One of my favorite birds in the Lincoln Park Zoo’s aviary are the Inca Terns. Every time I am there I try to capture what it is that delights me so much about them, today I offer you a brief study of these charming and silly birds.
I’m a fan of cemeteries in general. Of old cemeteries in European capitals, even more. The Assistens Kirkegaard in Denmark is full of gorgeous statuary, as well as the final resting place of Hans Christian Andersen. Photograph from a biting winter’s day in the January of 2012.
Life and Thought have gone away
Side by side,
Leaving door and windows wide.
Careless tenants they!
All within is dark as night:
In the windows is no light;
And no murmur at the door,
So frequent on its hinge before.
Close the door; the shutters close;
Or through the windows we shall see
The nakedness and vacancy
Of the dark deserted house.
Come away: no more of mirth
Is here or merry-making sound.
The house was builded of the earth,
And shall fall again to ground.
Come away: for Life and Thought
Here no longer dwell;
But in a city glorious –
A great and distant city -have bought
A mansion incorruptible.
Would they could have stayed with us!
–The Deserted House by Alfred Lord Tennyson
A fractal quality is present in the sites whose pictures you see here.
Like a nautilus, shell-within-shell retreating ad infinitum.
These empty buildings:
The closer you look, the less empty they are.
The old Gary post office is one of the top locations for urbex in Gary, and as such we don’t go by very often. This last trip we decided to take The Spaniard there and take a look around to see what has changed in the almost 2 years since our last visit. For one thing, the ferns have grown quite a bit.
I’m just not sure which shot I like better.
In this particular corner of the Methodist church, debris has been accumulating. Some objects have clearly been dragged here, for what purpose is anyone’s guess. Mine is not to ask why, but to take pictures, and the scene that presented itself I found compelling. Here is the result, after a bit of HDR magic.
The most recent vintage of the shuttered schools we’ve visited, Beckson appears to have been built in the late 60’s or early 70’s, and abandoned a quarter century later (the AOL domain email address listed for the principal on his door provides a clue). The building itself doesn’t have the stone-and-mortar majesty of Gary’s earlier schools, but a quirky layout and numerous leftover relics made it a great find. Besides a chair orgy happening in the main gymnasium, there are shelves of books left in the library, record players in the auditorium, and other detritus. These two shots are not covering new ground, as the Idiot Photographer has presented her take on their subject matter in previous posts, but I’ll throw my two cents in (photographically speaking) as well.
As Tabula Rasa posted last night regarding City United Methodist Church I decided to share another angle on the location. Before I do so I want to touch on something that is a bit of a pet peeve for me. If you’re new to urbex then locations like this are great starting points, it has very easy access (just walk right in) and is reasonably safe (as these things go). If you’re shooting your indie movie here, great! I support you 100%! However, please please please don’t leave heaps of trash behind you. There is a marked difference between the rubble of decay and abandoned items that come with abandoned locations versus the garbage of film crew or a pack of new explorers on a meetup group. There is also a marked difference between the graffiti of a talented writer and some hack with a can of spray paint. Basically, if you don’t want to photograph it then don’t leave it for future explorers to deal with. There is a meetup group who goes through yearly to clean the trash out of this place, let’s make it so they don’t have to. With that said, moving right along…
Every time we have gone there Tabula Rasa has stated that he has done all he can with the location, and afterwards realized that he has walked away with better shots than last time. There are a few locations I insist on visiting nearly every year as the state of decay dictates there will be large changes in the buildings, and as we are improving as photographers we are now seeing things we have missed previously. I’m going to hold him to his claim that he will never doubt this church again, since I now have it in writing.
The time of year that you visit also plays a large role in how you perceive the location, in this case we hadn’t been to the church in midsummer for many years so we had something we usually miss out on. The green and the growing. While I was in the store front/theater/dance school area on the second floor I came across this view. Previously I have complained that some idiot came through and chopped all the trees down (including a lovely, massive, old tree that has been there since the building went up) but if they had not done so I would have never seen this. So I guess I don’t get to complain as much.
I’m not sure how much longer City United is going to be standing, every time we visit the floors are more and more unstable. I do not think this building is at risk for demolition any time with in the next few decades as Gary doesn’t have enough money to even consider it, but I do predict that roof will come down over the nave within the next 5 years, and the store front will become impassable with in 10. I’m being conservative here, I’m pretty convinced the flooring on the third floor is going to dump some poor newbie onto the second floor sometime with in the next 5 years, especially with sharp increase in urbex that I’ve been seeing in popular media over the past couple of years.
We will continue to stop by and say hello to this location so long as it stands, and I hope it remains for many more years.
