Sometimes you just got plain lucky. I was dropping off a photograph to a gallery and ventured to take a closer look at a boiler plant to an abandoned manufacturing facility that I had passed by many times over the past several years. I’ve previously looked for entry points only to come away disappointed. This time, there was a gargantuan wide open access to the place.
You know given an opportunity as grand as that, I’ve got to take it. I was definitely not disappointed this time.
No graffiti anywhere in the entire plant though I suspect at least a photographer or have previously found their way into the building. You could tell copper thieves had their way as most wiring was gone.
I’m not sure how long the plant has truly been abandoned but the certificate of inspections on the bulletin board were from 1974 and 1981.
These abandoned places are so fascinating because you get to see nature take over unabated. If you’ve ever seen the History Channel’s Life After People, they illustrate what would happen to human infrastructure over time if people (poof) vanished. Birds were flying through the roof trusses, foliage were creeping through the windows, and this potted plant was still alive and thriving. It wasn’t a robust, sprawling growth but seemed to make a purposeful trail along the window, all the way towards the ceiling and out the window where it continued to grow untamed outside the building, intertwining with the trees. Seriously beautiful and humbling.
Green Office (2013)
Take the Wheel (2013)
Get a whiff of that lead-based paint!
I spent three hours and felt rushed as I was unsure how long this luck would last so focused on larger interior scenes rather than smaller objects. If I went back (which I did), I’d choose to hone my focus on found objects (which I totally did). Below was one of the few “up close” images I took during this first visit.
Peeling Away (2013)
The boiler plant is so intact and in good overall shape, it was fun playing with the remaining machinery, ladders, scaffolding, and windows.
Up and Under (2013)
By 5:00 pm, I didn’t want to press my luck too much further so headed back to Raleigh but wanted to return as soon as possible before someone figured out the place was easily accessed.
Since vacation time will be rare the next couple of years and after all I -do- live in North Carolina, I’ve decided to make a conscious effort to see and photograph more of the state. Therefore you’ll start seeing an increased focus on North Carolina, at least in my personal work. This past weekend I took a trip down state highways between Hickory and Greensboro, North Carolina.
Statesville is a goldmine. Do be careful though – there are some rough neighborhoods and the police can be quite inquisitive. That said, shout-outs to the Statesville police department.
Alright, so this is building structure downtown that has been there for as long as I can remember each time I’ve gone through Statesville. Not sure what it is or if it’ll remain that way but I believe the city owns this space. I’d like to get here at a good hour for some decent shots. Would make for a nice model shoot, don’t you think?
This is an empty series of storefront adjacent to that building frame.
Spaces for Rent (2013)
I forgot exactly where these storefronts were, it’s close off of Highway 70. They’re abandoned and slated to demolished. I did venture inside to check it out, but upon inspection deemed it unsafe to peruse through. Glad I get to use that architectural degree for something.
There’s a church building with classroom building component in Statesville that has been shut down for well over a year. Part of the roof caved in, the cost was too much to damage, so the property is up for sale. I’d guess eventually this church will be demolished as the cost may to be too prohibitive for repairs. The owners were gracious enough to allow me to take photos inside. One of the clasrooms drew my eye first. A bit sad to look at, but I really do find such beauty in destruction.
In Recess (2013)
Man, who remembers this video game? BOOMSHAKALAKA!
This is an abandoned textile company, water damage everywhere. I may revisit this spot there’s a lot of neat nooks and crannies, it’s just sometimes when I’m visiting certain places solo I make it a habit not to stay too long.
Stopped by an old auto-repair shop in Cleveland, the winged light structure and how it balanced with the metal building and tree is really what drew me to this one.
Near I-85 in Salibsury they’re doing a lot of road construction. Glad I stumbled upon the worksite on a weekday as I got to see the water towers and buildings slated for demolition (they seem half-torn down already) up close and personal. Not sure what the plans are with these twin water towers, I hope the fact they’re still standing means they might become preserved.
Quitting Day (2013)
I almost titled the above image “These Working Conditions Are Completely Unacceptable” but decided that was way too long. Pretty neat to see this sort of dishevelment in an “open” office!
