Decaying castles, villas, and churches, collapsing houses and forgotten train stations are now the targets for some professional and amateur photographers. This kind of photography is driven by some crucial virtues: consistency, patience, and acceptance of failure. Every photographer must master these to accomplish a perfect shot! Even if the final results aren't always as expected, the experience is often very worthwhile!
Some pro-photographers have started this kind of photography by chance, some after witnessing someone else's adventures, and others may start this photographic journey after reading this article!
These places are often considered scary and terrifying. Here you will find my selection of images that will break these stereotypes and will lead you toward a romantic approach.
Photographers aim to create a bond between the viewers and the places. Despite all the dust, rust, and cracks, photographers create images with a soul and embrace a special atmosphere of thoughtful and nostalgic perceptions.
It’s marvelous how nature slowly reclaims what has been left behind by humans, as per the natural course of existence.
Each place is beautifully communicative, and you can see the passion behind all of them.
Abandoned Sanatorium Near Berlin, Germany
Mathias Mahling, very well known as 'Glory of Disrepair,' is a pro-hunter of decay. In 10 years, Mathias has traveled more than 30 countries and explored over than 500 locations.
He shared his experience behind this shot: "When I first visited this abandoned sanatorium, I was blown away by the size of the area, the number of the empty buildings, and the beauty of all. I went back many times to explore every bit of the entire compound. One of my favorite buildings was this pavilion, which has this lonely piano placed. I have organized the shooting, so I would be there at the exact time when the sun hits the whole interior through the windows. It was a really special moment for me when it all came together in this beautiful shot."
Winter Garden, France
Jonk, French photographer and author of this awesome shot, discovered photography at the age of 11, when his parents send him to the USA for language exchange. Today, he has visited more than one thousand and five hundred places in around fifty countries on four continents, bringing his camera gear always with him.
Jonk told me a bit about his experience behind the shot: "This winter garden is part of a large mansion in a small village in rural France. The mansion’s domain is quite large also includes a few other buildings. Even if it may look different in the picture, everything was quite recent and not long abandoned so this room is the only one I shot there. I shot every possible angle though! Of course, the trip was worth it just for that winter garden, especially with the morning light of January. It is a winter garden after all!"
Abandoned Mine, Japan
Japanese photographer, known as '8st' who has a strong passion for decay, has shared this dreamy image and the experience behind it: "This is an abandoned explosives warehouse associated with Japan's famous mine. I visit this place very often as it became one of my favorites. The four seasons transform this abandoned place into various forms, and I was able to photograph it during sunlight. I will continue to visit to enjoy the enchanting scenery."
La Petite Ceinture, France
French photographer Saul Aguilar has spotted this marble abandoned train rail.
He says: "I took the photo some years ago (2013 or 2014) while I was searching for new spots in Paris. I use to hang out with friends and explore the city. The name of the place is La Petite Ceinture. It's an abandoned railroad that used to go around the city."
Abandoned House, The Buried Village, The Old Area Of Madame, Dubai
Behind the town of Al Madam lies a small village lost in sands. It consists of two rows of colorful houses and a mosque, all long-deserted and engulfed by the dunes. There is something epic in the way nature has taken over these old abandoned houses and something eerie, too. A Hungarian photographer Peter Rajkai took this masterpiece.
Church Near Chicago, US
David Bulit crawled through the basement window of an abandoned church near Chicago, emerging in the vestibule covered in dust and cobwebs.
David says: "Nothing can be heard but the dripping of water into overflowing buckets and the soft patter of the rain outside. A broom and dustpan lay in the corner, a vain attempt to clean the mess. Starting my ascent up the staircase, I stop as my boots crumple the wood beneath me. I snap a photo and move on to the rest of the building."
Abandoned Soviet Sanatorium, Georgia
JAHZ DESIGN (Dimitri Bourriau) is a French photographer based in Nantes and a pro-hunter of abandoned places.
Dimitri shares his experience: "This photo was taken during my trip to Georgia (ex USSR). In the town of Tskaltubo, an ancient Soviet spa town. It was noon, I waited until there were no people on the street before climbing the wall of the old Sanatorium. I remain discreet, there are guards nearby. Going upstairs, there was this nice room, probably an old dining room. There was very pretty light at that time. I really liked this place."
Beelitz Heilstaetten (Beelitz Old Sanatorium), Germany
"When I visited this abandoned place, I was very impressed by the attractive architecture and the history I sensed from the old walls. Beelitz is a big area near Berlin, where more than 100 years ago several clinics were built to cure sick patients with tuberculosis. After the Second World War, all buildings were confiscated by the Soviet Army, and the area was no longer accessible to anyone until 1994. The Soviets left Germany, and the houses are left decaying since then," says Lutz Harland-Swamy.
