More decay — by the hand of man.

This is the second of two postings on decay.  The first dealt with decay we see in the natural world.  You can read it HERE.  This posting looks at decay caused by man or by man’s neglect.  More specifically, Urban Exploration.

TALK Street _001-2

Left-behind organ.

It’s referred to, by practitioners, as UrbEx. and it means – in plain language – plundering around in and making photographs of old, abandoned buildings.  Many will expand the definition to include anything that has seen better days.  I’ve seen (on UrbEx web sites) images of everything from cracked sidewalks to graffiti covered walls.

Have I done UrbEx?  Well…yeah.  I’ve been in ancient, abandoned churches in Romania and Bulgaria.  I’ve explored bombed out buildings on the Adriatic coast and parts of an old factory near where I live.  I’ve explored countless old, abandoned houses.  My biggest ErbEx experience was exploring Buzludzha, the Romanian Communist monument.  You can read about it by searching my blog’s archives (November, 2013) or click HERE.  I’m glad I did the Buzludzha building when I did because it is now tightly sealed.

Mill Interior.

Mill Interior.

There is something intriguing – even mysterious – about UrbEx images.  I’ll admit that I am hooked on it.  But is it appealing to others?  Is it a bit creepy?  I submit that an UrbEx image, if well done, can be one of the best “story telling” photos you can make.  Think of the words mystery, memory, abandonment, intrigue.  These images are often filled with melancholy and emotion.  Many time an UrbEx image contains left-behind objects that give clues to a deep history.

A few hints if you want to try UrbEx yourself:  Use a tripod so that you can take longer exposures in poor light.  Try shooting some HDR’s –  adds a mysterious air to the image.  And black and white works particularly well.

TALK Street _001

Bombed-out, abandoned home in Croatia.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the obvious:  UrbEx can be hazardous to your health.  Climbing over stuff, crawling under stuff or making your way through tight, little places can bring about all manner of injury.  At the very least, do UrbEx with a friend.  A reader cautioned me to mention that abandoned buildings can contain asbestos dust which is also bad for one’s health.

You will want to add some safety things to your pack.  For example, a first aid kit, water, flash light, dust mask, etc.  And let someone (not on the trip) know where you are and when you are expected to return.

UrbEx has, over the years, earned a shady reputation.  The internet is filled with accounts of breaking into places and narrow escapes and you won’t have to look far to read stories relating brushes with the law.  Let’s make something perfectly clear:  There is a vast difference between the UrbEx purest and the run of the mill breaking-and-entering crowd.  Illegal is illegal.  My advice is don’t do it.  But if there are no signs you pretty much have a green light.  Well, maybe yellow.

REAL UrbEx people subscribe to the notion that they should “take nothing but photographs and leave nothing but footprints”.  That is why – and this in interesting – the UrbEx world is secretive.  Rarely will the the photographer tell you where the picture was made.  Why?  The answer is NOT that they want to keep it for themselves but rather that they want to protect those spaces from looters and vandals.

Try this close-to-the-edge genre.  You may find a new expression of art photography.

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Niccolo Famiglietti - John,
I just clicked on the link to your article on exploring Budludzha. Glad you got a chance to document the monument’s decay before they sealed it off. What an intriguing project. Thanks for todays’ post and that regarding Budludzha.

skeeter - Thanks, Nick. Sorry I didn’t see and approve your comment earlier — I’ve been out making photos of the new and the going-away in Portugal.

Melissa Henderson - John,

What an amazing voyage that you and The Bride had. You have a couple of photos here that just speaks to my soul. Thank you so much for sharing.


skeeter - Thank you, Melissa.

Yes, we’ve been fortunate — far beyond what we deserve — to be able to travel to interesting places and cultures.


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