The Picture Show
1:54 pm
Fri September 20, 2013

Beyond The Borscht Belt: Life After The Catskills' Heyday Of Hotels

Originally published on Mon September 23, 2013 9:56 am

Bob Skinner is an architectural photographer by trade who photographs multimillion-dollar properties around New York. He doesn't often photograph people for his commercial work, but by his own admission, he is something of a "people person."

"I've learned that I can stand in the middle of a field with a camera and people will approach me. I'm very approachable. People say, 'You are a magnet,' and they just come up and start speaking with me."

Which is how his personal series "Searching For America" evolved from photographing abandoned hotels in the Catskills region to photographing the people who live there.

Sullivan County, N.Y., and the surrounding counties in the Catskills Mountains, used to be a mecca for tourism — the area was filled with grand resorts that saw their heyday in the 1940s-'60s. The area was colloquially known as the Borscht Belt because of the large number of Jewish vacationers who frequented the area. (The hotel in Dirty Dancing was modeled after a real-life Catskills resort called Grossingers.)

But with the rise of cheap air travel, vacationers headed elsewhere, and the resorts began to crumble. Now, many stand deserted and derelict — playgrounds for graffiti artists, copper wire scavengers and photographers like Skinner who are fascinated by forgotten spaces.

Skinner first fell in love with derelict buildings while studying photography in Maine. He came across "two furnished time capsules" — homes where the families just seemed to have walked out, leaving the houses untouched. That fascination, along with an interest in fine art and history, drew Skinner to Sullivan County, where he began wandering through the old hotels.

But ultimately, he said it's the people he met along the way who inspired him most.

"I realized that the people I was asking about where to find the resorts were the most interesting part of the landscape."

He says working in the Catskills region has been a wonderful contrast to photographing the homes of the "1 percent of the 1 percent."

"Getting out to something completely different is just a breath of fresh air. You find that people are all the same, no matter where they are."

You can see more of Skinner's work from "Searching For America" on his website.

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