I love rust crust and decay. Who doesn’t? I guess when you spot a bit of it creeping up the side panels of your 1984 Honda Accord you’re not too enamored with it, but otherwise it’s fantastic, especially in the realm of photography. Peeling paint, rusty fixtures and crumbling structures provide fantastic little nooks and crannies for light to dart in and out of creating compelling textures.
Because of my love of all things decaying, I felt compelled to take a trip down to Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia. Eastern State Pen is a former prison which operated from 1829 until 1971, at which time it fell into severe disrepair. Partially because it was considered the world’s first penitentiary, it was designated as a U.S. National Historic Landmark in 1966. After years of neglect, the Pen was reopened for tours in the late 1980’s much to the amateur photographer’s benefit.
For an admission fee plus an equipment license for your tripod (which is good for the whole year in which you purchased it) you can wander the grounds and halls of the former prison and capture all of its decaying glory. Most of the 7 spoke-style wings of the Pen are open so you have plenty of access to shoot abandoned cells, crumbling walls, and even an accurate recreation of Al Capone’s cell, who famously had an eight month stay at the prison.
I used my time at the prison to test out some HDR photography, taking bracketed exposures to capture all the detail I possibly could. Eastern State Pen is mostly lit with natural light streaming in through a bevy of skylights. During my short visit, which lasted about 2 hours, the lighting and subsequent shooting opportunities changed dramatically for both the better and worse depending on where I was in the prison. Some of the cells even had blue gel-like plastic over their skylights which added an interesting eerie look to their contents which, maybe purposefully, made for some creative and dramatic photo opportunities.
I easily could have spent all day setting up my tripod, waiting for a change in light, and capturing another contrasty nook and cranny on patch of peeling paint, but real life beckoned. In the end, I was pretty pleased with the results. So if your photography buddies are itching for something different to shoot, why not suggest a day in the clink. Eastern State Pen, will give em’ all they can handle.