STEUBENVILLE - Mike Jones considers himself an urban explorer, and his exploration led to a photo book on some local, now defunct, steel mills.
"I just wanted a chance to see some of what used to be there because of the meaning. The steel mills were a huge part of this area, and it's important to remember that journey," Jones said.
The 30-year-old self-described "amateur photographer" was born in Youngstown and now lives in Canton. He grew up around steel mills and, through his photography, pays homage.
NEW BOOK — Photographer Mike Jones holds a copy of his new photo book on steel mills in Steubenville and Weirton. It’s available on blurb.com -- Michael D. McElwain
"Growing up in Youngstown, there was a huge steel industry there. Many of the structures are gone, and the furnaces torn out. I wanted to see some of that up close, so I made trips to the Steubenville area to accomplish that."
Jones said he made the trip to the Steubenville area more than a dozen times and slipped into both the former Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel facility and the former Weirton Steel mill. Hundreds and hundreds of photos later, Jones collected some of the best for his self-published book.
"It took three attempts just to get the courage to go inside the mills, and I got inside the Steubenville mill four or five times," he said.
His book, "Testament: An Exploration of Steubenville and Weirton Steel" is now available through his website.
"I did some general research about the steel industry up and down the valley, and through other photo-sharing websites like Flickr, I discovered the mills in the Steubenville area," Jones said.
"The absolute best part of the journey, for me, was the first time I walked up to where those furnaces were and I just marveled at them," Jones added. "The thrill of documenting that became important to me."
The result is a 40-page book containing 47 images. All are from the Steubenville and Weirton plants.
There are photos of blast furnaces, of course, but Jones also took time to document other areas inside the mills like blower houses, safety rooms, locker rooms and even administrative offices.
Jones said he's documenting a piece of history. "It's going to be gone someday soon, and I wanted to keep a part of it. My photos, in a way, do that," he noted. "Maybe in 20 or 30 years someone will see some of these images and will be just as fascinated as I am."
Even though Jones considers himself an amateur photographer, he's sold prints and has gathered a lot of interest online through his Digital Foundry site on etsy.com. He often shares photos on Twitter thorough his @DigiFoundry user name.
"For me, I know I'm an amateur right now, but my dream job would be to drive around the country and take photos," Jones said. "Some of the best times I've had were spent being out on the road during the summertime - windows down and capturing parts of America."
Jones and his camera have visited and documented the mountains of North Carolina, the hills of West Virginia and the campus at Notre Dame. Some of his more popular photographs include the skyline of one of his favorite cities - Cleveland.
"Maybe I see a scene, a building, a certain area or a steel mill in a different way," Jones said. "It's sometimes taking photos of little items that take you back in time."
Jones said he would like to document a running mill one day, but those opportunities are becoming few. "I just want to see, hear, smell and experience it and document it through photography," he said.
Currently, Jones works for a gas company in Akron helping to plan out gas pipeline replacement projects.
As for his new photo book, it is available for $35 in softback or $45 in hardback at www.blurb.com/b/3951580-testament where 20 pages can be previewed.
More of Jones' work is at his www.etsy.com/shop/DigitalFoundry website.
"I'm not trying to make a living out of my photography right now, but it is a passion and something I want to share," Jones said.