There are lots of people who inspire me greatly, these range from historical figures, to artists to just people I know. Rebecca Bathory is an astounding photographer and I am incredibly lucky to also know her on a personal level.
Bathory’s work displays the chaotic beauty of decay and degradation. Her work concentrates on forgotten places, macabre displays of remembrance and, at times, combines folk stories and magic into the disarray she finds.
Before we take an in depth look at one of her photos, lets see what she had to say to the questions I posed to her.
Your photography finds an amazing balance between presenting the viewer with an insight into a dark and barely seen world, but without feeling disrespectful or intrusive. How do you maintain the balance in your work to achieve such impactful images?
When I visit abandoned locations, it is very important for me to not harm them in anyway, we always find a way in that is open, be it an open door, broken window, climbing over a fence or on occasion we have to plan well in advance how to get inside as it may seem impossible, this is always part of the excitement of creating these images.
Once inside it is important for me to leave the building just as I found it, take nothing but photographs and if I move something I will put it back. I like my photographs to sway on the fine art side so I will always think creatively on how to bring the scenes to life that that I come across. I often try to connect a story to the photos I take so it makes it more emotional for the viewer to witness.
You have several books out, which was your favourite to piece together and why?
My first book “Soviet Ghosts” was very exciting for me to create as it was my first with a publisher and it was a very special feeling to have someone believe in my work enough to send me off on a huge adventure to produce it. Seeing it in print was one of my proudest moments in my life; but my self published book “Orphans of Time” will all always have a very special place in my heart out of the four books I have made. I was able to design it myself from start to finish in the style of a Victorian photo album, with faux leather embossed cover and a metal clasp to hold it closed. The photos inside are a collection of ten years exploring abandoned buildings all over the world and for me seeing them as such a beautiful collection makes me really happy.
You have travelled to many amazing places, sometimes in some quite volatile environments, have you ever run into problems while on a shoot? What has been your absolute favourite place that you have visited?
I could talk for hours on the stories from my adventures over the last ten years, I’ve been to almost fifty countries shooting and of course they all have different stories to tell. I’ve shot in extreme heat, freezing cold, wind, snow. I’ve been arrested (and let go) a handful of times. Some nights we slept in abandoned buildings and that will always stay in my head as some crazy things happened. I think the most dramatic story was getting detained in a secret military base in Russia for a day as they thought we were spies, we were held in a room for hours and hours with armed men outside the door and was questioned in a padded room as to why we were at the radar which we had believed was abandoned. They eventually let us go in the dead of night.
One of my favourite places I have seen was an abandoned manor house in Surrey UK, it was so beautifully decayed with rooms completely left with all the objects including a library with books, a music room with organ and piano and a nursery with a babies pram and cot. My mind wandered so much in there, like I was taking a step back in time and as a lover of Victoriana, it was a place of pure magic for me. As one of the first places I went to and revisited a couple of times, it is one place I will never forget. I did a model shoot in there, where we slept overnight to get the beautiful morning light.
Anyone who follows you on social media, will know that you have been working on a PHD about dark tourism, what urged you to do this and what would you say to anyone thinking of doing a PHD?
Starting my PhD was a pure accident, I have never been academic, I am dyslexic so writing has always been a struggle for me. I have always followed a creative path in life and have loved it. It was strange that one day my creative path could turn to academia, but I quite accidentally started talking to my supervisor who was looking for a grad student to apply for a scholarship and write on Dark Tourism. He asked if I had a masters degree, which I did in photography, and before I knew it, I was applying and getting a big scholarship to research all around the world about dark tourism.
It took me on a one year round the world trip, where I left all my possessions in a storage container and just fully immersed myself in seeking all things to do with death and tragedy around the world and what an unforgettable journey that was. It has been a big struggle writing my research and thoughts up, especially as I have been pregnant twice during this time and now have two little people to balance my work with; but with my final deadline looming in exactly one year, I am excited to finally get this work finished. I think it will be my proudest moment just knowing writing is my biggest challenge in life and if I succeed it proves that you can do anything you put your mind to.
Do you set up shots or do you rely on the natural disarray that you find?
When I first walk into a location, I often get a huge rush of excitement, it’s often difficult to find a way in so there is always a sense of accomplishment at first and then that is taken over by exhilaration about exploring the location. There is always so much to see and things to be found. I choose my shots wisely as I like to spend time over one shot, as I said before my work is fine art photography not documentary, so I will always set up a shot to some extent. If it’s a shot of an entire room I will make sure there is no obvious rubbish in the shot, I may do things like close curtains or move furniture and object to make the shot tell more of a story. I am always careful when I do this and put everything back just how I left it. I’ve found that no place I’ve been to is truly untouched, so I don’t see a problem in creating a shot artistically rather then just capture
What is coming up next for you? Is there something that you really want to do?
I’ve taken a bit of a break from shooting over the last 3 years, due to having two babies and the pandemic, but I am busy planning a new series which will focus more on dark fairy tales in eerie, magical locations, including decaying ones. I’m thinking that my next printed work may be a 78 card oracle deck not a book. I am most looking forward to planning travel again when Covid has passed.
I really look forward to the oracle deck mentioned by Bathory as it sounds like something that could be absolutely magical to own.
Bathory’s work, easily brings an ethereal feel to the locations that she visits, with an intelligent use of natural light and her fine art eye, it shows its viewer the world through a lens which very few people get to experience.
The photograph of hers, which I always have found the most impressive is this…
On initial viewing, it looks as though this could be the underside of an alien spacecraft, but as your eyes adjust to the atmosphere with in the photo, you are able to pick out some identifiable things. There are what looks like seats in a circle, the lights become holes in the roof.
This is actually a photo of Buzludzha Monument of the Bulgarian Communist Party. The monument stands on top of Mount Buzludzha, it is the largest dedicated to the party. It is based on the initial sight where Bulgarian Socialists began their first clandestine meetings in 1891. This sight is also the area of one of the bloodiest battles against the Turks, which makes the positioning of this monument have great symbolic importance.
The building was designed by Georgi Stoilov and was funded by donations from citizens of Bulgaria. It had many expensive materials used within the build. The amphitheatre shown in the photo above, has murals running around its walls, celebrating themes from local and Soviet history. Sitting in the round of an amphitheatre, echoing the all voices heard approach an all people are equal approach sought desperately by the Communist party.
The seventy metre high tower, did one have a star made of red glass on top of it, but many of the materials from this building have since been looted. The star was made in the Soviet Union, but in a display of one upmanship, it was made to be three times the size of the one in the Kremlin.
The monument was abandoned in 1989, and gifted to the state in 1991. SInce then valuable materials have been stripped out, and the cooper that used to cover the roof has been stolen, leaving the building open to the elements. This has pushed the building into a slow decay, with its broken windows and missing pieces of roof allowing the harsh, desolate winters of Bulgaria to take their full grip.
I love the lighting in this photo. It really makes it initially difficult to really know what you are looking at, then as you study the picture, you start to realise that this was once a magnificent building. Despite the snow strew across the bricked amphitheatre, and the missing roof panels, you can see that this would have been a place of pride. It gives a sense of immensity and of dominating ideals as it looks across the land around it, perched on the top of the mountain, almost as a reminder that in the grand scheme of things, and no matter who you are, decay comes to us all.
Bathory’s work definitely makes you think about the history of the places that she has visited and how they have become what they are now, in a anthropomorphic triumph.
If you would like to see more of Bathory’s work, you can find it here. You can also find information about purchasing her books on this site.
If you would like to follow her, you can find her on instagram under @rebeccabathory
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