What first drew you to photographing these abandoned places?
My first “encounter” was when I was researching a location for a model photoshoot about four years ago. I was procrastinating and reading the local newspaper which detailed information about a local psychiatric hospital. I was suddenly very curious and couldn’t wait to get there. I went the next day, having no idea of what to expect and I was immediately hooked. Sneaking in, I walked down long corridors, seeing the main hall where the patients used to be entertained, finding several wards with patients suitcases and clothes and beds (with sheets still on) left behind. I saw a dentist chair with teeth impressions left behind, the hairdressers, pianos, store cupboards, and beautiful architectural spaces and light. I couldn’t get enough, the stories, the textures, the beautiful scenes. I subsequently returned four times that same week, twice for a photoshoot, and twice to satisfy my own curiosity, the place was huge and I wanted to see it all! I will never forget that place, it changed my life forever really.
How do you go about searching out interesting buildings?
I put a lot of time and effort into this, months before I go on these trips I am scouring Google Earth, looking for interesting buildings, surfing street view and checking potential access. I also find places in newspapers, blogs, Heritage sites. For trips abroad I keep in touch with a group of co-conspirators, we all share a love of these buildings; from architects, historians and people with family connections to the buildings. We share information and this has really helped me in my work. It’s hard using Google Translate to understand foreign newspapers and websites, so talking to people gives me a little extra info I can’t usually find online or elsewhere.
Do you have any help to set up or do you work alone?
I work alone but bring my partner along on most road trips abroad for safety and for company. I like to think he enjoys himself travelling the world.
You photograph in derelict asylums, closed schools, ex-military compounds and power stations. Do you work out a strategy for getting access to these buildings and what kind of trouble do you get into?
I plan as much as I can before I go,Google earth really helps! I’ve never got into trouble before!
Do you worry that your photographs are evidence that you have been in a building?
No, as what I do is classed as civil trespass, if I get caught I just get asked to leave.
How much of the shot is set up before or edited after?
Before is all about composition, symmetry, shooting at the best time for light, shutter speed, optimum aperture for sharpness, correct focus and taking several photos in the same position with a tripod at different exposures. Afterward is the blending of said exposures, colour corrections, lens correction, and boosting any shadows, removing distracting items such as cigarette butts as needed
How important is the photographic technique balanced with the subject matter?
Very important, as I feel this is what gives me my style. Symmetry and composition are key!
Do you feel like these photos restore the grandness of these places? Or maybe creates a grandness they never had?
I do believe they offer an insight into the history of the building, dependent on the place you can see through the architecture how grand a place once was. I think the simple but effective compositions can make you feel like you are there.
You’ve photographed in Victorian asylums – how did that feel?
Very fun as they were almost always secured well, so it was always a challenge to get inside. Also very poignant, some of the items left behind were astonishing, straight jackets, patient clothing, suitcases, drugs, paperwork, diaries and artwork to name but a few. Really interesting places to explore and shoot.
Do you ever find things you think best not to photograph?
Toilets. Not so interesting! Also private letters, addresses
What do you think makes one derelict building more aesthetically pleasing or nostalgic than another?
The architecture and symmetry is something I always look out for. Some buildings just tend to be much more interesting. Also the level of decay, the more decayed it is sometimes this is better, but other times it can be too trashed, i.e graffiti everywhere, no sense of original building.
Do you find yourself looking for more and more difficult places to sneak into?
I used to, I enjoyed the thrill. Now when I shoot abroad the places seem much easier to get into, in the UK it is much harder! So much security, fencing, alarms, motion sensors, dogs, cameras, e.t.c Abroad I can just walk in the front door.
Are there places that you would like to photograph – but can’t get access?
Battersea was one, but I have since photographed it with permission. Incredible building. I’d love to shoot the Prague State Opera (currently in talks to arrange this!) There are many others, perhaps if I list them all here, someone may be able to help!?
Do you worry about safety issues around your work?
I have never ever been injured badly whilst working, the worst I’ve come away with is a few cuts and bruises. I use common sense but also I know my limits, I won’t climb too high for example, or tread on a precarious looking floor if I don’t need to.
Your photograph might be the final record of a building before it is demolished – do you ever see this as your responsibility?
I love to think that my work will be looked back upon one day and be remembered as the artist who made a great effort in photographing many of the wonderful buildings in our world. I wouldn’t say it’s my responsibility solely, but I’ve made a good start so far!
See more photographs by Gina Soden