Photos & Projects

Trespassing with a Hasselblad H2 – By Brian Cox

May 31, 2022

I’ve lived in a small town in central North Carolina my entire life and driven by this house hundreds of times without ever noticing it. It sits along the edge of a forest on a two lane stretch of road in a blind corner. Unless you happen to know someone who lives on along the road there aren’t any “destinations” to be had. Just a road you would travel to get where you are going.

I vaguely remember noticing this house for the first time with its asphalt “roll on” bricks and white shutters. As I always do when I see something interesting, I took mental note of its location in hopes of coming back with a camera.

That time came when I heard the words “Daddy lets go take pictures”. My seven-year-old son doesn’t really enjoy taking pictures, but he does love exploring the places I photograph. This usually involves visiting abandoned cars, houses, barns, bridges and sometimes smaller personal items. Things that have been left behind and handed over to the passage of time and mother nature.

It was a Sunday evening around dinner time, so this became a family outing. I am extremely grateful my family not only accepts my weird hobby but actively participates in helping me slip onto private property. Rule number one of trespassing without getting caught is never park your car on the property. It will lead to immediate suspicion of anyone within eyesight who may call the “authorities” or even confront you themselves.

So off we went. My wife as the getaway driver. She usually lets me out somewhere close to the location and I walk in. She will then drive away leaving me behind and park somewhere within walking distance but far enough to not raise suspicion. Unfortunately, my seven-year-old had to sit this one out. This house is on a very busy road and just wasn’t safe for him. He was none to happy about being denied the opportunity to come.

This became one of the most ominous places I’ve ever photographed. This was also one of my first real attempts at using my newest camera. I gifted myself a Hasselblad H2 with a phase one P30+ digital back and 80mm F2.8 lens for my forty second birthday. This back has a slight crop factor so my rough conversion for this lens would be 60mm on a 35mm camera. Slightly longer than normal. I typically shoot 28mm. I didn’t choose this lens it was a “package deal”. For my subject matter a 60mm lens will often put me in the middle of the street to get what I want in the frame. This was no exception. I wanted a picture of the exterior. I had to walk across the street to get the entire house in frame. Once across the street I look to my left and there is a memorial to someone who met their fate on that blind corner. A simple wooden cross with a motorcycle helmet hung on it and photographs of the unfortunate rider sealed in plastic Ziplock bags.

I got the shot I wanted and walked back across the street to get closer and possibly go into the house. I begin by getting some pictures a little closer to the front door. Everything looked to be sealed up tight and I didn’t want to be seen breaking in. So I take a right and walk around to the back in hopes of a way in. No luck this house was built without a back door. I thought to myself “who builds a house with no backdoor”. I keep walking around to the other side of the house thinking maybe there will be a side door. I was in luck as it turns out the entire side of the house was eerily peeled away.  In moments like these I sometimes get tunnel vision and my situational awareness isn’t at its best.

At this point I’m just taking it all in.  Looking at this place someone left behind long ago. The interior now partially exposed to the weather. It was quite the scene and for a moment I was zoned out for lack of a better term. My thoughts were interrupted by a very loud and strange sound. Like be startled awake during a pleasant dream. It was one of those moments when you are trying to figure out what just happened. It was the sound if a very large bird taking flight from inside the house and coming within feet of my head. He landed on the branch of a nearby tree. I looked up at the bird. The bird looked down at me. I was close enough to see it examining me in a reptile like fashion. Moving its head from side to side making sure to examine me with each eye, but only one eye at a time.  It was a buzzard. The buzzard was not happy with me and proceeded to flap its wings very aggressively and scream crow like sounds at me. 

I can be very stubborn. I suppose many people might have taken this a sign to leave, but not me. I was on a mission. There is a powerful phrase in the southern United States that can be used to deter many things.This was the time to use it. I looked at the bird clapped my hands as loud as possible and said the magic words “GO ON GIT”. It worked and buzzard flew to a tree father away. Far enough away that I felt comfortable to continue taking pictures looking into the house, but still not inside.

I made my way in. I was not the first visitor here. There were people braver than me who spent what looks to be many hours spray painting the walls with words and pretty pictures. I took comfort in the thought that I’m not alone in finding peace in in run down abandoned structures.

 

My peace was short lived. I made my way through this house struggling even more with this long lens getting interior shots. I began hearing a very faint buzzing sound. In the south hornets and wasp nests are common in these types of places. I told myself that’s probably what I was hearing.  I kept looking around taking pictures and all the while the sound was getting louder and louder. It became apparent it wasn’t a buzz at all but a struggled breathing. A chest rattle if you will.

It was coming from the farthest bedroom which was also the darkest. Because it was dark and I didn’t have a tripod I hadn’t bothered exploring that room prior. I already had the Phase One back set to ISO 800 which is at the very limit of its low light abilities. Curiosity trumped fear so I decided to investigate. As I approached the doorway the breathing became louder and more aggressive. Many thoughts and fears were going through my mind.

Again, it was very dark. I made out the backside of a very large leather sofa and not much else. The breathing is now getting even louder. In the farthest corner I begin to make something out. Streaks of black and white. It was a skunk. In that moment of discovery I was also very relieved to not have found an injured person or larger animal.

Time to go.

I supposed you can imagine what a forty-two-year-old man running from a skunk in an abandoned house might look like. It’s not often that I have a reason to run nowadays, but this was the time. I wasn’t going to do a walk of shame back to my family after being freshly sprayed by a skunk. I don’t really know if that skunk was hot on my heels, but it sure felt like it. I made it to the edge of the house where I had made my way in. I decided I was going to jump off the edge of the exposed side of the house down to the ground.

