Belle Isle Boys

Updated: Mar 13

Some of my first and most memorable male photoshoots took place on a little island in the James River of Richmond, Virginia with a dark and mysterious past.


Belle Isle, Richmond Virginia RVA James River abandoned urbex creepy forbidden
Belle Isle revisited in 2019. Exterior and the now off-limits interior of the old hydroelectric power plant.

"The island served as a prison for Union soldiers during the American Civil War. Between 1862 and 1865, the island was home to about 30,000 POWs and as many as 1,000 died, though accounts vary with the South claiming the death rate was low, while the North claimed it was very high."


"The Virginia Electric Power Company built and operated a hydroelectric power plant on the island between 1904 and 1963."


Richmond, Virginia has been a sort of hometown for me since I was in college. Long before I ever had a photoshoot or found my passion of photographing men, I was a typical lost and clueless college kid at Virginia Commonwealth University. After leaving college (more than once) and eventually getting into portrait photography and abandoned buildings, I would come back to visit Richmond and my friends there whenever I'd get the chance.


I don't recall the first time I visited Belle Isle, a 50-something acre island within the James River of downtown Richmond. In college my friends and I would sometimes come out there to walk around or lay on the rocks of the river on a hot summer day. I had heard about the Civil War prison and also recalled stories of unmarked graves on the haunted island. I'm not sure about the unmarked graves and unfortunately I never witnessed any ghosts or paranormal activity, so I can't speak to that.


Between 2011 and 2012 I did about a dozen photoshoots out on Belle Isle - all of them took place at least in part at the old, dilapidated hydroelectric power plant. The structure was big and mysterious to me and full of wonder and potential. Come to think of it, this may have been what set me on the path to seek out abandoned and decaying structures for my photography. There were high ceilings, iron ladders, hidden chambers - and it was all open and accessible to anyone daring enough.


Belle Isle, Richmond Virginia RVA James River abandoned urbex creepy forbidden
Left: the large, main room with entrances to 2 smaller chambers, one of which was accessible, the other sealed shut. Right: looking down into the accessible chamber

My first shoot on the island was in February of 2011 with a guy who became my muse and one of my favorite all-time models even to this day - Daniel. Over the next year or so we did a handful of shoots together whenever I was in town - all on Belle Isle. We both loved the location and the results we always got, so we made the most of it. My favorite shots of Daniel were taken within the only accessible chamber at the old plant. There was a hole or portal that was just big enough for a person to fit, which on our first visit he had no hesitation about going through. On the other side was a flooded (depending on the forecast and season) chamber with a concrete platform and a large, deep hole with a ladder rising out of it. This hole must've been where the river water came and went, depending on how hydroelectric power plants work, though I'm only guessing. The whole setting and this inner chamber specifically made for some really cool, artistic and unique shots.


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Daniel climbing through the 'portal'.

Over the next year or so there were others - Paul, Dat, Micah, Shawn, Jessie, Don, Chad, Sean and Vlad. It was a diverse group of guys - some even made the 2 hour drive down from Washington, DC for our shoots. Some were aspiring fitness and lifestyle models, one was an 'adult-rated' shoot specifically for a client who had hired both of us and others were just regular guys up for an adventure. Whoever they were or wherever they came from, looking back I can't help but feel a bit sentimental about those days. The old building has since been welded shut and closed off - something that should have been done a long time ago. Whenever a space or location I've come to know and photograph becomes no more, whether from being locked up, demolished or collapse - while sad in some ways, I also feel a sense of gratitude that I was able to have it and enjoy it while I could - knowing the images will hopefully live on forever.


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Paul and Dat between takes.

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Don in a smaller building next to the main one.

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Left: Daniel ; Right: Micah

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