The ruins of the Methodist church are what every urban explorer sees when they come to Gary, often to the exclusion of all else. And it’s easy to see why: it is readily accessible and packs a visual wollup. The Idiot Photographer and I have been coming here for years, and it’s hard not to sneer when a fresh-faced thing hanging out by the church one Sunday morning asks you, “are you here for the photogroup meetup?” No, I want to say, I could be the Goddamned curator here. But my hipster is showing. Every time I think I’ve done all I can do at this location, I find myself surprised. When we took The Spaniard here a weekend ago, I saw what my new 10mm lens could do from the floor of the nave. Oh, Methodist church, I will never doubt you again!
This is the time of year we are invaded by the singing choir of cicadas. I couldn’t live anywhere that I wouldn’t get to hear them sing even if I do find them freaky and will flip my lid if one lands on me.
Since they start emerging in midsummer and keep on coming through August we get to find empty little larva shells stuck to trees and bushes for months on end. I’ve always wanted to catch one emerging from the shell but have never had the luck. This time I found one that had emerged but the carapace had not yet hardened so it is still green and unable to fly.
I found this one on a tree right on the parkway of my street, so of course I couldn’t get more than a photo in before the neighbors decided to ask what the hell I was up to. They couldn’t understand why on earth on someone would want to take a photo of a bug that wasn’t a butterfly, but I figure that is fair since I don’t really understand why they aren’t interested in an animal that is such a loud part of their lives. One even invited me to a “green” building/garden walk to see the local buildings that are “Eco-friendly”, but she promised there no were bugs except worms and butterflies. Which tells me they are not as Eco-friendly as they think they are.
I think I’ll stay with documenting the yearly cicada invasion, thank you very much.
As documented in the previous post by the Idiot Photographer, abandoned chairs inhabit a twilight world at the former Beckson Middle School. They rot in piles in the gymnasium, hoping for but a taste of freedom outside. Some have managed to flee into the courtyard. but these are few. Sadly, some of these chairs are broken and worn. Some have had only the strength to drag themselves to the edge of freedom, and can only stand by impotently, hobbled while freedom beckons mere steps away. Is such proximity to the final reward comforting solace or a hell of temptations?
I have previously documented the location of sofa hell, where ugly sofas go to suffer for an eternity for crimes against good taste. On our most recent trip we discovered a related location, chair purgatory. Here mildly uncomfortable school chairs and desks quietly inhabit a gymnasium, slowly collecting dust and bird droppings.
Unlike the sofa hell, here there is a chance the chairs may one day escape their torment and run free and feral through the desolate fields of Gary. Though they may never know the joy of being warmed by a butt ever again, they can instead soak up the rays of sunshine as they slowly frolic along.
The life of a feral school chair is not an easy one, they have many natural predators, such rust and bored teens. However, just one month of freedom is worth not spending an eternity in that musty gym, waiting for someone to see their value and liberate them into a good home where they will be cherished and loved. They are too old, too ugly, too out of date. Run Free, little chairs, Run Wild.
Indecision’s called a mild form of vice,
one whose wages are time and choices lost
but who can calculate compounding cost
when choices bifurcate not once, but twice?
Grapevines are the new door, didn’t you hear?
An interesting thing about grape vines, they grow to fit the area they are in and when they run out growing space they’ll settle down and start making grapes. When I first saw these wild fox grape vines I was hoping for a tart treat, but alas, they still have a lot of growing to do.
Welcome to Beckman School, a little blue school complex down on Gary’s south side. I found it on google maps around the same time I found Grief Brothers, but this was the first opportunity we had to wander over and take a look. I have to say, it was the oddest building I’ve ever been in. The construction is fairly modern, I’d put it somewhere around the 19070’s, and all of the windows are gone. There is some evidence that Gary once tried to keep it sealed, such as welding the doors shut, but since all of the windows are gone (and part of one wall) this doesn’t matter.
There is very little trash around, and even less graffiti. The lockers are all intact and there is a wide selection of desks and chairs to choose from but other than that there is nothing left inside. Even the hanging ceiling tiles are gone, and the braces that they hung from. The one thing that got left behind at this location was something that broke my heart a little. The books.
You may notice the other oddity about this building. That is not an electric light shining there. That is a skylight designed for hanging ceilings which provides no view but offers a fair amount of natural light to the room. All of the second floor halls and most of the rooms on this end of the building had them. Personally I think this is an excellent idea and all schools should have them where possible. Natural light is more likely to keep people engaged than florescent light, though the unnatural florescent lights do prepare a person for toiling hours upon end in a windowless office with no hope.
Beckman Middle school, Gary, Indiana. A lone chair desperately fends off the encroaching fronds of ivy.