Right around the bend is the old York Hill Restaurant signage. Would like to revisit this area in better lighting.
That’s it for some good ‘ol-fashioned North Carlina urban exploration. Catch you around the next time I have free time on my hands.
I recently revisited Richmond, Virginia to shoot an office space on behalf of one of my clients, the Mohawk Group.
You may remember my last visit to Richmond included tripping through the old Interbake Cookie Factory. Good thing too, because as the economy recovers, a flood of these dilapidated buildings that have been sitting abandoned for years on end are now being renovated or replaced. After many years on hold, Interbake is being converted to a mixed-use development. So anyone familiar with my blog pretty much knows my M.O. is to move on and find more urban or rural locations before they gets gentrified.
Don’t get me wrong, I did have WORK to do in Virginia…
…but got to fit in a bit of play beforehand. I can’t resist stuff like this. As you can tell from the first image, these pictures were captured at the old Fulton Gas Works plant.
All Ye Who Tresspass (2013)
Out of the Office (2013)
I also discovered another unused manufacturing building, let’s say in a five-mile radius of Gas Works. Can’t tell you where it is, but if you can figure it out on your own, kudos.
Took a sidetrip to investigate Danville, Virginia on the way back to North Carolina. Interesting place, most of the abandoned places and cool signage have been demolished over the last several years, but there’s an huge facility I’m attempting to contact the building owners to gain access to. Relatively sleepy, depressed town but there’s been some tobacco complexes-turned-to-condos along the riverfront.
Though photography is more accessible than ever through digital technology and social media, the category of environmental photography seems to remain somewhat misunderstood and under-appreciated as an art form. For example: a couple years ago, a woman I went on a date with, upon finding out I was a photographer asked, “So…you just like, take pictures of what’s already there?” Yes- NO- wait, it’s not as simple as – WWwwhhhaatttTT??!! Okay, hold up – this date’s OVER, lady.
Photography does not need to be mere documentation that concludes a series of transpired events and it’s certainly much more than depressing the shutter and reflecting exactly what’s in plain sight. It’s an artistic craft that requires patience, anticipation, and design. We really do “paint with light”. Have you ever analyzed impressionist (and many post-impressionist) oil paintings, particularly those of urban depictions? Even though this style of painting strays from mirroring exact scenes with hard, defined edges, it frees the artist to further manipulate light and movement, connect with the real and grounded understanding of the viewer, and simultaneously amplify that appreciation. Through masterful brushstrokes, scenes are carved out and inferred by the emanation and reflection of light versus shadow. A photographer’s understanding of how light impresses the eyes and psyche is quite similar. However outside of the modern miracle of Photoshop, environmental photographers cannot selectively ignore distractions or interrupting elements like painters can with a canvas.
I’m greedy. I wanted the whole thing from top to ground.
APRIL 20, 2011: On the evening I arrived at the theater, I observed a subway entry (which I didn’t know about) that immediately changed how I previsioned the photo. Fortunately, there was no event taking place that evening and as a double bonus – ARETHA FRANKLIN was listed first on the marquis! How can you possibly beat that icon? What if that was Michael Bolton instead? I chose to capture the marquis from a near vantage point, which is where the 17mm tilt-shift came in super handy. The subway entry became the foreground object through which I’d capture the motion of people going to and from below. Instead of treating the Chicago Theater as an isolated subject with little environment beyond it, I chose to use surrounding elements to give it real, historic presence.
I kept settings at 1600 ISO stopped to F16. After some trial and error, I quickly figured out crowds passing directly under the marquis were distracting to the composition. Some tourists asked me to take pictures of them with their cameras (HINT: I am stupid – I DO NOT KNOW HOW TO USE YOUR CAMERA, PUUULLLLLLLLEASE TELL ME HOW TO USE IT.). After 15 minutes of shooting and waiting I felt that I struck gold. With nobody directly under the marquis, a young woman passed me and I quickly depressed the trigger as she passed through the subway entry. I reviewed the image on the rear LCD screen, was satisfied, and called it a night.
