Man with autism captures beautiful photographs of abandoned buildings

Winston-Salem, N.C. — Ryan Gustman has proven that beautiful things can be created out of the broken ones.

As a child, he was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and high-functioning autism. But to deal with the struggles that come with his condition, Ryan uses his fixation on abandoned and dilapidated buildings to create stunning photographs, juxtaposed with broken things like peeling paints and dusty relics.

He told:

“I’ve always been kind of drawn to abandoned, empty, forgotten, dilapidated things.”

“I don’t know ─ there’s just some kind of draw to them. Nobody else goes in them, nobody else takes pictures of them. They usually get demolished or renovated without any photographer going through it or documenting it.”

Ryan’s unusual interest in abandoned and dilapidated buildings started at a young age. According to him:

“Even when I was a kid, there was an abandoned building on the road l lived on in south Florida when I was 6 or 7.

“I forgot about that draw and the magic behind it until I came upon Plant 60 (an R.J. Reynolds building being renovated as part of Wake Forest Innovation Quarter). The door was open. That literally was the start of it all, right there. When I went there, I walked in and ran up the stairs and stood there thinking I’d been spotted, panicking and watching the paint chips fall.”

Ryan takes photography seriously, and he makes sure he goes by his self-imposed rules. He said:

“I don’t damage, I don’t steal. If I ever find other entrances that I did not come through, I close them off.”

He also makes sure that he respects the privacy of every homeless person he chances upon in some buildings. He does not take photographs of them.

To ensure his safety, he wears a full respirator rated for black mold and asbestos, as well as gloves, and makes sure he brings a first-aid kit and several flashlights with him onsite. According to Ryan:

“This is not a game.”

“It’s something you have to legitimately be concerned about.”

A game, it is definitely not. Ryan has already had several accidents taking photographs in dilapidated buildings— including one where he fell two stories down, hitting one floor first before landing on a ceiling made of disintegrated tiles.

There was also an instance wherein he accidentally stepped on nails.

But for him, it’s all worth it. He told:

“It’s one of my coping mechanisms for autism.”

“When you’re in these places, it’s the sounds of literal silence. It’s an intoxicating feeling.”

Source: Kathy Norcross Watts: Winston-Salem Journal: Photographer with autism is drawn to abandoned buildings