About the Author: Ever the dreamer and explorer, Leann Cotton enjoys the adventure of discovery, the company of fellow explorers and the beautiful architecture of many cities, with Detroit holding a special place in her heart with its vibrant resilience and fierce determination as it rises again, much like the phoenix.

Future trips (should the opportunity arise) include exploring Pripyat, Ukraine, and the adventure that is Burning Man, held annually in Black Rock, Nevada. One can always dream.

To see more from Leann, follow her on 500px, or go say hi on Twitter.


Every building has a story.

The allure of an abandoned building beckons: to the photographer, capturing a moment in time that changes with the seasons; to the scrapper, the irresistible potential of an illicit windfall in scrap metal; and to the artist, a canvas begging for a new life as a piece of street art. Vibrant graffiti and wheat paste art intermix readily with decay and despair, all beautiful in their own right.

As a photographer, exploring an abandoned building brings forth a mix of feelings: from the cautious excitement of discovery to fear of the unknown lurking around the next corner, often dark and devoid of light.

Hazards abound, from missing floor grates to holes piercing through the layers into distant basements. Elevator doors, missing or pried open, create eerie wind tunnels through which sound carries. Ascending and descending down staircases devoid of their metal railings, often in pitch-blackness, creates tension… you’re well aware of what a misstep will cost you.

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In the winter, ice creates a glasslike element in your pictures; in summer, oppressive heat and humidity create an environment like no other—cold, dampness, and that “old yellow smell” Stephen King so graphically wrote of in those late-night reads I once devoured.

Your best friends are your flashlight, tripod, and urbex companions. The endless banging of scrappers, removing any salvageable metals they can, echoes throughout the building. To the photographer, the progression of a scrappers work changes the building with every visit. Sometimes there is only silence, or the lowered voices of fellow explorers as they make their own discoveries nearby. At the worst, bullet-strewn elevator doors and an ever-present silent man, axe handle in hand, circling the same floor you quickly work to photograph, never speaking but threatening in his demeanour:


The boogeyman does indeed exist in an abandoned building at times. But with the dangers inherent comes the reward of a willing subject allowing you to tell its story, often over a series of visits.

Many buildings tell their story, openly and without shame, in the masses of records and furnishings left behind. Schools, wide open to the elements disgorge their troves of school attendance records, books, and lessons, while a hospital remains stocked with medical equipment, and, disturbingly, patient records.


Long-abandoned factories hoard old records and remnants of the last shift that passed within their walls, with scrawled pleas for work and personal items left at the ready in locker rooms, never to see their owners again. Who were these people and what has become of them?

You think of these things as you explore. Even churches aren’t immune to decay and desolation, once decommissioned, they find new life as an artists canvas, a photographers muse, a scrappers mealticket.