I was only seven years old when I wandered onto my first construction site in Jackson Heights, Queens and just weeks after that I watched a close friend fall to his death at the same site. Though tragic in every way, it never deterred me from hopping a fence or overlooking any signs that bore the words “NO TRESPASSING!” As an adult, I discovered a passion for photography and though that passion consumed me. My love and appreciation for things like construction sites, junk yards, factories and the numerous locations that are often deemed “Off Limits.” Having a camera and a desire to document my surroundings led me to many destinations. A few years ago, I attended a Q&A in downtown NYC where the author of a book whose title escapes me would speak about his experiences shooting his factory themed images for his book. Imagine how disappointed I was when he talked about getting permission and a time frame to capture the images for his project. “What a jip!” I thought. This guy got an all access pass and chose to shoot from the cushy balcony. Where was the rush of adrenaline coming from? Where was the risk? Undaunted, I returned to my passion and that rush that comes from not knowing what will happen next. That feeling you get when the hairs on your neck stand on end and tingle. While I’m too old and too sick to climb fences, outrun police or feel the breath of an angry guard dog on the chase,. I’m still holding out that there’s a gallery exhibit or even a book in the future. And while I’ve begun to gather and post pictures on my social media page, I know I still have a long way to go. Here’s a link to some of the images I’ve come across. Left Behind
I was talking to a friend about a recent excursion that really made the hairs on my arm stand on end. A little over a month ago, I came across a spot that was as scary as it was intriguing. That day, I spent a matter of minutes exploring the area just adjacent to the old, abandoned automotive parts/repair shop. At the time, I peaked through, before briefly entering the side door. When returning a few weeks later, I found an obscured front door and entered with as much caution as I had curiosity. Almost immediately, I could feel the hair on my arms stand on end as I had entered a dragon’s lair of graffitied walls, random garbage and the remnants of a recent visitor, or worse, occupant.
As I stepped cautiously through the debris and squalor. I couldn’t help but feel the tortured spirits of those who may have preceded my visit. As I moved from room to room through hand carved holes in the walls. I couldn’t help but feel that I might have bitten off more than I could chew. The random needles, paint cans and emptied glue containers served as evidence of recent hardcore drug use. “You’re too old to be doing this. You should be enjoying a plate of eggs and hash browns with you wife right now”
As creepy as my visit might have been. I had no inkling as to how weird things were about to get. While carefully opening one of the container doors. I unveiled what seemed to be a living space, complete with mattress. Though not the unveiling of a colony of brain thirsty zombies or bat wielding crack heads I spooked myself into imagining. It quickly served as the hair-raising moment that told me “Times up. Get your ass back in the car” Thankfully, I was in complete and total agreement with that inner voice. Until the next time.
It’s not every day I find such gold within spitting distance from my home base, but when I do, it’s just as much of a thrill, if not more than having to put it in the time and mileage often required. And while I’m thrilled to share some of the bounty from today’s excursion. I’m going to remain tight-lipped and secretive about its location. Hopefully there’s someone out there that enjoys this type of thing as much as I do.
As we were on our way to breakfast this morning. We passed an old deserted diner just off the main road. Having packed the car for a show I never made it to just nights before. I was loaded for bear and fully prepared to indulge in one of my favorite past, present and future times. As much as the decaying outside facade of Mom’s Diner intrigued me. I knew the inside, if I could find my way inside, would be the real reward. After finding two easily accessible entrance ways. I managed to maneuver my way past a collection of debris, leading me to prize of crumbling brick and the wooden shel. One that originally framed what was once provided nourishment for travelers and truckers alike. One of the key elements of what draws me to these sites is that hint of risk and voice in the back of your head that tells you “You know, you really shouldn’t be here.” The rush, the buzz and the feeling that you’re alive. I hope it never leaves me.
In my last post “Sometimes it’s better to go it alone.” Here. I mentioned going it alone when operating as a street photographer. While that thread may ring true in many cases. It can’t go without saying that she is both my greatest inspiration and a damn good lookout and second set of eyes. Often watching my back when I’m shooting in more risky areas. While also serving as a second set of eyes when it comes to security related entities.
Where as today was scheduled to be a very laid back day with a short trip to Ikea for an area rug. We spent much of our day exploring much of Newark, Elizabeth and Harrison. While not dangerous by any means. Select areas might have been a bit private and or restricted. So to my wife, a hearty thanks for being my lookout when it came to shooting and our late lunch in East Newark. I really enjoyed sharing a seat at the counter and getting to know some of the regulars.
As much as I love my wife, family and small circle of friends. I find that when it comes to certain things. It’s best to go it alone. And as much as my wife inspires and supports my love of all of the different aspects of what I shoot. She is without a doubt “The worst case scenario’s” most vocal advocate. So much so that I’d sometimes leave certain excursions as well as elements of my work to my own special me time. For, after an hour or so of “What if we’re trespassing?” “Are you sure we can go here?” “What if we get a ticket?” or the best one of all “What if he kills one of us?” I’m ready to trade in my camera for a book on bird watching. While it’s often a good thing to have a second set of eyes. Sometimes the additional voice in you ear is enough to make you want to go it alone.
I’ve lived in New Jersey for twelve years now and in that time, done my share of driving. Wherever my travels take me, be it far or near. I always find myself feeling enamored with the factories, railroads and industrial sculptures that feel somewhat out of reach to a driver speeding down the interstate. Whether I’m driving alone or with a sidekick. The thought of pulling over or taking the next exit to seek out the adventures that often tease me to look deeper. That said, the thought is often just that. The facts that I’m usually on my way to something and driving at speeds that will most likely warrant a summons often postpone my urges to explore. Add to that, the areas that intrigue me the most are off limits and often patrolled by very suspicious security and or folks who call 911 as if it came with a free pizza.
So after moving to an area that was essentially surrounded by the same things that have intrigued me for years. I decided to take it upon myself to seek out those elusive treasures on foot. The risk of going out with a camera and photograph what is basically private property definitely has it’s risks. I learned this early on when I was innocently out shooting for a portfolio titled “Left Behind”. During that time I was confronted, chased by security guards and even detained by police as a possible terrorist suspect. Despite the possibilities of arrest and possible bodily harm. I find the rewards far outweigh the risks. It’s something I’ve been drawn since my pre – K days when my Father would bring me to the junk yards that lay just beyond Shea Stadium.
Till tis day, I find myself drawn to explore the factories, railroads and industrial centers more and more. And while I’d never recommend trespassing or breaking the law. I whole heartedly support following and documenting the things you love. Get out there, find it and document it. The world is yours.