The Painted Tombs of Swift
Fort Worth Stockyards 2016

In the spring of 2016 I was hired to record the Swift Meat Packing campus for preservation records. In a career spanning four decades nothing could have prepared me for the wonderment that I would find at the site. It was utterly transformed from its original purpose.

As I worked on images I realized I was back to the beginning of my career—back in Egypt, where I began photographing ancient sites for my studies at the American University of Cairo, or in southern Mexico along the Usumacinta River to document unrestored jungle areas of Yaxchilan and Bonampak--ancient Mayan sites left to the forces of nature.

Eight abandoned dark-red brick buildings stood crumbling on a twenty-two acre area at the end of Exchange Avenue at the Fort Worth Stock Yards. Built in 1902 and deserted in 1971, these substantial buildings were the headquarters for the Swift Meat Packing Plant, important for the success of Fort Worth as a city those many years, and they had suffered the powers of wind, rain and vandalism.

Somewhere along the way, these shells became a palette for graffiti artists, and most surfaces inside and outside were covered with brightly colored, spray-painted designs and words. Some of the imagery was artful, some was not. The empty painted shells were reminiscent of painted tombs where spirits of the dead could peacefully reside, much like the brightly painted New Kingdom tombs on the West Bank across the Nile River from Luxor Egypt.

The shifting equilibrium between nature and man was evident as the buildings collapsed and disintegrated. Luxuriant but wild green flora was triumphant and consuming--burying a grotesque past. Trees grew on rooftops that had not collapsed, parasitic vines curled freely on many surfaces, moss grew on dripping moist ceilings feeding on the frequent spring rains of North Texas. Tall grasses with sharp bristled seeds that collect on pant legs grew with abandon. A family of beautiful raptors lived on the top of one building--which probably explained the absence of rabbits or snakes on the ground.

In the summer of 2016, not long after I made these photographs, all but two of the buildings were demolished due to failure of the existing structure. One of the buildings will be restored into a landmark and made available for man again. 

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