photographer explores abandoned places and finds decaying beauty | Chicago News

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Some photographers explore cities through their abandoned places. Risking their lives and sometimes legally, they seek beauty in forgotten and discolored places. (Credit: Jerry Olejniczak)

Many of us take photos of the skyline, the lakefront, or Millennium Park. But some photographers explore cities through their abandoned places. Risking their lives and sometimes legally, they seek beauty in forgotten and discolored places. Meet one of these photographers in search of the “abandoned Chicagoland”.

TRANSCRIPTION

Marc Vitali: Time seems to have stood still in the photographs of built environments slowly reclaimed by nature.

The settings can suggest Stephen King or evoke heavy metal album covers.

But where some see “scary”, others see “opportunity”.

Jerry Olejniczak, photographer: We were just driving and sometimes you would find things in sight that were compelling, and this is one of them.

Vitali: It’s near Steelworkers Park at 87th and Lakeside – where huge concrete walls once held iron ore destined for the US Steel plant known as South Works.

Olejniczak: It’s interesting to come to a place like this and try to imagine, OK, what was it like in the 60s when the steel mills across the street were still buzzing?

Vitali: Jerry Olejniczak has a blue collar day job with a car designer. His hobby has become a dedicated side activity.

Jerry Olejniczak's work can be seen in a new book Jerry Olejniczak’s work can be seen in a new book “Abandoned Chicagoland” from Arcadia Publishing. (Courtesy of Arcadia Editions)

Vitali: His first book on the subject rediscovers “Abandoned Chicagoland”, from Kenosha to Gary and everything in between.

There is no one in the photos. Sometimes it looks like they left in a rush. Or can return at any time.

Olejniczak: There is some kind of basic sadness and poignantness in almost all of these shots, but strictly aesthetically, I think the decomposition can be beautiful.

The American Rust Belt is obviously a gold mine for this stuff.

There are many ways to use a photo. You can be very documentary, show it as it is and leave it as it is, but the camera is different from the human eye. The human eye sees things a little differently, so sometimes you need a decent amount of adjustment, at least that’s what I do, to have the same emotional resonance as when you were looking at it.

Vitali: Olejniczak is part of an unofficial alliance of like-minded photographers from around the world.

They practice so-called “urbex” photography – named after “urban exploration” – although it is not strictly urban.

Olejniczak: The urbex community is really a network. You talk to people and make connections, because I might be able to find almost anything there is to find around Chicago, but I won’t be able to do that in New York, Detroit, or St. Louis. So you have to rely on people to give you information.

Vitali: I have known Jerry Olejniczak for about 10 years. He is still planning his next photographic trip which could take him from Saskatchewan to Chernobyl and the ghost town of Pripyat outside the famous nuclear power plant near the Russia-Ukraine border.

Olejniczak: The opportunity to see a city of 50,000 inhabitants almost intact, with of course the history that goes with it, is incredible. It was worth the trip.

Olejniczak's photographic trips could take him from Saskatchewan to Chernobyl and the ghost town of Pripyat outside the famous nuclear power plant near the Russia-Ukraine border.  (Credit: Jerry Olejniczak)Olejniczak’s photographic trips could take him from Saskatchewan to Chernobyl and the ghost town of Pripyat outside the famous nuclear power plant near the Russia-Ukraine border. (Credit: Jerry Olejniczak)

Vitali: Olejniczak had a guide on this trip, but many excursions might involve a bit of real trespassing.

Olejniczak: There are certainly legal risks. This is honestly what concerns me the most. There are places where nobody cares if you are, and then there are places where if you get caught it’s a felony or misdemeanor or jail time or something like that.

Vitali: And with personal risks everywhere, the urbex photographer is wise to shoot with a group.

Olejniczak: Let’s face it some of these places can be a bit risky. I mean, I dropped a friend on the floor in a department store and had to pull her out.

Vitali: Urbex photography even has a mocking nickname – “ruin porn”.

Olejniczak: I would like to think that the difference between “ruin porn” and what I post is the difference between pornography and tasteful erotica.

It’s a great hobby and for anyone who might want to try it, think it over, be careful, wear good shoes, always wear long pants.

And do it legally, kids. Do it legally.

Many excursions can involve a bit of real trespassing, and with personal risks everywhere, the urbex photographer is wise to take pictures with a group.  (Credit: Jerry Olejniczak)Many excursions can involve a bit of real trespassing, and with personal risks everywhere, the urbex photographer is wise to take pictures with a group. (Credit: Jerry Olejniczak)

More on this story

Olejniczak’s book “Abandoned Chicagoland” has just been published.

And you can follow more of his work on his blog, TabulaRasaPhoto.org.

Note: This story will be updated with a video.


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