A day of adventure with the Leica M9

I’m back home after a long day of driving, walking and running for my life. Yep, I was nearly robbed today of my Leica M9 and lenses! What a way to spend a day 🙂 I was out in St. Louis, MO today just driving around and looking for abandoned buildings to photograph. Not really knowing anything about St. Louis (as in what areas are good and what areas are bad) I just exited the freeway at the first sign of something interesting. I spotted a few old factories that looked empty and run down so I headed my little Toyota Prius in their direction.

Something was odd though. As I drove in to this industrial area it looked like a scene from a movie. No one was around and this appeared to be like a little ghost town with every factory closed and run down. Hmmm. It was mid day so the light was awful, but I pulled my car into a lot and got out to walk. There was graffiti everywhere but no one to be found. I spotted the old Southwestern Railway Freight Depot and it was heavily vandalized. There was even a Christmas tree hanging upside down on the “front porch” along with other decorations.

As I was taking these images I saw three men appear out of nowhere and approach me. They said “How are you today?” – I said “good”. They entered in to the building ignoring me and my camera. I turned around, got in my car and drove down a block or so to the next factory.

This image was taken at the Laclede Power Company. Windows were busted out and the building looked like a mess. As I looked around I saw no one. The three guys from the last stop were no where to be found so I moved on to St. Louis Refrigeration and Cold Storage where I saw these steps:

As I snapped a couple of these steps I heard someone speaking and yelling so I hopped up once again and hopped in my car to get out of the area. I was starting to get a but nervous as things did not look to safe, especially when carrying $10K worth of gear around my neck. Before leaving I did manage to grab a shot of this old brick warehouse:

On the way out I spotted Union Electric Light and Power Company which appears to be in operation. The building was MASSIVE and looked amazing. I pulled in to the front parking lot and stepped out to get a quick shot. I knelt down and grabbed this..

After I snapped this shot, I was going to get a few different angles. I was leaning against a wall when an old beat up 1980’s car pulled up and two VERY rough looking guys get out and start to walk up to me. They said “What are you doing here Bro?” – I was thinking “OH SHIT…” and then remembered that A: My car was like 2 feet behind me and B: I left the door open, and C: I left it running. I quickly turned around, hopped in the car and was able to take off quickly. The two guys got back in their car and followed me all the way to the expressway. Maybe they were just going to engage in some friendly chat? Who knows, but I got a bad vibe from these guys. When they pulled up, NO ONE else was around, anywhere. These guys came out of there car with an attitude so I am glad I did what I did.

After I was back home I looked up some info on this area and some say it is extremely dangerous while other say it is just full of homeless people who live in the buildings. The freight depot is supposedly pretty amazing inside with all kinds of elaborate graffiti. There is also said to be a very nice man named “Jeremiah” who “manages” the building, and yes he is homeless. Maybe I will go back another day but when I do, I will be sure to bring a couple of buddies with me.

The photographs here were all processed in CS4 and were all shot with my LeicaM9 and either a 35 summarit, 50 summicron or 75 summicron. My review for the 50 and 75 will be up really soon, one of them this week. Thanks for looking!

33 Comments

  1. Steve, the make and value of the camera is of little consideration when it comes to being mugged. I was in New York a few years back and coming up the stairway from the subway with an old Argus C4 around my neck. Several thugs chased me up the steps to the street and then turned away once outside with many people who would be witnesses. By the way, the old Argus was a great camera and I still use it once in a while. Glad you made it home safely. There are places in Washington D.C. that I would like to photograph, but it could be deadly, even in the middle of day.
    Take care

  2. Steve you photos are great , I found you side and now I be on it all the time thank you for bring some many beutifull photos and I love all you articles and you reviews made me change some of my think about some lens , I have a M8 and M7 with 35 summ 1.4 . like you I love leica for the first time I see the first in 1982 .

  3. Steve, first of all, don’t go back there with a Prius! This is silly considering the risks you take carrying Leica cameras around your neck and the places you go to shoot! Get yourself a wreck car and dive into those wonderful lands of warehouses and abandoned places! I would also be careful to look a little bum myself, go with a big dog and then carry the Leica… keep safe, it’s dangerous out there!

  4. Thanks again guys for all of the comments. Also, Alan..funny you found that link as I found it as well. Pretty interesting but their pics are out of date. The area was way more deteriorated and vandalized when I was there. Thanks!

  5. Consider a concealed carry permit. Seriously. Self-defense is a right we have and should take advantage of. This is not a political statement, just a recognition that we live in an uncertain world. We have certain rights that can help mitigate that uncertainty. I’m about as bleeding heart liberal as they come, incidentally.

    After nearly getting accosted in broad daylight over photographing an old motel from a public sidewalk, I decided that I was not going to be bullied or feel that way ever again when it comes to my right to live and do what I want (within the law, of course) without intimidation.

    Take the classes, get a permit, and get a firearm you feel comfortable with. One glimpse of that piece on your hip will deter the potential ne’er do wells quite effectively.

  6. I always take my big lab with me, he always warns me when someone is getting a bit to close. Sometimes I miss a few shots though, just as I am about to take a photo he always seems to pull on the lead.

