Exploration and discovery have both been the keys to my artistic endeavors the past few days. I had heard rumor of a potential photography location somewhere in downtown Jackson not far from the Iron Horse Grill, and I decided to go investigate the area to see if I could find this abandoned site. I knew from prior times driving around the area there was a printing company nearby and an adjacent building nearby with a hole in the wall. While I had never thought about examining the hole up close before, I determined from the tip I was give this might be the exterior of the placed which had been described to me. After created some decent lightpaintings in a few locations I had previously done work in before, I decided to investigate this specific area to see if what I had been told was true.
In a few minutes time I made my way from one section of downtown to another, and found myself parked outside the building which had the hole in its side. Once I had parked my car and walked closer to the building, I was able to get a much better sense as to its large scale. This structure was nearly double the size of the factory in West Jackson which I had used as my go-to source for lightpainting for many months! There was no doubt in my mind this is the place my lead had told me about. Cautiously, I set foot into the spacious, abandoned structure while walking calmly underneath its still hanging, dark green awnings. I took a few deep breaths in order to focus my senses, and maintain composure then I ignited my flashlight and began to take in my surroundings.
A few feet away from the entrance stood a set of wooden stairs leading to the upper level floor. The stairs, though having been exposed to the elements, seemed to be very sturdy, and the wood was still in great condition. The only real source of damage could be said to be all the garbage littering the steps. As a matter of fact, the entire area seemed to have clusters of litter scattered about, thought not so as to where I could not walk without stepping on any debris. It seemed to be a fairly safe area for navigation as far as walking around.
I decided it best to examine the ground floor in detail before I made it to the upper level, and I eschewed initially exploring the staircase in lieu of heading to the large, open area which lay in front of me. Part of the reason I wanted to check this section out was because the light of the full moon had this opening fairy well lit. I walked forward into the moonlight until I reached the other side of the building, then took in a view of the surroundings. The area appeared to not had had any roofing covering it prior to its demise. This led me to believe the area must have once served as a loading area or courtyard. The concrete slabs covering the almost 8000 sq. ft. area had sparse sprinklings of soda cans, potato chip bags, and other kinds of food waste containers strewn about.
Upon getting a sense of my surroundings, I turned back toward my original entrance and from the open area I was able to examine the upper floor from the ground. The upper floor was reinforced by very large iron columns covered in tattered blue tarps. It was clearly evident this location at least had temporary occupants, which is why I was even more happy I was covered from head to toe in solid black attire in order to more easily blend in with the darkness of the night.
At this point, I felt comfortable enough in the area to setup my camera and tripod to do some long exposures. I placed the tripod in the back corner of the open area in order to get a full view of the mount of space this place occupied as well as the full scale in height of the upper floor. Once I had the camera ready, I walked toward the dangling, ripped tarps then pressed the trigger on my remote control app. We were shooting! I decided to create this lightpainting in a very basic manner, but in a way which would help me examine the area and become more familiar with some of its key features.
Going into this idea, I ignited the flashlight once again and began tracing over prominent objects in light, so when my exposure was complete the camera would have a clear amount of details highlighted by my movements. I chose to illuminate objects I found to be the most interesting. First, I began tracing over the various pieces of blue tarp dangling overhead. As I was doing so a cool breeze swept between the iron columns, and began to rock them ever so gently. It was quite refreshing as all my excitement had left me feeling quite hot with sweat, combined also with the still 90 degree heat index of Mississippi summer nighttime humidity.
After I had traced the tarps I moved on to the iron columns themselves, and began shining my light from the ground at their base, all the way to the roof overhead where they connected to what remained of the roof. The columns had to be at least 25-30 feet tall. For a building this size within the city of Jackson it puts it on a much taller plane than many of its still in-use counterparts, though I could see why I previously never noticed this particular structure. Its proximity to some of the tallest buildings in the downtown area, as well as being close to the railroad tracks, an area know for having a high rate of crime, left it off my radar until I acquired my lead on this location.
These realizations crossed my mind as I moved from column to column. I worked my light up and down until I had finished all the vertical columns before moving on to the horizontal bars propping up the 2nd floor. For extra detail, I flashed a few patches of garbage on the concrete and there, ended my exposure. I gathered my lightpainting materials then headed toward the camera which was still in the mode of processing.