One Chicago Moment (2011)
A couple weeks later, I took a first look at this image at full-resolution and discovered an inadvertent bonus. A bus pulled into the right of the photo frame, which added a streaking splash of color and movement, and proved to be the right finishing touch. Had I further increased the ISO, I would’ve likely missed the whole thing with a faster shutter speed. So remember, no matter how much you plan, there’s nothing like having a little luck om your side!
The only major digital editing involved the marquis itself. I wound up burning the text announcing upcoming shows and the light bulbs directly underneath because they came out a bit blown out. Otherwise, I was pretty happy with the final result and achieved exactly what I wanted to impress viewers with. Though this photography is a reflection of what I saw in front of me, what was critical was capturing the atmosphere, lights, and movement – the essence of Chicago, in one precise intersection of place and time. While painters often MAKE the right moments, environmental photographers ensure that they’re IN FRONT OF the right moment; both require the same levels of creative merit and observation with which to execute.
Wrapped up a recent shoot of the Raleigh Depot for the North Carolina Railroad Company, while their Christmas decorations were still up in the parking lot. Photography required getting up in the air a bit so I shot from the platform of a 26-foot lift. Pretty cool, but doing so at 20 degrees Fahrenheit was a little bit too cool. Thanks to Nick for the reference and Reuben for the assistance!
Thank you so much to everyone for making 2012 a fruitful, successful year. I’m truly blessed to have the best clients and supporters that I could ever hope for, to get to see, partake, and share everything I’ve been able to. These are my favorite photographic memories of the last year. Again, it’s been a thrilling ride, so thank you and see you in 2013!
When I planned this latest trip, I knew I’d hit Memphis and Dallas, but noticed there was this state in-between: Arkansas. What in the world is in THAT state? So I asked my Facebook. After several people suggested driving through without stopping, many friends stepped in to make recommendations, which launched my planning for visiting the northwest part of the state.
After spending a combined 8 days in the region, I traveled enough of northwest Arkansas to fill two blogs worth. I highly recommend checking out this gorgeous state, excepting the town of Harrison and some other outliers – I’ll get to that in the second part. However, to everyone who suggested I simply skip the state, I present you with this very mature response:
Moving on – if you’re a die-hard American conservative or Republican, I realize you’re feeling a bit sensitive post-election, so you may want to skip the first few photographs.
To everyone else, man, the Clinton Presidential Center in Little Rock, Arkansas is pretty sweet. There’s simply no other presidential library like it, and sustainable at that. I can’t wait to see what the Obama one will eventually look like.
DISCLAIMER: I accept no responsibility if you have to go to the emergency room after reading that – it’s your own fault.
Okay, the rest of you can rejoin the blog narrative now. Usually I’m able to pick out something to document in any city, but Little Rock didn’t inspire me at all. In fact I didn’t take many pictures during the first five days of my trip, so I don’t know if I was just too exhausted, weary of taking photographs, or what; sometimes you just need a break. I also checked out Hot Springs, Arkansas, a city that is an ode to Art Deco. Again, didn’t really take any shots here except these apartments (below) that don’t even fit into the city. I mainly just wanted to see it as a tourist. There’s a nationally historic row of bath houses, most active, that shows how Hot Springs really lived up to its name. I’d love to see this area have some sort of economic revival it could use it.
Got to see the architectural wonder Thorncrown Chapel in Eureka Springs and its metallic knockoff the Cooper Memorial Chapel in Bella Vista. Couldn’t really take pictures at Thorncrown since they have rules about where you can go – though that would’ve been awesome – but at least got to see it in person, which is the important part.
Wal-Mart is headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas and lemme tell you – there are Wal-Marts EVERYWHERE in Arkansas. Driving through Fayetteville, I easily drove past six different Wal-Marts in about 15 minutes; all different types too – it was the first time I had seen Wally World grocery stores. The Walton family fully funded the Crystal Bridges American Art Museum in Bentonville. Pretty neat structures. I’m on vacation, one of the few times I really shoot for leisure, so was a bit bummed out with the poor weather, overall dry conditions that affected the waterfalls, and not being able to capture Thorncrown, particularly at night. At least I had Crystal Bridges, right? During my first visit, security was cool and initially allowed me to take pictures of the outside of the building, but during my second visit security was not so cool (boo, hiss). However, it’s their house, their rules and you have to respect that even if it they seem to be making it up as they go along. So before getting too in the dumps about it, I called it a night – there was no need feeling further frustrated. These are the few captures I managed there though.