  7. There are some interesting thoughts here. I agree that one of the joys of photography — at times — can be the solo aspect. Steve’s experience is a good lesson for me. I’m 6’7″ and, as a result, few people try to mess with me. However, there are certain places where NOTHING will prevent a bad outcome. I also fall victim to getting lost in the experience, which would have been disastrous in this situation…

  8. Nice photo’s Steve, I love old run down building shots because of the character they portray. Glad to hear you were smart by keeping your eyes and ears open for any signs of trouble. My wife tells me that I get “lost” when I have camera in hand and don’t notice anything around me. This is a good lesson that where ever you may be – trouble may be right around the corner – so keep observant and ready to take off. This is particularly true if you are alone, and in a a not-so-nice area. Good lesson and thanks for sharing your story and photography.

  9. I am sorry to hear about the risks involved in making these beautiful pictures. I hope that it does not hold you back on capturing the atmosphere of these old sheds, factories and houses; they are just amazing.

  10. @Arash – Thanks! Maybe I should go buy a German Shepard puppy and train him as my guard dog 🙂 Sounds like a plan…The PP was simple here. Basically I converted the RAW files with ACR 5.6. I then applied the “Ink” filter in Color Efex Pro to give them the look they have. Quick and easy!

    @ Harold – Thanks! Next time I will bring a buddy with. After thinking more about it I would love to go back and spend more time there, possibly when it warms up in the spring.

  11. Steve:
    I’m glad to hear your safe and sound.
    My solution for situations like this is to take our German Shepherd for a day trip with me, some how people just don’t wana mess with a 120 LB dog.
    Also, Love the PP on the images, can you expand on that a bit please?
    Thanks and be well.
    am

  12. With all due respect to Mark, shooting and traveling solo is one of the great joys in life. Getting lost in the solitude and the details is both relaxing and quite therapeutic in my opinion. That being said, keeping an eye out in areas such as this is a wise thing. I am often walking around Chicago in areas that are not exactly idyllic. But sometimes you just need to get the shot 🙂 Stay safe.

  13. This sounds terrifying. I love the broken glass in the arched window and the old brick warehouse but Steve..No, I really don’t think it was worth going into a place like that alone. I do think those guys meant you harm. Even with a couple of buddies you may not have been safe. No picture is worth physical harm. Please be careful.

  14. Ok I got an idea… my project will be mansions in rich neighborhoods…THEY will be afraid of me and send the police… Thanks Steve for sharing your experience. Being Canadian we tend to chat when they call us bro…cannot be a ba guy if he calls me bro…right? Keep your urban decay alive… and take care.

  15. Have you considered getting a disposable camera for situations like this? You could get an old Canonette that you wouldn’t mind handing over to a robber. They might not be Leica, but they do have relatively fast lenses…

  16. Lovely shots, Steve. Glad you got out of there alive and unscathed. Sounds a bit scary. The images were worth the effort, as that urban decay feeling is very much there!

  17. Glad all’s well Steve. You made some beautiful pics of the urban decay that seems through the landscape, but it’s always a bit dicey to visit such places for fear of the darker elements of life… Glad you made it back home safely!

  18. A $250 Smith and Wesson trumps a $6995 Leica everytime. Being a former criminal prosecutor, for one of the nastiest parts of California, I’m with Elaine. You made the right choice. Better to wonder about what might have happened, then to actually know.

  19. Yeah, I concur with the above posters. You did the safe thing. I’ve been shooting in some sketchy areas too, but we usually don’t have to worry about getting murdered in the area I live in. Last time it was just some random rough around the edges guy on the street telling me I had a nice camera. I told him thanks and continued on my way. With the strap from the d200 wrapped around my wrist I was pretty sure I could brain him before he caused me any problems.

  20. Great story Steve. We have similar places like this over here too. I try to befriend homeless people here on our streets as you never know when you’ll meet them, and hopefully, they will remember me too. Do you have 2 M9 bodies or just alternate lenses ?

  21. I am enjoying your Leica posts. There are parts of St. Louis that are quite run down, especially East St. Louis. St. Louis earned the top spot as the nations murder capitol not long ago. There are many good parts of the city. But there are also many abandoned parts. I am sure these areas are dangerous. Please be careful.

  22. Two against one. Yeah, I’d be running too. I worked as a corrections officer for 22 1/2 years, and I’m telling you, you did the right thing. Sorry if those guys feelings were hurt, but better you’re alive and not dead. Your intuition, or gut feeling told you to leave. Smart. You’re in an isolated area with expensive gear. See, this is one of the reasons I am a bit leery of using equipment like this. I can recognize certain behaviors of the criminal element, and I’d be worried about theft or bodily harm. Then again, being a woman, I’d never go to an area that was isolated like that. The way the economy is, and how people are desperate, I’m cautious of carrying around any good camera equipment. If I do carry it, I kind of cover it with my jacket or hands. I take the shot, and then I’m gone. Bid D-SLRs are noticed, which is why I carried around the smaller point & shoot cameras. The dilemma is that carrying around a P&S won’t get the same quality file as the bigger guns.

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