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110 Year Old Iowa High School

Location: Burlington, Iowa

I joined a meetup of other photographers on a rainy day in October to checkout this abandoned high school in Burlington, Iowa. Burlington is an old port town on the banks of the Mississippi River and has many unique old buildings, so I had really high expectations for this 110 year old high school that had been sitting vacant for nearly 20 years. Needless to say, I wasn't disappointed.

History of the Building

Courtesy of Preservation Iowa

"The three-story Classic Revival school has 203,235 square feet of space and sits atop the west hill bluff overlooking downtown Burlington. Thousands of Burlingtonians were educated in the structure during its long life as a school first the city’s primary public high school (1910-1970), then as Apollo Middle School (1970-1983) and finally as the alternative high school. The building was also a designated nuclear air raid shelter in 1950s.

After the School Closed

Since 2002 several private owners have assumed ownership with little to no work to adaptively reuse the property. One owner did repair the roof at a cost of more than $100,000. It has suffered from neglect over the past decade. The City of Burlington acquired ownership in the fall of 2015 due to failure of the owners to pay back taxes. The City Council set a one-year timeline in late summer of 2016 for Southeast Iowa Regional Planning to find a viable buyer to adaptively reuse the formidable structure.

The building has two intact gymnasiums on the west end of the main floor and a performing arts auditorium on the east end. It would be ideal converted into apartments (Burlington has a need for additional housing, as noted in a recent report) with large windows overlooking the city’s downtown. It sits on 3.69 acres of land."

Shooting the Self Portrait

I knew this location had a really cool theater complete with balcony and red torn curtains, so I really wanted to try shooting a self portrait that captured the true size and decay of the room. I came up with the idea of facing away from the camera and and looking out from the stage, similar to how an actor or musician would look out over the audience during a performance.

One thing I didn't count on was the large caved in skylight, which I was VERY happy to find. This added some really interesting light and shadows along with giving me a cool point of interest that I could be looking toward.

Once I generally knew what I wanted my image to look like, my next step was to setup my camera and take some test shots to find my framing. The camera was placed on a tripod at about 18" high with a slight upward angle to capture the skylight. The shutter was set to a 10 second delay and I got in place with my camera remote about 10 ft away. I'd click the shutter, take my pose and wait for the timer to countdown and take the shot. Then I'd check the camera, reposition and repeat. Below is the final image.

Gear Used for the Shoot

Camera: Sony A7SII
Lens: Sony FE Zoom 24-70mm f/2.8 GM
Tripod: Manfrotto 190XPROB, Manfrotto 496RC2 Ballhead
Camera Remote: Sony RMT-DSLR2
Camera Bag: ProTactic BP 350 AW II

More Photos

Click to view the full size image.

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