Friday, July 12, 2013


This is the second post I have done on the Solvay Coke Plant.  (See my prior post of July 1, 2013.)  In this post I am focusing on the interior of the buildings themselves.  In a subsequent post I will add some of the detail shots that I took on my last couple of visits.

The plant was built in 1906 to manufacture coke, a product created by the partial burning of coal.  the coke is used as a fuel in blast furnaces, for example in the manufacture of iron products.  The plant operated until 1983, when it was finally closed down.  The manufacture of coke created a number of environmental contaminants.  After the site was abandoned it underwent an environmental cleanup, not just of the coke contaminants but also of asbestos use in the buildings' construction.  That's not to say it is environmentally clean, as is evident from its general appearance.  Following the closing of the plant, there has been interest in redeveloping the site, but environmental concerns have kept that from happening.  Originally, there were perhaps half a dozen buildings on the 45-acre site.  However, a number of those have essentially been razed, while the remaining buildings have continued to deteriorate.  Even though the property sits in the midst of the city of Milwaukee, it has the feel of isolation and a bit of edginess.  Over the years it has been thoroughly trashed, with anything potentially usable removed by scavengers, as well as heavily graffitied.  But that's what caught my attention.

All of the shots for this post are from the factory building, which includes a large open area three stories high, as well as a number of other smaller spaces--all in a state of advanced decay.  Here is the widest-angled shot I could get of the main factory space.

Although there is a fair amount of light streaming through the building's windows, I still found myself using my tripod to garner enough light for a reasonable shot.  Note the graffiti on the back wall, especially the orange "LIVE" midway up the wall, which the artist must have painted by standing on the ductwork that is at most two feet wide running 10-12 feet high along the back wall.

Here is a shot of the ceiling tiles.

These tiles are each perhaps 15"x18".  Presumably, they are not made of asbestos.  I really did not understand why different tiles had different colors, but I liked the overall effect.  Here is a close-up of the tiles.

It is difficult to get shots directly overhead using a tripod, especially one that is a bit undersized, like mine.  However, there just wasn't enough light to get a steady shot without using a tripod.

Here is a shot of one side of the largest factory space.

One of my challenges was the great disparity between areas that were being lit directly by sunlight and others that essentially were in shadow.  In order to bring out both in post processing, I had to overexpose the shadowed areas while underexposing the sunlit ones.  The result looks a bit like HDR, with an exaggerated contrast.

Here is a shot taken in the room directly behind the wall in the above photo.  It is also a large, two-story space, with a prominent hole in the roof through which sunlight was streaming.  My goal was to capture that wash of light on the interior walls and at the same time provide a sense of the rest of the space.

I thought the passageways between rooms offered a way of creating depth and took a number of such shots.  Again, the great differential between light and dark areas created challenges in trying to capture those images.

In these shots I had to be careful not to allow the bright light coming from the far side to "blow out" too badly a portion of the image.

One of the things I noticed was how dirty all of the walls and doors appeared.  Then I realized that this was essentially a coal processing plant, and a coating of coal dust on walls and doors over nearly an 80-year period was probably unavoidable.  Here are some other doorway shots that I liked.

The green cast over the doorway in the above shot comes from light streaming through windows the glass of which was a translucent green.  This shot is looking out of what must have been a large restroom, based on the white tiles with which the walls had been covered.  Any bathroom fixtures, however, had long since been removed.  I especially liked the following shot, which makes an honest statement about the building's current condition.  

There were also some shots to be had by looking up, as in the following.

Although they look to be exterior, these windows actually overlook an interior space from a second floor room, perhaps where the foremen could oversee the factory floor.  

And here is a shot of ceiling tiles that were being lit indirectly from sunlight streaming through a hole in the roof and bouncing off the floor onto the tiles and out of a window placed high on the wall.

The direction of the light serves nicely to bring out the texture of the tiles.  Here I chose to leave relatively dark the framing around the foreground window to highlight the tiles.  I thought the colors were quite striking.

I particularly liked the following shot taken from the first floor through windows on a second floor where a large number of sorting shelves appear to be located.

I particularly liked the brooding colors that dominate this shot.

Finally, following is a shot of a badly deteriorating wall.  What helped this shot was the presence of a light switch in the lower right corner of the image, which gave the overall shot some perspective beyond just an abstract.

I liked the texture of the shot anyway, including the play of yellow and bluish colors, but the light switch served as a reminder to me that I need to look for something in the scene that will provide both context and a point of interest to give more meaning to the overall image.

I have been trying to understand why I am drawn to these objects of deterioration, which are so ugly but can also be intriguing.  It is this where my interests are heading?


1 comment:

  1. You are so right about them being so ugly that makes the pictures interesting.