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Urban Inspiration
Published Tuesday, January 19, 2010 1:09 PM
By Paul Zoeller
Summerville Journal Scene
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Sometimes you can find inspiration in the strangest of things. I found mine within the urban sprawl of the Lowcountry -- old abandoned buildings. Some might call it urban decay or urban waste but I have a different name for it... urban-omics. Great word -- I claim it but feel free to use it.

What is urban-omics? It is kind of like recycling, taking something old and finding a new use for it. I am using old dilapidated buildings as my inspiration. At least that is the definition I want Webster to use when they add it to the dictionary. Laugh all you want but if Google can be a verb then urban-omics can be a word.

"Room with a view" -- The front of an abandoned hotel room gone missing gives an unobstructed view inside.

First of all, Happy New Years! It has been awhile since my last photoblog, sorry about that. I have spent much of the last month on the road shooting nonstop.

Shooting that much makes it hard to stay inspired by photography. As a matter of a fact, many of my favorite photos on the road came from my iPhone. After a long day of work, the last thing I wanted to do was carry around 40 lbs. of equipment for fun so I opted to use the iPhone.

"Electric Flush" -- Bathroom complete with electricity, skylight and hole in the wall.

Awhile back I wrote about my first venture with my iPhone. I wrote about the simplicity of making images and compared my phone to a Holga. Instead of worrying about camera settings and lens choices, I was free to focus on the subject. It was liberating to take what the camera gave me instead of thinking too much into each picture.

Some in my family still complain that I use my iPhone too much which makes it hard to print some of the images I have taken but honestly I don't know if I would have found those images without the phone.

"Peeling Feeling" -- Old paint coming off the wall.

Inspirational Decay

Armed with my phone, I ventured out into the urban jungle. I enjoyed finding abandoned structures in the countryside in the past when I photographed old churches, but this was different. Those buildings had outlasted their surroundings but the buildings I found had just been forgotten.

Life flows all around these forgotten walls but rarely peeks inside.

"Nothing On" -- A television frame sits alone in a parking lot.

Something really interesting -- as busy as the neighborhood was, the buildings and I were all alone. I just walked about and shot, the building sat quietly and no one bothered us. From time to time, I could hear far away voices and cars driving by but never did our paths cross as I roamed around.

"Cracked" -- One of many broken windows I encountered.

Mostly I canvassed the outside of the buildings due to the large number of no trespassing signs but on a rare occasion I found an opportunity to peek in and do a bit more exploring. One quick side note, most of these buildings have been empty for a long time and usually are boarded up for a reason -- weak floors, asbestos or broken glass. That said, I would mind the no trespassing signs, besides, the buildings I entered smelled rather bad.

"All Sales Final" -- Lonely shopping cart parked next to a lonely abandoned building.

What about pretty sunsets?

Good question, why didn't I find something more attractive to photograph? Well, I usually head to the beach, swamp or mountains for my photographs but I thought it would be more fun to dig a little deeper.

"Venting" -- Not abandoned but cool none the less.

Really, I picked abandoned buildings because I feel sorry for them. So neglected and all they do is sit around all day. They are not like a pretty flower you would stop to admire. These old structures are the dead rotting trees of society that have lost their bloom -- waiting to be cut down.

They needed a little attention but would need a lot of love to ever become functional again.

"Rusty Pipes" -- Smoke stacks near River Front Park.

I picked urban environments but I could have picked antique stores or a junk yard for my inspiration. Think of all the photos you could take inside one of these places. Inspiration is where you find it.

One thing I learned, inspiration usually does not come looking for you. Whether it is a hobby, a good book or a run through the park -- inspiration comes to everyone differently I guess. Mine, the form of a phone.

"Graffiti Arches" -- Tracks leading to the Amtrak Station.

I didn't focus just on abandoned buildings. By the end of my inspirational journey I had broadened my palate. I also broadened my knowledge of the area. There are some really great places around here to visit like River Front Park at the Old Naval Station.

"Going Nowhere" -- That last step is a big one so watch out.

So, I still love my iPhone but I am ready to pick up my Canon DSLR once more.

These old buildings, once important to someone, have become useful once again -- inspiring me to search for beauty wherever I am. What inspires you? Does the word urban-omics inspire you? Just remember where you heard it.


Paul Zoeller is a freelance photographer new to the area. Do you have an idea for a new blog or a question about a current blog? If you do contact Zoeller at

Comments (4)

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NY still drawing those who love photo journalism
Monday, November 01, 2010 1:57 PM

Love the light you've used... how about something on the "people" of the "rehab" area? Those who are working on the old houses "rehabi" as part of their own "rehabilitation"? Interesting people... those who live on the "old base" in the darkness and on beautiful grounds with architecture that makes creaking sounds in the night...

Posted by: Smythe
Sunday, January 24, 2010 4:01 PM

means "to fill with an animating, quickening, or exalting influence" -- art can do that. I hope that the right people see your work and are inspired to act

Posted by: Dan
Thursday, January 21, 2010 6:41 PM

very interesting!!!!

Posted by: Teuschler
Urban-not urbane
Thursday, January 21, 2010 1:38 PM

Paul..these photos from the Navy Yard are riveting. I have vivid memories of when those buildings and streets were full of life. Maybe one day they will be again. Nice job with the whole concept.

Posted by: Warren Peper

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