A few weeks ago, a friend of mine was kind enough to bring me to a special place even though she had photographed it several times before. It is that kind of generosity, to give the gift of something you know to others, that inspires us to reciprocate and in doing so, creates a continuing process that makes us all better for it.
The place in question was an abandoned elementary school in a rural area a little over an hour away. The time spent traveling turned out to be a lot of fun as well, which in itself, made the trip worthwhile. As an added bonus, the school was rich in stories and memories of my own school years to discover and record; but it takes time as you wander through the halls and classrooms, for those things to seep into your consciousness and find their way into your viewfinder. The most immediate response I had was the word “Faith” brushed on a wall by the main entrance. It was the dual nature of the word itself, as a name or something you have in a philosophical context, that intrigued me. Was it painted as a kind of territorial marker that “I” was here, or more in line with “have faith”? And if “have faith”, in what? There are several interpretations for a viewer which creates an image that asks more questions than offering any answers. It was simply there, left for us to decide in what way it was meant and how to interpret it. The word provoked quite a bit of thought.
Most often though, it was more about the light. A stairwell offered so many tonalities as the light poured in from a beautiful round-topped window, echoed off the pealing and crumbling walls, and traveled up and down the stairs. Because of the great range of light values, I shot quite a spread of bracketed exposures for use later in some HDR software. But even the software was unable to properly render the area of the railing in front of the window. In that area, each spindle was quite a bit thinner and soft instead of being sharply edged. Also, the window itself had extensive chromatic aberrations. The solution finally lay in manually blending a few of the different exposures, diligently eliminating the chromatic aberrations on an almost pixel by pixel level, and only after these chores were completed did the normal processing begin and adjustments to the light throughout the frame were made.
Light played an important role in most of the images taken that day, but in trying to make each one a bit more compelling, attempts were always made, sometimes with success and other times without, to incorporate some additional elements for added interest. For the stage door, it was the ominous writing on it and the faded “Joe” to the left. The far away entry door was opened to add another layer of depth, a kind of open ended distance and another destination to explore rather than the abrupt end of the far wall.
The inclusion of doorways or openings, even if only a sliver, adds to the possibilities of where the viewer can wander and wonder what lies beyond the immediate view. The view down the main hallway offered ample opportunities for us to explore each and every doorway and discover the treasures that lay inside. Initially, not much attention was paid to all of the pink cards scattered on the floor, but later after reading a few, it turned out that each had a different recipe on them!
Often times, it is the simple inclusion of surroundings in a darkened area that add to the main theme of the image as in the Ladies Auxiliary. The eye is usually attracted to the brightest area, in this case the sunlight streaming into the room onto the chair, but then it wanders around to the bulletin board to discover what it has to reveal just as the pink cards in the main hallway near the school’s entrance.
There are also opportunities to create images that are the direct result of your own imagination, things that could be possible but are not there in reality, especially in these abandoned places. The image above is a crude example of what is possible and could transfer to a house as well. Your imagination can become an integral part of the time spent in these abandoned places both in trying to discern the uses for particular items discovered and how they got to their final resting place, as well as creating images with your own added signature.
Even though I have not been to many of these abandoned places, it appears that the most interesting aspect of photographing them is finding that direct connection to the spirit of the place; something that actually speaks to you in a personal way. For me, in a previous “abandoned” post in which a house was included, it was a flowered funeral stand in the shape of a cross, and of course here, it was Faith.