Mottley Law Firm May 2019

5/19

THE MOTTLEY CREW REVIEW

www.MottleyLawFirm.com | (804) 823-2011

AN ABANDONED VIRGINIA

THROUGH JOHN PLASHAL ’ S LENS

“These places are frozen in time. You are literally entering a time capsule.”

When my neighbor, John Plashal, turned 40, he decided he needed a hobby he could grow old with. Photography had always piqued his interest, so he gave it a try, investing in some basic Nikon gear. When driving the back roads of Virginia to find unique landscapes to shoot, he kept stumbling upon something more interesting: places that were falling apart. Nine years later, John now has a robust print business, has authored the coffee table book, “A Beautifully Broken Virginia,” and is selling out theaters and microbreweries across the state as a professional storyteller with a program called “Stories of an Abandoned Virginia.” Conversations with John about his adventures are interesting and enlightening. His pictures of abandoned houses, churches, schools, and insane asylums are haunting, often eliciting this response from people who see them: “What happened there? Who lived there? Why did they leave?” John answers their questions by researching John enjoys shooting the exteriors of these forlorn places, especially under cloudy or stormy skies. The images offer unique texture, dark moods, and elements of intrigue. The intrigue grows exponentially when you see some of his interior shots. Many of the homes are still fully furnished, just as they were decades prior. “When you enter a home that has been abandoned for 50 years and still see all the furnishings and personal belongings intact but covered in dust, it is a surreal experience,” Plashal says. the history and delivering powerful, emotional stories from the podium.

His images not only include elaborate dining rooms full of decaying antiques but also living rooms with family photos, old newspapers, and vintage pianos. He says, “I find so many pianos. Everybody seemed to have one. I thought a piano was a token of affluence until I was recently corrected by one of my elders. They informed me that it wasn’t a token of affluence [but] rather a sole form of family entertainment.” While he does photograph them often, decaying houses aren’t John’s only subject. “Churches are the best,” he says. He has found over 100 abandoned churches throughout Virginia and claims to have only covered about 5 percent of the state. They range in size from small and rural to grand and ornate. Often, these houses of worship still have hymnals in the pews, the Bible on the pulpit, and cobwebs in the holy water dispenser. It’s incomprehensible to many how this can happen, but John says the answer is simple, “The congregation either outgrows the building, or the money dries up.” Despite the cool places and fascinating stories, John maintains that the best part of this journey is meeting people. His methods of discovery include loitering at rural gas stations, talking to patrons in diners, and simply knocking on doors in an effort to gain local knowledge. He says, “They invite me into their houses, feed me meals, and educate me about their surroundings. It was enlightening to find out just how friendly

and accommodating Virginians in rural communities can be. Once you express a genuine interest in something important to them, all they want to do is share.” John originally thought his images would appeal to a select few because rural decay seems like a niche interest, but the interest in his images and stories of abandoned Virginia is more widespread than he expected. “We all have a subconscious obsession with a sense of place,” he explains. “As odd as it may sound, dilapidated places are very meaningful to many in a multitude of ways.” For those of you interested in John’s work or in attending one his “Stories of an Abandoned Virginia” talks, find more information on his website, JohnPlashalPhoto.com. You can also see his pictures on his Instagram account, @JohnPlashalPhoto, or on Facebook at John Plashal Photo.

-Kevin W. Mottley

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