Have you ever noticed a house boarded up, decrepit, and falling in on itself? Have you seen their bones defiantly standing, looking like a ghost of it’s past looming over the ground that is trying to reclaim it? Probably not. They are often dwarfed by the buildings or beauty around them. They are often written off because their beauty is unconventional and usually marred by graffiti. They are often unseen and forgotten by the passing of time and life continuing on in spite of it. The beauty of these places is often lost in the sea of modernity and the push for the new and the shiny. Society has created a mindset where we discard that which cannot make money or does not fit its’ standards of beauty.
Like I said in my landscape blog: the task of a great photographer is to seek beauty even if no one else can see it, and making it apparent so that your audience might see it too. One of my favourite subjects to do just that is abandoned buildings. They tell a history like a three-dimensional faded photograph. They are a testament to the past and the lives of the people who once lived there. They have this mystery about them that draws you in. Finding beauty here is a challenge though because, as I said earlier, society has created a world where the old and decrepit is usually seen as unsightly, and often these places look more slovenly than as time capsules to the past.
What I love about this kind of photography is that it helps us view the past. It is like photographing a real-life ghost. These places can seem creepy, but the farmhouses I photograph are quite typically very serine. There’s a peace with this kind of photography where it can be just you and your subject. There are a few things someone should know with this kind of photography if it interests you.
This kind of photography is dangerous. Always, always, take a buddy. A couple years ago a well-known photographer of abandoned prairie farm houses in Alberta fell into a hidden hole on an abandoned property. He did not survive. This is an extreme example, but people get hurt in these places often when they’re distracted, and bringing a buddy will ensure that someone is there to help you in case you are injured or just to keep an eye out for a danger you might not have noticed. Wear protective shoes that protect your feet from broken glass and nails, and have a first aid kit nearby just in case. Include in that kit a face mask just in case the building has asbestos or a potential for other dangerous airborne toxins. While this might not be necessary, it is always a good idea to be over prepared than to put yourself in harms’ way by being under prepared.
You will often need permission. Country farmhouses often have no owner and as long as you are respectful of the space you should be fine as you might only need to find the farmer who’s land it is on and ask them. Anything near or in the city, however, absolutely requires permission. Make sure you check about that property before entering or you may risk getting charged with trespassing. Your county or municipality should have a registry you can contact to find out who to talk to about a specific property.
This one is the most important: Be Respectful. Many places are destroyed by taggers, drug addicts, the homeless, the weather, arsonists, and delinquents. To make sure you do not make a place worse do not alter the state of an abandoned building. You are there to document and make art with your camera, so do not ruin it for other photographers who may want to pass through the same place. In addition, doing more damage could encourage the place to be destroyed by your municipality if they feel it is getting too much negative attention. You also don’t want to open yourself up to vandalism charges.
I think it is important to document what we can of the past before it is gone, even if it is only a ghost of the past. Once it is gone there is no way to recover it. If we can also capture the beauty in it then we are fighting the worlds’ misguided notions of the acceptable. We are fighting the belief that the old cannot be valuable. This style of photography is rewarding, exciting, and challenging. It is definitely one I suggest trying!
If you want to show us your work, please post it to Instagram or Twitter, use the hashtag #capturecreatecommunity, and tag us so that we can see it! If you have any questions feel free to ask us via social media or through any of our contact info. As always, happy shooting!