Caught in an eerie time warp, this is the ghost town a North photographer discovered in the middle of America’s Death Valley.
Tim Wallace, from Hamsterley Forest in Durham, had stopped for just a moment on his drive through one of the most dangerous environments in the world when a sudden sparkle of light off glass offered a clue to the whereabouts of a Nevada desert mystery: the rarely-seen town of Darwin whose residents deserted it in the mid-sixties, leaving cars in the drive, milk in the fridge and clothes in the closets.
“I’d heard about this mystical place Darwin a few times,” says Tim but, like many, he hadn’t been able to locate it.
Now fascinating black and white images he took there, capturing eerie scenes such as an abandoned pick-up truck and roads empty except for ‘Keep Out’ signs, are on show in Newcastle - a first ever exhibition for the renowned award-winning photographer who is better known for his commercial photography.
Tim, 45, whose work takes him across the world, has teamed up with Digitalab 8, a photo lab and custom-built gallery space in Stepney Bank, to stage the six-week show of 30 photographs he took while alone in Darwin.
Describing how he stumbled across it, he says: “Death Valley is vast, about the size of France. You can drive across it and there’s nothing there: no cars, no people; in 96 degree heat even bacteria doesn’t grow there.
“If you pull over from the road it’s really difficult because there’s just sand and there are warning signs saying if you get stuck you will die. You have to have 10 litres of water if you break down.”
But Tim had to stop to fix a loose lead and says: “I saw a glint in the distance miles and miles away and I thought ‘it can’t be Darwin’.
“I went down very, very carefully and I came across a ragged American flag.”
And he found himself alone in a town frozen in time.
“The place is amazing,” he says.
“You’ve heard the term ‘deafening silence’ - the thought of that were in my head when I was there. There is no atmosphere, no animals, no noise.”
Without wind or rain “Darwin is perfectly preserved”.
“And the strange thing is that when these people left - and nobody knows why they left - everybody left at once. The houses are intact, there are cars on the drive, newspapers on the kitchen table, clothes in the cupboards and drinks in the fridge.”
The photographs he took capture a time capsule covered in a layer of dust.
He wandered around the houses and, because it felt as though people should still be living there, he found himself first knocking on doors.
He spotted an advert in the window of a dance hall inviting people to an open night of Elvis records and saw a filling station with the old-style glass dome-top petrol pumps.
“The Post Office is the only place boarded up,” he says.
He was even more unsettled when he noticed all the mechanical clocks had stopped at 4.20pm. To add to the mystery he found a US military truck with a bullet hole in the windscreen.
There are ‘Keep Out’ signs around Darwin which initially sprang up as a silver mining town and swelled with 3,000-5,000 residents. Riddled by tunnelling, it’s surrounded by cordoned-off mine shafts but Tim did want to explore further than the centre, pointing our that if he’d fallen into a hole he’d never be found.
He does not intend to reveal where the town is but is confident he could find it again and may even revisit it at some point, with a few others, to explore further.