Local Artist Finds Beauty In The Abandoned

Holly Hunt-Kix


East End Arts’ new exhibit at Riverhead Town Hall Gallery offers the work of local artist Holly Hunt-Kix in “Abandoned Beauties,” featuring a series of photographs by Hunt-Kix of abandoned objects, buildings, and homes, displayed in naturally distressed antique frames.

Hunt-Kix entered the world of the abandoned five years ago when she crawled into a hole in the ground of a deserted psychiatric center and ended up in a pitch-dark basement covered in cobwebs and debris. Since then, her mission with her photography is to find beauty in what is left behind, what people no longer care about, and what nature has taken over in time.

Her grandfather, a photographer for the New York Times in the ’50s and ’60s who shot street scenes, portraits, and celebrities, is her biggest influence and inspires her work. “I was able to see what he could do with a film camera and no retouching, and his pictures are timeless,” she said.

The exhibit will be on display through the end of November and is open for viewing Monday through Friday, 9 AM to 4 PM. The artist will host a reception on Tuesday, September 18, from 6:30 to 8 PM. Riverhead Town Hall is located at 200 Howell Avenue.

How did you start photographing abandoned beauties? Can you tell us about your first experience shooting an abandoned place?

What lured me to photographing abandoned places was my curiosity of them, which leads me to why I first explored. When I was a freshman in college, I was walking to town to grab a bite to eat with a group of friends. We walked by an abandoned house and I was simply curious about what was inside. The door was open, so we walked right in. At the time, I was not photographing, so I only took away from that exploration memories and a new hobby of urban exploration.

It wasn’t until five years ago when I crawled through a hole in the ground of an abandoned psychiatric hospital and ended up in a dark basement full of cobwebs and debris did I have my camera in hand. That was when I started incorporating my love of exploring abandoned places with my passion of photography.

You prefer to play with darkness more than light to show the true state of abandoned places. Can you elaborate on that?

The majority of abandoned locations are closed off to the public and/or boarded up to prevent access because they’re usually very unsafe. Even though I have been granted permission inside many locations, almost all of them have no power or exterior light. I had to learn to play with the darkness as opposed to the light, since light is a rare commodity in this hobby. Also, I want to show in my photography how these spaces look as if someone were seeing them with their own eyes.

What got you into photography initially?

About five years ago, I was gifted a beautiful digital camera and that was what launched my business and the desire to bring my camera into the “left behind.” Although as a child, I was infatuated with my grandfather’s Polaroid and shaking the image until it developed in my hand. I just always loved taking pictures and I always felt I was meant to be a photographer.

How has your grandfather’s work inspired you?

Unfortunately, I never met my grandfather as he passed away before I was born but his work as a photographer very much inspires me. The walls of my childhood home were covered in his pieces and awards. I remember staring at them in awe and always feeling so impressed by his work. Each photo of his told a story that I only know because he captured it on film. I feel so blessed to have had the opportunity to see the world through his eyes and I aspire to do the same with my camera.

Where else can we see your work?

Currently I have a single piece exhibiting at Heckscher Museum of Art in Huntington that is dedicated to my mom who passed away last November. It was chosen as part of a juried show and will showcase through the middle of November. Also, I will be featured at the Women’s Expo at Middle Country Library in Centereach the first Thursday in October, selling my work.

In addition to your grandfather, what other photographers inspire you?

It’s interesting as I am more inspired by musicians and films than I am by photography. I am deeply moved by cinematography in movies and/or a song I hear. Some films that come to mind that I feel have spectacular imagery are American Beauty, Into The Wild, The Diving Bell, and The Butterfly. The musicians that connect to me most are Glen Hansard, Gordi, and Pink.

What do you love about shooting abandoned places?

The first thing that comes to mind is the mystery. I never know what I am getting myself into, what I will come across, or what I will be able to capture with my camera. I never know if I will be in a location for many hours or two minutes. I never know what will be around the next corner or wall. I never know if I will be able to even get on property.

In fact, I have traveled numerous hours to be immediately removed by security and never get a single shot. I love the thrill of the exploration. I love finding people’s belongings in the rubble and trying to figure out why items were left behind. I love being able to show a world that exists that so few will ever get to experience.

Where/what would be a dream to shoot? 

Ultimately, I’d love to travel to Europe and even though I don’t have any specific locations in mind there, photographing anything abandoned in Europe would be a dream.

How did you make your way into the exhibit at Riverhead Town Hall?

After my mother’s passing, I had a very hard time coping with that loss. My mother was the most positive and happiest person I’ve ever known and the biggest supporter of my work. It was hard to have a smile on my face when she was no longer in my life. I felt lost.

One day when I was missing her and had been crying for hours, I asked her to guide me. Suddenly, I knew exactly what I had to do. I felt she’d want me to continue on my artistic journey and follow my passions. I knew she would want me to focus on my art and not allow my sadness to take over. I decided to email about a dozen galleries to see if they’d be willing to exhibit my work. East End Arts was one of the galleries I contacted. Their affiliation with Riverhead Town Hall as an exhibition space led me to showcasing my work there.

Are you afraid of what you might come across in the places you explore?

Even though I am not fearful of entering an abandoned place, I do abide by three rules. One is: Never go alone. I do this just in case anything happens to me. In all of my years of exploring, I have learned to be super mindful of the condition of the buildings. You just never know when a board will break or a step on a staircase will give out.

Although I can say the one time I did almost jump out of my pants was when out of nowhere a bird flew at my head in an upstairs bedroom of a house. I definitely had Hitchcock’s The Birds nightmares for a few days.

Do you share the addresses of the places you photograph?

No. That is actually rule number two of my three rules. Out of respect for the owners and property, I will never disclose the location. Unfortunately, I have angered many people because I won’t tell them when I’ve been asked. What most don’t understand is that I am also protecting others and keeping them safe by not sharing the location. I’d never want anyone to get hurt from exploring the places I do.

What’s rule number three?

To never be disappointed in myself if I only capture one shot. One single image is better than none. And as we all know, a single picture is worth a thousand words.

To view Hunt-Kix’s work, visit www.hollyhuntphotography.com.

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