The Mon Valley Photo Works


b. 1986, HK.


Photo of Rich by Kristin Sanderson Photography

Get in touch with Rich online:

Growing up in the small town of Monongahela, I knew some people who couldn't wait to finally "escape". I've never felt that way.

The Monongahela River Valley of the Pittsburgh region was once home to the largest steel and mining industry in the world. The decline of American steel production hit this area hard. Nowadays, many of the towns in the Mon Valley are just a shadow cast by their history. 

As a teen, fascinated by the old railroads that lattice my town, I became a railfan. I captured as many locomotives as I could with my first digital camera. Until then, I had only known disposable cameras, so that digital camera opened my eyes to photography as an art.

I stayed in the area for college, taking a course in Black and White photography while pursuing an engineering degree at Carnegie Mellon--even my education is built on a foundation constructed by industrialists. There, I performed the rites of passage of photography: shooting on an SLR, developing my own film, making my own prints from negatives, and working long nights in the darkroom while my friends lit up Oakland. I am forever grateful to my instructor, Jamie Gruszka, for his guidance and criticism of my work. It was at CMU that I learned to combine two of my passions - the precision of engineering, and the artistry of photography.

In 2012, I purchased my first DSLR camera. I came to see film and digital photography as two sides of the same coin, complementing each other, each with its own strengths. I am most at home shooting with my medium format film cameras - having to do everything manually slows down the process, encouraging the photographer to put greater care into composition.

My subjects are ordinary things from a lost yesterday: a metal staircase, built in a hurry, now leading nowhere; tunnels that were built, used, sealed, and broken into in turn; the leaves turning overhead rusted mining machinery, abandoned in place. I found my passion documenting the past. I believe we find out where we're going by reflecting on where we've been. 

Rich Pantaleo, Photographer | The Mon Valley Photo Works