What is the attraction of old or abandoned buildings?
For me it’s the possibility, potential, and life.
Possibility in what may have happened in the aged halls? Who might have lived, laughed and cried in those empty rooms? Who were the builders, painters, plasterers who worked on the walls and floors?
Sometimes we know the history. Most times we don’t. I love the idea of walking through a heritage building touching banisters, placing my feet on worn stairs and imagining how many people and who might have gone before. One of my favourite heritage buildings is Old Government House in Parramatta, NSW. Hand-painted blinds, beautiful rugs, tassels and curtains restored or recreated how they were during the time of Governor Lachlan and Elizabeth Macquarie
Potential, especially with abandoned buildings, captures imaginations as people see, think, and visualise how they could bring the building back to life.
Life. Buildings have a life that we can connect and relate to. It doesn’t matter if they are stately old homes, derelict farm houses, old factories, abandoned churches. Someone somewhere has a yearning to revive what has been left to rot. Look at all the popular televisions shows like Grand Designs, Restoration Home, Build a new home (just to name a few of the ones I regularly watch) that document people going to great expense and effort to restore anything from an old house in the suburbs (the shows are set in the UK so an old house could be something built in the 1600s) to a crumbling ruin of a castle on some deserted island.
I think also that we like to have a sense of cultural history; a history we can identify in the bones of decaying buildings. We like to know where we came from and also be reminded that all we hold dear (as in our homes) will one day be the abandoned ruin and we will be the ghosts of imagination for future strangers. In our past we see our inevitable demise.
Scott Austin Sidler thinks that the fascination with abandoned places comes from, “a sense of place and time, and a perspective on where you fit in this huge, sometimes impersonal world. You are a part — a small but important part — of a much greater story.”
Like armchair travellers, we also enjoy exploring uncharted territory (uncharted in that we haven’t and/or can’t get there). It may be vicariously through photographers and chroniclers that do go out and explore, but that hardly matters when the imagination takes hold. Picturing ourselves in the courtyard of an abandoned castle is nearly as good as being there and in many cases as close as most of us will get.
There is a term for this type of exploring – urban explorer. It is a term that triggers romantic notions of explorers making their way through cities and towns, and finding gems of history, kernels of truth, and nuggets of gossip and scandal.
Urban explorers turn the mundane into the interesting. They go where the rest of us wish we had the nerve to go (or the time or the ability). They have an interest in preservation, chronicling, exploring, photography, and a good helping of adventure. Let’s face it, we can’t all go exploring the Amazon or the Congo so we explore the jungle next door instead.
“Urban explorers use the motto, ‘Take only pictures, leave only footprints.” Carolyn Kina an urban exploration enthusiast and photographer.
Then there are the chroniclers. People who see the potential for history in a run-down paling fence or a shed overgrown with weeds and vines. Once those fences and sheds meant something. If we keep a record of them then they have the potential to mean something again. Some historian might uncover a history. Some anthropologist might recognise the traces of culture in the remnants of disposable humanity.
Mostly though, I think we are fascinated by abandoned buildings because somewhere within those ramshackle walls, we just know, a good story lurks.
Possibility, potential and life are everywhere
If you like photographing abandoned buildings and places, you might be interested in this website: www.urbanghostsmedia.com/2010/12/photographing-decay-strange-appeal-educational-qualities-abandoned-places
If you like to just look and imagine, visit these Facebook communities: Abandoned Australia, Abandoned England, Abandoned Scotland, Abandoned Everything (plus many more – do a search for the area you’re interested in).
A lot of these communities accept photo submissions – check their “About” page for more information.