Photographing Abandoned and Decayed Buildings
Why is it so appealing?
Abandoned buildings. Derelict, decaying, deteriorated (or deteriorating), falling down, overgrown. Whatever words you use to describe these buildings, they seem to fascinate us (at least they fascinate me). And we love to take pictures of them.
Why are ruins, no matter what they were before they became decrepit, so interesting to us, and why do we love taking pictures of them? And I think I can say “we” with some confidence, because I know many people who, like me, are excited to find a new abandoned, derelict building, and to explore, especially with camera in hand.
On Flickr, there are more than 20 groups (and that’s a conservative count) dedicated to photos of abandoned buildings, and others are devoted to photos of rust, rot, peeling paint, broken windows, pretty much anything you can imagine, so you know it’s a subject with a lot of enthusiasts.
Some abandoned buildings are a glimpse to the past, some have an actual “history”. Some bring back memories, some only offer what you see in front of you.
I sometimes think the interest is in the story these buildings have to tell.
The story in the life of the building when it was in use and well taken care of. Who were the people who lived there or used it and how did they interact with the space? Did they live or work there? Were they happy? Did they like the building, the location, or was it just four walls and a roof? Did they ever take pictures of it themselves?
Other times I think the story is in the abandonment. Why was this building left behind to crumble and fall and be reclaimed by nature? When I look inside and poke around (and I just love to do that) and see what’s left behind, I wonder why was this particular thing left? Was it forgotten, or was it deemed unimportant? Do the former inhabitants think about it? Do they miss it?
No matter the reason or reasons for the abandonment, abandoned buildings are a dream shoot of many a photographer.
Peeling paint, doors hanging off hinges, floorboards ripped up or broken, roofs caved in, trees and bushes growing through walls or windows, each is a captivating subject for a camera lens. Even graffiti can be interesting.
Personally, I find decrepit and abandoned building so interesting, I do things I normally don’t do in order to take photos of them. Normally I’m a goody-goody, and I don’t break rules. But I’ve been known to ignore “No Trespassing” signs and go in anyway (I even took a photo of the sign at my last “break-in”). I am not recommending that you do this, however. Remember it could be dangerous and you could get in trouble.
(Maybe that’s part of the reason I love abandoned buildings so much: the thrill! The danger!)
Despite their broken-down state, or perhaps because of it, these structures have a special kind of beauty you can’t find anywhere else. And if you’re really lucky, you can capture that beauty with your camera.
Abandoned buildings are sad, but they also, in a way, are kind of hopeful—despite being left behind, they stand, they intrigue, they fight the passage of time and the encroachment of nature and have something new to offer people, even as they fall apart.
These are all great themes cameras were practically made to catch.
The first picture of this article, of the 2-story house, was one of my favorite abandoned houses. It was a beautiful house as it was—sagging and drooping and falling apart, but it was easy to see how wonderful it would have been when it was cared for.
It was also a place that offered some clues about why it was abandoned, as one of the upstairs bedrooms and the roof showed signs of a chimney fire.
I say that this house “was” one of my favorite abandoned houses, because just a couple months after I visited and took photos of it, it was demolished. It was sad to see it go, but actually the demolition process was interesting, but so fast I was unable to get any photos of it.
This is a big danger with abandoned buildings: you never know how long they’re going to be there, so if you’re inclined to visit them, don’t wait too long.
One more note about abandoned and decrepit things: they don’t have to be buildings. The sign below is one I saw along the side of the highway and just had to have a photo of. Fortunately, I was able to pull over and get the shot. Anyone want to go to Rattlesnake Ranch with me?