This is a guest post from our companion on our most recent visit to Packard. You can visit her blog at juniorbbq.wordpress.com
So, I have this thing called FOMO…or “Fear Of Missing Out” syndrome. People can’t put an inkling of a thought in my head that even REMOTELY interests me, because I’m going to fixate on it and make life difficult until I just DO it already. My trip to Detroit was just that…a textbook case.
I came across The Idiot Photographer blog just surfing the internet. I love photography, with a main focus on urban exploration. So does The Idiot Photographer, so I struck up a facebook conversation. I gathered that, from the photos on the site, that The Idiot Photographer was PROBABLY from Indiana, and being a regular visitor to Chicago I thought maybe I could get a tour of Gary from said person. I knew nothing else about this person, aside from the photos I saw resonated with me and I wanted to soak up more. This was about 6 months ago, or so.
Then I got an email in January. “Our plans are to be in Detroit in early February to explore all of Packard (and whatever else we may find if time allows). I don’t know how close to Detroit you are, but you’re welcome to join us.” Oh…my…heck. First of all, an invite to the MECCA of urban exploration. Secondly, in DETROIT? How was I going to make this work? I’m a two-and-a-half day drive from Detroit, and a plane ticket would be INSANE! But, FOMO. And I made it work. There I was, on a plane on Valentine’s Day, going to a derelict city I’ve been to ONCE, meeting people I have never laid eyes on, to a place that is the largest abandoned structure in the WORLD. I don’t know if these people are going to knock me out with a tripod and leave me in the ruins that are the Packard Plant. But, FOMO.
We met early Saturday morning at the Eastern Market. My sherpas seem affable…but I’m still wary. It’s cold, it’s early, I had no Tim Hortons in me…I don’t know what to expect. In a foreign country with complete strangers. No one can accuse me of not living life, right? FOMO, after all.
Then, there in front of me, the sprawling ruins of the Packard Automotive Plant. We parked inside one of the warehouses to keep out of suspecting eyes, and off we went.
And it was amazing.
For someone who lives on the prairies, where vast emptiness dotted with abandoned farmhouses are the norm, I felt way out of my element but excited at this new challenge. The Idiot Photographer coined the phrase, “the never ending Packard”…and no truer words had been spoken. It seems rooms went on forever. The graffiti went on forever. The discarded bricks and smashed windows and staircases to more never ending rooms.
The cold went on forever too, it seemed. About two hours in, I was COLD. And I’m a Canadian from The Prairies. I live in a city coined Winter-peg, for crying out loud. And I was COLD. But I don’t say anything, because I don’t want to be “that guy”, right? I’ve got something to prove to these people who were kind enough to think of me and invite me along on a trip that was clearly important to them. But hell. I was getting to the point where I didn’t know how much more I could handle. And it was only nine in the morning! Fortunately Tabula Rasa had a brilliant idea…let’s get some breakfast to warm up, and then re-evaluate the situation. At that point, I was thinking of telling them that I’ll have some coffee and breakfast, but then I was going to head out. I was cold.
Over breakfast, conversation went all over the place, and I got to know my sherpas better. WONDERFUL people. Love what they do. The Idiot Photographer talked about a particular place that needed to be shot…the ring-toss room…and how cool it looked. I’m still on the fence about whether I wanted to go back out into the cold, but…oh…here it comes again…FOMO! The Idiot Photographer was REALLY adamant about the ring-toss room and the way it was described well, I just HAD to see it for myself. So, we bundle up and off we go again…to get back into the depths of Packard.
