By Wayne A. Baker
Looking at Nathan P. Heatley's photographs, one participates in the psychology of abandonment and loneliness. Nathan forces the viewer to participate. The rural foothills of Virginia set the stage for Nathan's subject matter; but, the real focus is the interior spaces and extreme close ups. Using black and white film photography, Nathan provides us with a unique view of Rockbridge County, Virginia. This rural setting accentuates the feeling of desolation. The focus of his photographs provides us with a sense of solitude and entropy. Dwellings and vehicles created for basic human requirements are tossed away and left to the omnipresent power of the elements. In Nathan's own words, “I have photographed the trucks, houses, and property that lose importance over the years due to progress and technology”. Abandoned Virginia is a unique collection of “what is left.” It is the record of previous landlords and ownership given up to the elements of time. It is a time capsule. He presents his images of an old farmhouse and mill akin to the ruins of Crete and Mycenae. Ruins that loom to remind us of a culture that existed only separated from us by time. We are able to view the persistence of nature's ability to reclaim. Entropy is the active natural process that Nathan captures. In a more universal sense, he reminds us that time is a capricious judge over what will stay and what will go.
Nathan's photographs also exhibit a common thread of surrealism. The ghostly, double exposed images of Nathan remind us that these places were part of people's lives. Old vehicles that once ushered people into town, sit dormant, unable to move – as if in a bad dream. As an observer, one is curious about the people that were connected to these places. The objects have survived but the people have not.
Nathan's formal training as an artist is evident in the composition and technique of his photographs. The composition always draws the observer into a world that is sometimes not inviting. His use of 120 black and white film, shot on a Yashicamat twin lens camera, is also an important element in the message that he presents. The medium of film is anachronistic in today's digital age. The edges of the film, as part of the photograph, become the antithesis of his work.
Growing up fishing and hunting in rural Rockbridge County in Virginia, Nathan saw old farm houses, abandoned cars, and the castoffs of people whose story we do not know. As one enters an old abandoned dwelling, one imagines the people, the families, and the drama that once occupied this space in time. Nathan's haunting images conjure up these feelings and more.
Nathan Heatley has been an elementary art teacher in Roanoke City Schools, and for 20 years in the Henrico County Schools. He received his BFA from Virginia Commonwealth University in 1993. Heatley has explored many forms of media as an artist—painting, sculpture, and ceramics, but he fell in love with the dimensionality of photography. Though born in North Carolina, he spent his formative years and developed artistically in Lexington, Virginia. Lexington and its surrounding counties became a playground of discovery for him with their vast array of "abandoned" relics strewn across fields and foothills. After discovering the square layout of medium format film, Nathan enjoyed the challenge of reexamining the composition and changing from traditional rectangular format films. He uses a twin lens reflex camera, the Yashicamat 124G, with which the majority of the photographs in this book have been taken. Nathan is testing the waters with some digital photography but still loves the tex