Crystal Bridges (2012)
I did much exploring the natural Arkansas landscape and hiking while I was there. While driving between two locations, I stumbled across a sight I’d never seen before at an industrial plant in Russellville. At first glance, I thought it was a slew of palettes, but instead it was an immense field of stacked railroad ties. I was so enthralled with it, I attained permission from the company to shoot photographs there and had conversations with a couple of the men who worked this particular area. At first I thought they’d treat me kinda weird, but I think they could clearly tell I was interested in what they were saying and was more than happy to talk about their jobs. Lemme tell you something, the workers I talked to at this plant LOVE their jobs, LOVE who they worked for, and took obvious immense pride in their work. It turns out this plant is the largest railroad tie manufacturer in the nation. They explained to me how they cut, stacked, and allow the wood to cure before shipping these ties throughout North America. As a railroad fanatic, the kid in me found it to be fascinating.
These are a few more scenes I stumbled across on the many long drives through the Ozarks. There’ll be a few more like this in Part 2!
Arkansas was pretty cool. Most folks very warm, friendly, and accommodating towards me. Had a few quizzical looks at the Yankee hat and camera gear, but whatever. I met a bunch of people, some through Couchsurfing, others while hiking, and had a good conversation with a fellow photog while at Haw Falls. One of those I met tagged along during a morning drive checking out some waterfalls which I’ll get to in the next blog. I ate a ton of great food, but probably not a single vegetable the entire time I was in state.
Of course, there are some cultural oddities that this Jersey boy will never get used to. This safely qualifies as one of them.
The above billboard may not seem weird to anyone in rural areas, but I guarantee you a bunch of people RIGHT NOW are thinking, “REALLLLLLLLLLLLY?” See you in Part 2!
So I recently took a two-week road trip that I will completely present out of order. The first stop is Memphis, TN in which I stopped briefly on the way in and stayed for a weekend on the way back to Carolina. My friend, Jerry Coleman graciously hosted me and it was great to catch up with him and meet his family. Jerry was my TA during my first design studio in architecture school and though we’ve kept in touch, I hadn’t seen him in at least 15 years. He’s been making it with his design firm for the past several years and might I add, doing quite well!
This is Memphis. There’s much about the city I still have to explore, areas I’d like to revisit and some sites I didn’t get to photograph that I hope to in the future when I visit there again. The night life alone Beale street is a little touristy, I’d eventually like to catch it on an “off” night.
Of course, I shot some of the local landmarks such as the Peabody Hotel and Orpheum Theatre. Though photographing the Orpheum wasn’t quite catching lighting-in-a-bottle such as when I took the Chicago Theater, I was geeked with the final result.
The Orpheum (2012)
The industrial vernacular permeates both traditional manufacturing and shipping structures as well as contemporary office buildings. You can see some of that in the alphabet-block design of MIFA and the Bridges Center near downtown (gee, I wonder what the inspiration for BRIDGES was?)
United Equipment (2012)
One of the places I absolutely had to see was the National Civil Rights Museum, in which I had mixed feelings. Having been so directly impacted by the movement to revisit the circumstances in which Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated and what it means, to see exactly where it happened, how it’s been preserved/reconstructed, was an emotional experience. On the other hand, I’m going to have to say – it’s a little touristy and the interior of the main museum could use an upgrade. It’s just weird seeing people take family pictures in front of the wreathe, you know? Anyways, this was one shot I took with my cell phone as I was leaving.
The introductory movie in the theater is well worth seeing all 32:44 – it’s interesting how many things have changed, and how much hasn’t. Incredible how many buzzwords and concepts linger strongly in the majority American mindset to this very day.
That’s about it. Just like most of the road trip, I saw more than I actually photographed, which I think is the point of having a real break! It’s just great getting out to see new places, people, and things. Of course, it’s also nice to revisit old favorites, like White Castle.
