The lure of abandoned places

After seeing Bodie, I was hooked -- I needed to find more opportunities to photograph places where civilization has been abandoned to the elements.  In the summer of 2012 we took a workshop with Tony Sweet that provided a chance to shoot inside Eastern State Penitentiary, an abandoned prison in Philadelphia, plus an early morning "bonus shoot" at another Philadelphia location.

The bonus location turned out to be a place known locally as the "Graffiti Underground," a pier jutting out into the Delaware River that had been used to transfer coal from trains to ships.  This site had been abandoned and subsequently appropriated by graffiti artists, paintball players -- and photographers.

Underneath the coal pier

The early morning light, reflected off of the water on all sides, brought an ethereal beauty to the heavily tagged and paint-splattered concrete pillars.  This gallery contains a few of my favorite images from that morning.

Eastern State Penitentiary, hospital wing corridor

I could have spent the entire morning at the Coal Pier, but the main event of the workshop lay ahead.  Eastern State Penitentiary, in urban Philadelphia, was established in 1820 as the world's first true penitentiary -- designed to inspire regret or penitence in criminals rather than solely for inflicting punishment.  It was used continuously, first as a penitentiary and then as a more conventional prison, until it was abandoned in 1971.  Notable inmates included "Slick Willie" Sutton and Al Capone.  It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1966 and was opened to the public for tours in 1994.

Our photography workshop gave us access to parts of the  decaying building -- including the hospital wing -- that are off-limits to most visitors.  The photography was challenging because the original philosophy of the penitentiary included bringing natural light from windows and skylights into the cell blocks and individual cells.  The broad dynamic range of light, from deep shadows to direct sunlight, provided an opportunity to work on HDR (high dynamic range) photographic and processing techniques.  My favorite images from Eastern State Penitentiary are in this gallery.