A Fascination With The Abandoned

Almost every photographer I know has at some point in time trained their lens on something old, abandoned or decrepit, whether it be an old barn or house photographed from the side of the road or the inside of an abandoned building photographed via more adventurous means.  Photographers renowned for their flower, wildlife, nature, street, architecture images etc. descend upon such places like sharks to a feeding frenzy.  In their quest for the unusual, great efforts are expended arranging trips to some distant, long forgotten place only for each photographer to wander off into his or her own solitary and imaginative world upon arrival – the actual act of taking photographs is not a team sport.  What is the fascination with something in an advanced state of decay that can so easily transform a seasoned, normally adjusted photographer into a jelly like mess of quivering excitement?

In order to answer this question I think one has to understand what it is that the photographer is trying to capture.  Is it really just an old chair, peeling paint, broken windows, a discarded toy, etc. or is it something entirely different?  For me the root of the answer lies in the balance of technical and imagination.  The photographer still has to seek out compositional elements such as line, framing, and placement of the subject while lighting continues to be vitally important to help emphasize texture, shape and form.  However, although a focus on the technical can create superb images, the truly stunning images are those that have an element of story, usually with the nonexistent human element being the theme.  In becoming familiar with his or her surroundings the photographer starts to become one with the subject and it is at this point when feeling is introduced to the images, imagination kicks in and story-telling begins.  In a state of imagination the photographer initially wonders but eventually feels a part of what life must have been like. For example the long silent machinery in an abandoned factory suddenly springs to life, the sound of children running through the halls in a long closed school suddenly becomes deafening, and the sounds of every day family life in a crumbling house rouse experiences from one’s own life.

So, in consideration of the foregoing, why would a photographer renowned in a particular genre of photography become so excited at making images of an old, abandoned and decaying building?  For me, as with any type of photography, the thrill of the chase in pursuit of the unusual provides the incentive while the creation of a story provides the motivation.

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