North Carolina-based photographer Walter Arnold first fell in love with photographing modern ruins when he stumbled upon an airplane graveyard in Florida. Now, he works with preservation societies across the country to identify sites in danger of disappearing. For Polarr, Emily von Hoffmann finds out more.
Emily: Why the fixation on old buildings?
Walter: When I was first learning the ins and outs of my camera and photography in general, I used the waterfalls and mountain vistas of Western North Carolina as my subject matter. I quickly realized that everyone else with a camera in this area was also shooting the exact same scenes. I really wanted to shoot scenes that other people had not already shot. In 2009 I discovered an abandoned airplane graveyard down in St. Augustine, Florida.
W: While shooting there I felt like a kid in a candy store. It was such a joy shooting the abandoned planes and looking for beauty in the decay. After that shoot I set out with the purpose of researching and photographing abandoned historic places and things, and helping preserve their history and telling their stories before they are gone.
The series as a whole has evolved into a sort of historic preservation through art. I work with historic preservations groups to locate endangered historic places and get access to photograph them. Afterwards I thoroughly research the location and post write ups on the history and significance of them on my blog.
E: How do you go about finding these locations?
W: Finding historically significant locations that have interesting architecture or still have human elements remaining can be difficult. I spend a lot of time researching locations, working with historic preservation groups, and ultimately working with the owners directly in order to gain access to these locations. By partnering with these people I am able to get a wealth of information on the buildings and also be a part of the historic preservation process at the same time. If the owners or historic preservation groups are unable to restore or revitalize a location, at least I can go in and preserve the beauty of what remains and tell the story of the place before it is gone.
E: Is there a past shoot that stands out as a favorite of yours?
W: I recently completed work on a project that has been a long time in the making. A 130 page hard cover photo book which has images and historic write ups of 15 locations from the Art of Abandonment series. The books will be shipping out in December of 2015 and can be pre-ordered/purchased at www.AOABook.com
W: One of my favorite shoots was exploring the ruins of Grossinger’s Resort in the Catskills of New York. I visited there in 2009 and 2011. Exploring the sprawling remains of what was once the pinnacle of the Jewish resorts was like walking back into time. The once bustling resort that sported its own airstrip, Olympic-sized pool, ball-rooms, kosher kitchen, tennis courts, and golf course has sat abandoned for over twenty-five years.
W: Once a lively place that inspired the film Dirty Dancing, the ballrooms and stages are now empty and slowly crumbling. The beauty and grandeur that had attracted hundreds of thousands of guests each year still shines ever so faintly through the dust and decay of this modern ruin.
E: If you could go anywhere in the world for a shoot, where would that be, and what might that project center on?
W: There is an incredible abandoned city off the coast of Japan called Hashima Island (Battleship Island). It was built over an undersea coal mine and when the mine was depleted it was abandoned. While in operation the population reached over 5000. It closed down in the 70’s. I would love to one day visit and photograph it.