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The Pick: Dan Dubowitz’s apocalyptically still images of Fordlandia

Vultures from Dan Dubowitz’s Fordlandia (Image: Courtesy Bau-Xi Photo)

In 1928, Henry Ford seemed to epitomize everything noble about America: he was enterprising, industrious and self-made (not to mention the richest man in the world). That year, Ford bought a sprawling 10,000-square-kilometre plot of land in the Amazon rainforest to use as a rubber plantation for his tires and car parts. Adjacent to the rubber trees, he built Fordlandia, an all-American apple pie town where his workers could live. It was a spectacular failure. In a haunting new exhibit as part of the Scotiabank Contact Photography Festival, Dan Dubowitz captures the eerie remnants of Henry Ford’s ghost town.

Fordlandia was an embodiment of pure Americana, with cute rows of houses, weekly square dances and Ford vehicles puttering down the neatly paved streets. Unfortunately but unsurprisingly, Ford, who never even visited his Amazon outpost, had no idea how to run a horticultural venture. The rubber was harvested improperly, the trees suffered severe leaf blight, and the workers, subject to horrendous labour conditions (including deadly snakes), eventually staged a revolt that had to be quelled by the Brazilian army. By 1945, the town had been sold for a pittance and abandoned.

Dubowitz’s shots are utterly gripping photojournalism, taking a little-known historical curiosity and expanding it into an essay on outsized egotism and ill-conceived colonialism. The shabbiness of the dilapidated buildings stands out against the lush wildness of the Amazon. Rooms are crowded with overgrown tree fronds; a rusty water tower stands clumsy and abandoned in a grassy clearing; decrepit old houses look like they might collapse with the slightest breeze. The unpopulated landscapes are stark, beautiful and apocalyptically still.

The details: To May 31. Free. Bau-Xi Photo, 324 Dundas St. W., 416-977 0400, bau-xiphoto.com