While the camera was working on the previous exposure, I made my way back to the staircase to explore the dark room to its right. As I walked closer, a sudden flash of light left me frozen. My body was paralyzed and all I could do was let out a surprised, startled yelp. I had no idea who it was I had encountered, nor what was the nature of them being at this location. The light beam stayed fixated on me for a good second before I regained my composure and calmly stated,"I am an explorer" in order to break the silence and assert I meant no direct harm. Shortly after I heard a low voice mutter something along the lines of, "mKay," then I watched as the person with the flashlight went into the room on the right I had wanted to investigate next.
It was at this point I made myself appearing to be preoccupied on something else in the general vicinity, though my true intentions were to keep a close eye on my unexpected company. Even though he seemed to suggest he meant no harm himself, I had no way of knowing for sure exactly who I was dealing with, nor what their exact intentions were for being present here at such a late hour. On the far end of the dark room I found another open entrance leading inside. I took a stealthy approach from this position. I pressed my back firmly against the brick lining the outside of the doorway, then turned my head around the corner to see what the man was doing. I watched him as he aggressively shone his flashlight on some of the objects lying on the floor as if he were looking for something, though I could not determine whether he was in search of a specific object, or trying to uncover something with general value. I deduced neither of us would put the other's well-being in jeopardy, though out of respect, and because I did not want any outside light interference, I waited for him to leave before I set up shop for lightpainting.
After waiting a few minutes the man was gone, and I ignited my flashlight again. The light shone in the chamber and I took note of my surroundings. The room itself was long and dark, and though having bullet holes in some of the glass windows it had its own sense of charm. The walls were made of brick, and a few sections covered in plaster had the material peeling off in unique worm-like patterns. The way in which these lines were arranged made me think of what the first Europeans to explore Egypt thought when they first came across hieroglyphics. This alien language written by the passage of time and decay was yet another mystery this sanctum presented before me.
Resetting my focus from the walls to the floor, I noticed how much less cutter there was in this room compared to the rest of the building I had already explored. Most of the debris seemed to be condensed around the central column cutting through the middle of the room. I began walking toward this spot, and as I drew closer I noticed a lone sleeping bag in the middle of all the clutter. Someone had been staying in this room at one point, and whether it had belonged to the man with the flashlight or someone else I did not dwell on these thoughts at this time. This moment was reserved for creating art.
A minute later my camera and tripod were set and aimed directly at the streaks marking the plastered walls. I began thinking about the context of this space, what kind of lightpainting I would create, and what these objects made me think of in my imagination. In viewing the streaks as having been some form of writing I determined mixing in light graffiti would add a fitting aesthetic to the overall scenery. Earlier that night, I had practiced making light graffiti inside an old, fallen-in house and it was there I practiced writing the word, "FATE" in a way that heavily stylized urban spray graffiti. I felt this word had an appropriate meaning for this place. What is the story behind this location? What led to its decline? Who used it, and for what purpose? Who has been here before? "FATE" would be the perfect match.
Once again I switched on my remote shutter app, and the camera was rolling. For this lightpainting I used my Lenser tactical flashlight as I wanted to incorporate a dual color contrast with my light. With a flick of the wrist I tuned my Lenser to fire of a wide beam of red light to illuminate the plaster backdrop to give the scene a very intense feel. Once I illuminated the background I stepped in front of the camera and began firing off my light graffiti with white light beams shining directly into the camera lens' field of view. I moved the light with quick and flowing brush strokes to spell out "FATE" before adding one final layer of detail; a strobed face with "x's" for eyes and a grimaced smile to finish out the light graffiti. A quick slide across my phone screen to switch off my A7rii camera and that was all she wrote. The end result hit exactly the vibes I wanted.
With having finished this shot, I determined I had gathered a good enough haul for the night, along with my photos from shooting before I arrived here, to call it a night. On the way home I began piecing together my initial observations of the place I had just explored, and felt a strong desire to continue my search for the questions I still had remaining about this place. What further secrets does this lair and its catacombs have in store for me during my next visit? Would I encounter yet another person during my visits? What should my ultimate photography goal be in using this location? All these thoughts lingered in my mind, as I fell into a deep sleep.
My next visit the sanctum would be in the late afternoon so I could better observe the area and possibly uncover more clues as to its origin. I would stay until darkness, so afterward I could lightpaint, only this time the location would be lightpainted....with fire....
To learn about my 2nd experience within the Sanctum & my fire art made during that adventure click here for Part II.