The Missouri State Penitentiary, also known as “The Walls”, was a prison in Jefferson City, Missouri, that operated from 1836-2004. Before it closed, it was the oldest operating penal facility west of the Mississippi River and was infamously referred to as the “bloodiest 47 acres in America”. Some people say it is haunted.
The State has opened the facility for private tours.
I recently had the opportunity to try a rather unconventional Infrared shoot there. Most people associate Infrared with scenic imagery , or something where you can really get the “IR Look” I wanted to see what I could capture with a shoot where I had no foliage.
Most of the areas that I was given access to were lifeless and quite frankly more than a little unsettling. There was only minimal lighting and that was light bulbs mounted high in the ceiling.
I decided that I wanted as much depth and clarity to my images as possible, so I chose to shoot everything between f16 – f22 and kept the ISO at 100. This meant that a tripod was going to be my only choice. I also wanted as much texture and range as possible, so I decided to shoot everything as multiple exposures for HDR. Everything was shot in RAW. I did a manual white balance on the concrete inside each building.
I wanted to capture the feel of this place. It was large and expansive, yet I felt closed in the whole time I was there. There was no feeling of personal space. The entire place had a strong feeling of dread.
As I moved thru the facility I found areas with a great deal of sunlight and made for easy, short exposures. In the main cellblock that had been built in 1868, the light was very dim. These images required exposures up to one minute. I shot the facility in both color and Infrared, but what I found was that in Infrared there were different details and textures that I did not see in my color images. The infrared tended to capture more of closed in feel, where the color images shot with the same lens seemed more open.
When I set to processing the exposures into HDR images, I found I had very strong shadows mixed with the lit areas. Initially, the images had very little color tones, except for a slight reddish cast. I did a second white balance on the RAW files, selecting the concrete again and this gave the images more depth and contrast and removed the reddish tones. Because of the age of these buildings I decided to convert most of the images to a Sepia tone rather than traditional Black and White, but found the subtle color tones worked in a few images.
How do you think they turned out?
If you would like to see more from this series, click here.