People Photography

Richard Berenholtz Photos

Posted by Paige Bluhdorn

“Beauty of Decay”

I work with what I find in the world, the world that exists for me, and the one I have access to. I seek out and choose locations that I feel have the possibility of yielding the type of images that I’m looking for. Once I arrive at these locations, the reality is almost always different than what I imagined it would be, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse, but always a surprise.

As opposed to the painter or sculptor who has pre-conceived ideas and thoughts, and who starts with a blank canvas or cube of stone, and creates something from nothing in the studio, I work with and take what I see in the real world, envision a rectangular frame around it, and do my best to capture that image in the camera. But very often I am not able to convey within that frame what I see in real life, as the reality, in that place, in that moment, can almost never be replicated or competed with.

I love coming across the unexpected, it may be the most rewarding part of what I’m now doing. I almost didn’t descend the stairs to that cellar, as it just looked very dark and potentially dangerous at the bottom, and I couldn’t imagine that there was much of interest down there. But I was there, and the dozen plus steps were a very short journey, and one that I was glad I made. It taught me a valuable lesson about the danger of making assumptions, of not finding out for myself, not only in my photography, but in life.

While photographing the interior of an abandoned power plant last week, the silence and solitude were broken only by the sound of dripping water, sometimes finding me or the camera, and the occasional falling of some unknown object, small or larger, hitting the ground or clanging against something else during it’s decent, but thankfully not me. I became aware, as I often do on these shoots, that time and gravity are the enemies of these abandoned and decaying structures, and that what has been made by man is now in the inevitable process of its eventual return to nature, and to the earth.

I think about the time, 20, 50, 100 years ago, when this building was vibrant and alive, occupied by people who were creating and forming objects, or helping to make the power used to make the lives of other people, in other buildings, easier and more efficient. Maybe those objects are not falling on their own, but are a message, a reminder from those who used to work here, but whose physical bodies have also returned to the earth, that their spirits are still there, happy to see me documenting their workplace. The ghosts of residents and workers past…

I love taking people visually to places where they could not go on their own, places they didn’t know existed, and showing them things that they can only experience through my eyes.

Sad and often dangerous, but with a simultaneously quiet beauty.

I love the old decaying architecture and objects, with the textures, patterns, and patina caused by that decay, a constant and consistent reminder of their impermanence.

While I’m photographing, my concentration on finding and capturing the image, as well as the extreme caution necessary to prevent myself from being injured, seem to block out any and all thoughts of the outside world.

Ironically, the danger is usually accompanied by a silent and peaceful calm and serenity. My biggest fear is not the building itself, but the possibility of encountering a person or animal who is not pleased to have me for company, or be sharing their space.

Although the original functions of these structures varies, one thing that they all have in common is that I enter them at my own peril.

Although many of the locations I’ve photographed have been visited before, as evidenced by the often overwhelming presence of graffiti, few if any people seem to go there any more. They have become graveyards for what was once alive and active.

As I embarked on photographing my first few locations, one of my concerns became the possibility of encountering other forms of life in these abandoned places, mostly in the form of critters… rats, mice, birds, cockroaches, bees, wasps, and maybe other larger and potentially rabid animals. But ironically and surprisingly, I have experienced no such creatures. Maybe it’s because there has been no food source there for so long. So these structures have been abandoned, not only by humans, but by everything but the plants that will in time take over until nothing built by man remains. In a way, it gives these places a prehistoric feeling, bringing them back to a time before…

These are also the types of places where you might expect to find the homeless, as they do indeed provide some shelter from the elements. But although there is occasionally some evidence of prior habitation, those poor souls seem to have also moved on.

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Photo credit: Steven Boss

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