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, an overgrown path behind a barbed wire fence, or a curious passage beneath some massive concrete and steel infrastructure. Perhaps you've wondered, what's back there? Why am I not permitted to see inside?
This is what ran through my head when I stumbled upon a massive abandoned psychiatric hospital in New York. My curiosity overshadowed all 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 was this massive edifice was left to rot? What happens to these spaces, left neglected for decades? Are there remnants of who was living or working in these rooms? What kinds of stories could be told, or left unfinished and shrouded in secrecy and speculation?
The hospital that won my curiosity, in Kings Park NY. Photo © Tom Kirsch, opacity.us
So many questions, answered only by a NO TRESPASSING sign, which only served as fuel for my curiosity. So, I started sneaking into closed hospitals, power plants, military sites, and similar kinds of places - anything that seemed interesting, left to rot. 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.
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.
Discovering the ruins of a church in a long-abandoned town. Photo © Tom Kirsch, opacity.us
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:
- Honoring the request of an explorer friend, confidant, or property owner
- To a lesser extent, preventing this web site from becoming a "shopping list" of places for illegal scrapping
- 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, read up on statute of limitations.
This site would not be possible without my closest partners in crime and good friends Nick (RIP), Hilary, Jason (Hours of Darkness), Julia, 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.
Here are some statistics, if anyone's interested:
- 229 locations
- 303 galleries
- 9,634 photographs
- 155,981 comments recorded
- 116 wallpapers created
- Online for 14 years
A roller coaster at an abanoned amusement park. Photo © Tom Kirsch, opacity.us
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 (so in total, I've spent about 16.7 full days just editing photos!)
The photos on this site have been shot using these products:
- Canon EOS 5D Mark II
- Canon EOS 5D*
- Canon 300D Rebel*
- Sony DSC-F707*
- 1955 Rolleiflex Automat*
- 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*
- Bogen Manfrotto 190CX with Sirui Ball Head
- Bogen Manfrotto 3001 Series with Manfrotto Ball Head*
* retired equipment
An overgrown junkyard in NY, lit by the full moon. Photo © Tom Kirsch, opacity.us
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 social media pages and blogs with no mention... some folks even placed their own watermarks on my photographs! I put a lot of effort into traveling, accessing these places, taking the photos and editng them, and I 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 buttons below the photo caption, or simply share the URL of the page. You may NOT save the images to your hard drive, upload them to other websites, or distribute them otherwise. Thanks for understanding.
To inquire about licensing my work or purchasing prints, please contact me here.
My name is Tom Kirsch, although an old urban exploring handle has always been "Mr. Motts," as you may have seen in the comments. I am a 37 year old web programmer who lives in Detroit MI. I'm also intensely internet-anti-social for some reason, sorry about that. I keep the official Facebook page here for updates to the site, however I do not communicate through this medium due to personal reasons; please contact me here instead. You can also follow my Instagram page for daily photos.
I have a 15 year long career as a web developer, programmer, designer, and database architect, with a wide array of clientele ranging from local non-profits to Fortune 500 corporations such as Canon, Xerox, Northrup Grumman, Johnson & Johnson, Bausch & Lomb, and Citibank. I graduated from New York-based C.W. Post School of Visual and Performing Arts in 2001 with a BFA Cum Laude, with Honors and Deans List achievements.
My photo career started in 2000 with shooting disused and negative spaces, which has led to a long-term focus on the subject of abandoned places. Institutional and industrial architecture shapes most of my work, with hundreds of locations documented across the United States and Europe. In 2008, I left Brooklyn NY to live in the incredible city of Detroit.
You can contact me here.
- Official Facebook page for updates to the site
- Official Instagram page for daily photos
- Preservation, the official magazine for the National Trust for Historic Preservation (2017 Fall Issue)
- LORE, an Amazon Studios-produced series based on the LORE podcast (October 2017)
- PBS American Experience: The Lobotomist (2008)
- Digital Photographer Magazine, UK (Issue 74, 2008)
- Seafoam Palace Detroit, MI
Self-portrait. Photo © Tom Kirsch, opacity.us