There are many fine urbexers out there who take an active interest in documenting the places they visit, either to highlight an aspect of local history or to help preserve them. While I may be sometimes intrigued by that aspect of urbex, I make no bones that my primary interest in this genre of photography is primarily aesthetic. Sometimes only knowing little about the place you’re seeing heightens the mystery, perhaps makes the story a photo tells a bit more universal. I tend to take a “non-attachment” to the sites we shoot; I find it’s a bit dishonest to bemoan their further decay when that is the very process that allowed us to shoot the pictures we did.
That said, I can’t help be a bit saddened when a site I cut my teeth on gets very rapidly demolished. The Riverdale granary was a massive edifice of metal, rust, concrete and ivy. As of our last visit, only the slim north building still stands. Soon, it too will be gone. It should be remembered that impermanence makes all things possible.
“Outside the ordered universe is that amorphous blight of nethermost confusion which blasphemes and bubbles at the center of all infinity—the boundless daemon sultan Azathoth, whose name no lips dare speak aloud, and who gnaws hungrily in inconceivable, unlighted chambers beyond time and space amidst the muffled, maddening beating of vile drums and the thin monotonous whine of accursed flutes.”
– H. P. Lovecraft, The Dream Quest
I’ll admit it, I am really digging my new wide angle lens. All those shots I was so frustrated I couldn’t pull off before have finally come together for me and now I just have to deal with my aversion to the distortion caused by wide angle lenses. *sigh*
Tonight Tabula Rasa and I head out on the road for the first of our weekend traveling explores. We’ve exhausted Gary Indiana and our local area so we’re planning several road trips of the drive Friday night, explore one day and drive home Sunday morning variety. Because sleep is over rated. This weekend’s trip is all the more special as we’re being joined by The Canadian for her first major explore and the first time we are meeting IRL. Go internet, bringing people together all over the world! I’ll see you guys on Monday and will attempt to update Facebook tomorrow after the explore is finished.
The stair thief has struck again, but as usual he has taken only the first floor stairs. Not that those stairs were too useful unless you were either very foolhardy or had safety gear seeing as the floor thief has been through here as well.
Light streams onto power plant machinery through a hole in the roof.
There is no place like home
Though I realize that most of my shots fall into the rather well-worn niche of “urban decay” (“ruinporn” if you’re inclined to be less genteel), I still feel I have to justify myself at times, especially to friends and acquaintances. There is a perception among some that what we do is misguided at best, dangerous and juvenile at worst. Don’t fear, this is not the preamble to some righteous rant. Rather, I present the following and ask the reader to decide whether there is beauty there, regardless of subject matter.
I’m stealing from and adding onto the Idiot Photographer’s previous post, as it captures in words what I think we look for on film (so to speak).
Some say prayers, I say mine.
We never explore alone, but we find our best moments in the silence and contemplation of our environment.
Our most recent trip was one that I will remember mostly as “COLD COLD COLD COLD”. While I was wearing a decent amount of layers, the fact is I do not own a good winter coat for exploring, and I was freezing most of the time.
The neat thing is there was a lot of ice, in many forms. Coating a machine in a glossy, rippled sheet; sprawled across the floors, smoothing them to nearly even; bubbling heaps slowly creating an ice monster….
Outside, grasses and bubbles became trapped in an icy tomb.
Inside the stalactites wore their own winter coats, of ice.
One nice thing about photographing buildings: you can always go back for another shot. And that’s what you do, because it’s about being there as much as it is about the shots themselves. So it was with the defunct power plant. I wanted to have another crack at HDR from the outside.
There are just so many details hiding in plain view that it’s impossible to capture them all well the first time out.
Paths previously trodden reveal tableaus previously overlooked.
Improved lighting makes a shot possible, as in the case of these despairing lockers in an otherwise pitch black room.
Or, finally, a relaxation of my fear of heights got me across a steel catwalk and into this room.
Part of the fun of returning to places we’ve already explored is finding when things have changed. Sometimes it is obvious, sometimes it takes you a moment to see it.
Case in point we visited the Power Plant again today and found that all the metal grate flooring was gone. At first I was wondering how the hell I missed the awesome view of the second floor from the ground floor, then I realized there was no such view last time I was there.
