When Bob Packert held a photo shoot in an old, uninhabited farmhouse in Holliston, Massachusetts, he didn’t know he would be repeatedly drawn to abandoned spaces in the years to come, or that his images would preserve a series of locations that would be torn down shortly after his shutter quit firing. The farmhouse was almost overlooked entirely, dismissed by one of his clients for being “too abandoned” for the assignment at hand. Packert only returned to it a few days before it was torn down, and the shoot set in motion an on-going personal project that explores narratives inspired by the history and the emptiness of forgotten spaces.
In the farmhouse, Packert staged a story of two teenage sisters raised by their grandfather, the tension of their relationships mirroring the desolate feel of the crumbling wallpaper and deteriorating rooms. There is a sense of strangeness and isolation in their interactions, and he worked with Mark Sylvester of Interrobang Design to tell the story in words as well as photographs in a self-published book 5 O’Clock Chicken. The mood is best summed up by the passage “My sister Eve often bore the brunt of the mistrust I stirred in my grandfather. He would howl for his meals, spit spraying passed his yellowed teeth... ‘5 O'Clock Chicken!’”
Above: Two images from 5 O'Clock Chicken, shot in an abandoned farmhouse in Holliston, Massachusetts.
Packert worked again with Sylvester on another book, Animal Instinct, which was shot on the grounds of the historic Rocky Point Amusement Park in Rhode Island. Founded in 1847 and closed in 1995, it stood untouched for over a decade before Packert scouted it as the location for a narrative. The park and the 60 cottages surrounding it were abandoned abruptly, with furniture and belongings still inside. “It was if they just walked out the door and never came back,” Packert comments. Packert focused on the textures and the isolated atmosphere, incorporating animal masks to evoke the echo of a carnival and a dreamlike state.
Above: Two images from Animal Instinct, shot in the surrounding cottages at Rocky Point Amusement Park.
Other locations have included Lincoln Amusement Park, which was shut down in 1987 and torn down this past summer, as well as an abandoned warehouse in Boston. In each location, Packert’s concepts arise from “inspiration in the structures,” he says. “Each one had elements that stood out and inspired me.” Packert tells the stories with an editorial eye, incorporating his love for fashion into the surreal narrative that unfolds in each space.
Packert’s project has been garnering attention in the creative community with an award from The International Creativity Awards for the Animal Instinct book design. He was also recently hired to shoot a bridal fashion editorial in an abandoned Western Massachusetts church for The Improper Bostonian after the creative team came across his work. He says his project is “constantly evolving” and is currently researching other parts of the country to scout other abandoned spaces on a larger scale.