There is one acronym no commander wants to hear. The very hint of this process-who-must-not-be-named drives generals, congressmen, and entire communities to the edge of panic: BRAC. One abandoned base illustrates why.
The Base Realignment and Closure process started in 1988 as a way to streamline the post-Cold War U.S. military for more efficient and cost-effective defense planning. The commission recommends moving certain military functions to other installations to clear the way to completely closing military bases worldwide. Chanute Air Force Base, Illinois was among the first to go in 1993.
Opened in Rantoul, Illinois in 1917 to train pilots flying in World War I, Chanute would become a major training center for pilots and support personnel for 75 years. Today, some of the buildings are repurposed and privately owned but many are left empty and deteriorating, untouched for decades.
Enter Walter Arnold, an North Carolina-based, self-taught fine art photographer and his project “The Art of Abandonment.” In this series, he strives to create nontraditional images and scenes in forgotten, historic places many people will never see.
“These abandoned buildings and locations speak volumes when you enter them, even in their abandoned and decaying state,” Arnold told WATM. “Every room you look into tells a story and every artifact from a bygone era holds years of meaning and lost purpose.”
While he usually gets permission to access abandoned sites, he did not get such permission to get into Chanute. With the help of his brother, he found his way onto the base, braving a rapidly decaying infrastructure, asbestos and rumors of Agent Orange contamination.
“Of all the locations that I have showcases online, Chanute has had the most response,” Arnold said. “So many people passed through those hallways and classrooms and so many have connections and memories with this location.”
“It’s my job to create evocative scenes that tell stories and stir emotions and I think these images from Chanute really do just that. There’s a melancholy aspect to my work and a lot of times the same people who see the sadness and shame in letting a building get to this state also see the beauty of what remains and the stories they still hold.”
All photos are used with permission from Walter Arnold. To see more of Chanute AFB or the Art of Abandonment, visit Arnold’s site, The Digital Mirage.