Whereabouts no. 1: THE PARIS OF APPALACHIA by Aaron Regal

WHEREABOUTS is a new series of blog posts by VIATOR contributors around the world describing the spaces and places that have inspired their work.

I was born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and am coming up on a quarter of a century living here. We’ve been getting a good rep lately; we consistently rank shortlists of America’s Most Livable Cities, Google just landed a corporate office in my neighborhood, and our cheap rent and up-and-coming culture scenes are attracting millennials from Brooklyn to Portland. "Kill your old self" is a sentiment the city is living to the fullest.

However, Pittsburgh wasn’t always a city full of popup art venues and yoga studios. The Steel City has deep-rooted blue-collar history and ideals, and one with a painful relationship to the mid-twentieth-century industrial collapse that rippled across the American rustbelt. Remnants of that history are still visible in bits and pieces across our landscape, but real estate developers have razed many of the local storefronts, abandoned buildings, and vacant lots of my youth — some of my beloved teenage playgrounds — and replaced them with fresh facades housing artisanal commercial enterprises, corporate chains, parking lots, and luxury condos. Pittsburgh is rapidly gentrifying, and this process is only exacerbating the city’s longstanding systematic racial and economic segregation. Don’t be fooled by what you see and read on the Internet, Pittsburgh is still a perplexing clusterfuck of old and new, showcasing dramatic financial and cultural divides all packed into my charming little city of about 300,000 people.

My creative practice in photography strongly reflects my time spent here in “The Paris of Appalachia.”  I have been compulsively shooting photography since I was about 15 and have perpetually become more invested in ideas of landscape shifts, tension, and societal conditions in flux. This interest is surely a result of my bearing witness to the dramatic recent changes facing my city.

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Nearly all of my work in photography is candid. I have always been drawn to formalism and often try to allude to the historical tableau, or silent theatrical performance, when I go out to shoot. My hope is that there is a certain “truth” to my imagery, and the only narrative is straightforward and easily presumed by the viewer. I’ve shot a lot of work in Pittsburgh, and I find myself drawn to images that present the city as a gritty and crude working-class town with rolling hills and dark alleys, but also as a city facing the constant encroachment of the 21st century and everything that comes with it.

“To photograph is to confer importance.” – Susan Sontag

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Aaron Regal is a 24 y/o multidisciplinary artist from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, working primarily in photography, painting, and printmaking. His works cover a range of topics regarding 21st century society in flux. www.aaronregal.com Insta: @aaxci