Pictures of deserted areas, captures of derelict buildings ready to collapse, eerie snapshots of abandoned asylums and hospitals: but who is the person behind the lens?
This is exactly what photographer Gina Soden seeks to capture. Having enjoyed photography since 13, and studying it at Thames Valley University, Gina started photographing such locations in 2009. “I was browsing the local area looking for locations for portrait shoots on Google Maps and came across an old lab facility. I went to the lab and discovered that the fences had holes in them all around the site. I decided to sneak in and take a look. It was fascinating – I was instantly drawn in to finding out what had happened, what was left, and I loved the rebellious side to it, being somewhere not many venture to and would not really know about. After developing the film, I was immediately drawn to this unseen (to many) subject in that state. I visited that place at least 25 times, sleeping there overnight and exploring it all day.”
Unpicking the beauty in these locations, Gina says how she loves decayed locations with interesting architectural features like stained glass windows, tiled floors and fresco ceilings. But it isn’t just what she can see – she is fascinated by places with history, all because it adds to the story. Hospitals, asylums, and morgues (“that have a slight morbid curiosity”) are just a few locations Gina has explored for her photography.
Often using Google Maps to search for locations to shoot – with aerial view and street view – Gina says it “is a great way to ‘drive’ around and take a look.” Gaining access to these off-piste locations sounds like a pretty dangerous feat to us, however we are reassured: “I have never ever been injured badly whilst working,” she notes. “I know my limits. Mostly, I just ungracefully chuck my bag and tripod through a window and heave myself through. I’m glad I haven’t had a videographer follow me around yet – I need to refine that look.”
“When buildings decay, it grants you an insight beyond the often-superficial veneers of the decor and offers a deeper look at the very structure and architecture of the buildings themselves.”
When questioned about the most interesting space Gina had captured, she tells us of an abandoned asylum in London, and we can hear the thrill through the keyboard as she explains – “The problem was that there was 24-hour security with cameras and sensors that would set off an alarm if you walked past them. So, I got in via a tunnel network instead. I had no idea where I was and had to use a tunnel map. It was really quite disorientating! I finally got to the end and I had to crawl up through the floorboards to access the wards. I actually heard the security walking above me at one point and he was shouting, ‘Hello! I know you’re down there!’ and it was such a thrilling feeling. I was so scared at the time, but I look back on it now and laugh because it was just ridiculous.
“The objects inside were incredible and the history of the building in general made it a fascinating place to spend time. From a photographic point of view, it was so varied, so beautiful and so vast. I’ll never forget it. Unfortunately, it’s now been turned into housing or some parts demolished.”
But the location that was the most thought provoking was ‘Pripyat in Chernobyl’. “It was a very emotional experience being there. I felt the push and pull of wanting to photograph an incredible place, but also remembering the tragedy that occurred there 31 years ago. It was a difficult balancing act and one place I’ve not really been able to publish many photos from. I’ve been back there three times now – each time was a different experience. It’s hard to see it almost being turned into a tourist destination, but I do realise I am part of that.”
Gina was selected me as winner of the Patrón Tequila UK Artist of the Year. “It felt so wonderful that they selected me as the winner. The competition was strong too!” ‘Klinik’ was the winning piece, photographed in a sanatorium which covered over 300 acres.
“Abandoned for almost 15 years, the sanatorium was used throughout World War One and Two. It has been used for a few movie sets and music videos, most likely owing to the great sense of eeriness it possesses, similar to a ghost town as it is so large. I drove here from the UK with a couple of friends on two different occasions, the first took me 10 hours to get there. I spent 12 hours in the complex, which is made up of over 50 buildings. The complex houses several bathing areas on the ground floor, including an enormous domed cathedral-like area containing nothing but a tiny plunge pool in the centre. The piece ‘Klinik’ depicts the entrance hallway for the bathhouse, to get the shot I crawled through tunnel networks to gain access to the basement of this building.”
“When I’m shooting I try to give a sense of place, but not direct the narrative. I like the emptiness and quietness, but on the flipside, I like the adrenaline buzz of being somewhere I’m not supposed to be. I feel safe and calm, it soothes my soul and I hope that shows in my work. I want people to be able to make their own stories up, let their imagination take them to places and ask questions – what was this place used for? Where does that red door go? What else is there in the building? Why is the building like this?”
And we definitely have a lot of questions, so I guess it’s worked that way Gina.
For now, Gina’s work is also exhibited at the recently refurbished Soho House. And she is working on a new series called ‘Corrodium’ after experimenting with hand printing imagery of abandoned buildings onto a variety of found materials. “The process has developed in scale, ambition and range of surfaces. The artworks are original pieces instead of limited editions. I develop the work further by ‘decaying’ it through a variety of methods. I’m really enjoying it, and hoping to produce a series that I present as a new body of work in a solo show.”
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Words by Eliza Frost