I love photography of abandoned places. Places that have succumbed to the slow passing of time from when they were at their prime. Abandoned shopping centres, hospitals, big old homes, industrial buildings and theme parks are just a few examples of the sort of places that retain a sense of loss or of a forgotten past. Sometimes a darker past. Or even failed ambition. Something that was once shiny and proud turned to flaky paint and rusty ruin.
Recently I stumbled across an abandoned site. It was purely by chance. I was killing some time before I met up with a fellow Fujifilm X photographer to do some landscape work together in coastal Victoria. So I was travelling around looking for something to shoot. I had my full Fujifilm kit with me in the car. My X-T2 and all of my XF lenses. That is a lot of glass. I just needed a subject or an idea to catch my eye.
I was cruising around and happened to drive past a very large church building and something made me stop the car. I was on a country back road so it was quiet. Not sure what it was that made me stop and take a second look. It wasn’t just a church. It was a church with a number of dilapidated looking buildings behind it. Looking closer I could see that this red brick church building and its grounds were overgrown with plants and that some of its windows were broken. There were more and more signs of neglect the more I studied it. Abandoned! Like a light turning on over my head. Abandoned!
So I turned into the driveway and drove along a gravel path and parked just behind the biggest of the outer buildings connected to the church. Then to my surprise a group of teenagers walked out of one of the buildings through a door that was hanging off its hinges. They walked away quickly and with purpose – occasionally glancing back at me. I laughed to myself remembering my own teenage years and the shenanigans my friends and I got up to. Oh if only my mother knew…
For just a brief moment I debated what I was about to do. Just for a moment. I grabbed my Fujifilm X-T2 and chose my Fujinon XF 16mm F1.4 WR lens. This is a wide-angle lens with superior image quality and incredible low light performance. It is a beautiful piece of glass with exceptional build quality and function. I think it is ideal for architectural and landscape photography. I have even used it for street just to grab more of the story around a subject. But knowing that I was heading into an abandoned building with probably limited lighting, I wanted the F1.4. Open it right up and let in the light.
I walked to an ominous looking short breezeway with a very low concrete ceiling. At the end of it were double timber doors. One closed. The other halfway open. I called out to check, in what I hoped was a masculine and authoritative voice, if anyone was there. I have no idea what I would have said if someone replied that there was. No answer so I proceeded. I moved inside cautiously and the doorway opened up into an enormous church hall. Light was coming in from the tall windows and spilling onto the bare floor. The ceiling was peaked and several floors tall and was supported by dark timber beams. There was no furniture. No obvious signs of faith. Just bricks, timber and a marble altar. Otherwise empty, eery and silent.
I must admit I felt just a tad spooked. I am not religious and certainly not superstitious but still felt a little nervous. Why was this left open? How is it not vandalised? So I got to it. I started clicking away and before I knew it I had moved into the hall and was taking photos from various angles. Not that I venture into any sort of church often but it is so strange to see a church with no pews. No furniture. No religious icons. No books or candles. It was just a building. A deserted building.
I later discovered that this church and the remaining buildings were once a home for delinquent boys. Institutionalised care. There is a term with dark undertones if ever there was one. It was established in 1928 by an Anglican Mission and ceased to be a boy’s home over 50 years later in 1979. It has apparently been abandoned for a number of years awaiting redevelopment. The exteriors of the main buildings were all brick and were in good condition. Aside from broken windows here and there. The main church appeared to be almost unaffected by its abandonment. There were no obvious signs of graffiti nor vandalism which is striking given how long it has been abandoned.
Once I was satisfied with what I had captured inside, I made my way around the exterior of the church and the connecting buildings, photographing the architecture of the exterior and the overgrown gardens. I kept an eye on my car aware that I had all of my camera gear in the back. And the other eye keeping an eye out for snakes in the overgrown garden. I was fairly confident that there was no one else here but being an inner city kind of guy I needed to keep my guard up.
I made my way into another building which from the outside looked more like a house. This was the building that the teenagers had earlier walked out of. I walked in and found that it appeared to have one large main central room and some smaller rooms running off it. Art and tapestries still hung from the walls. The timber floor was dotted with holes where someone had smashed through the timber for some unknown reason. I treaded carefully. The walls were grubby and stained and the windows opaque with grime. It smelled stale. But the afternoon sun still streamed through with enough light to make the most of the opportunity.
I shot a couple of other buildings sometimes capturing the interior through a broken window. I made a final tour around the grounds of the site trying to get some nice angles. Architecture has not really been my strength in photography as focusing mostly on street the buildings just form interesting back drops to the subjects in the story. So for the architectural photographers out there I apologise. But I am happy with my shots. The Fujinon XF 16mm lens was perfect for indoor and outdoor work. The wide-angle enabled me to capture some great perspectives. It is one of the heavier of the Fujifilm prime lenses but still nothing compared to DSLR gear and when attached to the Fujifilm X-T2 camera, the balance feels good. Solid.
After returning to my car to pack my gear and head for my next destination, I felt a little regret for not exploring the buildings more. I still feel it now. This place is two hours drive from my home. There were upper levels and overhead walkways exiting the main church building. I could have spent hours in there. But I had to be careful. No one knew that I was at the site. And if I had fallen through a rotten floor or something else I would be in trouble with no one to help me. And I have a family so I have to be a little responsible. Just a little. I still find abandoned place appealing as a photographic subject and this experience has only enhanced my desire to find and photograph more. But there are not that many of them left anymore. I will continue my search through. Happy shooting!