What is Urban Exploration?
Unseen to the ordinary public who pass their boarded windows and fenced walls, no trespass signs refrain communities from seeing the hidden world within, slowly being claimed back by nature unseen. I find entry to these mystical places hidden to the world and sensitively captures them as a beautiful record, as they deserve to be recorded for posterity too, before they are lost as time rolls inexorably on. I capture the stories and characteristic through carefully composed images, to include the romantiscm and memories of the ruins.
I clamber over fences and walls, or sometimes under, through broken windows and sneak past security to try and capture these hidden places full of the beauty of nature calling back and the histories of past lives. I don’t break and enter, I take only photos and leave only footprints, I simply breathe in the unusual senses unusual to the hustle and bustle of everyday life and imagine a life where these places once had life. I marvel in the glory of the delicate architectural details and ponder on how it once looked, now with the added textures of decay the peeling paints on walls, the rust,
I visited my first abandoned building in 2004, an abandoned Victorian asylum called Canehill, it has now been demolished, it took my breathe away, a few months after I went to another asylum near my university called West Park and returned many times, which has also now been converted into flats. It was in 2012 that I first started hunting down abandoned buildings more seriously and capturing them in photos. Its become and obsession, each new place leaving me mesmerised and in wonder. Now I have been to over 300 different locations in over 15 countries and I will continue my search for years to come, I have become a collector of decay before it dissolves into the hands of time.
‘All human things are subject to decay, and, when fate summons, monarchs must obey’– John Dryden
‘Urban exploration has pursued its own notion of beauty through the hidden spaces on the fringes of modern society, hand in hand with the ghosts that reside there. To those who explore these peripheries, the shrouded haunts offer the chance to document social histories long before they become ‘worthy’ of antiquity. These latter-day Indiana Joneses take nothing but photographs and leave nothing but footprints; they document not only the unseen but also the unseeable, photographing what was recently the everyday, in a new light of contemporary decay. Urban exploration photography has correlations with William Eggleston’s body of work, which sought the beauty of the mundane in the unremarkable. In modern society, seemingly obsessed with rules, and health and safety, it offers real adventures in a cosseted world. We are, from an early age, warned away from these derelict and abandoned corners of our neighbourhoods with fears for our safety, or a fear of folklore, maybe even a fear of ghosts. To actively seek out these taboo spaces, urban explorers turn away from the white picket fences and Ikea facades of modern life to a place where a different concept of beauty sleeps, a place of decay, unfamiliar yet alluring. Buildings that normally do not warrant a second glance become galleries of cultural memory, exhibiting the social detritus of a recent civilisation. Braving injury and arrest, these adventurers authenticate our histories long before the historians arrive.
The level of decay in these buildings is alien to the majority of us. We live in a time where real estate is at a premium, a valuable commodity, and it is rare for buildings and spaces to fall into natural decay without developers regenerating the land, possibly gentrifying what was once so ordinary. The decay shown in this work is caught in a limbo of temporalities, a Purgatory of discredited ideology; too obsolete to be of use, yet not quite old enough to be historical.
It is the recognition of the emptiness in these spaces that adds to their power. A lack of life that laments the exodus of the living. There is a darkness to the spaces photographed, a darkness that builds on each page with each personal item, be it a book, a toy, a clipboard, a sample tube. Each was owned or used by somebody glaringly absent from the photograph. Some imagery deludes us with the feeling that the person has just left the room, some personal items, too personal to be left unattended for long. These forgotten objects are possessions that are still connected to the living, a record of a lived experience, a familiarity that will be lost in the sweeping prose of a historical tome that wishes merely to recount the master narrative of History, rather than the lived experiences of ordinary people; history from below, in other words. The imagery becomes suffocating, post-society, post-human, post-life.
Media portrayals of the apocalypse are ubiquitous, especially in film; nuclear, alien or zombie dawns depict the dystopian vision of a post-society landscape where the bleakness and dereliction speak of a bygone time. However when confronted with the reality that these places not only exist, but also allude to what could have been, do they not cut, rather than prick, at our conscience? Are we truly the victors of history? Do these images not remind us of the need for compassion and understanding?
The beauty in the decay is so very human.’
– From Soviet Ghosts Book Written by Neill Cockwill
Between 2014 and 2018 I am compiling a collection of these images to create a book called ‘The Presence of Absence’ the book will have a secret twist that will be revealed with the publication of the book. All will be shot using a Mamiya Leaf Credo 80 system.