Adventure without risk is Disneyland – Douglas Coupland
Urbex, what is it? It all depends on who you ask. Urban exploration as lightly defined by Wikipedia: “is the examination of the normally unseen or off-limits parts of urban areas or industrial facilities.”
Typically, these involve abandonments, catacombs, utility tunnels, and transit tunnels. Quite often it can involve risk of injury or death, and can also result in arrest due to trespassing or breaking and entering. If you are unfamiliar with urbex and would like to explore it further, terrastories.com has an excellent guide for getting started. For today, I’m going to focus on one aspect of it; urbex as a genre of photography, specifically decay, primarily houses.
See some great examples of decay on flickr.
Why urbex? Well, really, is there any better example of the artistic collaboration between man and nature? The final brush strokes nature adds to the monuments and structures that are left behind as a faint reminder that the place we stand was once a lively center of activity. Strokes that are sometimes subtle, sometimes violent, but always rich in contrast, the strokes present themselves in the form of collected dirt, trees and plants growing unfettered by walls and roofs. Strokes of human expression, sometimes artistic, sometimes violent… in the form of graffiti and broken windows. But I think it’s about the history as well, the history that continued after everyone left.
My perspective on urbex comes primarilyfrom the United States where there is a nice collection of Old West ghost towns and periodically, somewhere around the States, an entire town left to fend for itself, the most recent subject of Mother Nature’s relentless, unforgiving brush strokes. Geographically, I’m limited to recent foreclosures and turn-of-the-century houses that have fallen to neglect. Outwardly typical houses that would normally not warrant any attention at all. My foray into photography is spurned somewhat by typo, above, taken at the Highland Park Police station, nestled deep within Detroit, Michigan . I’ve been into actual urbex for many years, but it wasn’t until I saw that picture, that the idea of taking a camera along to document the experience occurred to me(⇦slow). I love old typewriters, and I love the stark contrast between the various obsolete technologies, entombed in a virtual prison of decay now.
Take only pictures, leave only footprints –Unknown
Urbex is nothing new. Ever since people have been pulling up stake and heading to greener pastures, others have wandered by to examine the aftermath. It’s only been in recent years that people have began toting cameras with them, turning otherwise dilapidated structures into works of art. This is primarily due to the advent of HDR photography and tone mapping, allowing photographers to produce stunning images of otherwise forgettable scenes. If you are unfamiliar with the HDR process, talkurbex.com has an excellent tutorial on the process, as well as the results from their experiment here. You can breeze through their forums and see a wide variety of some fantastic examples of urbex/decay.
Add to all of that, the Holy Grails of urbex – Chernobyl/Pripyat, Detroit/Flint, Michigan, and almost any country formerly under the control of the now defunct USSR, and the opportunities are almost endless. I’m hesitant to add places like the catacombs in Paris, and transit tunnels in New York because they seem played out and are less of the actual focus of decay here, but none the less, they do provide great urbex ops. If you are interested, there is a great chronicle of Pripyat, revisited 20 years later with awesome before and after pictures from rusakkerman.
The opportunity for urbex is present in almost every city and town worldwide. The depth to one wants to involve oneself is entirely up to the individual. Right now I’m content with light exploration of my area. I’m always on the lookout for abandons when I’m driving the backroads between the Bay Area and the Sierra Mountains. On most of the turn of the century houses I’ve found, the property owner or caretaker has always been helpful in providing information about the house as well as access to the inside on occasion.
If you are interested in exploring urbex photography further, a quick search of the words will bring up an abundance of forums, pictures, and articles. It’s always best to get acquainted with the area you intend to urbex, and always be prepared to explain your presence if you haven’t already done so. Also keep in mind that someone may have taken up residence in the abandon. I’ve encountered two people while out roaming around(pretty sure the 2nd one was a person, but it could have been an animal), the first guy was more stunned to see me than I him. He just froze like a deer in headlights, I just moseyed along. The second time, I had snapped a few shots before I heard what sounded like someone getting out of bed from behind a closed bedroom door. Kinda creepy. Without a doubt, almost every abandon I have been in has been re-occupied at some point by someone, with the only exceptions being houses deep in the hills. With that in mind, be aware of your surroundings, be safe- err on the side of caution, and take great pictures.
A few of my recent explores:
Urbex Photography Tips:
- Plan ahead, know the location you are going to.
- Take a cellphone
- Take water
- Take extra batteries
- Be prepared to get dirty
- Plan ahead