Dixie, Dead Malls and Fires


Just talking today about planning another shoot at the long dead (and famous), Dixie Square Mall in Harvey, IL with Luke and Kate. Looking at the local news tonight and noticed this breaking news.¬†Strangely this isn’t the first time fire may have thwarted some photographing at a dead mall.
Last summer upon arriving at the Eastland Mall in Indianapolis I made one turn around the corner to see the mall up in smoke. Nothing beats trying to rush to assemble an 8×10, frame, focus, load film and hope now one gets in your way at a spur of the moment. Yes, I had allusions of Murray Becker greatness and ended up with bad lighting and a few firetrucks.
In May I made a trip down to Allen, TX as I got a tip that a large mall which also had long been abandoned was going to be demolished. A one way plane ticket later and I spent 2 days in the grime photographing. On the second day, Sandy Carson and I arrived at the site around noon. Looking inside what was once a doorway and now a large gaping hole into the space, I could see plumes of thick smoke. Upon further inspection, someone had lit a oil drum full of some flammable fluid on fire near an exit inside the mall. Not to be stopped from continuing to make pictures (and happy to take advantage of smoke effects), Sandy and I got to work putting out the fire and photographing. We’re still coughing up soot from that one.
The Dixie Square Mall has long been plagued with problems. The famous scene from the Blues Brothers happened there in 1979 after the mall has already closed. John Landis and the film crew trashed the place and left behind a disaster scene which was the beginning of what would be a long history of despair for the site (and surrounding area). On some of my first trips last summer Cory and I were so frightened by the huge and extremely dark space that we barely set foot in the parking lot. After 3 or so trips I got a bit more confidence (and some flashlights) and Mike Schwartz and I made the photograph (last one in the DS gallery) over about 45 minutes from starting a bit after 11pm one night (the whole image is painted by flashlights). On that night we heard gunshots and the next morning read about a murder/robbery 2 blocks away at that exact time.
I made a few more trips to Dixie in the snow last winter with Kate and recently to make a movie film with Cassandra. I’ve been trying to make some videos of the empty stores at night and Cassandra suggested I try 16mm as video was clearly not cutting it. In order to do movie film, each frame has to be exposed for about 35 sec. 100ft of film = about 10 hours. We parked as close as we could set up the camera and spent the night in the car watchign very little happen. When the sun came ¬†up I was greeted by a full size Coyote and a red Fox on the grounds.
Reading tonight that there was a fire there is less than surprising and more than likely not an accident (as unwanted building in Chicago conveniently happen to burn to the ground). In a sense I might be sad if there is nothing left even though I hold little remorse for much of the retail spaces and moreso as its become such a creative playground for trying out new ideas. Regardless I’ll have to investigate. Anyone want a pet Coyote?
Christopher Trice also made many wonderful pictures at the Dixie mall over the years and recently put out a lulu book of them.

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