So who ripped out the flooring I wonder? Was it the town? Was it scrappers? The property owner? Either way it restricts what you can explore once you climb the scary stairs, which I suspect is why they were taken.
It’s apparent that our particular interest lies in urban decay. This is a short apologia for what is perhaps merely a trend in aesthetics, photography in particular.
Our lives are easy. And safe. One can get in a car and drive two whole days in any direction (from Chicago, anyway) and count on the same network of stores, restaurants, and cell coverage everywhere. This is nice, but boring. People seek out the little diners, the mom n’ pop stores, to get away from McDonald’s and WalMarts. To get to what they think is authentic.
The photography analogue is urban exploration. Chicago’s skyline is beautiful, and rightly famous. It’s also there for the taking, photographically speaking. But finding the sights few see is a thrill in itself. If I’m to cultivate an art, shouldn’t there be some toil to it? Some exploration, some dirt, some pain and some risk? In our case, some chance of arrest?
I’m not fetishizing rust or industry, I’m not goth. I know beauty exists and can be sought anywhere and everywhere one cares to look. So it’s in the pursuit of a more elusive quarry that my passions lie.
Not the little kiddie kind of Power Wheels either.
A closer view
While we’re at it, this is the main floor.
Made in Chicago.
Row of somethings.
Do not climb.
One of the locations for my “In the Dark” series is an old power plant that, from what I can tell, has been shut down since 1977 or so.
The insulation (asbestos?) has come free from the piping, whole sections of grate flooring are missing on the upper levels and the place rattles and booms on the wind. It is like christmas came a month early for us!
There are mysterious bits and pieces, as well as whole machines left to rust in place. A playground for adults.
I wonder what this did. . .
Sometimes I get a little spooked while walking among the machines, in this place that once was loud and incessantly busy but now is quiet except for the call of a train horn in the distance, the howl of wind, the clattering of loose metal meeting brick.
I also wonder who Gilroy was.
The last of the granary photos for a bit. We are planning to go back, in the snow, because that isn’t dangerous at all.
View north from the fourth floor, minus wall.
One day the support for these storage bins will crumble. I kinda hope I get to watch it happen.
Forest and building, living in harmony.
Inside the machine, flashlight magic.
Oh hey, look at the bins!
Try as I might it is near impossible to capture the decaying splendor of the buildings we explore. Back in the granary I made some attempts at HDR, I’m pretty sure I could do better but I’m still learning at this point so bear with me please.
I give you gradual collapse.
Pipes go here, pipes go there, pipes go everywhere!
There was once a staircase in this corner, now there is a gaping hole in the floor, in the ceiling, in the wall.
Meanwhile the grain bins cling to the side of the building, waiting for the day that gravity overcomes rust.
This is one of those locations that just leaves you wondering. Why is this here? What was it? How long has it been abandoned?
There is no road leading to it, you have to park and walk up the tracks to get there. While it looks like it is standing on hill in reality soil was bulldozed up to bury the ground floor.
Even the companion building is partly buried, and equally as mysterious.
Getting up to the buildings you have work your way through some heavy burrs (put there deliberately?) and then watch your footing closely as the erosion of soil into the first floor of the buildings has left some gaping and not so gaping holes in the ground around it.
The minimalist view from inside. I just cannot fathom what purpose those “windows” had. There are no machines, no scraps of trim, no facade. Just concrete walls with re-bar showing in places, like bones poking through a carcass.
My fellow photog, Tabula Rasa, pauses to consider his next composition.
In the end, the nameless buildings have nothing to explore, you can only access one floor and there is nothing there but empty rooms. The castle like building doesn’t even have that, there is no way to try to get above the gaping cavern of the mostly buried first floor, and many of floors above appear to be missing. It is home to birds, and possibly bats, and above all a haunting mystery.
So quite a bit of what I have shared lately has been from the Riverdale Granary, a former chicken feed factory that was built in 1918 and shut down in 1952(ish). It isn’t a particularly safe building (people have met their end there while exploring or saving explorers) but it is a compelling building to visit. If only for the machines.
Big thing to remember in this location, watch where you put your feet, there are built in holes everywhere.
This is because the connecting pipes are missing.
I am always amazed at how much machinery gets left behind in places like these.
Broken, misaligned and turned to rust.