Abandoned Soviet Military Airbase

· 3.June.2021

You never forget childhood memories you just have to find them again. Sounds, human voices and scents are especially strong and lively. They a buried in your mind for decades then something ignites them and it feels like being in the good old days. This is exactly what happened when I visited the ghost town. I heard the sound of engines of Soviet tanks we were regularly watching as kids back in the in 1960s. Heard the tone and music of Russian voices in the street and kind of scented the smell of parfum Krasnaya Moskwa we used to scent in the bus going to school in the morning. No, these are not bad memories at all. We were carefree, we were kids and Hungary was said to be the happy the barrack of the Communist World anyhow.

We are in Szentkirályszabadja in Western part of Hungary. The location is a ghost town, an abandoned Soviet Military Airbase where some 6.000 people used to live. Some say this is the Hungarian Chernobyl as nature slowly takes the town back. Everything has been untouched for 30+ years. Actually the place is dangerous and one needs a permission to enter. But you experience the frozen reality of history, a kind of travel in time. I would summarize it as a location that is frightening but your curiosity drives you. Forget to enter alone in such a world alone so our small team was lucky to find a guide.

One can find trees growing on the roof of the 4-story buildings. It looks like a jungle, it is chaos around. To find a decent composition seems to be a mission impossible. You wish to record all. Every wall, every window and piece of stone tell their story. I planned to spend half day there but after two hours I felt completely exhausted. Not physically, but mentally.

Imagine it is a real town therefore you can see only a fraction of it in a few hours’ visit. I have scouted only 4 buildings, the theatre, the kindergarten, the elementary school and a block of flats. Some of the buildings are completely unaccessible. You face barren walls, old peeling paints and falling plaster. You hear squeaking windows and you smell the scent of rotten wood. Do not touch the glass shard and debris when you step in the dark cellars of looted houses where the electrical cables were pulled out of the wall. And you witness the tree roots on the walls and you understand nothing but controversy.

My primary target was to photograph the theatre. The scene is a typical HDR subject. Strong sidelights and fully dark, almost black internal surfaces. The pillars and ceiling show marks of paintball and softball activity of past decades. Even the human eyes’ dynamic range has difficulties in seeing all the details consequently the sensor of my X-T3 had low chances to record the scene in one shot. Since I wanted to photograph all the details 9 exposures were taken (maybe too many), decreasing the shutter speed always by 1 stop that is easy with Fujifilm’s physical adjustment dial in the dark. The photos were combined in Lightroom 6 HDR software and the result has truly paid my efforts off. I used a small travel tripod and having had no wind in the building all shots produced excellent sharpness.The other photos were taken handheld in aperture priority mode set to f5.6 or f8. ISO was fixed at ISO200.

The already classic XF18-55mm R LM OIS kit lens proved to be handy. I usually set the zoom usually at either ends.

Some people find the battery life insufficient that has honestly never bothered me. I can easily agree that a professional photoshoot or a day long video recording may require several batteries but my amateur needs of up to 200 shutter actuations a day can smoothly be performed with a single battery.

I shoot RAW and post process in Capture One Twenty. Recently my workflow for black and white processing is like this: set Curve to Velvia, enable black and white then increase reds and yellows while decrease blues and cyan to darken the sky. Dodging and burning are effortless with the paintbrush in Layers though takes time. The smaller the brush size the better when you work on details. Clarity is gently applied as a local tool, while in the end Vignetting is set -0,5 to -1,0. I must admit I like post processing very much for it is an opportunity to re-visit the photoshoot. I often spend 2-3 hours to process 5-10 pictures.

The experience was stunning that no words can describe. Kind of once in a lifetime opportunity. Whether it is nice or not remains to be debated. But once thing is certain. I must return one day.