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Archive 2012 · Abandoned schools (x5)
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p.1 #1 · p.1 #1 · Abandoned schools (x5)

I spent some time on the 4th of July as well as this past Saturday doing a little camera-equipped exploring. Here are the true keepers of those that I created. I'd really appreciate feedback on any or all. In particular, I'm considering using the hallway photo with the boxes of unused textbooks for this week's "Paths" competition, and feedback there would be especially helpful. Apologies for so many pictures. I've tried to pair my thoughts/introduction with the appropriate picture.

Some background: all but the "Norman Rockwell revisited" picture were taken at the (now abandoned) Paul Robeson Malcom X Academy in Detroit. I stumbled upon the school by chance, but was immediately drawn in by the 100+ year old architecture and clear evidence of fire damage. Walking through the school, you'd think it had been abandoned for years as many buildings here are. After doing some research, however, it turns out this school's only been empty for around a year and a half. There was a fire in May 2011, and they never returned. One of the most poignant reminders of this was a picture I took in a classroom with a small bookshelf full of spiral notebooks and workbooks with a wall decoration above it announcing that Anthony was the Student of the Day.

IMG_9627-Edit by josh.weiss, on Flickr

This picture was taken in the school's meeting room or prayer hall. I wanted to use the strewn benches/pews to lead the eye towards the piano, which remains there, covered in rubble and debris.

IMG_9361-Edit by josh.weiss, on Flickr

This is the picture I'd like to use for this week's Paths assignment. Boxes upon boxes of unused textbooks. It's both heart wrenching and infuriating at the same time.

IMG_9720-Edit by josh.weiss, on Flickr

Students materials, left one day, and never retrieved -- workbooks worksheets, pencils, highlighters, etc.

IMG_9334-Edit by josh.weiss, on Flickr

This one left me with a similar simmering resentment. An entire floor, piled inches high with textbooks. Ironically, the books along the left side are titled "Michigan: Adventures in Time and Place". Some adventure.

Nothing Lasts (Norman Rockwell revisited) by josh.weiss, on Flickr

This is a picture from a different school, one that was in the midst of being torn down. I'm particularly pleased with how this one came out. I named it as I did because the colors (and architectural era) remind me of a Norman Rockwell painting. Norman Rockwell revisited is intended as a double entendre: I'm revisiting NR stylistically, but it's also as if we've revisited the scene of a NR painting fifty years later.

And an impromptu self portrait, for grins and giggles:

Self portrait by josh.weiss, on Flickr

Jul 09, 2012 at 08:33 PM
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p.1 #2 · p.1 #2 · Abandoned schools (x5)

I wonder what the backstory on the abandoned school is. It does seem sad and infuriating. How long has it been closed?

One thought is to crop the first one to eliminate the windows in the frame. They are working against you, IMHO, by drawing your eyes first and not allowing you to progress through the scene as you envisioned it. I would probably do the same with the fourth. They both seem to improve with that.

I wonder if a crop would improve your entry to not show the door on the right. I could see that either way. #5 looks great.
- Paul

Jul 10, 2012 at 12:34 AM
Bob Jarman
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p.1 #3 · p.1 #3 · Abandoned schools (x5)

Interesting series - showing my age but somehow I find seeing discarded books sad and offensive. Books are to be cherished and preserved. Without books and the knowledge recorded there in, we are no different than any other species - dogs, fish, ants, take your pick. And, books do not require batteries or other sources of electrical power.

OK, off my soapbox now.

On this monitor, I'd like more contrast - and just a tad bright overall.



Jul 10, 2012 at 05:01 PM

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p.1 #4 · p.1 #4 · Abandoned schools (x5)

I would love to see more of the piano! (I have a thing for musical instruments).

Question: It looks like the place has no sign of vandals, were you able to enter with permission? I've wanted to take photos of abandoned places for years, but being 30 years old and adding "burglary" to a clean criminal record makes me very hesitant. (maybe someone else can chime in on the subject as well?)

Jul 11, 2012 at 12:01 AM

Search in Used Dept. 


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p.1 #5 · p.1 #5 · Abandoned schools (x5)

Thanks for the feedback, everyone.

Paul, while plenty of buildings in the city have been closed for a decade or more, this school has only been closed for a round 15 months. Here's a news story on the fire: http://detroit.cbslocal.com/2011/05/10/breaking-news-fire-at-detroits-paul-robeson-academy/. The shocking part is, after leaving due to the fire, they never came back. An indicator of the sort of financial straits (and broader management issues) the city has been up against. Without the money or manpower to repair/rebuild, the building quickly falls into disrepair, and then into anonymous decay.

Bob, I estimate that I'm a little younger than you, but I couldn't agree more. It's offensive that so many books were left behind, and even more egregious that many of the books were unused textbooks. People come through and strip out valuable metals (e.g., copper) in no time, but leave the books behind...


I will certainly post more of the piano. I took a few closer pictures as well, but I have yet to post-process them.

In the interim, before I get to those piano pictures, here's another musical instrument from the same school:

Grinnell Bros by josh.weiss, on Flickr

Edited on Jul 30, 2012 at 02:01 PM · View previous versions

Jul 11, 2012 at 01:34 PM
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p.1 #6 · p.1 #6 · Abandoned schools (x5)

Neat find, great place to shoot.
1,4,5 work best for me.
I would go less saturated generally, and especially on #4. The bright book cover colors seem to conflict with the reality of a decrepit, aged, faded school.
The fifth is presented straight on, neat, tidy comp as a schoolroom ideally should be. And the reality of decay and neglect is well-illustrated.
The piano is neat too. Wondering about a bit more detail extraction and sharpness.

Jul 13, 2012 at 12:28 AM
Mike John
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p.1 #7 · p.1 #7 · Abandoned schools (x5)

Thanks for the pictures.
Do you worry about your personal safety and your gear when you shoot a location like this?

Jul 28, 2012 at 11:34 PM
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p.1 #8 · p.1 #8 · Abandoned schools (x5)

Thanks, Mike.

By and large I try to take any number of precautions. I'm careful about where I go and when, and I bring a friend with sometimes as well. Thankfully I've never run into anyone else while on these sorts of jaunts.

Jul 30, 2012 at 05:24 PM

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