I am THRILLED that I made the decision not to wuss out. With a belly full of eggs and bacon and coffee…delicious, delicious coffee…I had my second wind. I was seeing the plant now as more than something with four walls (sometimes) that was holding on to the cold and shoving it down my throat. I was SEEING the rooms, the graffiti, the broken glass and discarded bricks that went on forever. Tabula Rasa and The Idiot Photographer were playing a game of dueling staircases…I was soaking it ALL in. And I loved EVERY…SINGLE…SECOND of it all. My lower back was SCREAMING in pain, and I think I popped out my hip climbing through a hole in a wall to get to a precarious ledge, and I lost feeling in a couple toes, but I wasn’t stopping. In fact, I think they would have had to drag me out of there if they were ready to be finished and I wasn’t ready to go.
FOMO. Fear Of Missing Out. I have it, and it was the best case of giving in than I can remember.
Trying to stay on theme, but at some point the corridors in Packard grew to wide avenues or else encroaching ruin had made them barely passable. Are these still hallways? Close enough for the purpose of getting a blog post up, I’d say.
I’m not sure Tabula Rasa and I will ever get tired of doing this, so I’m going to promise this is my last photo of a hall way in Packard for a long while. Given the current dispute over the ownership of the building there is a very slim chance we yet visit it a third time, so I’m not going to say never. Sunday will find us out in search of new locations so it is very possible this blog will stop being “Packard the Unending” shortly. To that though, I will make no promises.
The same fantastic hallway as appeared in IP’s last post, but photographed from a different spot. And in sepia tone, because I’m fucking artsy.
A dark hallway opens
Onto morning’s blaze
The second visit to a location is more than just a chance to re-shoot that one really cool thing that you missed out on.
It is a chance to really get to know a place. Now that you’ve seen the big obvious stuff you can take your time and let it all soak in. You get to slow down and really enjoy being in a place instead of the thrilling, frantic pace of trying to make sure you’ve seen everything. Our second visit to Packard was no exception, and while I ended up taking fewer photos than the first time I also spent more time in the moment just enjoying that I was there, with the people I was with, and the play of light across the floor.
Remnants of top story and elevator motor house glimpsed through slabs of the collapsed roof.
The slumped face of the southwest building of the Packard campus is where the sheer scale of decay hits home. The collapse here seems less like a function of time and weather and more like the product of a violent force of nature, stilled momentarily for us to behold. I never got around to getting the exterior view of this section last October, so I made up for lost opportunities last month.
Doors to nowhere stacked floor-over-floor at the Packard plant in Detroit.
When you’ve been trading stair-themed posts with your co-blogger for a few days, acceptable post titles dry up quickly, especially when you are attempting to come up with said title late at night. Sometimes it’s best to overshoot the sublime and land in the ridiculousness.
Wait, wait! Van Gogh’s Stairy night!
How about, Quit Stairing At Me, You’re Freaking Me Out?
Wait, where you going?
In keeping in the spirit of the theme Tabula Rasa and I have inadvertently been on I give you this, a place of transitions between elevations.
Keeping with the theme of late, and matching the Idiot Photographer blow for blow, I present to you: more stairs.
A topic not often broached among urbexers, unless in bragging of its disregard, is danger. Now, I’m not trying to present us as brave adventurers á la Indiana Jones, but we do face risks. Nothing exemplifies these risks better than stairs. We do try to be careful; some flights we will only take one person at a time, others are felt out a step at a time with a tripod. These little cautions are really rudimentary; one can only hope that one doesn’t follow in the footsteps of Richard Nickel, the godfather of modern urban explorers, who died when a portion of the building he was photographing collapsed onto him. So it is that we each choose one of the three paths when confronting our risks: fate, faith, or fatalism. None are particularly efficacious at warding off imminent catastrophic structural failure, but are the crutches we use to be able to climb those stairs nevertheless. Ultimately, the only practical advice to be given on the subject of climbing that last flight of stairs is: don’t look down.
One of the great parts of winter exploring is not knowing what is under all that snow.
The tallest point in the Packard automotive plant is the water tower, visible for miles around. We were told by “security” that the new owners of the property intend on preserving it, an engineering goal sure to be made more difficult since the all four of the tower’s legs have been severed by scrappers. Indeed, the weight of the whole tower rests on the concrete floor of the second story. Here it stands framed by debris, seen from the roof of a building on the north end of the complex.
