Sunday, June 9, 2013

Eastern State Photography Tour

It's no secret I'm obsessed with Eastern State Penitentiary. It gives amateur urban spelunkers an opportunity to explore one of the city's many decaying relics without the legal loopholes and hardhats required to peek inside places like the Divine Lorraine.

So when the site opened its doors last week for photographers to explore afterhours, I seized the opportunity.

It was an unfortunate mess.

I'm not a professional photographer by any means, however my mother is. I grew up in the darkroom, shadowing her at athletic events, posing for local flyers whenever she needed a scrappy kid in the shot. While I may not have inherited her shutter speed, I did learn quite a bit about the proper etiquette that comes with shooting anywhere.

The site was packed with photographers, some more professional than others, enjoying the quiet that comes with such a large site after it's closed to the public. But before any of those appreciating the solitude of the space and the natural artistry of the overgrown cells and rusted patina, every amateur model in the tri-state area had claimed entire cellblocks for themselves.

In one particularly decrepit cell, one never opened to the public, nearly every cell was occupied by a model in fetish lingerie. My buddy was scolded for setting his camera on a bench while the fishnet clad vixens rearranged furniture and straddled broken chairs. A single model in a white dress posed at an iron gate nearest the center of the prison for the duration of the visit while her photographer instructed others not to obstruct his shot...of the entire cell block.

I'm not saying that this site shouldn't be used for catalogs, websites, or headshots (although from an artistic perspective, it might be a little on-the-nose), but those businesses regularly shell out hundreds of dollars for the privilege to privately reserve such sites.

It was a great opportunity for both photographers to explore, and an even better opportunity for the historic site to generate some money. Eastern State does a lot of things well, but hopefully next time they'll be better at reminding everyone, particularly the professionals, the limited opportunity that comes with a meager $15 entry fee.

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