Abandonment Issues by Anna Cox

Many photographers are drawn to photographing  abandoned or dilapidated sites across the globe. These locations hold mystery, history and a hint of danger, which for many explorers, is a heady mix. Locations such as abandoned hospitals, houses and amusement parks are hot commodities but there are groups solely dedicated to exploring storm drains also. Serious explorers will tell you they go to these locations just to see them, to experience them.

It is a common mantra to only leave footprints and to take only photographs. True explorers value and love the places they experience and want to protect them for the explorers that come after them.  I’m sure as a reader, you’re thinking something along the lines of “honor among thieves” aren’t you? I mean, we are already trespassing right? Unless you have a love for these types of locations I am sure any justification on my part will fall short. But, if you understand what it feels like to stand in a forgotten home that is strewn with belongings or a cavernous space that once  housed hundreds of people you will know the story is worth the risk. Trespassing normally goes hand in hand with exploration as do respirators for bad conditions.  Both of these things, and a host of others, are worth the risk for the experience for most explorers.

Types of exploration are limited only by the amount of sites people can find to explore . The first and most widely known is Urban Exploration, or urbex, and includes locations found in urban environments. Urbex can also include locations that are still in use but here we are only speaking to uninhabited  sites. Think abandoned theme parks, hospitals or factories and you have a pretty good idea of urbex. What was once a largely anonymous genre has begun to have more of a recognizable face as mobile sharing apps gain popularity. On Instagram tags like #filthyfeeds or #beautyindecay have thousands of photos dedicated solely to exploration.



The another subset of UE which is gaining more popularity is rural exploration and is mostly made up of abandoned houses and barns. I fall among these explorers. The wonder of walking through rooms with peeling paint, forgotten shoes, and books flipped open to random pages sets my imagination wild. Sometimes, standing in these houses I can hear the bustle of a mother cooking dinner or children playing upstairs. The phrase “if these walls could talk” always runs through my mind.

An antique mall was my first and most favorite exploration I’ve ever done. I’ve gone back and visited multiple times. The first time I visited I was fixated on the lone chair with no legs. I thought and thought about that chair. About all the items that were left behind. Something in me clicked. These items were a metaphor for my life then and now.Their purpose had changed, they were no longer utilitarian items. They were left behind, forgotten, derelict. Everything that they were meant to be had been cast aside when the doors closed. At the time, every door that had been open to me had been shut tightly. The roles I had been so practiced at had to be cast aside. My purpose had been derailed. When I walked into the upstairs of this place the chair called to me. I sat beside it and just looked at it for a long time. It wasn’t until the third time I visited that I finally understood what thought was holding me captive. The chair was still a chair. Even with no legs to stand on. It still had purpose even if that purpose had changed. I was still me. Even if I had no legs to stand on. Even if what I was meant to do was no longer an option. I had a story, a history. I’m drawn back to these places that mirror my heart so completely.

As far as camera gear goes, I like to have a wide angle lens to capture as much as possible. Mobile photography is perfect for exploration in that all you have to carry camera wise is your smart phone. That saves valuable room in your backpack for other items that may be needed for your excursion.

Before you make the trip, do some research on your location. A simple google search will usually bring up blogs and photo accounts of the location. Take your time reading through them. Many times there will be hints on when to go and how to get into the structure with the most ease. If you want to find more information on the location you’re interested in do a record search at your court house. This comes in especially handy for houses out in the country. It’s good to know wether or not a farmer will be showing up carrying a gun. Also, be prepared that you may be sharing the space with squatters or other explorers once you are inside. It’s always wise to have a buddy along with you to explore just in case you get into trouble. At the very least, let someone know where you are going and when to expect you back. Apps like Device Tracker Pro can be a solution to roaming alone. This app,once installed on two separate phones, can track either phone using a mix of GPS, cell tower triangulation and WIFI. If one party goes missing it only takes a couple steps to login and start locating the phone. Although, I would firmly suggest having a friend with you.

Exploration in and of itself is an adventure in your backyard. It’s an experience like no other and can open your imagination to untold stories. Going into these places is paying homage to those that came before us. Those that lived and worked where we are standing. Those stories alone are worth the research, hazard, and time spent before you even get there. It’s about respect, even if we are going in through the back door.

Think you might like to explore? Here is a checklist of things that might come in handy. It is always a good idea to be overly prepared.  You never know what could happen and how long you might be on location.

•respirator or dust mask
•multipurpose tool
•boots preferably with heavy soles
•waterproof camera case
•long sleeves and hat especially if you are rural. Ticks aren’t your friend.
•bug spray
•coat depending on the time of year.

Are you ready now?

You’re thinking of a building you drive past every day, aren’t you?

Join us every month for a different look at derelict photography in the Abandonment Issues Series. Today we are headed to North Dakota to explore with  Devin,  @durty2shoes so grab your boots! We have some exploring to do

About Author

Anna Cox