Its been a while since I have done any leaping. I was planning in my mind as I approached. Place my left foot on the very edge and step down onto the ground with my right foot. I put too much weight on my foot as I stepped on the edge. Through the floor I went.  It was one of those slow-motion blunders. I felt and heard the rotten floor give way. My first thought was to protect the camera. I raised the camera up to eye level hoping I wouldn’t fall all the way through. The fall ended with me straddling a floor joist. In that moment I forgot all about the skunk and looked to see if anyone was around to witness what just happened. Not a person in sight but the Buzzard was back.

He seemed to be making light of my misfortune. Crowing and flapping from the same branch he originally landed on. At that point adrenaline took over. The wood might have been rotten, but the rusty nails stood the test of time much better. I somehow managed to miss most of them. I pulled myself out and then carefully rolled myself over the edge of the house and put my feet on the ground. I looked back at the house. The skunk hadn’t decided to follow me.

I told the buzzard to fuck off and I walked back to the car to my awaiting family. My seven-year-old who was still bitter about not being able to join me. He looked at me sternly and said, “Daddy you’re a trespasser”. I replied, “Yeah its true son I am trespasser”. Off we went to get our Sunday evening dinner of Pizza and Wings.

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7 Comments

  • Reply
    Safiyyah
    May 31, 2022 at 3:16 pm

    “ My first thought was to protect the camera. “ lol same happened to me when I fell down the stairs of an old mosque courtyard in Istanbul Turkey!

  • Reply
    Jay Dann Walker in Melbourne Australia
    June 1, 2022 at 1:59 am

    We have all that this experience. I had an encounter with a skunk when I was nine or ten, in New Brunswick (the Canadian province, not the city in New Jersey) and came out of it the worse for wear. They are cute little critters, but lethal, oh wow!!

    Tomato juice and a good scrub in our family bathtub did the trick. I still remember the experience. Smelly…

    I thoroughly enjoyed your narrative and the images. We have all driven or rather, in my childhood years, walked or cycled) past old, abandoned houses and wondered what was inside.

    Me, in 1959 when I was 11, there was an old mansion, dating to the 1870s, at the end of our street. During the Easter school break, a friend and I decided to be brave and went in. Everything was till as the last owners had left it, many decades past – plates and glasses on the kitchen shelves, pictures and tapestries on the walls, even blankets, pillows and sheets on the beds. The house was huge and had a turret, on the top floor of which the original owner (a newspaper publisher-editor in his time) had his library. There were still hundreds of books and magazines on those shelves including a large collection of London Illustrated News tabloids from the 1880s and 1890s. We spent a few hours leafing through those and had a great time. Eventually the time came for us to go home and we sneaked out, the back way via the old kitchen.

    A few years later the old place was bulldozed. Also the publisher’s brother’s smaller house next door – he was unmarried and the town’s studio photographer in his day and was still living but very old, in a nursing home so he hadn’t lived in his house for a long time. One or two years later that house got knocked down with its entire contents, including I think his original darkroom and maybe even his cameras. the larger house lasted maybe a year longer but eventually it too went.

    I didn’t get into photography until 1961. To this day I wish I had been brave enough to go into the smaller house to look for that darkroom.

    Yes, I still explore old houses when I find them. With my camera. But the times have changed, and trespassing is now regarded as a major offence. People aren’t as friendly and accommodating as they were back in the ’50s. So I’m careful where I go – and what I photograph.

    As the old song goes, “thanks for the memories”…

    From Dann in Melbourne

    • Reply
      Brian Cox
      June 2, 2022 at 7:39 pm

      Yes I too became fascinated with abandoned places as a child way before I was into photography. I discovered an abandoned water treatment facility in the woods near my house. I would ride my bike there hop the fence and “explore”. The workers would keep a log of daily activities. They would record the weather the quality of the water with readings I didn’t understand . For whatever reason it was fascinating to go through and read the happenings of the plant that had taken place many years prior.

  • Reply
    Kodachromeguy
    June 1, 2022 at 3:21 pm

    Skunk…yum. Rural USA has a lot of abandoned houses and stores like this. The family left, the woods take over, and nature moves in. Here in Mississippi, the property is often foreclosed by the town or country for non-payment of taxes, but that solves nothing. Great photographs of the subtle hues and tones of faded paint.

    NC is full of interesting rural topics to photograph:

    https://worldofdecay.blogspot.com/2022/04/the-colonial-heritage-byway-north.html

    • Reply
      Kodachromeguy
      October 20, 2022 at 8:04 am

      I forgot to mention that I really like the two photographs of the crumbling chairs. Well done. Interesting story.

  • Reply
    dkiechle
    June 6, 2022 at 9:10 am

    This was and amazingly good read, very engagingly written with great pictures to boot. Your story resonated with me on many levels: outings many years ago with my older son, a Hasselblad 500C, a light meter… but also North Carolina, more recently my home for six to eight months out of the year. One day, I have to compile a list of how many foreign places I’ve gotten friendly Tar Heels comments when walking around with my Carolina shirt… Anyway, an excellent post, thank you for sharing it. I look forward to more of your contributions.

  • Reply
    Bojangles
    August 15, 2022 at 3:25 am

    What a lovely piece of writing. Like reading a murakami short story.

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