Steven Ahlgren

St. Peter & St. Paul

2013 - present

In April, 2013 I began photographing a 213-acre piece of undeveloped land in Marple, Pennsylvania that at the time was owned by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. The land sits beside a Catholic high school, and also had within it two social service facilities. It was originally intended to be part of an existing cemetery, St. Peter and St. Paul, that lies across a road. I was familiar with this place because it was along a route I would take to drive one of my daughters to dance class. During the fall and winter, when the vines hung over broken branches and fallen leafless trees, my daughter and I would joke about how scary it looked.

When I began to take pictures I was only interested in this forbidding aspect of its appearance, and I photographed it from the side of the road. However after several visits I curious to see what was inside. I spent one painful afternoon unsuccessfully trying to fight through dense vines and and pricker-filled underbrush in order to get in deeper, before I came across a well-worn path leading in. Once inside I found the whole place was marked with trails, criss-crossed by hills and streams, and graced with small clearings, meadows and bogs. I have returned often and in different seasons, but in all my many visits I have only once come across another person - a boy walking his dog. Otherwise I have always wandered alone.

As I explored I soon saw it was mostly place for kids, evidenced by the litter, graffiti, signs of gathering places and play areas - all of their own making. It reminded me of my own youth, and having the wonderful salvation to find an untouched, undiscovered place to make your own. But I was also struck by the nature of some of the messages the kids had left on the trees that seemed to allude to some undiscribed emotional pain.

About a year after I first entered these woods I read a headline that the archdiocese was selling most of the land to a developer in order to raise needed funds. The land will likely soon be turned into a vast mix of stores and housing - erasing most of what is now there. I hope to continue photographing as the landscape changes.