When I first began photography, it started innocently enough: I was just looking for a creative outlet. I had no idea what I wanted to photograph, but I did know what I did not want to photograph: kids! Whether babies or high school students, the thought of these as photographic subjects was incredibly unappealing. I happened to be living in New Orleans at the time, so that city soon became an obvious subject, and it wasn’t long until I found my niche: abandonment! Urban exploration, abandoned places, the end of civilization and all that is holy...wait, where was I? Oh yeah, abandonment.
Like a lot of kids growing up in the 80’s, I had long been interested in urban exploration (at the time not realizing that there was an actual term for what we were doing). As an adrenaline junkie–I count rock climbing and kayaking as other, non-photographic, interests–I get a thrill from exploring abandoned buildings: the difficulty of gaining access, danger of crossing surfaces whose integrity was questionable at best, and the excitement of narrowingly escaping capture. With my burgeoning interest in photography, it just made sense that I would be drawn to abandoned buildings, structures, and locations as subject matter.
As well, there is the matter of historical documentation. The structures that I investigate grant insight into local history and are often demolished without consideration for the stories they tell. More so, abandoned structures provide insight into the evolution of societal mores. For example, sanitariums (asylums, mental hospitals, etc.) are highly coveted locations for urban exploration, many abandoned during deinstitutionalization. In addition, a number of diseases for which you would have been institutionalized began to no longer be seen as debilitating, so you would then be seen as a functioning member of society; people are not longer institutionalized for merely being poor; and it is also the case that some “diseases” are no longer considered mental illnesses (e.g., female hysteria, homosexuality). As societal norms evolved, enrollment in these institutions turned desolate and unneeded, and they closed down.
Finally, I enjoy the wealth of options that Urban Exploration photography grants me, particularly in terms of photographic styles and opportunities. On any one shoot, I can switch from architectural to landscape to still life photographies---and, yes, sometimes even wildlife photography. Macro photography is another option, particularly in trying to capture some of the unique textures that rust and decay provides. Sometimes I am more of a photo-journalist, documenting the decay of the city, but in any setting, I find myself taking more of an artistic approach. I have an extensive collection of photographic subjects and a wide array of facets. I also enjoy the fact that I can apply traditional photographic compositional approaches to urban exploration. For example, finding leading lines in hallways and lines of doorways.
But is that enough to justify space on my memory card/hard drive? What else could justify abandonment as photographic subject matter---for me, at least? As a nihilist, I might consider the documentation of society in decline. As a former ecologist, I take solace in the knowledge that when the Earth has divested itself of us the planet will reclaim its land, that wilderness will once again reign. Of course, growing up listening to heavy metal sometimes I feel like I’m in an Overkill or Testament music video.