GARY, IN – While many photographers seek to capture beauty on film, some find that beauty in urban decadence. They take photos of abandoned factories, crumbling buildings and places overrun by neglect and nature.
For 15 years, Jerry Olejniczak has captured the haunting void of places forgotten by time.
“It was all kind of ruined. The roof has fallen into some walls a bit, ”Olejniczak said as he made his way through a church now popular with urban explorers.
Closed for nearly 50 years, the Methodist Church in the town of Gary, Indiana, is now in ruins.
“Some places kind of hide their secrets. Not this church, ”he said.
The benches turned to dust, the stained glass windows shattered, all the aftereffects of the white flight of the early 1960s and 1970s.
“They had moved from Gary and they were just coming home for services. And so, it was only a matter of time before it was finally closed, ”Olejniczak said.
Amid twisted metal, debris and decay, Olejniczak sees her haunting beauty.
“Honestly, that was, I think, the first place I got to where I was just like, ‘Oh, okay. I think I would love to take photography in places like this. ‘”
The trend of urbex photography, short for urban exploration, has become trending in recent years.
“It’s just to document and celebrate the beauty that the place will still have. Even long after they’ve been abandoned.
It’s a weird kind of photography that has been pejoratively referred to as “ruined porn”. This is something Olejniczak opposes.
“‘Ruin porn’, I would say it’s more exploitative and more superficial, whereas I would like to think that what I’m doing is a little classy, like erotica.”
This hobby took him through the Rust Belt. He traveled from Tennessee and Pennsylvania to Colorado in search of forgotten spaces to photograph.
He has just published his first book.
“It definitely takes a Gothic sensibility to appreciate this,” Olejniczak said. “But if you think so, then, yeah, I mean, how can you be, how can you stay here and not think it’s beautiful?” “
Exploring these sites can be dangerous or even illegal. While trying to avoid intrusions, Olejniczak recommends shooting with a partner.
“I had grazes and bruises,” he says. “But no, nothing like serious.”
But there is one element that is decidedly absent from his images. There are no humans in his photographs.
“It’s on purpose because,” he said. “I’m not here to appear in selfies and I’m not here to organize a photoshoot. I try to make you feel when you look at my picture, what I felt when I was here.
These feelings, he said, were especially extraordinary during a visit to the ghost town of Pripyat, near the site of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in Ukraine.
“Three days after the explosion, they evacuated in three hours,” Olejniczak said. “The opportunity to see a city of this size that has just been left in the blink of an eye is unlike anything I have ever seen.”
The invisible stories left by decadence and abandonment, he says, are what draws him to these places.
“I want a nice intersection of past lives and current drama,” Olejniczak said.
Both are things you won’t find in short supply in her evocative images.