Sears Ghostbox, Burlington, WA. Photograph © Jane Alynn
Not too long ago, Sears, one of the anchor stores in the Cascade Mall, in Burlington, closed its doors. Dark and vacant, it was a hulking monument to our shopping culture. I was captivated by its emptiness, its raw, brutal, concrete architecture.
Here was another “ghostbox” (as they have come to be called) with its grim façade and a shadow of its stripped signage, lingering like a scar.
For some time I have been drawn to empty spaces such as abandoned buildings, deserted shopping malls, abandoned parks and playgrounds, places that have been built for our activities but are devoid of people. I find these strangely surrealistic and am endlessly fascinated by them.
So, I headed down to the mall one afternoon. As I stood there in the empty parking lot, photographing, a feeling swept through me, which I could not name.
But today, out of the blue, someone sent me the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, and voila! There was the word for it:
kenopsia: n. the eerie, forlorn atmosphere of a place that’s usually bustling with people but is now abandoned and quiet—a school hallway in the evening, an unlit office on a weekend, vacant fairgrounds—an emotional afterimage that makes it seem not just empty but hyper-empty, with a total population in the negative, who are so conspicuously absent they glow like neon signs.
Of course. When we think about emptiness we soon see that it is not really empty. Emptiness holds immense tension (potential) in the absence. It is a seedbed of infinite selection, a succession of possibilities.
Likewise, negative space is not a void. It helps to define the boundaries of positive space, brings balance to a composition and, I might add, energizes the entire image.
Emptiness as a state of being enables me to see with new eyes.