Brian Siskind is more artist than documentarian, but his latest pet project does a bit of both: exploring the essence of color and form as it captures for posterity some of old Nashville's vanishing landscape.
For years, Siskind has produced evocative instrumental music, drawing inspiration from cross-pollinated sources — like ambient music master Brian Eno and Abstract Expressionist painter Mark Rothko. (In 2011, Siskind recorded a musical homage to Rothko, surrounded by the artist's paintings in Houston’s Rothko Chapel.)
Lately, Siskind has been piloting his camera-equipped drone around town. He's producing a series of stylized videos of Nashville's old structures, many of which have a date with the wrecking ball.
Each film is accompanied by appropriately droning music, composed by Siskind. Along with the drone's dramatic camera angles, it lends a meditative gravitas to structures that have, with age, become easy to ignore.
Take this example, where we get intimately acquainted with empty industrial sites along the Cumberland River Greenway in Germantown:
Siskind and his fiancée recently moved from Charlotte Park to The Nations — into one of the many new houses there that some refer to as "tall-skinnies."
The neighborhood's combination of prime location and the smallish size of its older homes has made it a prime target for redevelopment. Entire blocks are being razed to make way for rows of larger houses.
Seeing West Nashville change around him — and being a part of that change — gave Siskind inspiration for the drone videos.
Noting an often vitriolic rhetoric between preservationists and developers, Siskind was motivated to create something that would give us a close look at the city without taking a position on gentrification.
"What about something that was set up to be outside of all that, to provide some sort of visual document of the kind of change that’s going on?" he says. "We’re not positing any stance, one way or the other. Just observe."
The first several videos Siskind produced are shot in The Nations, like this one — a sort of love-letter to the industrial zone between the neighborhood's houses and the river.
Another video takes us above and close to the soon-to-be-demolished Imperial House Apartments, on Harding Road near Saint Thomas Hospital. The hospital owns the Mid-Century Modern apartment building. Designed by architect Earl Swensson, it dates back to 1961.
Is Siskind breaking any laws when he flies this thing around? He may not be the most by-the-book guy, but he does have a permit from the FAA to fly a drone lighter than 55 pounds up to 400 feet in the air.
What about trespassing? "I haven't hopped any fences, if that's what you mean," Siskind says.
Take Madison Mill. It's a defunct industrial site — along the train tracks that divide Sylvan Park from Sylvan Heights — on 42nd Avenue near Charlotte Pike. Siskind says "the gate was wide open and people were using it as a parking lot." In fact, inside one of the abandoned buildings there, Siskind says he and photographer James DeMain stumbled upon a "nearly-nude" photo shoot of some sort. Woops.
A Nashville developer is now making plans for the site, formerly the home of the wood product manufacturer, Madison Mill, Inc. The company has relocated its operations to Ashland City.
In this video, Siskind's drone flies around the site from all angles, even through some open structures.