CNN Photos

Urban ruins: From industry to memory

Photographer Scott Krycia grew up in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, home of Bethlehem Steel, once one of the great steel manufacturers and ship builders in the country.

Steel was the lifeblood of the community, and Krycia says most of his immediate family and relatives were once employed by the industry. When the plant closed in 1995, the economic engine that drove the town was gone, and that loss is what inspired Krycia to document the vacant factory.

“There was a lot of uproar when the plant closed, as many workers saw the plant as their home,” he said. “I started to visit the site and realized the important historical aspect of the location. Bethlehem Steel was the first location I shot. Being a bit of a history nut, I started to search for other sites and started to document them, too.”

He has gone on to shoot more abandoned places, seeking out locations that have a “real connection to the area but that are also preserved.”

In addition to outdated equipment, dusty chairs and peeling paint, the sites often provide a surprisingly personal window into the past.

Krycia says he’s found “personal artifacts and personal messages scrawled on walls and lockers from workers. Sometimes, the messages are very sad in nature - a worker’s final lament. I was in an abandoned hospital and found a room full of coffins, which was a little unnerving.”

And sometimes he finds the unexpected, like a bowling alley in an abandoned lace factory in Scranton, Pennsylvania.

“On my way out, I got lost and tried to retrace my steps. That’s when I found the bowling alley. There was an executive section of the building. It had a private dining room, showers, a basketball court with a stage, the bowling alley and more. I would have never seen these items without getting lost.”

Getting lost isn’t the only challenge the vacant buildings present.

“These locations are typically a mess,” Krycia said. “Uneven floors, fear of collapse, old chemicals, machinery and not to mention the critters that now live in the site.”

When setting out for a shoot, he usually carries some extra equipment in addition to his camera gear.

“Water, two cell phones, headlamp and battery, small first aid kit and sometimes a respirator. A lot of these buildings have asbestos in them, so I like to play it safe.”

The aim, he says, is to preserve the past as much as it is to create beautiful photographs. He wants others to remember the places and the workers who made a contribution to a way of life.

“Once a building no longer serves its purpose and all of its previous functionality ceases to exist, it becomes truly fascinating. The corrosion and decay paint vibrant colors across otherwise dull surfaces, lit only by natural sunlight. Objects left behind become more significant than they have ever been, hinting at the life prior to its disuse.”

- Cody McCloy, CNN