Because I can.
Because it’s cheap.
Because it’s educational.
Because it’s fun, dammit.
Is this legal?
Short version: no. We do sometimes get permission, but it’s rare.
What’s with the Max Headroom mask?
-Don’t try this if you don’t use your brain. Seriously, the risk usually isn’t worth that lame #selfie.
-Use a real flashlight, not your phone with 12% battery.
-Bring spare batteries.
-Bring more spare batteries.
-If the air quality sucks, get a mask or don’t breathe it. You don’t want fungus in your lungus.
-Asbestos… it’s usually grey and very fibrous. Don’t disturb it and you’ll be fine.
-Don’t wear your three year-old shredded Vans or Converse, rusty nails and stuff have quite the kink for those. Boots, steel-toe, steel shank if you can… don’t get cheap Kmart crap.
-Camera’s optional, but bring it if that’s your thing.
-Don’t bring anything that screams “burglary tools”; see below regarding entry…
-Don’t be a dick.
-Don’t get caught.
–DON’T DOOM THE SPOT!
No, I meant tips for locations.
1060 W. Addison.
You dick. At least tell me how to find these places?
They’re everywhere, just have to look while going about your life. Spend lots of time farting around on Google Maps – the imagery may not be the most up to date, but Earth and StreetView can’t be beat for armchair/shitter scouting. Industrial sites were often built along bodies of water and rail lines back in the day – learn your city’s commuter rail system and ride around, almost guarantee you’ll see something. Rural spots are going to be more spur-of-the-moment but they’re out there. Networking with other reprobates does help; but all the smart ones are tight-lipped around new people.
It’s (probably) not that we hate you – but the reason we’ll give you the address to a certain ballpark if you ask for locations is because too often the right info was given to the wrong idiot who got the place sealed or destroyed. We publish addresses on this site only when a spot has been torn down or I’ve personally verified that it has been sealed. This is a hobby based 110% on smarts and trust, which is earned over time and experience – not by Instasham DM’s.
How do you get in?
Find a way. Do not break-and-enter (B&E is a felony and a whole different can of worms* from a trespassing ticket), but in many cases: if a place has been abandoned long enough, chances are someone’s already made an entry point. If it’s not obvious, there are other telltale signs that suggest a spot’s doable. Get creative, if nothing else. Sometimes you can track down a property owner, and in many cases we’ve gained legal access by explaining our interests in preservation and documenting the place for posterity. Be prepared to sign your life away with an insurance waiver, in this situation.
*jonrev is NOT a lawyer… take this advice and make your own judgement calls before doing anything. Don’t sue me.
Have you been caught?
Yes, many times. Never arrested.
How do you deal with confrontations by cops/security/crackheads/bums/etc.?
Cops/security/property owners: respect goes a long way. Don’t be an idiot and say/do something dumb that makes things 10x harder for them and yourself. Really, that’s all I can give you for the best odds at walking out free.
Junkies, meth heads, etc.: use discretion. Some advise carrying a pack of smokes to offer as a friendly gesture. Junkies that are high can be unpredictable, do not make sudden movements that might set them off. Squat spots and bums: be respectful, make sure they know you’re not there to mess with their stuff. Offer a smoke from your handy pack. If you encounter an active meth lab: fucking run!! Meth cooks will chase and kill you to protect the lab, and cops won’t find your body for a long, long time.
What happened to “take only pictures, leave only footprints”, you fuckin thief??
“Help, police… someone’s stealing garbage.” Our society becoming so overly-wasteful is what happened. There’s no reason something historic, useful or just plain cool should – in the name of some other dipshit’s self-righteous bylaws – be left for sacrifice to the bulldozer gods, or dumped in a landfill when a historical society (or I) may have a use for it. If I shoots, I loots.
What do you shoot with? Can you help me take better pictures?
Digital: your run of the mill, entry-level DSLR. Model is irrelevant, they all do the same basic thing. Buy whatever you like, RTFM, leave it in MANUAL, play with your ISO, shutter and aperture, learn from your first 5,000 pictures. Yes, expect thousands of rejects. They will suck, but if you keep at it and build some knowledge up, will get better. Good composition is key. Invest in a tripod for low light. Don’t cheap-out on one, either… Manfrotto or equivalent. Remotes or cable releases are really nice to have, too. I never use flash except for studio work (a crude setup of firing a speedlight on the camera set to a long exposure, then manually triggering a number of vintage camera flashes to finish off the shadows… hey, if it’s stupid but it works, then it isn’t stupid) so I can’t really help you, there.
As for processing software: whatever you feel works. I personally use an ancient version of Photoshop Elements because it’s no-frills. Abandoned work calls for mucho bracketing and blending (HDR) due to the drastic lighting contrasts. For this, I use a free program called Picturenaut to make the composite, then finish off the final contrast and color adjustments in Elements. Oh yeah, and please don’t overdo the post-processing… there’s absolutely no reason a spooky abandoned church has to look like a pile of clown vomit. Ever.
Film: for years I’ve been shooting with old-school, American-made Polaroid Land Cameras… that’s right, instant film. Not that plastic, full-retard auto flash/auto exposure Instax crap, either. Integral stuff (the stuff you watch develop in your hand) is usually shot on readily-available Polaroid Originals stock with a folding SX-70 or SLR-680. Yeah it’s expensive, but think before you shoot. Packfilm (older, peel-apart type) is usually shot with a Polaroid 195 rig on Fuji FP-100C for color, or FP-3000B for B/W… sadly, neither of which are in production, anymore. The 195 is metered with a Gossen LunaPro SBC and I highly recommend that particular meter because it beats the piss out of any app, and 9v batteries are cheap.
As of 2018 I’ve been playing with a medium format rig based on the Polaroid 600SE (a neutered Mamiya Universal Press) but modified to shoot 6×9 roll film like a MUP. I will update when I have a better idea of what I’m doing. I get my film from wherever’s cheapest – typically B&H or the wonderful Film Photography Project, and have processing done at CSW Film Systems in Chicago. I do all the final scanning and digital processing.
Did you go to school for any of this?
Nope. Strong reader in youth, C-student in high school who graduated at the peak of the Great Recession and decided eternal slavery to a student loan debt wasn’t an ideal living. I taught myself all of my photojojo via the internet, years of trial and error, and farting around with instant film. All of my research is compiled from free newspaper and historical society archives that I can access either locally, from home, or at my local library.
Can I have your babies?
That depends. Applications will be assessed on an individual basis.
I’m a model; will you take me to, and shoot me in those places?
We’re looking for a cool abandoned spot to do [insert activity/production here], do you know of anything?
1060 W. Addison
Will you shoot my car/building for sale/cat(s)/anything not involving people?
Why don’t you shoot people?
Remember when Sears had those portrait studios? Nightmare-inducing stuff…
I’m an editor for CNNowBuzzViceNet.com and we’re doing a story/slideshow on [subject], may we use your work for free so that we can make bank off the ad revenue? We’ll give you credit… tasty, tasty credit…
Surely you’ve got the internet and a modern cell phone or some kind of digital camera; why don’t you research the history of and how to get to a spot, get yourself to said spot that may or may not be in a hostile location, get yourself through said location alive and not-arrested, learn to take and process your own pictures that meet certain quality standards, pay the bill every year to keep your own blog running, then write your own damn narratives that hopefully entertain and educate your audience. Vultures fuck off!
I’m writing for a nonprofit/zine/small blog/school presentation on [subject], may I use your work for one of the aforementioned?
THIS… probably. Hit me up on the Contact page and let’s work something out.
Are you cool irl?