Nuclear

Photographs and images are a two dimensional representation, but a great photograph can pull you in with the illusion of the third dimension.  The mind can perceive depth through shadows, colours, lines, perspective, and the story that is being told.  One can almost get the feel that they are there when they absorb the scene and ponder the details.  There is a sense, however, that no photograph can capture.  While the power of the mind can conjure wild sensations like smell and temperature, there is a feel that can only be experienced in person.  The first time I was in the presence of a nuclear plant, I was in awe of the magnitude of the cooling towers.  It felt like the closer I got the bigger they became, like a cinema effect.  Then as I reached the base of the concrete mega structure, the air changed.  It was like a shift in gravity, sound, and movement.  It was incredible and pretty indescribable.  I'll put to rest the immediate thought you may be having about an explanation...radiation.  This particular plant had never reached the stage of completion to be a functioning generator of electricity and did not contain or process the uranium that comes to mind when we think of nuclear power.  The feeling was conjured up by pure unadulterated awe. 

Ashbee Nuclear bottom of stairs.jpg

As I arrived for my most recent visit, the sky cleared and I was given the approval to climb the great external stairway to the rim of one of the towers.  At the top of the concrete enclosed stairwell, there is access to the inside of the tower where they do sound research and recordings.  I immediately learned why.  As I neared the centre, I approached a new field of sensory stimulation.  Even the smallest of noises would kick back a spiralling echo from multiple places inside the tapered waisted megalith.

Ashbee Nuclear cooling tower inside.jpg

After a few snaps, claps, and shutter flicks, I made my way back out to the staircase and was given the lowdown on my impending ascent.  Apparently most people find it a bit overwhelming and halfway is a reasonable goal.  I understood this pretty quick as every step was on expanded metal stairs alongside a disorienting and ever-changing perspective of a concrete slope and out in the elements.  There was nowhere I could look that gave any sense of spatial grounding. 

Ashbee Nuclear stairs.jpg

I lost all sense of time to the soundtrack of my inner voice sternly chanting “This is what you are here for. There is no danger.  People do this all the time. Almost there.  You can do this, Cat. I am one with the Force; the Force is with me”.  I was in an altered state of concentration and it actually came as a surprise to me when I reached the rim.  I am not convinced there is a word for the feeling that hit me at this moment and I am unsure how to describe it other than terrifyingly hyper alive.  An inner voice that was quietly on loop the whole time kept saying “there is nothing that says you have to do this. At any point turning around is perfectly acceptable“.  Knowing all of this is true was a real test of my determination.  It may sound ridiculous, but I learned way more about myself from this experience than years of introspection.

Ashbee Nuclear tower rim 1.jpg

If the stairs let me on this narrow circular catwalk at six o’clock, the sun was blinding me from the twelve mark, which gave me a little logic to fight the fear because if I were to take any photographs, I need my light source behind me.  I set out on the rim of the beast and it started to pour rain.

Ashbee Nuclear tower down.jpg

Back on terra firma, with massive demonic pupils (I can only presume), and limbs shaking like a newborn giraffe, I set off into the reactor building to explore the massive underground, dismantled, and stripped carcass of what was intended to be a power generation plant.  It now serves as training facilities for disaster rescue and reenactment, movie sets, and apparently a holy grail for someone who obsesses about abandoned beauty, big industry and infrastructure, decay, history, and photography of said things. 

Ashbee Nuclear reactor roof.jpg
Ashbee Nuclear reactor.jpg

When nature starts to regain her territory and take back slowly in a delicate fusion of industry and decay, I find my favourite balance in this world.  Nothing speaks to me deeper than seeing the unnatural human creations melding with the supernatural force of life in what I often describe as the ultimate art collaboration.

Ashbee Nuclear reactor pool.jpg

There is a feeling that some people experience called Stendahl or Florence Syndrome.  It has also been called an 'art attack' when an observer is so moved by something they find overwhelmingly beautiful.  It can make you dizzy to the point of losing consciousness or hallucinating and it's simply a release overload of the 'feel good' chemicals that the brain produces.  Hearing a beautifully mastered song through a quality sound system can induce some passionate music lovers into tears.  Seeing an epic historic work of art like a Michelangelo has been known to send people into this ecstatic state.  You can see the beauty of things like the Sistine Chapel, breathtaking architecture, or museum artifacts  in a photograph, but it cannot compare to the experience of being in their actual presence.  People often say that once you travel, you will never be the same again.  I am convinced that it is partially because of the difference in perspective between images and real life.  Adding a literal dimension to what we knew previously can make us feel powerful or powerless, make the world feel immensely huge or surprisingly small, and give us a new way of looking at the existence we previously knew.  A two dimensional image can only reveal so much, but a great photograph has the power to evoke a flood of sensations.  To be able to capture images that might strike emotion is a goal that keeps me shooting and searching.  My images generally mean more to me than to other observers because I have the whole experience in my mind that recreates itself when I look at a photograph I have taken. It is a constant strive to do my best to capture as many senses into the limited expression of my parameters.  To take a thousand meaningful words and make my photos worth every one.

Ashbee Nuclear steel.jpg

The Lunatic Asylum : BC's Riverview / Essondale

Photographs and words by Cat Ashbee

We don’t use the term “Lunatic Asylum” anymore.  It’s easier for us to think about something if we clean up the words we use to talk about it when the subject has dark and disturbing associations.  
Canada’s history of the treatment of mental illness is just as unsettling as the mental picture you may conjure, and helping the mentally ill with the medical system doesn’t go back as far as you may think.  It was only in 1872 that the first treatment facility opened in BC in Victoria.  They implemented leg irons and confinement practices and ‘padded walls’, which were padded with straw.  Treatment was largely confinement and punishment.  Not much was understood of the brain back then and not so long ago. In 1904, land East of Vancouver was purchased and destined to become a “Hospital for the mind”.  For a time the developing grounds were named Essondale Hospital until renamed Riverview in 1965.

With the new implementation of treating “the insane” in their own hospitals, they also saw new advancements such as Opium and Chloral Hydrate use and experimented with “Hydrotherapy”.  Researching early treatments such as these brings forth so many vastly different descriptions, depending on who is sharing the information and what part of the history they are trying to write.   

That sinking feeling as we peer into the past

That sinking feeling as we peer into the past

 

The grounds at Riverview have had many buildings and wards over the years and the first facility built opened in 1913.  Later named West Lawn.  This is by far my favourite structure and it still stands today, although just barely.

West Lawn was built to house and treat 480 male patients.  By the end of the first year of operation, nearly a thousand resided.

West Lawn was built to house and treat 480 male patients.  By the end of the first year of operation, nearly a thousand resided.

 

West Lawn was closed in 1983 but select areas were used by the film industry and still are.  Most of it is in such an advanced state of decay that it is unsafe.  The upper floors are skeletal and crumbling and asbestos insulation falls and creeps with the continuing decomposition.  The ceiling and roof collapse in areas and the floor barely exists.

Nothing really mattress anymore

Nothing really mattress anymore

 

Being deserted for thirty years and virtually untouched with the exception of the elements, the place feels like it has a tortured soul of it’s own.  The slow decay over time has created a twisted, warped, and indescribable scene.

"Death is but a door; time is but a window. I'll be back" -The last words of Vigo the Carpathian in 1610 (as told by Ray in Ghostbusters 2)

"Death is but a door; time is but a window. I'll be back" -The last words of Vigo the Carpathian in 1610 (as told by Ray in Ghostbusters 2)

 


The once state of the art facility now sits, as of this writing, living and growing as all the elemental chemical reactions create what I see as the ultimate work of art collaboration between nature and man. The massive iron anti-suicide staircase that was built like an impenetrable cage to traverse the floors looks even more menacing as time corrodes.

Iron barriers to prevent distraught residents from plunging to their demise down the stairwells, it was also like a cage restraining death itself in its core.

Iron barriers to prevent distraught residents from plunging to their demise down the stairwells, it was also like a cage restraining death itself in its core.

 

In a centre for medical practices that a lot of society seems to have a hard time facing and talking about, the rooms and halls appear physically how many people view it’s history.  Decay and deterioration is a part of life. It is unavoidable and essential in this cycle we are a part of.

"Life, uh, uh, finds a way" -Dr Ian Malcolm (Jurassic Park)

"Life, uh, uh, finds a way" -Dr Ian Malcolm (Jurassic Park)

 

Until it falls to the ground for whatever reason the future brings, the West Lawn building remains my favourite architectural structure on the planet.  Closed in 1983 and virtually untouched since, it is fenced off and boarded up and heavily patrolled.  
Rot In Place, my dearly decrepit.❤️

One by one, the fixtures hung

One by one, the fixtures hung

 

The cemetery at Riverview still remains.  Flat stones mark many of the sites where patients, staff, and others were buried.  As a person that appreciates cemeteries more than your average human, the graves at Riverview appear unremarkable at a glance.  There is, however, an interesting resident that requires explanation beyond the absolutely vague and simple recessed lettering.  ‘JANE DOE / DIED UNKNOWN”

Cryptic...

Cryptic...

 

Lacking the year of birth, which is common among the other grave markers, Jane is also missing her year of death.  Also absent is her real name.  When I first discovered the stone, I thought about the lack of information and any scenario I created in my mind was dark and sad.  Until I found her story, I was convinced Jane Doe had a tragic story to tell.  Perhaps she still does, because the origins of her acquisition are buried and lost. This body, Jane Doe, was the educational skeleton that they used at the facility.  They layed her remains to rest in April of 2012 after her years of service at Riverview.  

Many have entered, few ever left

Many have entered, few ever left

 

It’s no wonder that Riverview is a hot spot for dark tourism.  Doorways with the ominous feeling of the one way trip many took, the fascination with the controversial treatment of long ago, and the unsuccessful recoveries throughout the century of it’s existence, bring people from all over to see and feel for themselves.  Crease Clinic, which still stands and is maintained, was built in 1934, expanded in 1949 and housed a surgical centre.  The controversial sterilization of patients, lobotomies, shock treatment, convulsive therapies, drug administration, and experimental methods of rehabilitation were practiced here.  Underground tunnels were implemented between Crease and other structures. Countless stories float around about fires, rampant tuberculosis, suicides, violent incidents, and unexplainable deaths.  It doesn’t help that the notorious serial killer Robert Pickton’s pig farm was about 5Km away.  
They have filmed, and continue to film, movies and tv shows at the Riverview grounds.  Peering through shattered windows into abandoned rooms, hearing the many odd and unexplainable noises of the decaying buildings, and feeling the general sense of a place like this is otherworldly to experience.  Despite the attempts to 'develop' the land, the historic and fascinating buildings still stand. Some still in use and some as a reminder of the past. That short existence of progress and exploration of the mind and brain.
In the words of a good friend of mine:
"For thirteen billion years, I was dead. Took a short break to create. Soon enough, I'll go back to bed."
-Ken Chinn
Aka Mr. Chi Pig (SNFU)
Ashes

West Lawn from the back. Rot In Place, my dearly decrepit.

West Lawn from the back. Rot In Place, my dearly decrepit.

Ashbee