One man’s mission to depict America’s forgotten ghost towns by moonlight

Abandoned high school, Toyah, Texas.Abandoned building in Orla, Texas.Kent County Jail, Clairemont, Texas.Abandoned school, Mosheim, Texas.Abandoned church, Cee Vee, Texas.An abandoned 'Christian Church' in Picher, Okla.

Noel Kerns, a Texas-based photographer, has made it his mission to explore the hidden areas of America and tell their story under the moonlight.

Kerns images heavily include the prominent photographic techniques time-exposure, most notably by the natural light of a full moon, and the artful application of artificial light. The latter used distinctively by painting the scene while the camera’s shutter is open.

It was back in 2013 when the photographer finally collected his array of images into one publication, publishing his book ‘In Night Watch: Painting with Light’. The book, as told by its description, attempts to offer a glimpse into a nocturnal world of abandoned wastelands…both urban and rural.

Kerns heads into a deserted drive-in, a decommissioned military base, a small town being consumed by its own toxic waste and many more all with the same intentions; to bring these ghosts towns back to life. “If you’re shooting inside an abandoned building, it’s absolutely pitch black. So if you want something to appear in the picture, you have to put light in it,” he explained while in conversation with Slate. “You’re really using the light to sort of fill in the canvas and make the picture what you want it to look like,” he added.

With light and dark, motion and stillness Kerns’ first ever book uses his technique of ‘light-painting’ to portray the darkness of the American Southwest in a new, creative way. Kerns, with help from a full moon, take the abandoned structures of wasted America and makes it dreamlike.

His photographs bring together the spooky materials, the thoughts and mystery of what may have happened in a bygone era. “It implies that there’s something going on in the building, but you don’t know what,” Kerns explained. That creates a haunting or creepy vibe. It’s kind of like a horror movie: You want to watch but you’re scared at the same time,” Kerns said.

“I’m not one to believe in ghosts or things like that, but I will admit there have been a handful of buildings where there’s been a weird vibe. You feel there’s somebody watching you from the darkness the whole time,” Kerns said.

Kerns pictures follow his road trips through Route 66, California, Nevada, Michigan and Texas via images sourced by Slate:

(All images in this article are sourced via Kerns book ‘In Night Watch: Painting with Light’ and his feature with Slate)

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