Old Sanatorium, Tskaltubo, Georgia
"It was amazing walking around this sanatorium in Tskaltubo and being in one of the most important towns of Soviet Spa. It was also very sad to see how the refugees were living for 25 years since the Georgia/Abkhaz war. Being between 30 refugees with expensive camera gear, it wasn't pleasant. However, they were all very nice and friendly. Even if we couldn't understand what they were saying to us (google translate helped very much), we spent some time there with them and they offered us some coffee. I can say, this is one of the most amazing explorations I have ever done," says Christophe Van de Walle.
The Buzludzha Monument, Bulgaria
The Monument House of the Bulgarian Communist Party was built in the early 80s in the middle of the Balkans on Buzludzha Peak by the Bulgarian communist government at 1,441 meters high. In 1868, Bulgarians defied the Ottoman Empire and from here they started to found the modern State. It commemorated the events of 1891 when a group of socialists assembled in the area to form an organized socialist movement that led to the founding of the Bulgarian Social Democratic Party, a forerunner of the Bulgarian Communist Party. The monument was abandoned in 1989 after the fall of the Soviet Union.
Nicola Bertellotti, the author of this fantastic shot, told me all about his 'out of the ordinary' experience: "It was early autumn, in 2014, when I decided to travel to Bulgaria to visit a famous monument, and I was slightly concerned about the weather. While I was driving, the wind grew and snow began to fall, and the place turned into a 'white hell' with temperatures dropping quickly. Suddenly, the car broke down and I had no service on my mobile phone. For the first time, I seriously feared for my life. Luckily, the local firefighters rescued me just before the car turned into a heap of ice. The venture made me completely forget about the disappointment of the unfished shooting. However, after 3 years, I went back to resume the work I have started back in 2014 which was for me left uncompleted! It all went and ended very well! I can say that the whole experience was rather tragic but thrilling at the same time. I can't deny that a good dose of recklessness is necessary, and it's a big part of my job."
Rónay Chapel, Kiszombor, Hungary
Hungarian photographer Zoltán Horváth took this beautiful photograph. He has shared the story of this decaying chapel. Built between 1902 and 1906 by Jenő Rónay, the chapel has an underground crypt where the Rónays family were initially buried. The chapel is the property of the Hungarian state, along with it, there is a castle that belongs to the local council. These constructions, especially the crypt, are currently under renovation.
The Giant's Castle, Emilia, Italy
An Italian photographer Samurai_______________ shares his adventure behind the shot: "The castle was built to be a watchtower in 1300, then over the centuries adapted to be an important manor house. The main characteristic of it is the construction of a second tower over the existing one. A legend says that the first owner called the tower 'Anna' as per his loved one's name. The building suffered from severe damages caused by an earthquake in 2012. Later, it had some uncompleted restorations, possibly because the project was too expensive to sustain. It became popular within the urbex art, and it was named 'The Giant' by the artists. Unfortunately, it was inaccessible and restrained for a very long time, but I didn't waste a second when it opened to the public. I reached the location before the sunrise, and once arrived, the adrenaline started to increase. It's challenging to explore an abandoned place by yourself, the risk is too high, and you have to have all under your control. Mistakes are easy to make, and the consequences are too many. Getting into the building wasn't as simple as I thought, but I did it! All of my worries were defeated by marvelous interiors. There were frescoes on the wall in all rooms, antique furniture, and countless ancients books bud sadly, what the earthquake didn't destroy, gangsters did all over. The deep silence and the dreamy atmosphere created by the lights crossing through the windows made all surreal. It was then when I started to dive into the world between the lens and the surrounding. Suddenly, I spotted a silhouette of a man, hanging from the ceiling in a weird position, rotating on himself in the shadow. That was 'The Giant' which is nothing but a copy of a man of disproportionate size, made by paper-mâché, with legs and arms dangling and an expression on his face of suffering. It was an artwork previously exhibited in The Museum of Fine Arts in Bologna, then abandoned in the castle where it had been stolen."
Mansion, Bordeaux, France
Adrien Foussier, a hunter of captivating abandoned places around the world, shares his thoughts: "Like in any abandoned place, I have the same feeling―'wastage.' Nature takes over people's belongings..."
