Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Through a broken window

Every day, I walk the same way to work.

And one day, one of the houses that I passed every day became abandoned. It may have been empty for a while, but the day it became abandoned was the day that one of the large windows downstairs got broken. A brick through the middle of it, probably thrown by kids in the local park. The cheap thin curtains flapped in and out of the window. The rain blew in. The loneliness drifted out. An empty room became an abandoned room. The house changed. The emptiness became the tenant, the absence became a presence in its own right.

And every day, I walked past, and I looked in. Couldn't resist.

And the house ended up in a story of mine called "Through the Window" that appeared in the Ideomancer Unbound anthology. And there's still something about the alone and the abandoned,the lost and the derelict that fascinates me.

There are some eerie and beautiful photos at the Mustard Gas Party, at Dark Passage, and at Ars Subterranea's Garden of Crumbling Delights. And there's some more great photos at Undercity, like those of the King's Park Psychiatric Center and the Ship's Graveyard. Or you can take a tour around the weird and wonderful world of The Hospital (requires Flash).

Paul Talling's put together a great collection of over 800 pictures of derelict London. There's not just photos here, it's peppered with history like the commentary on Tower House, Whitechapel:

"Writer Jack London called it the "Monster Doss House" in People of the Abyss, his 1902 journey through the poverty of London. He said it was packed with "life that is degrading and unwholesome". Joseph Stalin  spent a fortnight in a sixpence-a-night cubicle in Tower House in 1907, when he attended the Fifth Congress of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party across the road in Whitechapel Road, which consolidated the supremacy of the Bolshevik Party. George Orwell, in Down and Out in Paris and London, published in 1933, described it as the best of all common-lodging houses, with "excellent bathrooms". Orwell's only objections to the shilling-a-night rent were the "no cards, no cooking" rules and harsh discipline."

And this, which my grandad helped to build.

Urbex UK have more on similar sites in the UK. The Derelict Sensationis another UK site that is the home of artists, photographers, filmmakers, writers, academics and others who want to explore the different kinds of value 'derelict' buildings can have.

Far below the city streets of Paris, in the quiet, damp darkness, seven million Parisians lie motionless. Their skeletons, long since dis-interred from the churchyard graves their survivors left them in, are neatly stacked and aligned to form the walls of nearly one kilometer of walking passage. Welcome to the Denfert-Rochereau Ossuary-- The Empire of the Dead, where you can go on a virtual tour.

The Berlin Underworlds Association is devoted to the cemetaries, secret air raid shelters, sewers and even an aircraft factory which have been built under the surface of Berlin.

You might see Christopher Lambert skulking around one of these. Or maybe Ezra Pound. They are the Closed stations on the Paris metro.The London Underground has its own ghost stations and ghost lines too. From Quatermass and the Pit to Neverwhere, from Donald Pleasance to Creep, it's been a source of inspiration. Did you know that an estimated half million mice live on the underground system, mostly running around the tracks, and that only two people have had their coffins transported on the tube: William Gladstone and Dr. Barnardo? Me neither.

If aliens did their pre-invasion research through Google, they'd probably conclude that there's no point in invading the US as there's simply nothing there but abandoned asylums and institutions. Heidi Johnson has produced a book about Northern Michigan Asylum (opened 1885, closed 1989) called "Angels in the Architecture: A Photographic Elegy to an American Asylum". You can see some of her photos here. There's a site devoted to the history, photos and legends of the Essex Mountain sanitorium. And there's many more at the motherlode of urban dereliction links: Modern Ruins and Urban Exploration.

Nökkvi Elíasson has photographed deserted farms across Iceland. Troy Paiva has a site devoted to night photography of the abandoned roadside west. Lost Destinations is photography of abandoned, unusual, wild and weird New Jersey, Texas and California. Rob Dobi photographs the ruins of New England, like the Repeating Arms Factory. Shaun O'Boyle has a series of photographic essays of Modern Ruins. The urban photography of Sleepy City takes in the tunnels, topside, cityscapes and cavities of urban Australia.

And then there's what lay underneath where I grew up. Which explains where all the Morlocks came from.



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