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.
Wandering out a door into the wilderness I find myself confronted with a wall of rust and the shadows of trees dancing across the face of it.
A Plymouth and a VW walk into a slough…
Room after room I find nothing but peeled paint and crumbled plaster. Snippets of wire and empty electrical conduits are scattered everywhere, the scrappers have been through here and taken almost everything. Left in their wake I find small clues as to what purpose this pace one served, preserved in the form of rust.
Oooh…what’s inside? What is it? Is it urban decay? Aw, man… it’s always urban decay. I was hoping for kittens. This is nice too, though.
Playground and schools, Gary.
Some years ago we stumbled across a former furniture store, you can only access the ground floor, because the main stairs look something like this.
These days there are two large holes, and some plywood ramps over them because that is safe.
The back set of stairs were in even worse shape.
Now these stairs have only the bottom 4 steps or so, they are just gone.
Every now and again I would see photos of the couch sitting at the stop of the stairs on Flicker, and I have been waiting for the day it goes crashing through the stairs to going the rest of the furniture in what I call Sofa Hell. But stubbornly, year after year, it remains out of reach at the top of the stairs.
You may have noticed the large holes in the main stair case, they were caused by people braving the rusted steps and plummeting through. From what I have heard no one was seriously injured but a camera did meet its demise. I’ve been wanting to visit the second floor since we first found the place but it wasn’t until our most recent visit that BentBottle showed us the safe and sane way to get there.
So at last I can take this photo.
I didn’t brave these stairs since I don’t trust them at all, but the second floor was interesting enough all on its own. You’ve already see one photo from there, the tree from yesterday.
Next stop, Sofa Hell. or is it Sofa Purgatory? Perhaps they will be admitted to Sofa once heaven once they lose the tacky upholstery.
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.
We do a lot driving through industrial areas, not often stopping. But sometimes you see something that stops you in your tracks.
Like the Cline Avenue bridge.
Then you suddenly realize that the power lines for this neighborhood are not your standard lines.
On the other side you have a veritable industrial wonderland of bridges.
As well as an uneasy reminder that all those puffy white steam clouds aren’t just steam.
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.
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.
Lurking in the darkness of the power plant, lost in a lonely corner I see a flash of color in the beam of my flashlight.
Under the pale beam of diffused sunlight pouring in from the broken ceiling, the machine waits.
Holes made of rust.
Motor made of rust.
Gears made of rust.
Bucket elevator, made of rust.
Honestly, I’ve been trying to post for days now! WP and I have been having some disagreements over uploading photos so things have been a bit dicey.
Actually, I blame my internet connection. Either way at long last I have achieved upload of rust and fire crackled paint. I’m not happy about the formatting, but should have gone to bed over an hour ago if I want to be in any shape for work tomorrow.
Come to think of it, I’m feeling a little damaged too….