Abandoned Sites: Remember, Ugly Can Be Beautiful Too

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I love the dirty, broken down and forgotten.  I’m not exactly sure why I adore finding beauty in things that are left behind, but I think it has something to do with the fact that it ignites my imagination.  I start to daydream about why it was abandoned, what the circumstances were, and who was involved.  I create stories in my mind about what was the fateful turning point for the property – a slow degradation process or a disaster that made someone leave the space behind quickly?

Abandoned sites are one of my favorite things to photograph. Below are a collection of some of the ugly, abandoned, destroyed, run-down, and forgotten elements around the world – each complete with a story of why it represents the element for me.


  • Definition:  Represents the hard, solid objects of the earth.  Associated with stubbornness, collectiveness , physicality and gravity.

abandoned whaling village antarctica

An abandoned whaling station on Deception Island Antarctica fills with snow over the decades. To me Antarctica represents the earth element because in order to survive there as a human or animal you had to have a hardness and stubbornness more so than any other place in the world.   It is the last piece of earth that is really uninhabited where humans are not in charge – the earth itself and elements are the real ones in charge in this icy landscape.

All that remains of the whaling station at Whalers Bay in Deception Island are some rusted out buildings, and whale skeletons. It’s strange to walk around the buildings and imagine what the area was like in it’s height of operation. Big boiling vats have since sunken into the ground, machinery has rusted, buildings are buckling, and a ‘memorial’ cemetery was erected to honor the cemetery that was destroyed in a 1969 volcanic eruption.


  • Definition:  Represents the energetic, forceful, moving things in the world.  Associated with security, motivation, desire, intention, and an outgoing spirit.

Abandoned office in Berlin

An abandoned office in a old meat factory in Berlin brings me strong feelings of fire.  Not only did the whole abandoned building smell of smoke from the old smoking ovens in the factory, this office in particular reminded me of fire.  I remember gasping as I turned the corner and peering into the office.  After pursuing my corporate career for years, an office to me represents security, motivation, and desire.  This Berlin office in particular reminded me of all of the intense energy I mustered up to leave my security behind and start moving around the world.  It was an emotional explosion at the time.  When I left – this was my picture of what was going to happen to my career – I was abandoning it in a smoldering mess – all to follow this new force and desire in my life – travel.

Situated in old East Berlin, the Alte Fleischfabrik (Old Meat Factory) was owned by the Konsumgenossenschaft (KGB), a consumer association, and was established in 1899. The KGB office buildings, meat factory, bakery, and power plant were built in 1909. These hearty brick buildings survived two world wars, but it appears that after the wall fell, so did the KGB. The buildings were abandoned, sold to private investors, and today remnants and odors of the old KGB business remains as if it were hit by a nuclear war.


  • Definition:  Represents the fluid, flowing, formless things in the world.  Associated with emotion, defensiveness, adaptability, flexibility, suppleness, and magnetism.

Bay of Fundy dock

This dock in New Brunswick Canada appears abandoned approximately twice a day thanks to the force of the Bay of Fundy and it’s massively changing tides.  I drove by this dock at low tide and fishing and row boats appeared abandoned resting on the bottom of the bay.  I don’t think anything is more fluid than the Bay of Fundy which has the highest tidal changes in the world of 50 feet or more.  A whole fishing industry and Atlantic Maritime culture has to be flexible and adaptable in order to deal with the fluidity of the Bay of Fundy tides.

The Bay of Fundy tides are a unique and destination worthy phenomenon – it’s claim to fame is having the highest tidal range in the world. The tides in this bay which lies between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick rise and fall upwards of 53 feet a day. Think about it – that’s equal to a 5-story building – a lot of water change in a matter of 6+ hours.


  • Definition:  Represents things that grow, expand, and enjoy freedom of movement.  Associated with will, elusiveness, evasiveness, benevolence, compassion, and wisdom.

Destroyed abandoned school piger nebraska tornado

This is what remains of my parent’s old high school in the tiny town of Pilger Nebraska.  It was destroyed this summer by the greatest most powerful air of all – a tornado.  As I walked around this town that had been destroyed by twin tornadoes I felt like I had been punched in the stomach and all of the air forced out of me.  Tornadoes are the ultimate freedom in movement, it’s air all compacted into one powerful funnel of destruction.

Yet once it blew through Pilger, it created something else – a community with a forceful will to survive, cleanup, and rebuild.  I watched from afar as the world came to the Pilger’s rescue with compassion and benevolence providing supplies, volunteers, and hope to those whose lives had been blown away by air.

A wide swath of nothingness threw my brain into a confused state. It was familiar, but it wasn’t. It felt real, or was it a dream? There were no trees, no homes, no cars, no electrical poles, no life – except for a few corn stalks. We stopped the car at where my aunt’s brick home used to stand. Nothing. I looked around – nothing. It was like a airport runway as I turned and looked clear through to the Main St. area which used to be hidden by houses and trees. All of the debris had been cleared away and put in large piles on the corner of town, but I could only imagine what it looked like right after the twin tornadoes rumbled through town.

And remember – ugly can be beautiful too!

What’s your favorite element?  Share it in the comments below!

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