About Opacity

You've probably seen this kind of place before on your way to work or school: a derelict building sulking on top of a hill behind a fence, an overgrown passage behind a no trespassing sign, or a curious passage beneath some massive concrete and steel infrastructure. Perhaps you've wondered, what's back there? Why can't I see it?

This is what ran through my head when I stumbled upon a massive abandoned psychiatric hospital in New York. My curiosity overshadowed all my logical concerns, such as the repercussions of getting arrested for trespassing and fears of getting hurt. I've never really seen a psychiatric hospital before, much less been inside one, and I needed to know what it was all about - why this massive edifice was left to rot, and more importantly, what these interior spaces were like. What happens to these rooms, left neglected for decades? Are there remnants of who was living or working in these spaces? What kinds of stories could be told, or left unfinished and shrouded in mystery and speculation?

Photo of exploring an abandoned psychiatric hospital

The simple fact that I wasn't "allowed" to be in these disused areas made it all the more interesting, so I started sneaking into closed hospitals, power plants, military sites, and similar kinds of places. Inside these negative spaces, I found remnants of a real-life history, curious objects, personal stories, and unsolved mysteries amid amazing scenes of decay.

"Opacity" is the transparency of something; either physically, or its obscurity in meaning. Opacity.us has been created to answer - and ask - questions about these abandoned sites. Researching the history of a place, combined with the memories shared by people who worked and lived there, can often shed light on an intended purpose of the structure, what happened there, and why it closed. The photographs are the portal inside; sometimes prompting more questions rather than answering them. This mixture of fascinating history and endless curiosity inside a beautiful world of decay is the essence of my work displayed here.

Urban Exploration

Once a building no longer serves its original intended purpose, and all of its previous functionality ceases to exist, it becomes truly fascinating. Each room is transforming into something new at its own rate, yielding to water, ice, wind and gravity as they reclaim a manufactured space.

The corrosion and decay paint vibrant colors across otherwise dull surfaces, lit only by natural sunlight spilling into rooms at unaccustomed angles. Each object left behind becomes more significant than it has ever been, hinting at the life prior to disuse. Moldy folders full of psychiatric evaluations hold clinical analyses regarding a patient's drawings in a pitch black, flooded hospital basement. An opaque pair of square-rimmed glasses sits upon a dark control panel in the power plant's control room, left undisturbed since the 1970s. A dusty pile of papers hastily stapled together documents a patient's life at the tuberculosis hospital, from admission, to death, to autopsy, to burial.

Floors collapse and walls cave in without care; if you get hurt, no one is here to help you. This is a lonesome alien world whose dark corners and peeling walls have gotten a hold of me and many others; this affinity for derelict structures, negative spaces, and often dangerous excitement is the core essence of exploring that drives me to photograph these places.

Photo of ruins found during urban exploration

The Website

Opacity.us was started in 2003 as a way for me to share the photographs and experiences I've had in these abandoned places with the world. It has evolved to include brief histories of the places, details of my trips, and visitor comments.

Many of the locations are given pseudonyms for various reasons, mainly:

  • To prevent this web site from becoming a "shopping list" of places for illegal scrapping
  • Honoring the request of an explorer friend, confidant, or property owner
  • Preserving my own legality

That last one is a bit tricky for anyone posting these kinds of "forbidden places" on the internet. It's also one reason why many of the recently posted photos seem a bit outdated on this site - for more information, look up statute of limitations.

This site would not be possible without my closest partners in crime and good friends Nick, Hilary, and Jason (Hours of Darkness), and also the helpfulness and insight provided by Lynne as well as the other moderators of the forum who are generous enough to donate their time and effort. The cost of server maintenance is balanced out by the contributions made by benevolent visitors and regulars, as well as the small advertisements at the bottom of the pages.

I created the website as a custom-built PHP-MySQL site, running off the CodeIgniter MVC platform. It also includes responsive CSS for a mobile-optimized view, dynamic page caching, and the jQuery, Modernizr, lscache, and respond.js libraries for some client-side Javascript functionality.

Here are some statistics, if anyone's interested:

  • 189 locations
  • 252 galleries
  • 8,284 photographs
  • 143,303 comments recorded
  • 114 wallpapers created
  • Online for 11 years
Exploring an abandoned amusement park

The Photographs

All the photographs featured on the main website have been taken by myself (unless otherwise noted), and almost all are from digital cameras; I retouch the brightness, contrast and color balance in post processing. I do not use automated processes such as HDR (high dynamic range), as I feel it removes realism and the natural aesthetic quality of the photograph. I usually spend 2-3 minutes with each individual photo.

The photos on this site have been shot using these products (* signifies retired equipment):

Cameras:

  • Canon EOS 5D Mark II
  • Canon EOS 5D*
  • Canon 300D Rebel*
  • Sony DSC-F707*
  • 1955 Rolleiflex Automat*

Lenses:

  • Sigma 12-24mm F4.5-5.6 EX DG HSM
  • Canon 24-70L F2.8
  • Canon 75-300mm F4.0-5.6*
  • Canon 50mm F1.4
  • Tokina 12-24mm*
  • Tamron 17-35mm*

Tripod:

  • Bogen Manfrotto 190CX with Sirui Ball Head
  • Bogen Manfrotto 3001 Series with Manfrotto Ball Head*
Ruins of car in junkyard at night

Reproduction

I used to be pretty relaxed about reproduction. All I requested was some credit, but unfortunately, many many people were re-posting my photos on their facebook pages without any due credit, by the thousands. I put a lot of effort into these photos, and would like for them to stay on my site. I can only implore readers to respect other people's rights when sharing stuff found on the web. If fact, I ask you to think about sharing less, and instead create your own artwork / writing / thoughts, which will inspire people to do other great things.

With that said, you can definitely share photos using the provided social media buttons, or simply the URL of the page.

The Photographer

My name is Tom Kirsch, a lasting nickname has been "Mr. Motts" as you may have seen in the comments. I am a 34 year old web programmer who lives in Detroit MI and Brooklyn NY. I'm also intensely "internet anti-social" for some reason, sorry about that.

Note: I do NOT actively participate in any "social media" websites, including Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, etc. If you see one, it's most likely something created by someone else.

Photo of Tom Kirsch in abandoned hospital