The Exploration of Eastern State Penitentiary

  • December 17, 2010

ESP (5)

The Eastern State Penitentiary(ESP) is a former American prison in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It is located on 2027 Fairmount Avenue between Corinthian Avenue and North 22nd Street in the Fairmount section of Philadelphia and was operational from 1829 until 1971. Its revolutionary system of incarceration was the first to establish the policy of separate confinement, emphasizing principles of reform rather than punishment. Notorious criminals such as bank robber Willie Sutton and Al Capone were held inside its unique wagon wheel design. When the building was erected it was the largest and most expensive public structure ever constructed, quickly becoming a model for more than 300 prisons worldwide. –Wikipedia

On May 28, 2010, myself and a group of friends decided to check out Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. At the time, I was following up on a tip from a fan of my website (while I’m on the topic, I’m always looking for tips). Opened in 1829, the prison housed some of America’s most notorious and dangerous criminals, such as Al Capone and many others, up until its closing and subsequent abandonment in 1971. Today, it is a crumbling structure of guard towers and cell blocks which are kept in a perminant, yet stable state of disrepair and abandonment. The prison is a fantastic sight to behold and a perfect location for grunge photography.

The staff at the prison was very friendly and photography is not only allowed, it was actually encouraged. There is a group on Flickr for photos taken there, and a lot of the submitted photos are later featured on their website.

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The prison is an endless wonderland of abandonment and disrepair. This is one such room I photographed that was behind a closed and locked door. To get this shot, I had to wrap the camera strap around my wrist and blindly take a few shots by placing my arm through a small gap between the door and the wall it was secured to.

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This is an abandoned yard that was overgrown with weeds and grass behind one of the prison buildings. As you can see, the prison walls are in an advanced state of disrepair and decay, though many of the original prison elements such as floodlights are still intact.

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Shooting a picture through broken panes of glass always tend to yeild some interesting pictures. For this, I manually focused on the wall inside this room and left the wired safety glass way out of focus for a layered and partially reflective illusion.

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One of several guard towers. All of the towers had broken windows. Sadly, at the time, only the ground floor was open, all of the guard towers were off limits, as were all of the coridors that had not yet been restored. The staff said that the guard towers would be opened to the public eventually, as time and funding permits.

If you are in the area, I highly recomment visiting the old prison. You should allow yourself at least two to three hours to explore the place. Most of the prison is still off limits as the restoration of the prison is still underway, and will continue to be as long as funding is available. For more information, you can check out their website, which by the way, does not give this place any justice whatsoever. It really is worth a trip from anywhere.

Eastern State Penitentiary

You can see the entire Eastern State Penitentiary set here.

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