Jump to the interview.

John Bulmer: Reclaimed



Before: Near the TU Center in downtown Albany.




Kennedy Towers in Troy.


John Bulmer: Dark City


Troy skyline.

Frear Alley in Troy.

Visions of a Capital Region after us


From John Bulmer's Reclaimed series.

By Lauren Hittinger

Have you ever wondered what the Capital Region would look like if everyone just disappeared? Whether it was from zombie apocalypse or mass exodus, the landscape would certainly change if we weren't around to mold and maintain it.

Photographer John Bulmer has taken this idea and turned it into two series of remarkable of photo illustrations. His Reclaimed series imagines an abandoned Capital Region landscape after a catastrophic situation. The Dark City series is a little more peaceful, imagining how our region would look at night without artificial light from sources such as buildings and streetlights.

The images in both series are eerily believable.

There a bunch of images above in large format -- click or scroll all the way up.

What's your background in photography? When did you get started?

I've been a professional photographer since 1999. My father introduced me to photography at an early age, and we had a dedicated darkroom in our house. I knew how to dodge and burn an image by the time I was 8. I spent countless hours on wildlife and location shoots with him. Photography has been a constant in my life since I was young.

It's important to find locations that are well known because the transformation has more impact that way.

Before focusing on photography, I was a graphic artist. I've designed everything from corporate identity systems, storefronts, packaging, and websites. I've even illustrated a book.

What inspired you to create the Reclaimed series and the Dark City series?

As a photographer, I attempt to show the viewer their city in a different way, making the well known seem new again. I really enjoy when people see my more traditional images and rediscover the beauty of their hometown viewed with a different perspective.

The Reclaimed series and Dark City series are an extension of that concept. Both series offer a different perspective on the known landscape. I also think people enjoy seeing the transformation. The Reclaimed Cities series imagines what the Capital District would look like if it were completely abandoned. The Dark Cities series shows what our nighttime sky would look like if there were no light pollution or electricity.

Honestly, it's a great deal of fun to build these images.


For those photos, is it all about getting the right photo to start with, or is it mostly post-processing to create effects?

It's a combination. Sometimes I have a preconceived idea and go out and find the right image, sometimes I stumble upon the right setup. It's important to find locations that are well known because the transformation has more impact that way.

I often Google how something is constructed so I can destroy it accurately in Photoshop.

What is your process like for creating a photo like those in the Reclaimed and Dark City sets?

It's an evolution. The images grow in complexity as I add more detail in an effort to make them as realistic as possible. I often Google how something is constructed so I can destroy it accurately in Photoshop. Images usually take between 3-5 hours to compete after the initial base image is captured. The completed Photoshop images often have hundreds of layers.

What's your favorite project that you've worked on recently and why?

I love shooting severe weather. Shooting weather brings together science, technology, art and logistics. It's also really, really fun.


In addition to your personal projects, what else do you shoot? Do you do photography full time?

I am a full time photographer working with both corporate clients and individuals, I shoot sports, events, portraits and commercial and stock images as well as weather. I also work as a graphic artist and social media consultant.

This interview has been lightly edited.

John Bulmer has many examples of his work on his website -- specifically, the Dark City and Reclaimed collections. He's also on Flickr, where you can catch a lot of his work capturing weather scenes.

Lauren writes about shopping, crafting, and living well on a small budget at The Thrifty Ginger.

all images: John Bulmer


Until I saw the "After" I thought the "Before: Near the TU Center in downtown Albany" was the Reclaimed image. That's such a terrible street it makes me want to go back in time and shake the designer of the TU center and say 'don't you realize the effect this building will have on side streets?!"

"Designer of the TU center"? I don't think those words mean what you think they mean.

Stunning pictures of the skyline with no light pollution.

So Albany doesn't normally look like that?!
I'm not sure there was actually a lot of 'Photoshopping' going on here. Have you seen Sheridan ave?... oooor MOST of Albany. (Anyone remember Jeopardy and 'urban blight'?)

Great! His show at UG is really nice too.

Somebody also came up with a way to turn Google Street View in an urban jungle: Urban Jungle Street View. Enter your ZIP code and give it a shot.

Some pics online: Turn your street into a post-apocalyptic nightmare (Wired UK), Google POST-APOCALYPSE View: Turn your neighbourhood into an overgrown urban jungle | Mail Online, Google Street View hack turns your city into a post-apocalyptic jungle | The Verge

The good news is that Albany is likely to survive the Apocalypse because of our valley location situated away from lakes and ocean. We have been portrayed as the refuge city in at least one post-apocalyptic sci-fi film:


Very cool! Yes, I have wondered what Albany would like after a nasty virus killed off all life here. Now I know.


It hasn't been turned into a film yet, but James Howard Kunstler's "World Made By Hand" novel also includes Albany in a "Post Apocalypse" type scenario.

From p. 141:

"Albany once again looked like a frontier town. A few of the new buildings along the waterfront were brick, almost surely salvage, and fewer were a full three stories. The majority of wooden ones were generally clad in unpainted rough-sawn board-and-batten or clapboard. They fronted a new unpaved street called Commercial ROw. Not all of the buildings had been completed, and it looked as though work had ceased months ago due to some calamity and had not resumed. Some wooden scaffolds remained in place but no sign of tools or materials. The buildings were designed to contain trading establishments on the ground floors, but at least half were vacant, and nothing was open for business when we rode in at eight thirty on a stormy evening. Overall, the place gave off the odor of a society that was struggling desperately to keep business going, and largely failing."


Very, very cool. I love these kinds of series, and especially this one, featuring buildings and landscapes I know so well.

I think those are really sobering pictures; they give you something to think about. Excellent job!

Please send correspondence when the artist will be having a show. I find his work intriguing.

He could of used a picture of the Central Warehouse, no photoshopping would have been required.

2 words: AWE-SOME! im fascinated and transfixed by your work man. is it possible to license your work for a promotion? im a musician. if thats possible that would be very, very cool. please let me know and keep up the great work!

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