Photography of Abandoned Places in New Orleans

09:00 July 07, 2022
By: Emily Hingle

Abandoned Places of New Orleans in Pictures

"[New Orleans is] traditionally the city that care forgot," according to the New Orleans City Guide produced by the Federal Writers' Project in 1938.

It doesn't take long for one to come across an empty property that has fallen into disrepair despite the booming real estate market of the last few years. Our abandoned buildings are deemed ugly, dangerous, and even embarrassing—a blatant reminder that we don't always take great care of our city and our people. These shelters were once teeming with life and bustling with activity, and now they sit quietly decaying as different forms of life move in.

[Russ Gorbaty]

However, some find those deteriorating buildings of bygone eras to be things of wonder, beauty, and awe. Russ Gorbarty (@sweeterdo), a prolific abandoned building photographer, thrives on the thrill of entering forbidden places to capture this moment in its history. "The decay that's going on, to me, it's really pretty looking like that. In some cases, I think it's prettier than when a building has no decay. I do like documenting the place as it is because the photos cement that this was my time in history that I saw it. Not too many people get to see stuff like that with their own eyes," he explained.

Russ began his adventurous photography hobby soon after meeting a man who took photos at the abandoned Six Flags park in New Orleans East which he enjoyed going to when it was in service. Soon, he ventured into other forbidden buildings including factories, jails, asylums, and hospitals. "Charity Hospital was pretty wild. The place is massive; it's all dark, and they have these big fans on in there. They have these really cool autopsy theaters. They would have a patient in the bottom that they were cutting up and carving, and everybody was in the auditorium, just looking down. All this money is spent on these places, then they just get left behind. Most people see it from the outside, and they think it's an eyesore. They really don't understand what's inside—how beautiful it is and, really, how much of a waste that building is going to."

Photos from Above New Orleans

Russ will even brave extreme heights climbing up to the roofs of towers to get his stunning photos, but he admitted that the photos he snaps are only one reason for risking his life. He continued, "One of my biggest fears in life is heights. At first, I was really scared, but I would do it just to do it. I wanted to get the photos because it's a really cool perspective. But then it started becoming an adrenaline high thing, where it made my heart pound when I was up there right on the edge. It was a fear I wanted to overcome. I like to push through it, and after I get back down to the ground, it always makes me feel a lot better about myself. It makes me feel like I can do whatever I put my mind to do."

Real danger is always a possibility in buildings that have not been maintained and are not allowed to be trespassed, and those barriers of access are what make his photos unique. "I don't believe in ghosts. I've never had any weird experience as far as that. Mainly I'm worried about where I am stepping. Am I going to fall through this floor? Are the police going to come? There have been floors that have crumbled under my feet. There's been times where stuff falls down, and I'm lucky enough not to be under it. A lot of these places have mold and some of them have asbestos that has been abated."

"I know what I do is illegal, but at the same time, I feel that if nobody does this, and these buildings just go to waste, nobody would even know that these places were even there. I think it's really cool that I can show the world these things that people are just walking right by every day, and you have no idea that it's there," he stated.


New Orleans Street Photography

For other photographers, the intrigue of abandoned buildings is sensing all of the life that was once there. Singh (@nolafinephotography) specializes in street photography featuring revelers and characters around downtown New Orleans, but he has also occasionally been drawn into exploring abandoned or discarded buildings. "Once I started doing street photography, I realized there's a New Orleans that you see in the morning, and there's another New Orleans which comes on after dark; then another in the really wee hours after midnight in the same streets. You see the change in the culture-scape. I wanted to start capturing that."

While shooting street photography, Singh met graffiti artist Az, who brought him to artist BMike's massive graffiti mural project Exhibit Be, under the cover of night. The emotional weight of an empty apartment complex abandoned after Hurricane Katrina touched Singh deeply. "What was haunting about that place was some people's stuff was still lying there since Katrina like toys and clothes," he said. "Once you go into an abandoned building, the environment gets to you. You start imagining what must have happened when they had to leave suddenly. They never knew when they were leaving that they would ever come back. You can feel the gravitas of the moment. You can feel their souls. You can feel it there—you're just trying to capture it now without their physical body being there."

The essence of humanity, and everything that essence entails, is what Singh brings to the forefront of his distinctive photography. "I feel that you have to capture their essence. A lot of street portraits I do, I spend 10, 20, 30 minutes talking to the person sometimes to really get their guard down, so I can capture their soul. That's why I do black-and-white photography; you are just focusing on the contrast so that the soul of the image comes through. What I experience at that time, I want to capture that in my photography and convey it to whoever is looking at that picture. That's my
sole purpose."

[Russ Gorbaty]

No Trespassing

Exposing reality and leaving no trace of your own are cardinal rules of traversing abandoned places. Russ Gorbaty explained, "If you go into a place, you take some pictures and leave, and you don't damage anything, you don't take anything. No one's even going to know that you were there. But if you go and you take some stuff, and the person who owns the building notices it, then they're going to lock it down even harder. It's messed up to take stuff in the first place. It's not yours. You shouldn't be touching it. It's somebody's property somewhere down the line."

While it isn't advisable to trespass in empty buildings, particularly in places and areas where you can become injured or arrested, those who take those risks in order to document them in their current state aren't trying to cause harm. "I don't do it to be a criminal. I don't have a bad intention. I don't do anything immoral," Russ concluded. "I'm just taking pictures."

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