November 15, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Amateur philosophers have long wondered if a tree falls in a forest with no one around to hear, does it still makes a sound? Cody Spicer might not be able to answer that age-old question, but he can tell you that trees, time, and other natural elements have certainly had their way with many of the abandoned structures he’s photographed.

“You’d be surprised how crisp and colorful an abandoned space can be if you light it up, because you’ve got rust and nature taking over. I [took one picture] where the trees are growing through the window of a second-story bathroom, and you see this greenery and these branches coming out of the window,” Spicer says. “What drives me to do abandoned photography is that it looks like something from a Resident Evil video game—like, apocalyptic—and it blows me away what people leave behind.”

Spicer considers himself a “content creator” due to his varied mixed-media dabbling, which includes video, photography, design, and fine art. The 30-year-old Wichita, Kansas, native has always been into art, but things got serious when he was 15 and fell in love with spray paint art—also known as street art and not to be confused with graffiti art. You may have seen him live painting down in the Old Market, surrounded by a crowd, creating masterpieces on the spot by layering multiple colors and manipulating still-wet spray paint to develop captivating artwork on 11-by-14-inch or 16-by-20-inch boards.

“I do a lot of pyramid paintings, a lot of spacescapes, fantasy landscapes…It’s like Bob Ross but the Pink Floyd version,” Spicer says. “When people buy a painting from me, it’s more of an experience, because you’re not just getting a piece of art that you bought at a gallery or online, you’re buying an experience and watching it being made, too.”

Spicer now works in tandem with artist Justin Hallberg, his former classmate at Omaha’s Creative Center College of Art & Design. While Spicer’s background is more in painting, Hallberg’s focus has been photography. The duo has established an informal creative exchange where they’ve mentored each other in their areas of expertise, ultimately electing to work together in many artistic pursuits.

For example, Spicer and Hallberg set up every Friday and Saturday night at 12th and Howard streets, where Spicer is teaching Hallberg the ways of street painting, and they also set out together for abandoned photography journeys. The pair has traveled extensively throughout the region documenting abandoned homes, warehouses, farms, and other structures.

“Every photo we take is 100 percent organic in terms of the setting, because we don’t touch or move anything, we don’t set up shots, we shoot it as is,” Spicer says. “And the things we find just blow our minds, like old family photos, shoes, toys, TV sets right where they’ve sat forever, pots with long-dead plants in them…You go into a home and you can feel the history there immediately. It feels like you’re stepping into a time capsule or going
back in time.”

And, while Spicer and Hallberg have discovered some pretty stunning destinations, Spicer says their journeys have become such an integral part of the story that they’re exploring the idea of creating a video blog, or vlog, detailing their various expeditions and the folks they meet
along the way.

“The idea of the vlog came about so we could show the story behind what it takes to get these photos,” Spicer says. “We meet so many interesting people along the way, landowners and people in small towns who are intrigued by these city slickers coming through, and something wild and unexpected tends to happen. We had our cooler attacked by a bear just outside of the car we were sleeping in one night in Colorado. We got locked out of the car in a windmill farm in Iowa, right outside of a graveyard. These are the kinds of things I think it would be interesting to share, because there are lots of funny stories.”

Spicer and Hallberg continue to learn along the way, whether that means beefing up safety with hazmat suits and gas masks so they “go in looking like the guys from E.T.” or casting a wider geographic net when researching abandoned properties. In order to travel more widely, they use donations made doing spray paint art to fund their abandoned photography trips, and Spicer finds an interesting juxtaposition between the two art forms.

“With street performing, it’s just the opposite of looking through a lens at someone else or a forgotten place in time like abandoned houses and such,” Spicer says. “When I’m painting, I’m center stage with people looking at me. I like getting people to stop their everyday activity and soak in the moment, because a lot of folks just walk by and everyone’s so busy with their everyday life, so when I’m performing and I do stop someone in their tracks, it’s very fulfilling for me to get them to stop, soak in the experience, and interact with us. I think maybe that’s also why I like the abandoned photography, because they’re these forgotten places that people just drive by and no one pays attention to, but we’re stopping to soak in and capture those moments.”

Visit codyspicer.com to see more of Spicer’s work.

This article printed in the November/December 2017 edition of Encounter.