Like I told the people from PBS that interviewed me for a documentary they were filming about my hometown, I am Youngstown as fuck. Pardon my language.
I don't call it gravel I call it slag.
I call the grass between the sidewalk and street the devil's strip; people in Cincinnati look confused when I do.
My earliest childhood memory was standing at our front window with my mama, watching the blast furnaces fall at US Steel, feeling the explosion shake the house.
A flag just like the one below hung from the rafters in our garage on Hazelwood growing up, the Youngstown Sheet and Tube company’s hook and bucket logo is tattooed on my arm.
That flag was the focal point of my 3-panel backdrop (you remember those) for the sixth grade science fair at Saint Brendan's. My project was on rusted steel, long before I started documenting this corroded ol’ town prior to them scrapping the whole thing.
My dad got me different steel samples from the mills he hauled metal out of. You know, galvanized, pickled, alloys, etc. I soaked them in water and then let them oxidize, to see which held up against rust the longest.
I wound up either winning or doing well enough in the science fair to proceed to the big show at YSU. It didn't hurt that one of the judges worked at Sheet and Tube (wink wink wink), saw the flag and pretty much fast tracked me.
My name is Paul Grilli. I became interested in photography around 20 years ago when my cousin showed me a photo he took. It was a black and white photo of the locked gates at Republic Steel's Truscon division over on Albert street. I didn't know the first thing about photography, but I could see that it was symbolic and historic. Plus that shit looked cool.
I photograph/document the Rust Belt, the people in it, and the remaining industry. I do it because my Great Grandpa Grilli came over from Italy to Hillsville, PA and worked in US Steel's limestone mines there. Because he fed the blast furnaces. Because both of my grandpas were steelworkers. Because my dad made a living hauling hot open hearth slag out of the same mill his dad worked at, and fed his family hauling steel from Cleveland after the mills in Youngstown closed. Because it is in my blood.
All my life I've watched them knock down the steel mills and factories. I've always felt this frantic urge to document our heritage before they melt it down into an ashtray. Do they still make steel ashtrays? I have this really cool stamped steel Youngstown Sheet and Tube ashtray. I have my Grandpa Grilli's monogrammed Zippo he was given as a gift for 30 years of service at Sheet and Tube. I have the all steel model of the 29" rolling mill that my Grandpa Aldridge used to run at Copperweld Steel that he was given that at his retirement party. And I have these photos.