My friends Tim, Mike and I were on a trip, photographing abandoned areas at night. We met up with John, whom we had contacted via Flickr.

I had to work my way through some sharp vines to look the outside of these windows at an abandoned mental hospital.

Walking in underground tunnels

Our “tour guide,” John, was friendly and chatty. We were going to visit an abandoned mental hospital in Pennsylvania, a place that he said he knew like the back of his hand.

He led us to what looked like a concrete bunker with a round metal submarine-like hatch. Down, down we went. John explained that we were in a network of dark wet tunnels extending for a total of two miles. We walked and walked and walked. It felt like we were in an episode of “24,” scurrying through damp tunnels wearing headlamps.

A dystopian future

Finally, after a quarter-mile walk, we climbed back up through a hatch that was on a cement floor. We were in a dark room with shattered windows and debris. We walked outside. We saw a cluster of buildings. Everywhere, weeds were several feet tall. The long-abandoned asylum and hospital were half-choked in a thick damp jungle of overgrown trees and vines.

Dystopian science fiction movies such as “Planet of the Apes” often showed the future like this, and now, we were wandering in this strange place in a most surreal urban exploration adventure. Most of the buildings were in an advanced state of decay, the result of water damage, rot, theft, vandalism, law enforcement target practice, age and nature reasserting its dominance.

“It looks like it’s snowing indoors!”

We wandered into the auditorium. We shined our lights around to see rows of chairs, a busted piano on a stage, debris and … snow? “It looks like it’s snowing indoors!” There was so much decay from the ceiling that particles were constantly falling. The buildings were in a state of advanced decay, crumbling, crawling with cockroaches, with fluttering bats everywhere.

However, we were already wearing masks with N95 filters. We had stocked up before arriving, anticipating mold, asbestos and more.

The unfinished melody

I grew up playing piano. Any time I see an abandoned piano, I am immediately drawn to it. I photographed it amid the falling “snow” using a Rokinon 12mm fisheye lens. I gently “painted” the piano with a warm white light from several angles, using a handheld Protomachines LED2. Then I backlit the already-red curtains with more red light. After that, wanting to offset the stage from the audience and create separation, I illuminated the seated area with an eerie green light.

The smile

I was wearing an uncomfortable mask. The building was decrepit, humid, and smelly. I was hot and sweaty, wearing steel-shank boots and thick pants, my damp T-shirt clinging to me as I moved about inside.

And I was happy and smiling. We were in the middle of a great adventure that we would remember fondly for years to come.