In this edition of the Fellow Explorer’s Club, we caught up with explorer, photographer, and author of the book ‘Abandoned New York – The Forgotten Beauties’, Jenn Brown. Based out of Long Island, Brown’s photography hauntingly captures the beauty of decaying houses, hospitals, factories and places of worship throughout the East Coast. There seem to be endless Instagram accounts of abandoned places these days, but Brown’s is definitely one of our favourites.
Society for Gentlemen Explorers (SGE): We’ve been enjoying your photography for a while now….was it always abandoned places that you’ve been mostly interested in?
Jenn Brown (JB): For as long as I can remember I’ve been taking photos. In High School, I took two years of film photography and became hooked. Back then I would take photographs of bands, friends, and nature. My camera was always in my hands. At fifteen I had hopes to become a photographer. I remember telling myself, “I’d never be able to make a career out of it.” My brain shifted to becoming a photography teacher, but then a teacher informed there was no demand and I’d have to become an art teacher. Shortly after photography fell to the wayside besides snapping photos on my phone. A few years back, you know aging up, I decided I needed to stop fearing a lot of silly things in my life. One major thing was the fear of doing things alone. After seeing King’s Park photos in my Instagram feed, I decided I needed to go visit since I haven’t for a year.
From there I decided to purchase a digital camera and started photographing abandonments. I became obsessed with researching, which would keep me busy for hours. I hit the road and kept pushing myself to get over my personal social fears. I eventually started traveling alone, which resulted in me eating alone, going to bars alone and exploring abandonments alone.
I’ve always found comfort in abandonments, maybe for the fact there’s no one around. There’s that quietness which once used to be unbearable. I continue to travel to photograph these places that will no longer exist, not only for them but for myself.
SGE: How do you find all the places you photograph?
JB: Over the past three years, I’ve been doing online research to locate places to photograph. I look for a general area I want to visit out of state, then from there, I look for things around the route there. There’s almost always something else to be found while driving around.
SGE: What is it about abandoned places that draws you to them?
JB: When I was younger, there was a handful of abandoned houses in my town. The curiosity seemed to stick with me from the age of four. As a teen, friends would bring me to local warehouses, buildings and Kings Park Psychiatric Center. Years went by and I found myself still curious. Coming from a family of cabinet makers, woodworkers and skilled tradesman I feel has made me appreciate the handmade architecture and details that went into the construction of these older buildings. The architecture draws me into houses constructed in the 1800s and 1900s and my need to capture moments of a grander time.
SGE: Abandoned New York is one of our favourite places to explore, how did your book come about?
JB: The book came out awesome. I couldn’t be more happy with Fonthill Media and Arcadia Publishing. I’ve found my book in a handful of local bookstores, Barnes and Nobles, Costco and it is also available online on Amazon.
SGE: What’s your favourite place you’ve been to?
JB: It’s so hard to come up with one favorite because I’ve visited a lot of places. There is one location I will never forget. A Philadelphia school that was constructed in 1912. The school had the most ornate auditoriums I’ve ever come across. On my first visit there, we realized we were walking around a construction site and workers were close by. We decided to leave and while making our way out a worker was coming down the stairs from above. We walked as fast and as quietly as we could down to avoid getting caught. On the second trip, we didn’t get that lucky. After being inside for two and a half hours, a motion sensor tripped. By the time we ran out the door and hopped the fence the police were there. Cuffed and held in the back of the car until the property manager walked the entire school to ensure no damage was done. After an hour we were released and on our way to our next location.
SGE: Is there something top of your list that you want to go see?
JB: A few years ago on my third attempt, I made it into the top of the list spot. An old clothing mill located in an old mining town. After photographing that place I knew if I wanted to retire I could.
SGE: Do you have any tips for the budding explorer?
JB: Research, research, research! There is a lot of material online at your fingertips. For the past two and a half years I’ve been able to travel around the eastern shore of the United States capturing abandonments based on what I was able to find on a computer screen. Even after all that time I haven’t seen it all.
SGE: What do you have planned next?
JB: I’m currently working on my second book, which I’m very excited about. I’ve decided to write and show what Pennsylvania has to offer. With this book, I will be less focused on history and more on the explore itself. The stories and thrills that go with exploring, to give people a bigger glimpse into what it’s all about.