Many question my fascination with urban exploration (“urbex”) and specifically, my love of the urban decay photography genre associated with urbex. Urbex is the exploration and documentation (in my case, documentation via the camera) of abandoned industrial infrastructure; including, in part, factories, hospitals, asylums, schools, amusement parks, power plants, retail centers, multi-unit office and housing structures, tunnels and even drainage sewers (although I have yet to partake in a “draining” adventure). Abandonments are usually inaccessible and not meant to be visible. The urbex code of conduct demands respect when visiting these forgotten places – no tagging, vandalism, destruction or theft. The urbex golden rule is: take only pictures and leave only footprints.
I am not certain if I can provide a definitive explanation as to why I am drawn to vacant sites. Why am I charmed by structural decay and putrefied artifacts, and especially when I loathe disorder, dust and broken things in my own home? Why am I compelled to visit derelict places that hold peeling paint, rusty metal, collapsed roofs, and broken glass? Why do I subject myself to potentially hazardous substances such as asbestos, lead paint, black mold or bird and rodent droppings? In my eyes, abandoned buildings are soulful. I love the way a decayed structure changes shape over time. I love the way vines embrace a building’s skeleton and the way a tree pushes through a foundation or wall to become one with the structure. Discarded objects such as furniture, tools, books, papers, toys or utensils were once prized possessions, but are now, perhaps, just sad memories of what once was. There is even a different resonance in places that no one seems to care about anymore. I find a strange sense of beauty and peacefulness within these crestfallen environments.
Only recently have I discovered this new surreptitious world. Last year, I was instantly pulled to urban decay photography when I accidentally stumbled upon Tom Kirsh’s stunning photography website, www.opacity.us – an homage to the forsaken sites of the world. I had a visceral reaction to Mr. Kirsh’s dramatic and distinctive interplay of photographic composition and color. His images are moody and haunting, yet so relevant to the concept of beauty in disorder. I had a similar reaction to Andrew Moore’s extraordinary photographic journal of abandoned Detroit. Without hesitation, I was driven to capture my photographic essay about urban decay. I spent hours researching abandoned sites and in the process, became aware of the interesting urbex subculture. I connected with some like-minded adventurers and embarked upon searches for my evocative images, which has only fueled my desire for more urbex experiences. I wander in delight through modern ruins for the same reason that one walks along beaches or nature trails – for the beauty of the journey.
Many, including some fellow photographers, nonetheless, do not understand or appreciate the allure of these urbex excursions. Is an appreciation of this photography genre, though, so difficult to grasp? Do not thousands make pilgrimages to the “original” urban decay sites, such as the Pyramids in Egypt, the Coliseum in Rome or the Acropolis in Greece? Most would claim that these sites are beauteous to behold and history is the driver for journeys to these sites. History, however, is salient to every city and is not just assigned to the ancient ruins. Urbex holds an appreciation for the vibrancy of what once was, and provides credence to urban ruins that too many feel should be forgotten. My photo documentations from my urbex excursions preserve historical pockets of lost time. The lingering spirit of these sites moves me and stirs my imagination to capture images that mere sight might not always embrace. There is something profound in the notion that such grand structures, once pulsing with activity, were tossed aside to let gravity or nature take hold, or are to face the ultimate demise of the wrecking ball. Exploring these places brings forth a sober perception that although everything is finite, history is still relevant.
My love of photography, yet, is still the base for my passion of urbex. Would I explore these sites without my camera in hand? Probably not. Urbex photography, nevertheless, has strengthened my photography skills. Urbex photography is primarily a variant of architectural photography, and even though the composition is still critical with the usual rules of four-thirds and symmetry always in the forefront of the creative process, in most cases, however, difficult lighting conditions usually confront the urbex photographer. For example, it is difficult to shoot the interior of a very dark room with only a trickle of bright sunshine streaming through a broken window or hole in the roof – the photographic challenge of a harsh dynamic range light spectrum.
On the other hand, this lighting quandary of stark contrasts can also provide moody effects and gritty textures. Ultimately, though, patience and skill are the most critical factors for the creation of a poetic image – as is true of any photography genre. Imprinting the “soul” of a lost place on an image is the goal. I want to capture the essence of forgotten worlds in an instant. I love exploration within the shadowy underground playground. I hope my “pockets of lost time” images will allow one to appreciate and envision my captivation with this vanishing world, if only for a moment.
Art is never finished, only abandoned – Leonardo da Vinci