The final characteristic I am looking for is the level of decay. This goes hand-in-hand with age because there are always people looking for abandoned places to steal copper from, spray-paint on, and party in. The older the building, the higher the chance of it being too destroyed for my taste. Remember how I said that this has been my experience 95% of the time? The remaining 5% is what I’m always looking for. The sweet spot I’m constantly striving to find is an old building that has a high level of natural decay. Natural decay means peeling paint and water damage, not graffiti and broken windows.
I’m looking for this:
On a recent trip to Detroit, I encountered three different locations which further illustrate my point. Though the locations themselves were all similar (they were all schools), the first two fell short of the sweet spot, but the last one was perfect.
The first school gymnasium I shot wasn’t very old and didn’t really have any artifacts, though it had a decent level of decay. This one was a little too new for me, but I was happy there were still a few balls around to use in the foreground of this shot.
The next school that I was able to shoot had closed fairly recently and was in relatively pristine condition. All of the classrooms had been completely emptied of furniture and books, so it was pretty barren in terms of interesting subjects to shoot. The gym was no different. Aside from some dust on the ground and some warped wood, this place was in pretty good condition and completely devoid of artifacts. Again, not my favorite to shoot.
The final school that I found was just right.
The school itself was pretty destroyed, but this gym was a perfect example of the sweet spot I’ve been talking about. The rest of the school was covered in graffiti, and the metal had all been ripped out of the walls, but the gym embodied the trifecta of abandoned characteristics I look for. It was really old, had some artifacts (basketball, books, etc.) laying around, and the decay was great. Having such a high level of decay where the roof is literally collapsing is quite rare. Usually, these buildings get demolished before they’re allowed to deteriorate this much, but I’m accustomed to California conditions; this was Detroit.