The goal of this project is to connect Lebanon and the collapsing of the steel industry to the deep-rooted ties it has to my family, while also weaving in my emotional response. While this project is about the local community it relates to the thousands of other towns and people in America that have also experienced similar decline and devastation. The steel industry had a massive impact on America and crippled the lives of workers, towns, and businesses around the USA as it did in Lebanon. Businesses such as Cleaver-Brooks, Bethlehem Steel, Lebanon Steel Foundry, Bethlehem and Cornwall Mines, and the Lebanon Concentrator shut down operations due to foreign competition and cheaper prices of raw ore. These businesses employed such a large number of people around Lebanon and left many of them with no pensions and no jobs. Many of my family members chose early on in their lives to dedicate themselves to working in the steel mills because they truly enjoyed it.
I started this project by photographing the well-known sights such as Bethlehem Steel (now named Lincoln Industrial Park) and the project expanded to include portraits of former steelworkers, details of businesses and even photographs related to my personal life, like my grandfather’s house. I dove into researching businesses and the people who lived and worked in Lebanon at the time of the decline. I talked to former steelworkers, recorded their stories, and learned their first-hand accounts of the decline. Each person I spoke with loved to look back on the times they worked in the steel industry–they felt proud about the hard work they had done.
This project has become about the people, their experiences, and their memories. The people who worked in the steel industry were hardworking people who shaped our country into what it is today. Lebanon has the potential to exponentially grow if we put in the work and give a new, fresh perspective. Embrace diversity, welcome new downtown businesses, and create a networking hub between different businesses to promote each other while also growing the downtown district. I want for us to rebuild our community into a place that we are proud to be from and to raise families in. It’s time to welcome new and fresh perspectives to our community and stop letting what has happened define our future.