Seeing as how my musicians portrait project is on hiatus, I’m releasing my new photobook, #abandoned, a collection of urbex and abandoned photography from the past few years, all taken on my iPhone.
Better to ship something than nothing, right?
#abandoned is a simple 8″ square softcover book that includes 30 images of abandoned houses, factories, and farms – mainly in south central Michigan.
Although I’ve largely retired from urbex photography, I felt like I had a few more projects in me. One of them was to make a photobook of all my urbex adventures, but keep it to mobile photography. I’ve made plenty of photos using my “big” camera, but my iPhone is always with me, even when my DSLR isn’t. The photos are all of high enough quality to make a modest book. On Instagram, I’ve had a few people ask me to make something like #abandoned, so here it is.
My style, such as it is, comes in large part from my explorations in abandoned properties. There came a point where I was both shooting urbex locations and developing my creative voice. I feel like a lot of these photos come from that combination of recklessness and light chasing, and are a good representation of the kind of work I do now.
Among the urbex/abandoned community on Instagram, I try to look for photographers who do it well, and have a personal style that’s recognizable. James Joyner is one of my favorites, and we’ve collaborated in the past on each other’s work. Jimmy’s style has really grown into its own, and I love seeing the locations he finds on his adventures.
Who are you and what do you do?
My name is James Joyner and I’m a radiological aide at a local hospital in Maryland, USA.
How did you get started in photography?
My parents got me my first “real” camera, a Nikon 35mm N2000, back when I was a junior in high school, where I first started really learning how to compose photos and work the controls. For my high school grad gift, I got myself my first DSLR, a Nikon D60, where I really started coming into my own and learning what I liked to photograph.
What do you like about your photography?
That’s a tough one… I guess if I were a third party looking at my photography, I’d say that I really liked the way I try to channel a scene’s darker side. I’ve always been a fan of darker styles of photography… I believe the shadows can add to a photo just as much as the light does (if not, more). In a sense, I like to work the lighting in a scene to enhance the darkness.
I’d also say that I really like that I shoot abandonment, but in the context of the surrounding landscape and scenery. I think there’s a deeper and a sadder story to tell about an abandoned house when you add elements such as the sky and the overgrowing grass around it.
Where do you get inspiration for your style/ideas?
I get my inspiration for my style and ideas primarily from the music I listen to, films/shows I love, and from other artists whose work I follow on Instagram.
Films/shows that really inspire my work include ones like I Am Legend, The Road, War of the Worlds, The Walking Dead, and other post-apocalyptic pieces such as those. I have a huge obsession with that genre… Sometimes when I’m editing a photo I’ll think something like, “I want this house to look like a scene straight out of The Walking Dead. I want the viewers mind to race when looking at this house, thinking thoughts such as ‘what happened here? Is there anything lurking in those shadows? Is there something written in blood on the walls inside that house somewhere?’” I want to create those thoughts in people’s heads.
Your work focuses on on a lot of spooky situations and abandoned properties. What excites you about shooting in these situations?
The story behind why a place is abandoned. The unknown of what I’ll find upon investigation of the place. Getting that ONE shot that makes the entire shoot worth doing. Getting caught by either the angry owner/the police on a property for which I haven’t necessarily gotten permission to shoot. All things that are racing through my mind while on shoots.
Honestly that latter thought tends to occupy my mind a little more than I’d prefer… but that’s all part of the game. It makes getting that one beautiful shot all the more rewarding.
What kinds of themes do you like to explore with your work?
The major theme I like to explore is Life After Humans. The History channel did an entire series on what happens on a grander scale if people were to vanish tomorrow, and I like to channel that on a little bit more personal level with my work.
Any upcoming projects or shoots you’re working on?
I’m working on a project at the moment for a @pr0ject_uno story takeover on Instagram. They have been doing it with some amazing artists so far, and it’s an absolute honor that they thought of me for this. My theme is going to be rural abandonment. Make sure to keep an eye on their account and their story for the takeover!
As for shoots… that’s the part that’s so cool about shooting abandonment the way I do. New shoots present themselves every time I go out and randomly drive around or explore a new spot. It could be tomorrow that I find the coolest house I’ve ever come across.
There’s an abandoned middle school I plan on hitting soon very close by… I just got a brand new Sigma 20mm Art lens, so that will be my saving grace inside that place.
There’s value in returning to the same places or subjects over and over again. In time, you watch the place change, grow, or deteriorate as your own skills develop.
The Irish Hills of Michigan has become my go-to spot, over and over again, for years now. My fascination with the place comes from childhood: I grew up and around the area, and visited the local amusement parks often. It’s also a gorgeous place, full of rolling hills and secluded lakes, and located along the US-12 corridor west of Detroit.
Lately, I’ve driven US-12 on my work commute, which is much more my style – no freeway, no stop-and-go-traffic, etc. And each day I drive the route, I think, “This is the place I want to focus my creative attention.”
There are plenty of project opportunities in a diversity of settings in the Irish Hills. It already has been my focus for a few years now. But lately, I find that I keep coming back to the place. I did just that this past weekend, revisiting some old haunts and scoping out some new ones.
My commute was 30 minutes, but if I left early I could stop and take a landscape, or catch a beautiful sunrise. And sometimes, I’d have enough time to explore an abandoned building or home. Beautiful country roads, lovely scenery, and no rush.
Not so much anymore. My commute is now an hour long, at minimum, and it’s mostly interstate driving. This cuts back on the time I have to get out and explore.
One of the casualties of this new setup is my abandoned photography. My commute is longer and busier, I work on a big-time college campus in a mid-sized city, and I just don’t have the time like I used to. It’s a bummer.
Part of me also feels like I’m moving on from urbexing, creatively. I want to do new things, and make different kinds of photographs.
Except when I take a new way into work, like I did last week. Instead of busy I-94 East, I ventured down US-12. It added 20-30 minutes to my drive. It was so worth it. For one, it felt like my old commute: moseying at a nice pace, lots of scenery to check out, and the fog helped make the landscape extra interesting.
The itch still gets me when I see an abandoned property. It used to be a big part of who I was, creatively, and I’ve had to let some of that go. But it’s okay. I’ll try to make time for adventure when I have the time and inclination.
When I scope out an abandoned building, I always run the risk of it being gone by the time I’m ready to photograph it.
It’s happened plenty of times. Luckily, this past winter, I had a chance to document an abandoned building before it was leveled just weeks later. Other times, I have not been so lucky. There are plenty of places that disappeared before I had a chance to photograph them.
So it is with people, too.
If you love someone, or are fond of someone, take the time to get a good photo in before they’re gone. Even if it’s uncomfortable or awkward.
A few recent passings are good reminders that I need to grab portraits of people I care about. You should do the same. You’ll be glad you did.