PHOTO ESSAY: This Is What’s Behind the Walls of the Domino Sugar Factory

Domino Sugar Factory. (Photographs by Rob Dobi)

Domino Sugar Factory. (Photographs by Rob Dobi)

Illustrator/photographer Rob Dobi showed us what’s behind the walls of the Domino Sugar Factory from his New England Ruins photographs and answered a few questions about his photographic process.

How do you get inspired? Any specific places, visuals, thought processes that you go through to continue getting inspiration?

There really isn’t one specific type of building or space that inspires me more than another, mainly because the rush of stepping into a place where you don’t know what to expect never gets old.  An iconic place like Domino gets me excited based on the history alone, an asylum might have a certain stigma to it, but I might be more inspired by a 1200 sq. foot abandoned house in the middle of nowhere. I’ve always tried to avoid the tourism aspect of the urban exploration culture, it is impossible to always be the first to see a place, but if I’m visiting a spot I know others have photographed, I will intentionally avoid viewing their work so I can see the place with a new set of eyes.

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What was your education in visual arts like? Did you take a lot from your formal training in illustration to adapt it to your current work in photography?

I am a 2003 graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design with a BFA in fine arts with a focus in illustration.  My education was mainly learning how to function on a severe lack of sleep, eating on a budget and avoiding eye contact from figure models who talked to me as I drew them with charcoal.  I suppose my illustration training slightly influences my photography, but only in the way of framing a composition.

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Your illustration tends to revolve around the human figure, but your photography focuses on abandoned spaces. What is it about abandoned spaces that keeps you interested?

That is the first time I have ever heard anyone say that about my work and I have never made the connection, now I have to sit and think about that for awhile.  I suppose the main thing that keeps me interested is while the places I love to explore always end up suffering the fate of the wrecking ball or being redeveloped, new places always pop up and no two are ever the same. There is a sense of curiosity that everyone has as a child that you either outgrow or it stays with you.domino1 PHOTO ESSAY: This Is Whats Behind the Walls of the Domino Sugar Factory

When a bunch of 10 year olds are riding their bikes and stumble across that old house in the woods, none of them ever hesitate to go in, yet why do adults refrain from doing such a thing on a larger scale?  You can almost equate these buildings to clickbait ads or facebook posts that are along the lines of “this might look like a run down vacant building, but what is inside will amaze you!”  This isn’t always the case, but certain locations wind up being far more interesting than you might think, so you never know what to expect.

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What is your creative process while shooting? 

The northeast doesn’t have as many interesting abandoned spots as it did ten years ago, so when I find a new location that is particular inspiring I tend to go back every weekend until I know my time is done there. Often times when checking out a new place you don’t know what to expect, nerves are high and I find myself just wandering around for an hour just getting acclimated to it.  Once I know that I have nothing to worry about I break out my tripod and focus on shooting.  I really try to document as much of a place as I can, with a good amount of wide shots that define the space as well as seeking out things one might not normally encounter.  Sometimes the most interesting finds are the things others might look over, like a doodle on a sheet of paper, or some hidden patient scrawl on a brick. 

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Any abandoned spaces you’re interested in shooting but haven’t gotten to yet?

Absolutely, there are spots all over the globe I’d love to see, just a matter of getting there.  I’m not much of a gambler so I never really book long trips focused on exploring, it is a bit of a risk to travel thousands of miles only to not have luck on my side that day.  I do visit spots while on vacation, my wife and I recently spent our honeymoon in Hawaii and when we weren’t on the beach or hiking, I was poking around buildings not many have seen.

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