Some people may question the purpose of dereliction photography. Unlike landscape photography most of the images are not ‘beautiful’ or ‘pleasing’, so why waste time taking these images at all?
In the past, famous war photojournalists have produced iconic images that were evocative for their gritty documentary style depicting the mood and feelings of their subjects. Their images also conveyed what was happening and provided an important historical record. These were certainly not pretty images but they stimulated thought and feelings within the viewer.
Although not as dangerous, (but sometimes not without some element of danger) dereliction photography can be considered a difficult genre of photography because as stated earlier, there is usually nothing pretty or pleasant about the subject. The key is to identify features from the subject material that can be interesting or unusual and this can often be the difficult part. When you look at a photograph of a ruined building, initial thoughts might be Wow!! – look at the state of that. How could it get so run down? What happened – I wonder what it looked like originally? Successful photographs have impact, and this needs to be incorporated into the image by the photographer using every technique and trick available…
The first step is to find an area of dereliction be it a ruined factory, mansion, farm house or industrial site. Obviously, the more unusual it is the greater the interest factor. Sites can be identified using local knowledge, but one of the best methods is to keep a watchful eye when driving about. It may be that you don’t actually see the site but spot a sign or distant landmark. This can followed up by checking the site using Google Earth. Look to see if the roofs have caved in – this could mean the site is unsafe and will almost certainly be fenced off to protect the public. Take a print out and analyse the site for all the buildings as some may not be visible on the ground and could be missed. Search dereliction websites to see if other photographers have been there before and make a judgement if it is worth travelling to. Remember, the site may be now be demolished or be in a total state of decay that it is merely a shell with few features worthy of an image.
On-site safety is paramount. Try if possible to go with a friend. It may be you need to climb down, up or into areas that are potentially unsafe. I have fallen on my own climbing over a small wall and fallen on my camera. The camera bracket rammed into my ribs and left me lying on the ground, in a hollow out of sight, fearing I had broken some ribs. Don’t take risks, especially if you are on your own! Areas of dereliction also have other risks, especially nearer urban areas where they may be frequented by characters that resent your presence – this includes overzealous security guards. If challenged a friendly explanation and request for photographs can sometimes pay off. A judgement call is often required to cross fences or barricades. I personally prefer to find gaps rather than boldly climb over a six foot fence. Make sure you wear heavy boots to protect feet from glass and nails and wear old clothes as they can easily get torn by overgrown bushes with thorns. Also be aware that many old buildings can have the floor covered in broken asbestos roofing and inch-thick animal faeces.
What technique and tricks you use to take your photographs I leave to you, but remember often the best photograph is behind you, so look about carefully and try not to rush the scene. Happy shooting.
Update: part 2