Photographer Thomas Slatin discusses the Westholm Hotel and how photographs of properties help to preserve history.
A recent interview with urban exploration photographer and writer, Thomas W.P. Slatin explores the important purposeful reasons behind a genre of photography known as “urban exploration.” There is a lot involved to photograph properties, many of which have been unoccupied for years. Slatin often photographs properties that have historical significance. The Westholm Hotel located in Stamford, New York is a property that Slatin recently photographed, after the property remained dormant for approximately 20 years. Urban exploration photographers know that there is interest in their work from their peers in professional photography, other industry professionals, and from those with a genuine curiosity relating to their work. Urban exploration photography gives others viewing the pictures a chance to explore the unknown; and to see through the photographer’s eyes, buildings and locations once an integral and often uplifting part of history. This may represent memories of outings, or a place which represented the vitality of a community and a happy time where a community thrived in happiness and also economic stability, for example. Architecture can be remembered through photographs. Remarkable buildings which once stood strong, should be documented and remembered. Through photography, the photography of properties in this case, history and the beauty of unique properties may be remembered, and referred to time and time again, even after a property no longer exists in its physical form. This is one of the crucial elements of urban exploration photography, properties which cease to exist, sometimes due to abandonment of the property, can still be remembered for many years to come.
Going into a property which has been left behind to document the property through photographs can also assist in shining the light to provide the hope and possibility that a property is still able to be restored.
When a property is not able to be restored, it can still be remembered for many years to come. This is a purposeful element of urban exploration photography, documenting properties and preserving history well beyond the properties physical longevity. Sometimes the photographs help a developer to restore a property or to physically maintain original artifacts or structures of a property which represent a significant part of history.
“I remember discussing issues with preservation with an architect in New York City, who had been a lifelong friend of my father,” states Slatin. Continuing, “as we were visiting the Museum of Natural History, and discussing my photography as it relates to my passion and dedication to explore and document old architecture, this architect reiterated the importance of photographing as many older buildings as I possibly can. Photographing the properties which I find to be interesting and beautiful, as the photographs do preserve the memory and the architecture.” According to Thomas Slatin, paraphrasing this architect, he recalled a story where he once had a person approach him asking for blueprints of a property in development, this was a property in the process of being built. When this architect asked why, the man spoke of the plans in ten years to take the building down, which was a bit shocking yet it happens,” concludes Slatin.
Slatin explores and photographs properties that typically have been in existence for a long while. One such property is the aforementioned Westholm Hotel, located in Upstate New York. This property was built prior to the turn of the nineteenth century and was in operation until the late 1990’s. Having been abandoned for nearly twenty years, sadly the once extremely vibrant hotel is in the process of being torn down, as it was not maintained and restored in time for it to remain standing in its original splendor. The state of disrepair of the property prior to part of it collapsing was significant. The current owner Victoria Filonenko “tried to restore it before it was too late to do so.”
According to Filonenko, she is salvaging some remnants and some of the original woodwork to be able to rebuild, honoring as much of the physical history of the hotel as possible. Thomas Slatin reached out to previous owners and real estate companies for years, “actually nearly a decade,” according to Slatin to ask permission to photograph the abandoned property. “Victoria thought I should photograph the property. She has been without a doubt the most welcoming, and accommodating property owner that I have ever worked with and she cares about preserving the history and beautiful memories of The Westholm. Many New York City residents travelled to The Westholm in its heyday. The following photographs are provided by Thomas Slatin and represent some of the last photographs of the property prior to it being torn down. The current owner, Victoria Filonenko plans to completely rebuild it from the foundation up, into a new prosperous and uplifting structure, “which will always honor the beauty of a remarkable venue that truly thrived on so many levels for nearly a century,” concludes Filonenko. Slatin has provided the photographs which he finds to be most inspiring, even considering the hotel’s state physically before it was torn down, there was still much beauty to be found, and there always will be in its memory.