Trees sprout from the crumbling Packard edifice; the General Motors headquarters looms victorious over its long-vanquished rival.
There is a cemetery just across the tracks to the west of the Packard plant, something which is often overlooked both literally and figuratively. Having consumed many Reese’s confections as a child and possessing the superior artistic acumen that comes with having a blog, I quickly descried two great things that go great together. Should I be accused of being maudlin, or of laying it on too thick, I will gladly stand those slings and arrows to bring you this, the photograph that goes to eleven. Ladies and gentlemen, kids in lycra capes and cheap eyeliner, I give you: gravestones as seen from inside a ruined factory.
There is something about crawling out of bed 15 minutes before we’re supposed to be leaving, grabbing my gear and heading out into the dark, bitter cold that I simply love. Well, not so much the cold part, screw that. I’m a bit of a not-a-morning-person who perversely loves mornings and tends to wake up early anyway. Tabula Rasa, on the other hand, is a not-a-morning-person who doesn’t wake up early and merely tolerates mornings. This had led to some disagreements as to what hour we leave on our trips. This time we compromised and I’m happy we did or our frostbite would have been worse.
It all paid off for us as we reached the third floor and the sun came over the horizon.
I have barely started editing my shots from Saturday, but it was fitting to start off with the beginning of our day: sunrise. I;m not sure if any of my shots will turn out to be memorable, but I won’t soon forget how really, really fucking cold it was.
At the end of the day (or in this case, the week) when I get home and download my photos I’m not totally sure of what I have. There might be one or two that I though for sure were keepers when viewed on my little camera screen, but fail miserably once viewed in full resolution. I’ve worked hard to become a better photographer, and when I look a the photos I took 5 years ago I can see the difference all my hard work has made. This trip was a bit of a humbling experience, we had 7 days and two cities to burn through with very little knowledge of where our desired locations were, with the exception of the main attractions of Packard and Armour. It is very easy for me to look at the mass of photographs I took and weep for how many were abject losers and count the winners as being a matter of luck over a matter of skill. It is true that for every 300 or so photos you’re bound to get at least one good one just a matter of luck, but I think I managed to do better than that, as did Tabula Rasa.
It is, however, easy to berate oneself over the shots not taken, the perspective missed. Every time I go to a new location and spend time photographing it that night is spent in uneasy speculation over what I could have done differently, the vision I thought I saw that did not appear in the image I captured. The endless questioning of why a photo didn’t turn out the way I wanted, and why I didn’t stop for a moment to catch that stray ray of light piercing through the gloom of a fire blackened room. This trip was exhilarating and intense for all of the highs and lows and new places seen, but depressing for all the perceived missed opportunities. I don’t regret it one bit for all that. I will always ask myself if I could have done a better job of it, and the answer will always be, “Probably.” No matter how skilled I become as a photographer, even in my middle-of-the-road state, I am thrilled I had the chance to be where I was and take the photos that I did. Even if most of them are crap.
For all the troubles I had with my gear (a malfunctioning lens as well as an unfamiliar and substandard tripod), I came away from St. Louis, from Detroit and most importantly from Packard with quite a few new lessons learned and more than 4 or 5 good photos. Sure, some of them may not be print worthy, but I still feel I can display them with pride, and I did find some gold that wasn’t merely a matter of luck. It was a matter of seeing what was there and capturing it with the skills that I have despite the limitations I was under. A year ago I would never have seen these images, I would have walked right past them and never known I had missed them. Perhaps when we return to these locations in a year or two we will wonder how we ever managed to walk past certain things, or we will be able to capture what we saw previously yet lacked the skill to catch. I don’t even know if these locations will be around by then, but I am glad that I went when I did, saw what I saw, and that I managed to catch a gossamer thread of the magic these places hold.