Leland Kent, the author & photographer behind the Abandoned Southeast blog, is gearing up to release his sixth book through Arcadia Publishing, entitled Abandoned Alabama: Exploring the Heart of Dixie. We caught up with Leland to learn more about his upcoming book & what he has planned next!
Abandoned Alabama: Exploring the Heart of Dixie
If you love learning about oft-forgotten areas in the Southeast, you’re likely familiar with the Abandoned Southeast blog. Launched in 2016, Abandoned Southeast is the work of Leland Kent, a Birmingham native, author and photographer. According to Leland, his fascination with abandoned and forgotten places inspired him to document his travels on his blog—and eventually, through several published books!
To date, Kent has published five books under Arcadia Publishing:
On October 25th, Leland Kent will be releasing his 6th book, Abandoned Alabama: Exploring the Heart of Dixie. The 96-page paperback book contains 140 color photos from 11 locations across Alabama, including several right here in Birmingham.
We sat down with Leland Kent to learn more about his upcoming book!
Meet Leland Kent, author of Abandoned Southeast
How long have you been taking photos of historic, forgotten and abandoned places throughout the Southeast?
Leland: “I started taking photos around 2013. At the time, it was something I did with friends. I didn’t get serious about it until 2016 when I started the Abandoned Southeast blog. I started learning about the places I was exploring, spending hours researching the history of each address.”
From start to finish, what does the process of photographing and researching an abandoned building look like? How do you hear about these abandoned buildings, especially the ones that are way out in the middle of nowhere?
Leland: “A lot of the places I find just by traveling and exploring backroads. In rural areas, you’ll have better luck finding abandoned places. When I’m in the city, I’ll try to look for abandoned places in historic districts—that’s where the oldest homes will be. If it looks abandoned, I’ll stop and check the meter to see if the house has power. If not, that’s a good sign that it’s abandoned.
At home, I’ll look up the history of the building or house. What did the owners do? What was their daily life like? Then, when I’m in the house, I’ll try to photograph examples of their daily life. Beyond that, I try to photograph the building’s architecture. I love to photograph staircases in old homes—they’re always unique because most of them are hand-built. To me, it’s an ode to the craftsmanship of a place—you can get an idea of the house itself just based on the staircase.”
In Birmingham, many of the buildings that you wrote about—like the John Hand and Empire Buildings—have since been redeveloped. For someone as passionate about historic buildings as yourself, does that feel rewarding, like you had a hand in bringing attention to the building?
Leland: “It’s kind of two-sided! I love exploring the abandoned buildings, which isn’t possible when they’re renovated. But on the other hand, it’s great to see these buildings receive new life. I’ve photographed all four buildings in the Heaviest Corner on Earth, and all four have been vacant at one point.
However, a lot of the renovations don’t take the historic aspect into account. For example, when the Empire Building—now the Elyton Hotel—was renovated, the original 1909 doorknobs were removed. Now, they’re gone for good. But it’s good to see that building have a new lease on life.
I left Birmingham in 2014, and since then the city has seen a lot of positive growth. I’d love to see that growth come to parts of Birmingham that have been neglected, like Ensley.”
Do you have a favorite building or location to shoot?
Leland: “My favorite building in Birmingham has to be the Prince Hall Masonic Temple downtown. Even in disrepair, the building is so beautiful inside and out. The grand hall, with its blue & white decor, is just stunning.”
What’s the next thing you’ll be working on?
Leland: “Now that I’ve published six paperback books, I’d like to do something bigger—a coffee table-type book that focuses more on the photography aspect of my work. I have several of my photos on permanent display at the new Valley Hotel in Homewood, which is very cool!”