Urbex Mecca: Detroit - by Brook Ward:
About me: Let me start by introducing myself. I am photographer based out of Pittsburgh Pennsylvania and enjoy underwater, sports and HDR photography. Since I don’t get to scuba diving as often as I’d like, most of my photography is focused on landscape and architecture HDR work. I know, I know….you don’t like HDR. I get it and I understand it isn’t for everyone. I practice HDR on the “softer side”, which I think gives it great color but isn’t over saturated. You can see more of my work at http://brook-ward.com
Thanks: I’d like to thank Peter at Nikonrumors.com for featuring me a second time on nikonrumors.com. The last time my post was about Shark Photography. You can see it here: http://nikonrumors.com/2014/01/11/guest-post-shark-photography.aspx/. Anyway, I truly appreciate the opportunity to share some thoughts, my experience and some pictures with you again.
Before I get into the main article, I have a few additional housekeeping items around location sensitivity and safety/danger:
Location Sensitivity: There is a very real sensitivity in the Urbex community about keeping abandoned facility locations a secret so that individuals don’t go to these spots to destroy the properties. Everyone I know who participates in this kind of photography, loves and respects the sites. They see the real beauty in the buildings, enjoy the history, and don’t want to see anyone destroy the site any faster than Mother Nature’s progress. Basically the old phrase of…”take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but foot prints” fits Urbex photographers. So normally, I wouldn’t give details on an abandoned building location unless it is already well know. In this article, every spot I am talking about is very well know and a quick Internet search will provide anyone the location within seconds. So I am okay with providing you some details here. If you go, just respect the site and be safe.
Safety/Danger: Abandoned buildings, structures, facilities and campus’ can be very dangerous places. Here is a incomplete list of concerns that everyone should know about, be prepared to deal with, and avoid:
· Unsavory elements of society who also hang out at these locations. These can range from homeless individuals with mental illnesses to gangs using these locations as a base of illegal activity.
· Police who sometimes monitor these locations for the community’s safety, protect the land owner and to watch the individuals in the first bullet point
· Wild animals…enough said.
· The buildings themselves can be very dangerous as they are falling apart and may have substances that are dangerous to your health such as asbestos and hazardous chemicals. So use common sense to avoid falling through a rotted floor, into an empty elevator shaft, or getting a substance on you or in you that could cause harm.
This list isn’t even close to a complete list of the dangers, but it gives you the big items to watch out for while at an abandoned facility.
Detroit Urbex: One element of architecture photography that I really enjoy is abandoned structures. I just love exploring sites that haven’t been used in years, checking out the old architecture and construction styles, and discovering their current state as Mother Nature works toward restoring the land. So I’ve want to hit Detroit for a few years. Due to the economic crash in 2008, Detroit was devastated with massive unemployment, population decline, infrastructure issues, bankrupt city, and thousands of abandoned homes, schools, hospitals, office buildings, factories, etc… Before Detroit started to make a come back (which I hope will happen), I wanted to get there and experience what has become the worldwide mecca for urbex photographers. Below you’ll find what I hope is entertaining and a summary of our experience photographing this once great city (and maybe great again some day).
Last summer I had a few vacation days to burn, so I contacted a fellow photographer friend and urbex admirer to see if he wanted to join me on this trip for safety reasons. I didn’t think it would hurt that he is a former football player. He was willing, able, and excited about it, but I warned him that I wanted to do some serious shooting. I wanted to use every possible moment we had to capture as much as possible. His response was perfect; he stated he was “prepared to work”. And we did!
In advance of the trip, we did some scouting via the Internet and I contacted some local Detroit photographers to get some tips. Armed with a photography shot/location list, some history on the sites, and local advice we hit the road. We arrived in Detroit around noon on the first day and quickly checked into our hotel. We left within minutes to hit the first and our highest priority location…the abandoned Packard Automotive Plan, which is a huge (3.5 million square feet on 40 acres) site. This is the former automobile-manufacturing factory where luxury Packard cars were made and later Studebakers’. It opened in 1903 and closed in 1958, although a few other businesses used parts of it until the late 1990s.
We started at the southern end of this site and waited for an opportunity to enter the massive campus when the coast was clear. While in the buildings, we ran into a homeless guy who wanted to give us a tour, a few other photographers and a small group of college kids who looked scared of us…. We didn’t end up leaving this site until after sunset at around 830pm and saw less then 10% of the complex. We had an amazing time exploring the multi-level buildings (most at around 7 stories tall) that go on and on for about 10 large city blocks. The campus is probably a mile long and quarter mile wide. Most of the campus was originally used for manufacturing of automobiles, but it also had administrative office space. This history of this facility is outstanding and as an Urbex photographer, it doesn’t get much better than this.
Package Automotive Plant: