Spending the Night in a Ghost Town

I grew up in a small town in Connecticut, so "normal" for me means that people live in houses with foundations, the grocery store is only about 10 minuets away, you can see your neighbor's house, you can drink the water from the tap... but thats not the case everywhere. And I don't mean to sound naive, I have seen how people live in the west bank of Cairo and I've seen families working on farms along the Nile River. I have walked the streets of several Chinese cities as well as had supper with a family that worked on a farm in the countryside of southern China. Yet I'm still always amazed by the country I call home. I never imagined it could be so incredibly different depending on where you look, and how you look at it.

One of the most interesting places I've been is a ghost town called Picher, Oklahoma. 

In the early 1900's this town was a thriving mining town for lead and zinc, with the population peaking at nearly 15,000 in the 20's. Picher was the leading producer in lead in zinc in the tri state area, about half of the lead and zinc used in World War I came from this district. All this prosperity would come to an end in 1967 when production at the mine, including the water pumps, stopped. In the 80's the combination of the risks of water contamination, cave-ins, and other hazards, as well as a study that found more than a third of the children of Picher had severe lead poisoning, forced the government to declare Picher as part of the Tar Creek Superfund Site. This called for a forced evacuation and buy outs by the EPA. This included Picher, and the satellite towns that had similar conditions. In 2006 an EF4 tonando ripped through the nearly deserted towns to accelerate the decline, and finally in 2009 the state of Oklahoma disincorporated Picher as a town. Now the "official" population is 0, but there are reports of a handful of people still living inside this superfund site.

waking up to the frost. An enormous pile of mining waste can be seen to the left. 

waking up to the frost. An enormous pile of mining waste can be seen to the left. 

Driving through Picher was unreal. There are enormous piles of mining waste on old neighborhood streets. The google earth view of this area is surreal to say the least. Unfortunately we arrived in town right as the sun was setting so we did not get a chance to see many of the remaining buildings we were hoping to, so we decided find a quiet space to park the camper-van and spend the night so we could shoot early in the morning. 

We drove through the grid pattern neighborhood streets until we were left with a quiet corner. The paved roads were narrow and cracked, and the plots of land where houses once stood were now patches of brittle and dry brush. We were sure we weren't supposed to be here so we hid ourselves away, locked the doors, and fell asleep to the sounds of coyotes howling and owls singing in the dark.

The next morning we woke up to a perfectly sparkly layer of frost everywhere and clouds of low hanging fog that danced around the empty streets. The sun was just rising and it was freezing. We took photos on the decaying pavement roads until the frost started to melt. We continued to drive around until we accidentally stumbled onto an area of mining waste. It started off by just looking like a place people went to dump garbage, but then we drove further until we realized we were in the middle of a huge mountain of waste. We spent a few moments exploring and taking photos. The waste looked like pale, grey-ish dirt with fine bits of rocks. We didn't know if it was contaminated or not... so we just assumed it was. Within this mound there were a few structures made from rusted metal and concrete. After exploring this area we drove back onto the silent streets and found a few more structures, like a dilapidated church as well as some large mining equipment. There were soccer fields still adored with goalie nets (the actual nets were long gone) and the main street still had some active municipal buildings and equipment; main street was even decorated for the upcoming holiday. 

We realized it was around noon so we decided to hit the road and continue our journey west. Like most places I have been, I wish I was able to spend more time exploring. 

More to come,

Kayla

Lost

Creating photos that tell a story has always been a goal of mine. Sometimes creating images like that can be really hard for me, and then sometimes things just happen naturally and spontaneously. 

Jesse and I have been exploring so much recently. One of my new favorite places happens to also be the most amazing sight I have yet to see. Hidden in plain view is a giant building that houses a grandiose theater as well as a dance hall and several ornate sets of stairs. 

The idea that came to mind was a lost ballerina in a dismal world; here are the photos that followed... 

more to come,

Kayla

Lately (Pt3)...

The North East is home to several abandoned institutions. They have always been my favorite places to explore. Whereas they don't inspire me to take self portraits usually, they evoke thoughts about the human condition and institutionalism. I need to learn more about the effects of institutionalism on patients as well as staff, but many ideas have come to me just looking at the layout of many of the buildings I have explored. 

To me, the sinks left in the abandoned nurses dorms have taken on a new life... each sink is made out of the same material, installed around the same time, and were intended to be the same, yet somehow over time each sink, as well as the wall surrounding it, has changed to take on their own unique character. I think in a lot of government funded programs (specifically health and public school) humans are treated as "one brand"... we are intended to be the same yet our environments and our own integrity makes us unique despite the "system" trying to keep us the same. The sinks have captivated me in this regard. 

Obviously the next few sets of photos were taken at very different places. It is also interesting to see how different towns or owners take care of "abandoned" property. 

The next abandoned facility I explored was a little different than the previous two, this one was a tuberculosis hospital rather than a mental facility. 

Finally, the most recent facility I had the pleasure of exploring was a centuries old mental facility. The day we chose to explore was a bitter rainy day, but I plan on returning very soon. 

To view more of the photos I take while exploring visit my Quiet Space Gallery

More to come,

Kayla

Lately (Pt. 2)...

Exploring has always been at the heart of my love for photography; wether it be exploring my emotions and sexuality or abandoned buildings. 

Jesse and I had set out weeks before these photos were taken to explore a centuries old abandoned resort in the Poconos. After sneaking successfully onto the property we crawled into the building, within 5 minuets we ran into the caretaker who was showing a potential investor around the property. He kindly told us to fuck off with his hand on his holster.

A few weeks later we learned that the buildings were set for demolition that month, so we decided to try our luck again. To our disappointment we found out most of the buildings were almost completely cleared out. 

As disappointed as we were I still managed to take some self portraits while we had the chance to roam around this beautifully sad place.

More to come, 

Kayla

Lately...

What used to be an old Christian summer camp turned into a new set for some of my photographs. A lot of emotions came out of me during this shoot: stress and frustration being the most prominent. 

The stress and frustration I had been feeling were due to many things. You might notice a bandage on my index finger... I had nearly cut it off before these photos were taken. Thankfully it healed up fine, but none the less I was frustrated with myself for making such a stupid mistake. 

Adding to the mix of emotions was the start of a new full time job and the end of summer. 

More to come,

Kayla 

Back to School

It is late august, everyone is going back to school.

I gaze out the window as I cruise down the highway, but I am not going back to school this time. Instead I am driving to an old school tucked away in the suburbs of an old mining town in Pennsylvania.

Originally set to be opened in 1918, this 3-story stone school served as a makeshift annex for the local hospital during an outbreak of the flu in 1919. The school then served as a high school until it was replaced with a newer facility in 1986. This school sat abandoned for years just waiting to be demolished until the current owner purchased the building. This dedicated and enthusiastic owner has worked tirelessly to restore the front of the building along with the aid of the community in hopes of one day turning this old school into a community center for all. 

We entered through the front doors of the building and were greeted with the familiar, cool and musty smells of ancient basement air. We were shown around the building, including the gym with weathered floors, the auditorium with light filtering through green windows, and several classrooms with chalkboards ready for classes that will not be in session. 

The highlight of the day was shooting in the old auditorium. The light pouring through the green tinted windows inspired some moody self portraits. 

I continued to work on my "Daydream" series here as well.. 

The old gymnasium also had amazing light, and the combination of the weathered basketball court and ball were the prefect setting.

The track above the gym offered some amazingly soft light filtering through dusty frosted glass while the crumbling plaster and exposed brick offered a painterly background. 

Lastly, an old classroom was the final setting for my self-portraits. Books, composition notebooks, and an old No. 2 pencil were left scattered on a desk in front of a chalkboard still adorned with long-gone class assignments. 

Please note that this building is privately owned and parts of it are still occupied by the owners business. I was granted permission to shoot here, so please respect the rights of the owner so he will allow other artists to shoot in this gorgeous building in the future. 

Jesse  taking a photo from centre stage 

Jesse taking a photo from centre stage 

More to come,

-Kayla 

Rant: Instagram censorship, body issues

The day before Field Day in the first grade teachers were reminding us about staying hydrated in the heat and the dress code. I never even thought about the dress code on the day-to-day basis... I was 6 and my mom picked out what I would wear school still. But for Field Day I had picked out a yellow spaghetti strap (my class was the yellow team) but my teacher told us that spaghetti straps were not allowed at school because they are inappropriate and they would distract my other classmates.... I was so confused about this because that day was supposed to be really hot and full sun so in my brain I figured a tank top would be the more practical choice.

Fast forward to my angsty years in high school. I had a better understanding of the school dress code and it pissed me off. "But they don't even sell shorts that short" "But that measurement is arbitrary and I have long arms" "if what I was wearing was really inappropriate my mother wouldn't let me out of the house in it" Those arguments were met with the one comment any girl in high school was dreading to hear: "Well, its distracting to your male classmates" (says the 53 year old faculty member that knows nothing of my character but cared enough to follow me down the hall to tell me that my shorts were too short in front of several other students... embarrassing, right?) I don't think I need to go on about how embarrassing that is to a young, impressionable woman who is still trying to come to terms with her body. School dress codes degrade young woman at the most vulnerable point in their lives and teach them that our bodies are dangerous and our worth is based off of an outdated standard of modesty, not to mention that the education of our male classmates is more valuable than our own. 

Thankfully, you don't stay in high school forever, and once you're in the real world the "dress code" is either "professional" or whateverthefuckyouwant. 

If you asked me 2 years ago if I would be posing nude for photos I would have blushed and said "no way dude" but look at me now... Posing nude has made more more comfortable with myself, given me a new outlet of expression and has made me look at other body shapes differently; It made me really appreciate the differences between human beings. But with everything else in this world it came with drawbacks. The biggest and most annoying at this time being censorship. While I understand the sentiment behind it I think it can be very harmful and something needs to change. Ive had several posts removed from Instagram because of a visible (or non visible) nipple or other body parts. This is irritating because of the obvious inconvenience of re censoring and reuploading, but the fact that my body is deemed "unsafe for the community" perpetuates something I've been dealing with my whole life. 

My body is not unsafe. Nipples are just body parts, like my fingers or my knees. But obviously some people would prefer to not see those types of things, while others are more comfortable with the human form, so clearly something has to change with Instagram's policy and how they handle "NSFW" content. But as with any issue there is a an issue within; I'm talking about some photographers using this issue to gain attention. They say things like "don't be afraid of art" or "its not erotic" (as if erotic work between 2 consenting adults is bad). The reason this irritates me so much is because men are using this issue to acquire attention and brand their "art" as edgy and revolutionary. "Don't be afraid of the human body... but erotic work is soon bad!" It just feels as if their voices are shouting over the real issue, the fact that female bodies are not treated equally. Instead they are shouting "don't block my art" I could go on but that would be exhausting...

At any case something needs to change on social media.

more to come

-Kayla

Shenandoah National Park

The mountains have always been a place I have naturally wanted to retreat to.

When I was young I used to beg my parents to reroute our drives down to the Outer Banks of North Carolina (our favorite family vacation spot) so we could drive through either Shenandoah National Park or the Blue Ridge Parkway. Feelings of nostalgia overwhelm me when I remember the feeling of summer mountain air hitting me as I pull open our mini-van door. 16-year-old me has freshly dyed blue hair tips and is equipped with an Olympus OM-1 loaded with long expired Kodak Gold 400 IOS film that I found in my parents closet. 

But today is the first day of July 2016 and I am not traveling with my family, but with Jesse, and we are not just driving by, we are camping for 3 nights. We entered the park via Front Royal and made it to our campsite by the afternoon, but not before pulling off several times to take in the view of rolling mountains and patchwork farmland. We set up the tent and geared up for a hike to some waterfalls tucked in the backcountry of the park. The weather was hot and sticky with rain evaporating off the ground. The mist rising from the lush foliage added a dreamy element to our photos. We returned from the hike sweaty and ready for a hearty campfire meal. 

