Finding beauty in decay – Niki Feijen

Talk about stepping into a space frozen in time! I was absolutely mesmerised for well over two hours just staring into the decay and macabre of the images captured by Dutch photographer Niki Feijen. Image and after image just pulled me deeper and deeper down the proverbial rabbit hole to seek out more and more of the beautiful sad imagery.

I found myself wondering endlessly about who lived in these places, why are they abandoned, how did the people leave? It’s like the people just vaporised and the homes were left to fend for themselves against the elements of nature and the ravages of time.

These rooms are reminiscent of the plight of poor Miss Havisham and her long lost love…… “So!” she said, without being startled or surprised; “the days have worn away, have they?”

I kept looking at this piece thinking, “Where is the old man who sits here to read his paper by the fire each evening?”

It’s not only abandoned homes that Feijen captures, he finds the most beautiful and damned places on earth, steps behind the “Do Not Enter” signs that people walk past without a thought as to what lies beyond. To most what they see is the exterior of abandonment, the over grown gardens and gates covered in vines, or the crumbling facade of a once industrial meeting place of academics and monks, or the flock of pigeons that burst out the windows each time another section of the building crumbles to the ground. 

What he captures is the sad wilting light forcing its way through the grime covered glass onto workstations long ago abandoned, the triumphant streams of light that break through destroyed painted ceilings from another century, the eerie coloured casting of light that gently bathes the untouched alters of a time long ago passed and light straining through the beautiful stained glass windows into the once trusted havens of the faithful servants of God.

Feijen uses the natural light of the space to captured the rooms and halls of these forgotten places rather than use alternate light sources. He has spoken about using very long shutter speeds to allow the natural light into the camera, because often the location is so dark it is almost impossible to see. This action produces the dark and eerie image and allows the viewer time to explore all corners of the image – each time seemingly finding something that was not seen before.

This also illustrates the kindness and respect for the space, allowing the walls and ghosts to whisper to him in quiet gratitude for taking the time to capture the essence of the space – not just the decay.

Feijen is one of the many artists and photographers who are fascinated by the art of decay. This movement is called Urbex – short for Urban Exploring. There are underground tours and secret swapping of maps and location sites amongst its most fervent followers. When I was reading about Feijen it seemed to me that he was very particular about keeping the location of his subjects secret, not to prevent other people from seeking out the beauty, but to preserve the space from expedited decay, vandalism and looting. He has taken some photographs across different seasons to show natures persistence at merging the outside and the inside spaces.

Feijen has the uncanny ability to capture a seemingly pragmatic scene into one of absolute beauty and intrigue. His photographs of stairs are breathtaking. He has often taken hundreds of shots sitting under stairwells just trying to get the perfect shot that depicts opulence and a gateway to the unknown – or down to the depths of the horror chambers where nobody wants to go.

He has titled this piece “The House of M.C. Escher” and I wonder is it really? Sure makes sense….or does it, look closer.

Perhaps the most haunting of his works are those depicting the urban decay a small township of Pripyat just inside the exclusion zone of the Chernobyl radiation plant meltdown. It is this town that the horror stories and plight of children affected by radiation  originate.

For me my most favourite piece is from that series of works of an abandoned merry-go-round ride that has been overgrown by green weeds and flowers. It shows for me an element of hope growing in the place where children full of dreaming and imagination once played and squealed with delight while parents looked on with joy.  It’s also the saddest image.

You can see this photo on his website here for yourself, I wonder what emotions it brings up for you. All the photographs are for sale and I think this one will look very nice indeed in my little collection. I really just love the way that he captures the macabre with such gentleness, I think it is this quality that makes the photographs so very beautiful.

Oh and I may just slip in one of Miss Havisham’s drawing room too….

C&M xx

P.S Thanks to Niki Feijen for giving his permission to showcase his photographs – always a delight to hear back from an artist. All photographs here are from his website directly.