Exploring Visual Arts across Madison
Aug 21, 2013
12:31 PM

Forgotten Beauty

Forgotten Beauty


"Abandoned Doll House" by Bethany Helzer. See more images in the slideshow below.

When I popped in to Hatch Art House to check out the work by this month’s featured artist, Bethany Helzer, I didn’t expect to run into the photographer herself. The meeting felt like a stroke of happenstance, a quality that also characterizes Helzer’s work. 

A native of Detroit, Helzer grew up with two strong influences: parents who constantly took her along to antique malls and a city experiencing a dramatic downturn. She developed an appreciation for the history found in objects and places and witnessed homes and businesses quickly change from bustling to abandoned. She responded to the metamorphosing landscape by photographing it.

“I’ve always been drawn to vintage and old architecture,” she says. “It’s really intriguing—something I get to see that most people don’t.”

It’s this appreciation—and the innate ability to find beauty in what many others would consider blight or decay—that infuses Helzer’s work with a sense of dignity. Crumbling buildings and forgotten rooms are shown respect and care that doesn’t cross over into romanticism or nostalgia.

“Cut and Color,” for instance, shows a shuttered beauty salon. Green paint peels off the walls, while empty chairs and dryers remain in place. The building was gutted just weeks after she took the photograph, Helzer says.

“Detroit Love” offers an interesting composition: A hole broken through a window reveals a crumbling room, with windows on the opposite side looking out to the city. “Love the D” is scrawled on the glass panes.

Another view of the city is offered in “Brush Park.” Helzer captured the image from an alleyway, looking past fences and field to a row of decomposing but stately brick houses. At least one no longer stands in that Detroit neighborhood.

Not all of Helzer’s work is rooted in her hometown. She photographs her travels, as well as her new home base of Madison, expanding her subject matter from architecture and urban elements to rural scenes. Just last week, she took her camera to James Madison Park. “Two Boats,” a study in symmetry with a pair of boats book-ended by piers, fluffy clouds above them, is the result.

“I really like the character of the city,” she says, adding that she’s found even more inspiration since moving from the west side to the east side of Madison. She often rides around its neighborhoods and bike path on her vintage Schwinn, pausing to capture what catches her unique eye.

Helzer’s photography, including a variety of prints for sale, is showcased at Hatch Art House through August 31. For more information, visit hatcharthouse.com, bethanyhelzer.com and Helzer’s Etsy shop.

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About This Blog

A perk of being managing editor of Madison Magazine is the opportunity to delve into exciting aspects of the city—and Madison's art scene is one of my favorites. It's dynamic, diverse and always inspiring. Join me here for artist interviews, details on events, exhibition previews, reviews and more.

Find past arts coverage on my former blog.

– Katie Vaughn
Follow Katie on Twitter @katiemv

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