Our second day at Shenandoah started off with tea boiled over the campfire and "fried pies" we bought at a gas station the night before. We decided to make our way south towards Big Meadow. I told Jesse that my goal for the day was to take at least 1 self portrait. As we drove down the Skyline Drive we were treated with amazing overviews, each as amazing as the last. The sun was in full effect as we parked the car and grabbed sandwiches for an impromptu picnic. We set out on foot through the Big Meadow until we found the perfect place to stop and eat; a grassy break in the forest on the perimeter of the meadow protected us from them sun and provided up with the ultimate atmosphere to eat our soggy packaged sandwiches. Afterwords we continued to wander in the grass and ferns, we even met a young deer grazing near the edge of the meadow. After snapping photo after photo we decided to leave the park for a little to check out an abandoned farm we spotted as well as Luray Caverns. The farmhouse was everything we expected, a dilapidated vessel of crumbling paster walls, scattered forgotten belongings, and recent Four Loco cans from the local teenagers. Lurey Caverns was more than we expected; lines and crowds of people waiting to get an entrance ticket as if they were waiting to get into Six Flags. We opted out of the cavern tour because of the wait and found a rinky dink hedge maze to get lost in. It was getting late when we decided to head back to our campsite. 

Our third day at the park was shrouded in clouds. We were delighted to drive through and see mist constantly rolling over the scenery, and of course it made for a great backdrop for photos. We decided to dive all the way thought the Skyline Drive and exit the park to venture into the George Washington and Jefferson National Forest and see the hot springs tucked away in the mountains. We pulled off constantly to along the Skyline Drive to make photos until we exited the park. We drove though the valley and back into the mountains parallel to Shenandoah and wandered until we found an abandoned resort that caught our eyes. We pulled off, hid the car, and sprinted into the cover of overgrown hedges. We explored the building for a while until we got our fix and then we headed back into the park, late again. 

Our last day started by packing up our campsite and making our way back north. It was another misty day so we stopped several time to take photos until we started getting hungry. We continued north until we decided to take a break from drive to explore an abandoned school in Pennsylvania. 

And now we wait for our next adventure

More to come

-Kayla 

Trying out my new camera

Continuing the saga of my "broken" camera, I decided to purchase the Sony a7ii while I send my Nikon D750 back to be fixed. During my trip out west my camera's shutter stopped working properly and I also was getting a consistent light leak on all of my images. This was incredibly annoying for multiple reasons, but the biggest being that I haven't even owned the camera for a full year. Before I initially purchasing the Nikon I was debating purchasing the Sony but decided against it because of the mirrors factor... needless to say that I am kicking myself in the ass. 

Below are photos taken on the Sony a7ii with either a nikon 5mm/f1.8, Voigtlaender 25mm/f4, or my old Olympus OM G Zukio 5mm/f1.4

My trip to the Pacific North West and Beyond

Things work out in very odd ways. I had been going through a difficult time beginning mid April and was in desperate need of a pick up. My friends Jesse and Mike casually invited me on their trip to Seattle and I bought a plane ticket that night. I honestly had no idea what I would be getting myself into but I knew it would be an adventure. I remember when the boys picked me up at the airport I asked "so what exactly are the plans" to which they replied that they didn't really have any set plans; just a general list of things to do while on this trip. So they loaded my (huge) suitcase in the rental jeep and we were on our way.

Upon landing in Seattle we spent the evening buying food, notably croissant donuts that I couldn't even finish eating and lunchables, and trying to find a nice place to camp, but not before we got a chance to see the Vance Creek bridge. 

me by  Jesse  on the Vance Creek bridge

me by Jesse on the Vance Creek bridge

That night was my second time setting up the tent I bought at LL Bean 2 days before the trip. Also, I did not anticipate the temperature dropping so much at night so I woke up around 5am very cold and having to pee... but I refused to compromise the little heat I had trapped in my thin fleece sleeping bag. I woke up feeling like I had a hangover; I felt sluggish and my eyes were extremely heavy. But I was excited to spend the day in Olympic National Park. 

We were excited for a hike to some hot springs in Olympic national park, but our excitement wasn't enough to curb the length of the hike we didn't know we'd be doing. We hiked probably about 10 miles uphill until we made the unanimous decision to turn around. We had blisters on our feet and we were simply not prepared for what we had embarked on. But the night was still young so we decided to drive up to Forks Washington for supper and to see what La Push Beach had to offer us.