A Photographer’s Tour of Europe’s Abandoned Gems

Striking colour, enchanting character and extraordinary beauty – few people would rightly make the connection between such words and abandoned buildings. But a collection of images made by Norfolk-based photographer James Kerwin does just that and more. The photographs in his abandoned buildings project, particularly those in one of his latest collections entitled ‘Scorned’, remind us not only of the meticulous (and historic) care that was once taken in the creation of wonderful buildings, but asks us to empathise with them as the prisoners of time.

James’s work is an amalgamation of wide angle and high dynamic range photography, and is fluent in the powerful aesthetic principles of symmetry. But so thorough is James’s use of symmetry that it becomes a metaphor beyond the images’ visual symmetry; he also creates a seemingly impossible synthesis of majesty and decay to shine a light on the symmetry between life and death, showing us that one does not always negate the other.

Having reached Europe-wide acclaim with his method of storytelling, James has become well known in the field of architecture and location photography for his attention to detail and ability to find charm in long forgotten sites.

We share James’s love for abandoned buildings at THE PLUS, which is why we spent some time with him to find out about his habit for frequenting alternative hang-outs.

THE PLUS: How did you discover the first abandoned building you ever shot?
James Kerwin:
The first building I ever shot was an old barn in Norfolk, UK. I used to drive past it every day. Safe to say, I have deleted the photos now. 

TP: How much reassembly is involved in preparing a space for a photograph?
Argh – well it depends, sometimes not a lot. Whilst shooting my latest series, I rarely touched any items as I was shooting mostly the architecture or shapes. But in the past I have moved things, or cleared it out of litter or thrown dust in the air for artistic effect. 

TP: What’s the most interesting discovery you’ve made in an abandoned building?
I have seen a straitjacket with blood on it in an asylum in Italy, I have seen medical records that should not have been left in Ireland and I have seen goats wandering through a large building in the same country. When you turn the corner and come across a goat it makes you jump – that’s for sure. 

TP: How much research is involved with each place before you go there?
Loads of planning goes into a trip or a series of locations, but individual buildings I usually just look at the route or birds eye view on Google maps before heading there. If it is a place that I don’t know many to have been to, I usually arrive the day before and scout it out first.

TP: Though each series of abandoned buildings tells a story, each building has its own story too. Have you ever felt closely connected to a building you’ve photographed?
Yeah, there have been times that I have felt so connected to a building. For example, there is a villa in Italy that my girlfriend and I have camped in twice. The first time we went it had keys in the doors, so we locked ourselves in, drank wine and enjoyed the place to ourselves for the night. 

TP: What’s next for the abandoned buildings project? Do you plan to take the project beyond Europe?
I want to do some more in Eastern Europe before I move onto Asia and America, although the further you go, the more a trip costs – so it is difficult to keep it up. I want to shoot more video on location and I will post that on my Instagram story feed as well.