They might not seem the likeliest of urbex subjects but abandoned pianos have captured the imaginations of photographers and urban explorers all over the world. They’ve become the focus of Flickr groups and the subject of discussion in forums. But what is it about these elegant instruments that remains so compelling after they’ve been left out in the cold to rot?
One participant of Pianoworld.com wrote: “I think it’s because of what we do at a piano. We make music, music feeds the soul. I’m not sure how to put the whole thing into words, but to me it’s like the difference between looking at the ruins of destroyed churches compared to destroyed factories.”
These words do a good job of capturing their haunting appeal – a feeling that’s incredibly compelling yet hard to explain in words. Perhaps the answer lies somewhere between the elegance of their design, the timelessness of their music and the incongruence of their ornamental nature amid rubble and decay.
Over the years, pianos have become unlikely symbols of the human side of war. and also appeared in urbex photos of abandoned buildings – like the grand at Detroit’s derelict Lee Plaza apartments, above – reflecting the lonliness that pervades such spaces once people have moved on.
Popular reports of “ghostly music” emanating from allegedly haunted houses invariably involves pianos, while the story of one 80-year-old upright left behind by its owner made it onto the pages of the Yale Daily News.
So whatever the reason, from their unique combination of music, art and engineering to the ghosts of the great composers, or simply the fact that they make great photographic subjects, abandoned pianos are both compelling and mysterious. That appeal is hard to pinpoint, but Sam Massie was right when he said: “One man’s trash really is another man’s treasure”.