There’s something chilling, yet captivating about abandoned places. While some people try their best to avoid ever coming near an abandoned building, many others are drawn to them like moths to a flame. Why is this? Why would someone want to wander around a dark, dank, musty old building just to take some photographs? While some see decay, others see years and years of history and beauty, even in the most unlikely places. Regardless of what side you lean towards, it is hard to deny the fact that these brave photographers capture beauty in the remains.
Many of these photographers are very brave, and are not afraid of taking risks (or getting arrested). While some houses sit abandoned with no one to watch them, many other larger complexes often have high security. Whether guarded or not, entering these buildings is risky in itself, with floors that could give way at any moment, broken glass, and air filled with asbestos. It truly takes a certain kind of person to be an urban explorer, and those who double in abandoned places photography bring to light a part of the world that many of us will never see.
Kevin Bauman’s 100 Abandoned Houses project is a typology of forgotten homes. These are homes that many people drive by every single day without a second glance. Bauman, on the other hand, finds beauty in them. Each photograph is cropped square, and the abandoned house usually stands right in the center of the composition. Bauman was inspired by the decay of many homes in Detroit (which happens to be his hometown). While parts of Detroit began to be rebuilt, other parts became even more neglected. Bauman’s series is a study of decay, but is also used to forever preserve the memories of many of these houses, some of which have been torn down during redevelopment.
Niki Feijen, a Dutch photographer, takes stunningly beautiful photographs of old abandoned farmhouses across western Europe. Often trespassing, and disregarding “no trespassing” signs, Feijen finds homes that are still filled with remnants of those who have lived there in the past. One photograph shows an old dirty bed, with walls covered in peeling paint and an old blazer still hung on a decaying dresser. Another shows a beautiful living room, a clock still on the mantel and shoes placed next to a reading chair. In another, a piano still sits, left untouched, and another still shows an old doll sitting on a leather chair. While many houses have been torn down or heavily graffitied, Feijen manages to find those off the beaten path that have been untouched, allowing him to gain glimpses of the lives of people who once lived there.
Henk van Rensbergen
While Henk van Rensbergen, a Belgium photographer, loves taking photographs of abandoned places, his main source of income is his job as an airline pilot. Because of this job that takes him to many different countries, he has had a chance to explore abandoned buildings all over the world. While others on this list have chosen to stick to abandoned houses, Henk van Rensbergen doesn’t restrict himself to one type of abandoned place. He has photographed everything from abandoned amusement parts to abandoned hair salons, always searching for another building in decay.
Dan Marbaix is one risky photographer. Although he has presumably been arrested over 20 times for trespassing in abandoned buildings, even that can’t keep him from exploring these decaying ruins. From libraries still filled to the brim with old books, to large, exquisite theaters, viewers instantly realize what draws Marbaix to all of these locations.
Andre Govia has explored more than 800 abandoned buildings during his career as a photographer and urban explorer. While he prefers larger buildings, such as schools, hospitals, and manors, he doesn’t restrict himself from exploring anything abandoned that he stumbles upon. In one photograph, three doll heads sit on an old, dusty table. In another, old shelves are covered in old, dusty bottles, filled with unknown liquids. Rooms are filled with beautiful rugs and extravagant chandeliers, and dressers still stand with alarm clocks and ceramics on them. Old cars are covered in moss, and empty auditoriums lay bare and silent. While the experience is risky, the results are beautiful.
Tom Kirsch, owner of the urban exploration website opacity.us, has been to more abandoned places than anyone else I have ever heard of. His website is filled with photographs of abandoned hospitals, insane asylums, coal breakers, and power plants (as well as many others), and his locations range from Belgium to Germany to all over the United States. Each photo album is accompanied with a story, sometimes a hilarious recap of trying to dodge security, sometimes a bit of history of the place itself.
How do you feel about exploring these old, decaying buildings? Would you take the risk and explore them yourself, or would you rather leave it to the professionals? This is just one of the many topics for discussion you can expect to have while attending a photography workshop at the New York Film Academy.