As the family and I cruised down a long stretch of Highway 99 last week, my eyes could not help but be lured from side to side, pulled and mesmerized by a power few people can understand.
I have to admit--I LOVE them. You know what I am talking about? The abandoned gas stations, homes, restaurants, farms, etc. that we often walk right past without much notice.
In fact, for many years now, I have made a hobby out of photographing many of the more intriguing and fascinating structures. I have now literally hundreds and hundreds of pictures of these decaying and collapsing edifices.
I asked myself that for a long time. And I think I have the answer. It's the mystery and romance of such buildings...the rich history rotting away by the side of the road or a thousands yards off the beaten path.
Am I the only one who drives by an abandoned house and wonders who lived there? What were their stories? Their hopes and their trials? And why did the family home end up overgrown with nature and falling apart? SOMEBODY lived there. Who were they and how did it end up like THIS??
If you still aren't sold on my fascination, do this quick little exercise. All it requires is your imagination. Ok. Close your eyes. Now picture the home in which you currently live completely abandoned. Many years have passed since it was inhabited by humans (as opposed to its current inhabitants of rats and bats and other critters). Nature has taken over...weeds and ivy twisting and turning where the family used to gather by the fireplace. Bedrooms that once provided warmth and sanctuary are now riddled with broken windows and graffiti. There is an eeriness to the silence. No televisions playing, no radios on, no refrigerators humming. Just silence. Imagine someone walking through it 50 or 100 years from now, wondering the same things I was wondering above.
Pretty freaky, huh? Pretty fascinating, to me anyway.
My favorites to photograph and to research (the Net is an amazing resource for this stuff) are abandoned hospitals, asylums, and military bases.
A friend of mine and I spent a whole day exploring the old abandoned Skagg's Island Naval Base in Northern California. Hey, the gate was WIDE OPEN. We drove in and it was like something out of a movie. Weeds taller than us. Military structures that were once top secret rotting in the sun. An entire neighborhood of military housing that once was home to hundreds of people now eerily empty, looking more like a disaster movie set than a place people once called home.
We had just spent a day on an historical military facility that was once so heavily guarded and off limits. Armed guards once protected the now abandoned entrance that we so easily drove through.
It was an amazing day and I came back with dozens of pictures. Maybe one day I will post some of them here.
If you think I am crazy, you haven't heard of Urban Exploration. These are the HARD CORE types that actually wander THROUGH these decaying ruins. They often meet on the internet and form groups--exploration parties if you will--and head into the structures with often little more than a flashlight and a pair of good hiking shoes.
But beware of the laws of man and of common sense. Most places are unsafe and dangerous. And the authorities could very well be ready to nab you for trespassing.
So I prefer to practice my admittedly odd little hobby from a safe enough distance. I have a nice zoom on my digital SLR that leaves the closer up, more intense exploration for the next guy.
If you are interested in any of this or just fascinated that anyone WOULD be, Google "urban exploration" or "abandoned buildings" or "abandoned asylums" and you will find some pretty amazing stuff to check out.
People all over the world are exploring everything from catacombs in Paris and old missile silos in the Midwest to closed down amusement parks and even Chernobyl!
I think I ultimately like to photograph these haunts because logic and time dictate they won't survive forever. In fact, I have often gone back to these places to find them bulldozed or even replaced with new houses or shopping centers.
It's my way of capturing a moment that I know won't be there forever. I'm helping to archive a part of a life or a history that has stories to tell for those that can hear its whispers from the past before they are lost completely.
And maybe that's not such a crazy thing after all.