South Boston Naval Annex Building 16 – Love of Photography

In the previous 3 posts on Building 16, I have not yet touched on the most important thing about it. It is the reason I have 20 trips here in my Lightroom catalog and it is the reason I love this empty warehouse so much and care so much about it’s ultimate fate. That reason is: the light.

The light in Warehouse 16 is ridiculously good. It’s magical. The light here is more consistent than anywhere (abandoned or not) that I have ever photographed. The top floor was basically a photo studio every afternoon.

It wasn’t just the light though. It was the textures and the colors too.

And it wasn’t only the light and the textures and the colors. If you’ve spent any time on my site at all, you may have noticed that my years shooting abandoned architecture focused pretty heavily on angles and, specifically, vanishing point shots. Building 16 was the vanishing point Shangri-La.

While I mostly keep my model photography separate from my architecture photography on this site, it would be ridiculous not to include one of my favorite pictures I have ever taken in this set about photography in Building 16. I named my site “desolate metropolis” because of my aversion to having people in my shots. I came up with the name before I ever visited an abandoned building, but the title certainly worked for that too.

There was a time when you could never have convinced me that I would ever work with models, much less regard those shots as my favorites, but here we are. As with most of my work with models, a good portion of the credit must go to the model here. I’ve learned a lot working with models over the years, but I am never going to be someone who can tell a model how to pose. Fortunately, what I enjoy is working with experienced models who bring something of themselves to the shoot. I have always wanted it to be a collaboration rather than an execution of some preconceived vision I have. My model here is a great person I worked with several times and I will always be thankful to her. It was her idea to climb up in this window!

There are abandoned buildings that just produce in terms of photography. I think most people who have spent a lot of time photographing abandoned buildings have a place like this. You can go there and get shots every time. “It’s empty” is something you find yourself saying about a lot of buildings that didn’t turn out to be very good, but I’ve also found it’s true of the best buildings. Kirkbrides are like this. They are almost always empty, but there’s just something about them that you can photograph 100 times and still find something new every time. Building 16 was like this for me. I have so many good frames from here, I could probably dig into the archive and produce enough shots for another post or two.

Exploring abandoned buildings is a hobby filled with disappointment. Despite the “take only pictures, leave only footprints” ethos that a lot of explorers subscribe to, the reality is that most buildings are demolished, partially demolished, or renovated to a point where they are barely recognizable. If Danvers State Hospital gets chopped up and Taunton State Hospital gets completely demoed, what chance does a more pedestrian building have?

Throughout the years of visiting Warehouse 16 this was always on my mind. The ground floor is a cavernous warehouse that was pretty beat up, with a crane I suspected would never move again. There were a few things stored there over the years, the fire department was using it to practice cutting up cars at one point, but nothing substantial. All the wooden portions of the upper floor needed to go, it was fairly dirty, it probably had some remediation work that needed to happen, etc.

The outside of the building had a couple of somewhat interesting features at the ground level but there was tons of corrugated metal, foggy windows for the first level, and other features that would not fit with the aesthetic of the new “Seaport District” that was rapidly being constructed nearby. I figured the building was a gonner.

Imagine my surprise when we were out on our boat in Boston Harbor and I noticed construction equipment and a few new windows going in to Building 16.

I was only able to locate a couple of cell phone pictures from our boat, but Building 16 has subsequently been fully renovated. At some point I will take a trip down there to get a few shots of the completed renovation. It was such an incredible relief to see this building saved. I can’t say that the outside is beautiful, or architecturally significant, or anything like that. But I love this place. I visited…constantly…during my exploring years. I went alone and I went with friends. I went in the middle of the night and the middle of the day. I went to drink beer and I went to focus on photography. I shot architecture, models, and even a few product shots. I pulled some of my favorite photographs out of this place. In terms of the photographer’s timeline…what gear I was shooting with…I shot with 4 different cameras in two different systems. Knowing that one of my favorite places will persist as a reminder of the area’s industrial and military history even as more high rise condo blocks and fancy restaurants go up nearby is the best resolution to this story that I can possibly imagine.