Buildings don’t age so well…

when they are left unmaintained and abandoned although they represent wonderful and unusual photographic opportunities in that state. I have had a fascination with photographs of unoccupied building and industrial site interiors since I saw the full-length documentary Urban Explorers: Into the Darkness (2006). It details a sub-culture of artists doing admirable work of documenting urban scenes otherwise hidden from public view such as the inside of derelict buildings, tunnels, etc. I was offered the chance to accompany some hardcore urban explorers in the visit of a small two-story abandoned manufacturing plant in the Pointe St-Charles area.

Photographically speaking, the two floors are very different requiring two separate approaches: the ground floor is very dark so I took long exposures and used my headlamp to paint light in. The second floor is quite bright as daylight streams in through the generous openings so I mostly took series of shots at varying exposure levels to be combined by software for an extended dynamic range. In general, I accentuated the mid-tones in curves to highlight the graphical elements such as graffiti and to give the images an over-constrasty and over-sharpened look that I think suits the subject matter. I converted a general view of each floor in B&W and added noise for a grungier feel.

The building shows obvious signs that it has or still serves as a squat box so some pictures document the living space of less fortunate people. It should be noted that the motto of the urban exploration sub-culture is “take nothing but photographs, leave nothing but footprints”, and we strictly adhered to it. Nothing was touched or staged. Everything is shown as we found it as we moved through the place.

All in all, it was a great experience that brought me back to childhood times when discovery and exploration was part of the daily regimen. The most interesting part of the experience is to carefully survey each space, to identify the photographic potential but more importantly, to venture a guess about the mission of the space when the building was functional. I certainly intend on pursuing this activity as part of my photographic journey of discovery. I am hooked! Being the amateur that I am, I brought 6 lenses to use a single one; next time, I most definitely need to optimize my gear and its packaging. Hauling everything that you own is not the way to go…

I was told that the building visited was nothing to write home about and was fairly standard fare. I personally thought it had quite a bit to offer and it will always hold a special place in my heart as it is, and will always remain, my first foray into urban exploration. It is located in an up and coming part of the city where condo buildings are appearing almost weekly. This building’s fate is sealed as it is bound to be demolished and reborn as trendy condo/loft residences. I can console myself as I have documented its awkward and transient stage, AKA ugly duckling stage, between manufacturing plant and its likely future as it is repurposed as a multi-unit apartment/condo building.

Equipment: Canon DSLR 5D Mk II, Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L lens, Canon 580 Mk II flash, tripod

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