Today's featured photographer and guest blogger is Appleton, Wisconsin based Brett Stoddart. He shoots abandoned buildings. He shoots people. Sometimes he combines the two. He is a husband. A father. A traveler. An art and music lover. He says he has a wicked sense of humor, albeit an odd one. Check out his blog. Follow him on Twitter and or friend him on Facebook.
I have only been ticketed once.
I have only met a crackhead once.
I have only had an assault rifle pulled on me once.
Wish i could say the same about falling through rotten floors.
What would drive a person to put themselves into these situations? The answer is simple yet complex.
It is a love for capturing unique situations, locations, architectures, and going places most others would avoid at all costs.
My photographic passion involves exploring abandoned buildings. Modern parlance calls this urban exploration or urbex for short – though that is not a term I tend to throw around, mostly because urban encompasses only a small portion of what I capture.
These structures are the modern day equivalent of Greece's ancient ruins, or Europe's medieval ruins. While the rest of the world protects their treasures of days [eons even] gone by, we tend to reclaim, remediate or flat out knock down these treasures.
While most people would just see the decay and filth, I see beauty and uniqueness that only time and nature can create. These are my own little slices of ‘life after man'. I see first hand what happens when man no longer intervenes in nature's affairs and spaces are left to be reclaimed by their rightful owner.[blogshow id=9ce0 player=1 autoplay=0 toolbar=1]
As a kid we thought nothing of going into old buildings that were no longer used. It was just another playground in the concrete jungle. We didn't know that there were risks and dangers. We were fearless. In college we would hang out in abandoned mines and think nothing of it. We were having fun and shrugged off the thought of danger.
Today I am a lot more cautious. The dangers are real; clear and present if sometimes unseen. Lead paint, asbestos and mold are among some of the ‘unseen' dangers. Some of the more apparent being rotten floors, unstable stairs and missing walls. All of these are equally dangerous in reality and one must protect themselves. Many of these buildings are 100 or more years old and have been subjected to the decaying forces of nature for 20 years or more.
I cannot pinpoint one singular event in my life that sparked my interest in exploring and photographing this subject matter. Rather, it was many small things that culminated and brought me to my present position. I was never without a camera and spent many hours on the road driving thru rural areas to and from work, never taking the same way twice, just to break up the boredom. Old farms and barns offered unique landscapes that I truly enjoyed.
I had always been attracted to textures, lines and colors and these old structures had them all. From there I was starting to notice more and more houses, farms, buildings, factories, etc., that were wide open and empty. Curiosity piqued, I ventured up and into them camera in hand. The interiors held more colors, more lines and more textures along with small little crusty details; peeling paint and wallpaper, forgotten furniture, electrical sockets and switches, clothing, etc.
I started out documenting these locations through a photojournalistic approach, taking it all in and showing everything. Eventually I transitioned into creating fine art from the ruins. Over the years my style has evolved and has been heavily influenced by a bevy of talented photographers before me, most notably my close and dear friend, Dave Jackson.
How exactly I find these locations is a question I am asked over and over again.
The answer: getting out and driving. Taking the ‘road less traveled'. Often new highways have cut off access to older areas, thus hastening the decline. It is important to take your time and look. If you are speeding down a country road at 80 miles per hour, you will miss most of what you pass. Winter is a good time for scouting, as everything is less concealed and it is more obvious when a place is no longer cared for.
Another big aspect is networking with other photographers and explorers – we trade locations like young kids trade baseball cards. And of course the Internet is a great resource tool if you know how and where to look!
Now I travel far and wide to see and shoot unique locations across the country. My first priority when planning any trip is finding abandonment to shoot. One could call it an obsession. I just call it a love of photography, and a slight case of eccentricity.
Shooting these types of locations has afforded me a greater appreciation of the technical and compositional aspects of photography. I have learned over the years to see the light as it plays across a scene. I never artificially light my scenes, rather I rely on the natural light. Everything is hand held as I prefer the grittiness that a higher iso gives me.
I was shooting abandonment for many years before I ever pointed my camera at a human subject. The last few years I have ventured into shooting portraits. I love combining the beauty of a fashion shoot with a dirty and decayed location. To me it is the perfect juxtaposition.
I will never stop shooting abandoned buildings, no matter where my photographic journey takes me. It has become that much a part of who I am as a photographer.
Do you photograph abandoned buildings? Does the urban landscape inspire you to create images? Share your thoughts below!