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March 2006
192 pages  

9 x 10
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After the Smoke Clears
Struggling to Get By in Rustbelt America
Mellon, Steve
After the Smoke Clears contains thought-provoking, personal stories of hardship and endurance from five towns in America’s collapsing industrial heartland. It focuses on the complex relationships between work, loss, and identity. Includes 48 plates of black and white photographs.
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.
“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.”--Stuart W. Leslie, Technology and Culture

“Mellon's book finds history's visual record . . . in the faces of the people those now-gone industries left behind. In his photographs, they appear often as impassive, and impressive, as the sprawling industrial complexes that once sustained them.”--Chris Potter, Pittsburgh City Paper

"A very personal journey through a land that many people have forgotten—the land of closed mills, broken promises, and shattered dreams. I have been there, too, and in his encounters and his photographs, Mellon reminds us all of the price the new economy exacted before it, in turn, went bust."—William Serrin, author of Homestead: The Glory and Tragedy of an American Steel Town

"If there has ever been an adequate visualization of the phrase ‘the salt of the earth,’ it can be found in After the Smoke Clears. . . . Mellon’s text is as rich as the photos. This rich and vital book captures one of the greatest disappearing acts of all time: the eradication of our industrial way of life."—Charles McCollester, Director, Pennsylvania Center for the Study of Labor Relations

“His stories reverberate poignantly with those told by his interview subjects in the various towns. Mellon rulled the dice by inserting himself into his book, and he won. His photographs, which open the book and set the stage, work beutifully with his text. . . . Mellon’s book belongs on a shelf with Richard russo’s great novel, ‘Empire Falls,’ about human aspirations in a decining New England industrial town; Donald Harington’s ‘Let Us Build Us a City,’ a personal search for bygone towns in rural Arkansas; and ‘Closing’ by Bill Bamberger and Cathy Davidson, about the last days of a century-old furniture factory in North Carolina. All of these tell us where we are at the end of the last century and the beginning of a new one.” —Sam Stephenson, Center for documentary Studies at Duke University, in the Pgh. PG, 11/3/02

“ . . . a compelling and highly recommended saga of twentieth-century American history enhanced with black-and-white photography.”—Midwest Book Review, November 2002

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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.


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