I’m kind of regretting not snagging that projector I saw in Emerson school, since I found this in Beckman school. At first I thought they were paints, but when I pulled the box out of the closet it was hiding in I saw that it was actually a collection of PSA films for class. Something today’s kids are not subjected to but (possibly out of some mild malice) I feel that they should be. Who didn’t love mocking these things?
Edited to add-
Turns out the are slide-show style films, a few should have records to go with them for soundtracks, but alas they are lost. I’ll be taking photos of some frames on a lightbox and posting them in a few weeks. In the meantime consider this:
Slideshow film strip,circa 1955 (a sampling):
“Junior High Graded Word Phrases.
“The words used in these film strips on phrases were selected from a study made on word count in leading basic readers and textbooks that are commonly used on the Junior High level [grade 7 and 8].
“To the students: …Think about what each phrase says. Your teacher will tell you how he wants you to tell him the phrase.” [I’m daring you all to use the last one in a coherent sentence]
“vital to the republic”
“followed the regiment”
“an accidental meeting”
“volunteer for services”
“a monstrous guillotine”
“was exceedingly cordial”
“to observe in propriety”
“request complete harmony”
“held in somber reverence”
“had undulating intentions”
Seriously, there are college level students that would be left googly eyed and drooling trying to participate in this exercise today.
I heard another photographer of ruin/decay/abandonment interviewed on the local NPR affiliate this morning. The term “ruinporn” came up quickly in a question from the host. The guest (I believe he goes by Stormdog on Flickr), was thoughtful in responding, but it was a variant of the same argument I’ve heard urbexers use many times now. It goes something like this: urban photography can be distinguished from ruinporn by its ultimate aim. Is the photographer being merely exploitative, or is he or she trying to bring attention to and start a discussion about the buildings being photographed? Is accessing a site just another notch in the belt, or does it serve some larger purpose? If the ultimate aim is to fetishize destruction, then the work is ruinporn.
This line of reasoning is misleading at best, and a mealy mouthed self-deception at worst. Though I’m not a fan of the term, the reaction of photographers to “ruinporn” is dishonest, and needn’t be. And since everyone loves a good manifesto, here goes mine.
“Ruinporn” is a pejorative given to the type of photography you will find often on this blog. It is pictures of buildings and objects in various states of decay. This is, certainly, a narrow niche of aesthetics. It is, however, a direct descendant of romanticism. At first blush, this seems absurd: romantics were reacting against industrialization by attempting to return to a state of nature, one in which man’s raw emotions would be paramount. But what is ruinporn? It is a turning away from the malls, the artifice, the Disneyfication of modern America. In a country where many municipalities have ordinances on how often homeowners must cut their lawns and what type of car may be parked in the driveway, the places are off the grid. They are returning to nature. In their decay, they show us truths: mighty edifices of man crumble and turn feral within less than a generation’s span, and our pretty plastic facades are dust in the waiting.
But a yet stronger link to romanticism can be found on the emotional palette. It is melancholia that drove Chopin to write his haunting nocturnes and Caspar David Friedrich to paint his grim landscapes. Ruinporn inherits those traits. It wears that mantle because its subject matter is raw and beautiful. It is a raw emotionality that we are unaccustomed to, leaving its practice to Goth kids and other outcasts. But perhaps here we come to the problem. Urban explorers take great pains in finding and accessing their chosen sites; attempt to set up a shot in near darkness, in mud, muck and mold; and for what? Are we ashamed to say that it is for the beauty we see? Do we feel that puts us in league with stoners and emos, not “serious” artists?
What I see when I’m taking pictures is the shafts of light, the textures of rusting iron and walls peeling so much as to appear like fractured glass. I see the lines composed of fallen walls and piled up bricks. I see the curious juxtapostions of old material and new trash, the jarring colors of grafitti, and nature inexorably coming to reclaim what was hers all along. In all these things, I see beauty, and I need not justify it further by “starting discussions” or “raisning awareness.” What these buildings are, most often, are dangerous. They can and should be torn down. There is no saving the many buildings in Gary; all I can do is document their magnificent demise.
So lastly, I’ll return to the term in question. Let me be clear that I’m not a fan of the term; it is clearly derogatory as it attempts to position this kind of photography in relation to art in the same one dimensional way that porn relates to sexuality. I hope I’ve made the case that that analogy doesn’t hold. I would suggest “postmodern romanticist photography,” as we are documenting our ever changing urban landscapes as opposed to out relatively eternal natural surroundings, while redefining them after they’ve outlived their proscribed usefulness. Failing that, I’ll settle for “RuinErotica.”