1980s, Centralia was gradually abandoned, the land compulsorily purchased and the town torn down by the federal government.
The resulting, haunting desolation has been captured by the photographer Kalpesh Lathigra, whose journey through the rustbelt regions of the United States led him to Centralia. "I thought it was an urban myth when I first heard about it," he says. "We even drove right past it the first time."
Unlike the Russian settlement of Chernobyl, there is no ruined cityscape here for disaster tourists to gawp at. Rather, there is a godforsaken landscape, with only crumbling roads and the detritus of discarded building materials left to signify that any significant edifices and human endeavour ever existed here.
"Nature has taken over almost completely," says Lathigra. "But what's remarkable thing for me is that while the natural environment can quickly reclaim a place, decades later, there's still a human imprint there."
For more: kalpeshlathigra.com
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