Photographer Dax Ward has been shooting abandoned places throughout Thailand, South Africa, and his home country, the United States, since 2016.
Coconuts previously featured his photos of abandoned trains in Thailand, and ahead of his first solo show in Asia — opening this Friday at Sathorn’s JAM Cafe — we followed Ward to one of his recent shooting locations to talk about his work and upcoming exhibit, “Abandonia”.
A few of his photo series, such as those of Chonburi’s abandoned Batman nightclub and Thailand’s airplane graveyard, have been published by The Guardian, The Daily Mail, CNN Style, The Sun, (and interestingly) The Weather Channel.
Yesterday, we followed Ward around a block of abandoned apartments in Samut Prakarn, one of the locations featured in “Abandonia”. The construction project clearly came to a sudden halt — there’s one tower that ends just halfway through.
Ward says that he tries to get permission from the owners to visit the abandoned places he shoots, but he’s also not opposed to climbing a wall or bribing a security guard to gain access. He doesn’t feel bad about doing that because: “When I go to a place, I never intend to do any damage. I never break a lock. I just walk in and document the history and state of the place before it disappears.”
He also notes that Thai trespassing laws are based more on the intent of the person than their actual presence in a forbidden place. So, if they found glass bottles or spray paint on you, you might be in more trouble than if you were walking around with a camera.
The owners of some places that appear in “Abandonia”, such as a movie theater that he shot outside of Sukhothai, were actually thrilled to show him around. They were glad to have someone interested in hearing their family’s story — of how hard they tried to keep the place running, but ultimately had to close it down due to competition from nearby mall theaters.
Other sites included in his “Abandonia” series include: a prison in Chiang Mai, an abandoned tower in Bangna, old hot spring resorts in Hot Springs, Arkansas (near his hometown), and a hotel in Ratchada.
Ward says that he doesn’t publicly share the locations he visits, since it could make those places vulnerable to others visiting with malintent. “Most people are just curious, want to see it themselves — but then one in 100 wants to go there and screw it up.”
Ward isn’t a full-time photographer — he has a day job, which he says he enjoys and which pays well. “The idea is just to get my pictures out there, not get rich and famous.”
When asked why he thinks people connect with photos of abandoned places, which has been a strong photographic trend around the world in the last few years, he explains: “It’s curiosity about the past, how things used to be.”
For him, decay, a dark feeling, and a great backstory all help to make a great photo, as well as help both shooter and viewer make a connection to a place. “I like when it’s not just an empty shell but there’s actually still stuff in there, like desks, chandeliers, or reels of film, anything. It makes for great ambience.”
Abandonia – Photography Exhibition of Dax Ward
41 Soi Rong Nam Kang