If you read any portion of Part 2, you can imagine what happened the morning I was going to head out to Richmond, Virginia. That’s right – phone calls wiped out my entire morning.
I was turned on by a fellow photographer/urban explorer to several sites in Richmond, but because of my limited time was only able to visit one site, the Interbake Cookie Factory. Similar to buildings like the gone Glidden Paint Factory in Atlanta, I thought this complex was slated to be demolished, but may turn into condos or apartments. Who knows – either way, a dilapidated building that will no longer remain in its current state is pretty much an invitation to go inside, right?
Of course it is, Sterling – of course it is.
After granting myself free permission to become temporarily struck by selective illiteracy and scouting the immediate surroundings and pedestrian patterns, I pinpointed a couple entry points to the building. I had two hours before dusk and wasn’t going to risk staying later, especially since I was traveling solo and was the only person in the whole place. I managed to quickly scope all six stories of the factory and select where I wanted to focus on, then returned to my car to grab my photography equipment.
By the way, if I may offer a little advice about visiting places like this in cities you’re unfamiliar with – a) go during a weekday – even better a school day – and even better than that, early in the scholastic year and b) observe the site and the surrounding area completely; I typically take anywhere between 15-30 minutes before grabbing my camera equipment, c) don’t park your car in front of the place and d) go with another person (Okay, okay – so I often skip D).
Abandoned Hope (2012)
September 12, 2012 6:41pm (2012)
Home Brew Loves Cookies (2012)
After this great find it’s safe to say that I’ll be returning to Richmond again sometime to follow up on further advice about other nifty abandoned buildings in the city. I left at sunset then hopped on over to Church Hill to capture dusk over the city.
Then I went home, completely exhausted. The entire trip was certainly nowhere near relaxing and I spent half the time I wanted to photograph for fun, but did my best to make the most of a limited situation. Was definitely worth it!
So after spending the day in luxurious Camden, I hopped over to the Philly side. As I crossed over I received my first phone call from a potential client I had been speaking with for the last two weeks. They were ready to go. Without getting into details, that meant the second I got into Philly, I had to find the nearest hotspot to set up my computer and perform business over the next couple of hours. By the time I was done, most of the day was spent and I went to Genos for a cheesesteak before returning across the river to capture sunset.
I had the pleasure of experiencing sunset and early evening on the Jersey side of the Delaware River to shoot the Philly skyline. The first two are hand-held with zoom lenses. It was a sunny and breezy all day, and skies are usually agreeable on those evenings.
Building lights came on and I strapped one of my zoom lenses to a tripod for a more focused scene.
Then used my tilt-shift to capture twilight, including more of the Ben Franklin Bridge.
Gateway to Philadelphia (2012)
Good day and evening of shooting despite the interruptions. I intended to travel to Philly the next morning to capture some photography then head to Baltimore that evening.
That didn’t work out as planned. As most know, I do photography most of the time, but do a little bit of architecture on the side. Instead of taking leisure time in Philly, I spent all morning fielding and responding to phone calls from a) current photography & architectural clients b) potential photography clients c) building contractors. I also put together an estimate and proposal for another assignment that I was in the running for.
The first half of my day was pretty much shot, so I drove to Baltimore.
And received more phone calls.
And more phone calls.
And then I had to find a hotspot in Baltimore.
By day’s end, my phone battery was dead and the “vacation” day I intended to spend in Philly and Baltimore all but evaporated in a hectic flurry of phone calls and e-mails. During the middle of all of this, I managed to stop by and surprise my wonderful friend Lisa at her workplace, and the highlight of seeing her made the trip totally worth it. I grabbed a hotel for the night, ate, missed sunset, but decided to take night shots in Baltimore by Domino Sugars. The distant glow of lights in the photo below are from the Yankees-Orioles game at Camden Yards, which I was kicking myself for not getting tickets. But the Yanks got spanked 10-3 so maybe that was a good thing.
I had never photographed the old factory from this harbor before, I certainly enjoyed shooting it from elevation and the cast reflections.