After the Smoke Clears

Struggling to Get By in Rustbelt America

Other photographers have captured the desolation of abandoned factories and boarded-up main streets. Economists and historians have chronicled what Bennett Harrison and Barry Bluestone called 'The Great U-Turn.' But no one has brought home that story with quite the same passion and pathos as Mellon. These are not down-and-out steelworkers, miners, or auto assemblers, but witnesses to the betrayal of the American dream, as eloquent as anything Bruce Springsteen has penned.
Technology and Culture

America was once full of small, lively places that produced things. But then factories closed, mills shut down, mines quit hiring. Steelworkers, textile workers, automakers, and coal miners were laid off, phased out, downsized, outsourced, given the axe, or otherwise told to get lost. Once proud towns gave way to vacant storefronts, empty streets, and wounded people struggling with anger and bitterness. Through words and pictures After the Smoke Clears takes readers into the communities of Homestead and Braddock, Pennsylvania; Lewiston, Maine; Matewan, West Virginia; and Flint, Michigan. Each of these company towns had staked its fortune to a single industry. And each has suffered for it. Steve Mellon focuses on the human face of that suffering. Again and again, men and women fighting to make ends meet freely admit that the blows to their sense of self and sense of community were more hurtful than the economic damage caused by the departure of the mill or mine or plant. As he explores the complex relationship between work, loss, and identity, Mellon offers thought-provoking reflections on the hidden costs of economic policies and business decisions made by multinational corporations to abandon the small towns that made them strong.

about the author

Steve Mellon

Steve Mellon, a staff photographer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, has been a journalist for over twenty years. His images have appeared in the New York Times, Fortune, Forbes, Time, and USA Today.

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Steve Mellon