PRO-PORTRAIT: Urban Exploration Photographer Eric Holubow

Eric Holubow mixes storytelling, preservationism, art, anthropology and a photojournalistic style in his urban exploration photography. Eric photographs found architectural spaces with a past—places which are often in a state of decay. He uses these images to tell the story of the place—where it has been and who might have been there, by capturing where it is today. His work has a ghostly feel, but is incredibly deep in story. 

“I’ll happen upon scenes which are revealing of true events—of a history,” Eric speaks of his work, “I’ll run across a factory in Gary (Indiana) which was full of wasting, rotting clothes, and I’ll document that, and then dig into the story behind the place—how it was part of a scheme where collected donations and clothes, which should have been donated to those in need in Africa, but were instead kept in an abandoned factory.”

Eric hones his skills as a storyteller, anthropologist and visual observer during his day job, as a Senior Strategist at Arc Worldwide, part of legendary Chicago advertising agency Leo Burnett. He also teaches at the IIT Institute of Design. We recently featured Eric in an article on creative professionals who once they finish their 9-to-5 jobs head out into their second passion—their 5-to-9 careers. Somehow Eric manages two 9-to-5 shifts, and a 5-to-9 all the while trying to find a moment to sleep and eat.

His camera is always with him when he travels for business, and he’ll will head out on road trips looking for places to shoot nearly every Sunday. “I’m leading a double life, and I’m trying to see as much of the world as I can.”

He feels the pressure of time—not only to find the time to fulfill his passion, but to find locations before they are demolished—either by the hand of a wrecking ball, or simply crumbling out of neglect.

To find locations to photograph, Eric has been known to drive around the rough neighborhoods of town looking for boarded-up windows, and collapsing roofs—places most of us would avoid—like old steel factories, churches, and movie theatres.

Eric shoots in available light—which can be a challenge in some of these building which have been boarded up. He often looks to catch some light coming in through a window or a hole in the roof. He takes what he calls “artistic license” in terms of accessing abandoned spaces. “In terms of how I’ve been able to get into these places, it has been...well, I’m trying to pursue more legal means to get into these buildings. 

As he photographs a location, he often thinks about the possibility that someone will come back to restore or renovate a building, like an uptown theatre in Chicago that was bought by Jam productions recently…“there’s hopes that they’ll do something with it. That would be a great scenario, but a lot of times places just fall down.”

“I really try to seek out those glorious architectural gems, and to photograph them in a likeness that is relating to the grandeur of these buildings. I try to bring an architectural photographer’s fine art sensibility to it. I also try to, where I can, raise a bit of awareness as well.”

Eric’s passions and professions intersect at multiple levels. The anthropological nature of his work as a marketing strategist seeps into his work uncovering stories of the locations he photographs, and his photography allows him to convey a great deal through an image. It’s his inquisitive and investigative nature that is used at full force in both his work as a strategist, and as a photographer. He sees his ability to understand human behavior and to glean insights from partial knowledge that work for both careers.

Eric’s first one-man exhibition of his photography at the Chicago Cultural Center runs through July 9, 2012 (the public is invited to an Artist’s reception April 13). The show is called: “This in Decay: Stitching America’s Ruins.”

“The title is a play on both the technique that I’ve been using, which is photo stitching, and trying to create a mosaic of a smaller image to a larger image. It’s a bit of a mosaic of America in decay. A lot of people don’t think about ruins in America, they think about going to Greece, or Italy for that. But America has it’s own ruins, and that’s what I’m trying to bring out.”

Eric eventually would like to have a commercial life for his photography. “I want it to get to the point where I could have it pay for itself.” In the meantime, he’ll be focused on using his 5-to-9 life to take urban decay, and make fine art, which tells a story.

ON THE NEXT PAGES, DISCOVER ERIC'S PHOTOGRAPHY, AND THE STORY BEHIND the Richmond Power Plant, Tennessee State Prison, Palace Theater and Agudas Achim Synagogue.

FIRST UP, "Turbine Alley"...

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