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Hi everyone. In my last post I discussed the idea of using Photo Walks as a simple way to move past creative blocks and to help energize your shooting. Personally I have employed this method to help reduce the everyday stress and strain that can accompany busy lives. I have told friends in the past that one of the only times I do not have any noise in my head is when I am behind a camera. Photography, for me at least, reduces the complexities I sometimes face into a simpler, more intuitive act of creation. I find a great deal of joy in holding the technical marvels we call digital cameras, the search for compositions, the chasing of light, and yes, even the processing. And at various times of the day when I see the light changing or clouds moving in over the Shenandoah, photography will slip into my consciousness, if only for a brief moment.
The images in this post are the results from my various photo walks, or in some cases photo drive-abouts. What started as a simple documentary pursuit, and a way to get out on small jaunts near my home, has become a project I am calling "The Abandoned Series". Projects, I suppose, must have some kind of starting point, and perhaps an end. This one though may go on for quite a while. I am easily drawn to these places from a stand point of history and memory. As I get older my memories are receding. Events I was once sure I would always remember are not so clear to me anymore. These images of houses, barns, and long forgotten buildings don't necessarily help me recapture my own memories but they are certainly metaphors for celebrating the past. In a small way I have become attuned to these places. I have driven by them for years without so much as a nod and yet here they have prevailed waiting for someone to simply acknowledge their presence.
The life of these old places though can be fleeting. A case in point involves the three images below - featured in my last blog post. These were created on a walk around the Antietam National Battlefield on a foggy morning in January. The old house and collection of out buildings epitomized what I loved about these abandoned explorations. I saw the opportunity to document this place with a camera, to really dive into the details and explore the notion of place. I could see the images blossoming in my live view screen in all the seasons, in the morning and the evening, at sunrise and sunset. But a mere two weeks later it was gone. It was completely razed to the ground to restore the battlefield. The images I made that day were the last hurrah for this old place, its memories once encased in the solidity of the architecture now gone.
In another example the house in the image below is also gone. As far back as I can remember, better than 50 years, this house stood just down the street from my grandmothers house. I can remember when it was clean, painted, and more importantly occupied. I used to play in the woods behind the house and I believe once rocked in the old porch swing. The house fell into a state of disrepair and without love and care began to show its age. I made this image in December of 2016 and by January of 2017 the house was gone, suffering the same fate as the house and barn cupolas at Antietam.
I try not to have a lot of hard and fast rules when photographing these places. For the most part they have to speak to me in some way and not every abandoned building makes the cut. I am looking to evoke a kind of visceral feeling and perhaps an expression of loneliness. Their presence in the landscape is very important and I often employ lens focal lengths that accentuate this feeling. Light is important for sure, as are clouds and other atmospheric conditions. Once I find a location I will often wait for the right light and sky to make the image, something I do with my landscape images. Once I hit the right conditions I simply work the scene looking for compositions and ways to engage the building and the landscape - too place it and connect it – to weave a story around it.
The image above, as well as the black and white opening image are located right next to a side road in Jefferson County. I have passed this place for many years, taking the occasional cell phone image, but not really pursuing it for a high resolution image. Shooting here is quite tight and the site is fenced off and posted, and for reasons of safety I tend not to climb the fences and trespass. Luckily I can move up and down the fence line and a wide angle lens like the Fujinon XF10-24mm f4 work well to impart a nice sense of this place.
There is of course a mystery that surrounds many of these places. Why are they abandoned? Who lived here? What stories, good and bad, of lives and loves and sadness, are contained within their walls? At times they exude loneliness but in the right conditions, with the right light, they glow if only for a brief moment before falling once again into the shadows. I have never made ghostly connections with them, and certainly not felt "evil" forces emanating from their walls, but there are times when I feel that the walls have eyes, and in the twilight when the wind blows and the shadows dance, they come to life.
Access can often present a challenge. Though you can find these old places adjacent to most roads, many are unseen and lie along back roads, or hidden at the end of long driveways. When possible I try to find the owners or someone who knows how I can gain access. In many instances I make my shots from the side of the road using longer lenses. This is especially true if the location is posted. Often when shooting from the "public" side of the property I have had the chance to meet the owner and a quick explanation often earns me additional access. In exchange I will send finished files to the owner which they greatly appreciate. The best images come from a chance to walk the site in different lighting conditions and use various lenses and techniques which makes access a more important consideration.
The two images above are part of a series of images I have begun at this newly discovered complex of barns, house, and out buildings near my house. The whole group faces directly West and in the right conditions the buildings glow in the last light of the day. I am working to find out who the owner is so that I can hopefully get more access to the other buildings. The light on that evening was just stunning. The barns red bricks simply glowed in the light as did the old house and abandoned camper top.
The two images above, of the old house and the adjacent barn were shot on a recent West Virginia Winter Workshop I led with my pal Martin Radigan. Most of the snow we had anticipated quickly dissipated in unseasonable warmth so we spent more time chasing waterfalls and these two abandoned buildings. A longer lens for my Fuji XT-2, in this case the superb Fujinon XF50-140mm f2.8, proved valuable as we could not move too close to avoid trespassing. Though I would have like some tighter shots and even the opportunity to work with my wide angle lenses, I nevertheless like the compression and the contrast between the built forms and the thick, lacy forms of the trees and shrubs.
The two final images below were made while driving through the Virginia countryside and exploring some of the myriad back roads along Route 340 outside of Luray. This building, probably and old store at one time, was located at a crossroads where the road has increasingly inched towards the building. I spent probably 45 minutes here and never saw another person.
Finding these places now has me constantly scanning the landscape while on my drives. A recent quick trip up to Pennsylvania gave me the locations of all kinds of potential subjects. All I need now is the time to make further explorations. The trick of course is to be there at the right time and in the right light. The lightweight nature of my Fuji kit gives me some advantages as I always have the camera with me. I just need the Fuji XT-2 and one or two lenses, typically the XF10-24mm f4 R OIS and the XF16-55mm f2.8 R WR, to cover most conditions. Though I will take the opportunity to shoot in all kinds of light I do prefer the later afternoon, or the early morning. I do use a tripod for most of my images and tend to carefully look for compositions to bring out the character of the place. The wild plants and trees and other detritus are important parts of the story and I look for chances to incorporate them into the shots. As much as possible I try to place the buildings into their environments to illustrate the essence of the place.
In terms of process I look for opportunities to render the images in black and white as I often find this more appropriate for the genre of the shots. When I use color I tend to desaturate the images color grade to a more subtle palette. Additionally I prefer a more architecturally correct perspective and use the perspective correction tools in LR and PS to correct for parallax and square up the verticals.
I hope you have enjoyed some of these images. I find that they make compelling subjects for explorations with a camera. Thanks for stopping by today. RHC