“There is the piece of me that can relate to the overlooked and lonely feeling of these places, which I guess is why I can see the beauty in them,” says Shelby Yukevich, who can’t resist an adventure with her camera into forgotten buildings left untouched for decades.
Shelby is from the South Hills of Pittsburgh. Art has always been one of her favorite classes growing up, and she moved to Erie to go to Mercyhurst University for Art Education. She entered college with plans to become an art teacher because she enjoys art and working with kids, so it seemed like a perfect fit. However, in her Junior year of college, one of her professors (Professor Cardot) encouraged her to consider focusing her energy on photography, and she took his advice. Her art was featured in a few of Mercyhurst’s gallery shows, as well as a couple of avante garde shows her Pittsburgh friends put on in their living room and garage. In addition, she won Best of Show in 2013 at the Ruth Jageman Panorama Juried Art Show.
After Shelby graduated with her Bachelor’s degree in 2014, a friend of hers passed away. This great personal loss put her in a slump artistically and emotionally. As she has been slowly building herself back up, she has been channeling her inner artist again. As an introvert, she says that the camera gives her a way to express herself without having to talk. Art has always been her outlet because she says it’s the perfect combination of something fun and therapeutic.
I had the privilege of asking Shelby some questions about her photography, so keep reading to find out more.
Have you always enjoyed exploring abandoned places?
Yes. I have always enjoyed exploring but the opportunity to explore abandoned buildings didn’t come until later in life. It was an immediate love at first sight though. The first building I found was only accessible by following the train tracks on foot to the service entrance of this one building. It was like I was in some post-apocalyptic horror movie and I couldn’t stop smiling.
When did you originally become interested in photography?
I’ve always liked photography. I was never good at drawing or painting. I always had higher expectations than I had ability and patience for, but I always thought photography is nice because it will always be exactly how I want it to be. My grandfather was a medic in WW2 and he went over right during liberation. He brought a camera with him or he was given one and he came back with enough photos to fill two giant scrapbooks full. When he passed, I got handed a box that contained some of his things, but it also included a few very old cameras that I always had such an admiration for. I actually used them in a still life project in college.
What goes through your mind when you initially see these abandoned places you like to photograph?
My initial thought when I find or see an abandoned place that looks interesting to me is either “Where can I pull over,” or “Is anyone behind me.” Most of the time I find these places by chance so I’m not always able to just jump out and go exploring. After that I start inventing narratives in my head for what this place used to be and the people who used to be there.
Do you think having experienced loss influences your subject matter?
Photography has since been my best tool for communicating and expressing my emotions and processing the world around me. Although I like to take pictures all the time of pretty much anything when I’m out and about, there are specific ones that I don’t or haven’t shared because they are so personal. There is a little bit of me in every photo I take, but some resonate within me just a little bit harder. When it comes specifically to the abandoned places photography I think regardless of the loss in my life I would’ve still found the beauty and been just as curious in photographing these locations. There is the piece in me though that can relate to the overlooked and lonely feeling of these places, which I guess is why I can see the beauty in them as well.
You find beauty in places many would overlook. Do you tend to do the same when meeting and getting to know people?
Being a die-hard introvert and undoubtedly the quietest person in my family, I am very aware of how it feels to be overlooked. When it comes to meeting people I always do my best to be open and accepting of any and all people.
Do you have something in mind you want to say with your photos, or do you just take the pictures and let them speak for themselves?
With this particular subject matter, I’m not trying to say anything particular or get any sort of message across. If anything, I want people to think, much like I do, about what these places used to be. I never alter any space I encounter to amplify the impact of my photography. I don’t need to say anything because the photos already do.
What is your favorite place you have explored and photographed so far, and why?
It’s hard for me to pick a favorite place that I’ve explored because they’ve all had their own unique flare and they’ve all given me various lovely images. The biggest place I ever explored was a tuberculosis hospital. There were at least 10 smaller buildings and 2 large buildings on a very expansive campus. Me and my friend spent two days exploring the hospital. However, we didn’t dare stay overnight like we had originally planned.
If I had to pick a favorite though, it would be this old farmhouse I found in the middle of nowhere in Maryland. It was an old sunflower farm and the house hadn’t been occupied since the 70s (I found an old calendar in the kitchen). On the way down the meandering long driveway you could see straight through the main house from the living room window. I couldn’t tell you exactly why it was my favorite but it was something about the energy of the place. The building itself held nothing out of the ordinary. No weird items that didn’t belong. No cryptic graffiti that had been found. Just mentioning it instantly transports me to that house.
Do you think you look at a place differently when you have your camera than when you don’t?
I’ve come to see my camera as an extension of my eyes and my brain. I’m always surveying my surroundings as if I can take photographs simply by blinking. I do my best to take my camera with me at all times because I always catch myself finding an interesting snap when I don’t have it.
Considering your style, what would it look like if you did portrait photography?
It’s funny you ask that actually. For almost a year, right after college, I worked at a portrait studio. That place was the equivalent of photography McDonalds. It was family and child portrait photography, not unlike a photo studio in a big department store, but worse.
Although I am very good at getting an amazing portrait style photo and I do enjoy doing that kind of photography because I do see the appeal and value, it isn’t my style of portrait photography. To my memory, the best photos I ever took at that studio were the candid ones that no ones that no one could duplicate under any conditions. That is what my portrait photography would encompass and in some respects I might even want to experiment further with that concept to where the subject in the portrait might not entirely be present. Whether that means only part of the person is in the frame of the image or there is no person in the image at all. I think a series of portrait photographs might be my next adventure.
What’s something you want to try that you haven’t yet?
Well I would definitely love to have my own gallery, not just for my own art, but to showcase other artists of all mediums. I have some friends in Pittsburgh that put together shows in peoples’ living rooms or garages. I would love to bring that guerilla style gallery to Erie. In the realm of actual works of art work what I haven’t done yet in that regard, I would like to dabble more with black and white photography. That or portrait photography. I feel like that is something I could really do well with.
Thank you, Shelby, for taking the time to answer my questions. Keep an eye out for some local art shows coming up where you may just see some of Shelby’s photography displayed.