ALIQUIPPA (KDKA) — They call themselves “Urban Explorers,” hobbyists and photographers who venture into condemned, abandoned buildings.
Some do it for a sense of adventure. Others, to document the history of these structures and take stunning, sometimes eerie photographs of the ruin left behind.
KDKA’s Kym Gable went along on one of those expeditions with professional photographer Joe Indovina.
The mayor of Aliquippa gave Joe and the KDKA crew permission to enter vacant, crumbling properties.
Mayor Dwan Walker told Gable about 42 percent of the properties in the city are abandoned. He says he ran for office with the vision of revitalization.
“For him to show (them) in a different light, with still photos, man, I can’t wait to see what that looks like,” Mayor Walker said about Indovina.
Among other photography styles, Indovina specializes in “Abandonment Photography.” It’s a trend that’s growing in popularity in the Pittsburgh region.
Across the country, photographers are going into abandoned hotels, steel mills, mental hospitals, farms and government buildings.
Their artistry is then published on numerous websites and networking sites. Indovina wanted to explore the old St. Joseph Church and School in Aliquippa.
It’s been vacant for decades, but a developer has purchased the property with the goal of revitalization.
“You have abandoned buildings that you see and the neighbors next door want it to look cosmetically good, but you don’t have the means to renovate or get money for construction,” Mayor Walker said. “So it’s a challenge, but something we’re willing to take head on.”
Walker says he likes to think outside the box.
He hopes some of the abandonment photographs draw attention to the history and beauty of some of the city’s structures.
He may even pursue the ambitious goal of attracting Hollywood producers to shoot a movie in town.
He pointed out recent films shot in other former bustling steel towns like Weirton, W. Va., and Ambridge.
“If they can come that far, they can come down 65 and across the bridge and see Aliquippa, too,” the mayor laughed. “I think we got a lot to offer as well.”
The old school still has the chalkboards intact.
Piles of books from the 1960s still occupy some of the classrooms.
“Abandonments have become an appeal in the sense that there’s something beautiful in everything,” said Indovina. “It’s a matter of capturing that and it’s not always easy as far as getting into the buildings and so forth.”
Indovina and the mayor stressed urban explorers need to get permission from governments and owners to enter abandoned buildings.
“Hopefully, someone will see these shots and look at them and think, ‘Wow, we can use that,’” Indovina said.
Mayor Walker says he’s willing to incorporate unconventional, positive ideas into his overall plan to bring the town back.
“We’re ready. Next few years, I think we’ll be back,” he said.