Homesteads, Wonder Valley, California
"I was driving around looking for a shot and I knew the homesteads had potential. The sun was coming down fast, the light for those great shots can be so fleeting. It was just a little bit of everything, the unique subject, the landscape with the mountains, the color in the sky with the clouds. It just all came together," says Ben Olson.
Military Airport, Maruggio, Puglia, Italy
Alessandro Valsecchi, a landscape photographer from Northern Italy, told me about his experience in Southern Italy: "My wife is from Southern Italy, Maruggio, Puglia. Almost every month we fly there to have a break. We land in Brindisi Papola Casale Airport on the Adriatic Sea. Her father drives us to her hometown on the other side of the region, on the Ionian sea. On the way, there are a lot of abandoned buildings. There was a construction which looked like a “Masseria,” a typical farm since the architectural style is the same, but it is too big to be a farm, I didn't bother to ask what it really was, but after a few trips, the curiosity increased. I found that Manduria, famous for good, intense, and fruity red wine, had an important military airport. It was abandoned after WW2. During the conflict, it was used first by Italian aviation, then by Luftwaffe (3rd Reich air force) and finally by US air force. This was one of the airports used by alleys to bomb occupied Europe. Apparently, it was visited by the last Italian king Victor Emmanuel III before the conflict. I also found online, that in 2011 was used as a refugee camp during Arab spring and finally in 2014 was used, illegally, as a garbage dump. I explore this amazing place with my imagination every time I overtake it. Sometimes, I imagine the soldiers: Italians, Germans, and Americans speaking different languages between each other, but their facial expressions are the same, full of hope, fear, and tragedy into their eyes. I see the field, partially hidden by buildings, full of airplanes, guns, and bombs ready for the battle. I could even hear the sirens. I also imagine those buildings during the night and create stories. Soldiers are sleeping, dreaming of their families, a young pilot is writing the last missive for his girlfriend. Once I also visualized the last Italian King. He was on the stage close to the accommodation building, with the military suit, delivering a speech to his troops just before WW2. He wouldn't have known that he was standing at the same place where, 75 years after, a young north-African refugee would have been sitting, with dirty clothes, waiting for some food and hope. I explored this place only last summer."
18th Century Mansion, Gunnersbury Park, London
In the middle of Gunnersbury Park, beautiful pieces of history between victorian and gothic constructions can be found. Some have been restored, some maybe are left to decay. In the picture, an 18th-century mansion named 'The Small Mansion' along with its grounds were owned by Thomas Farmer's family for some time; then, by the Rothschilds (finally reuniting the original estate).
Such haunting structures can be found in that park. When I go close to this mansion, I always try to imagine the way the housekeepers were living, what did they love to do at that time in such a huge place. This is the photo that I took.
Heilstätte Grabowsee, Oranienburg, Germany
Dominik Max Justin Backhaus was scouting a location for a short film in late summer 2019 when he found this abandoned sanatorium in a decayed state with collapsing ceilings. It was built for people of Heilstätte Grabowsee affected by tuberculosis, and from 1945 became a Russian military hospital.
The photographer told me about his experience: "The huge building complex of the former sanctuary home Grabowsee in Brandenburg offered endless little dystopian moments since the area is about to transform into an education camp for adolescents and an off space for art installations. Pianos and sofas hidden in the countless rooms, a demon made out of branches, left behind from an exhibition waiting silently to scare you, and all the ivy and wine plants trying to cover the old history of this place."
Russian Barracks, Brandenburg, Germany
Jenifer Zickermann has taken this amazing picture of Russian Barracks in early May during the lockdown. She shared the questions she had while taking the photo: "Who looked through these windows in front of me? Who went up or down the stairs in front of me? This house is mysterious! Too bad the walls can't speak!"
Abandoned Mansion Dayton, Ohio
David, known as 'TacidBlue,' the hunter of abandoned houses shared his experience: "When I document abandoned homes, I'm always fascinated by how this could come to be. The circumstances, how it becomes abandoned, the people who once lived there, the memories, all run through my mind. This house was fascinating because it was full of the previous residents' belongings, and there had been a fire in the structure. This combination was really not so glorious to see."
Chateau, Haute Marne, France
Nicole van de Velde is the author of this picture. She told me about her experience behind this shot: "When I enter an abandoned place while taking pictures, I always try to imagine who has lived there in the past; also, many questions arise within me: which lives they lead to afford a beautiful place like this? What happened to make them leave and never look back? Very often, there are many personal items left behind such as intimate family pictures. It's always thrilling to get into unseen buildings like this. Sometimes, it takes climbing and crawling through small spaces but, once you are inside, you forget all of that and I just enjoy throwing back in time."