FAQ - Everything you always wanted to know about Urban Exploration, but were afraid to ask
What made you get into photography of this kind?
When I moved from the rural areas of the North Sea shore to the Ruhr-area in 1998, I was very fascinated by the innumerable industrial complexes. The enormous sizes, mighty machines and the unique process-oriented architecture drove the Industriekultur in photography. I felt a strong urge to capture these impressions in some form and the Camera seemed to be the most obvious choice.
Through my mentor Christian Brünig learned the art of photographing architecture, which still plays a big role in my pictures today.
Beginning in 2004, the industrial motifs became rarer because, due to the high scrap-metal prices, the industrial complexes were being demolished rather quickly. My first non-industrial subject was Le Valdor, a hospital in Liege, Belgium. From then on I became fascinated with Urban Exploring.
Would you classify yourself as an "art photographer" If not, what would you classify yourself as?
In the beginning, I saw myself more as a documentary-photographer. I was mainly concerned with the unaltered representation of what I was seeing and my impression thereof. Since then I have developed further and I would indeed consider my photography a form of art.
Where do you find the locations?
Basically, all you have to do is keep your eyes open when you are out and about and you will find all kinds of abandoned buildings, like houses and factories. I am a member of numerous internet-forums and some of my friends are explorers. We use these networks to exchange information about objects outside of our immediate regions.
What do you find interesting/important about capturing these urban spaces?
We live in a disposable culture. Everything has become disposable: people, plastics, principles. A movie that was shot only ten years ago, is considered old, by today's standards. A TV-show from only 5 years ago - classic. Mobile phones and computers only have a very short life, before having to be replaced. Functional buildings that are filled with classical architecture and history are demolished, only to erect newer and bigger buildings in the same place.
We destroy our past, only to head into an unknown future, when the most important things we have are our roots. Through my photography, I am given the opportunity to experience and capture these doomed Objects and releasing them on my website gives others the opportunity to share the experience.
What are your experiences with these spaces?
Never go to these places alone. It can be very dangerous: In 2011, two urban explorers died. I do not want you to go to these old, abandoned buildings. I'd rather you look at my pictures on the web. My hobby is illegal; I'm not allowed in these places, but I go anyway. Don't do the same!
If a door is closed, don't break it down. I reject any form of force, in order to get into an object. There is an unspoken law that every explorer should respect: "Take nothing but photos, leave nothing but footprints."
Unfortunately there are many Explorers out there, that have the wrong idea. They destroy anything they get their hands on. Vandalism is a big problem that garners us Urban Explorers trouble from time to time.
What made you start this site?
I started the website in 2001 and called it "dubtown Industriekultur". In 2004, UrbanExploring became the core of my work and so the site was renamed "dubtown urban exploring." By now you can find more than 100 different objects, as well as more than 4000 Pictures on dubtown.
Can you describe how it feels to go into an empty, abandoned building / house?
It is like being in the eye of a hurricane: The life on the road outside flows past you, the world turns much too fast. Then I climb into the abandoned house through an open window. The dirty and gray curtains only permit very little light to pass into the room. A moist, almost intrusive moldy smell engulfs me and it is quiet, much too quiet in this house.
If you open yourself to this moment, you are told stories. Stories from a better time, when colors were more intense and the light was brighter. Stories full of wonders, stories about friendships full of life.
Caught in a world burdened with wishes and ambitions there is a longing for peace and quiet. Here, I can find this fulfillment. For a short moment I am not a part of this world anymore. Time is not important and material things have no worth.
What about an abandoned space/object makes you want to photograph it? What makes you choose a particular space?
The building has to be old and somewhat broken down. Modern architecture is rather boring. When I am inside an object, I desire to see everything, to photograph everything. I try to enter and see every room. Lighting and Forms (corners, lines) influence my choice of motif.
Do you find the objects/spaces left behind a form of art when you photograph them?
An object doesn't become a piece of art, after I photograph it. It remains unchanged from its original state. My photographs have extracted something from these objects, though, that can be viewed as art. It is, what you make of it. Every viewer will have to decide, whether it is art but in any case it is my personal expression of time and space.
What makes you personally find beauty in these places?
As I mentioned in my answer to question before, I find inexplicable peace and quiet in many of the objects. What makes these places so beautiful? It is almost as if I am wandering into a photograph in my explorations. Time has come to a standstill. Dim light and flaking paint on the walls, newspapers and the moldy smell that flows from every pore of the walls into me. Old wallpapers and tracks from the past that tell stories from times gone by. A painting, a forgotten photograph, an old newspaper and silence. Again and again, the silence of these places.
What do you personally get out of photographing these spaces? What do they mean to you?
Again, as explained before, it is an unbelievable satisfaction. It might even have a therapeutic effect on me. I might be exhausted, but after a successful day I feel balanced and at peace and when I go through my photographs a few days later, I experience the same effect.
Do you find there is a social or political commentary in your work?
Definitely. Usually the objects have a long history. Look at Anstalt Waldniel-Hostert: The Nazis murdered disabled children there. I had a hard time working there, but this place full of horror and injustice it should not be forgotten.
Gruesome experiments, devoid of any respect for basic human rights were not just conducted in the Psychiatrie von Volterra (Italy), with the inmates there. Not until the re-structuring of the psychiatric laws in the 70's, were the mentally ill given some rights.
We have many remnants from the Cold War in Europe. Abandoned airports and barracks, or nuclear silos. Piece by piece, these objects disappear from the map. They are demolished or re-purposed. It is all too easy to forget...
What do these places represent to you? Do you have any personal connection with them?
I respect the abandoned places. Usually I don't see them again, after having explored them. There are, however, some that I feel a unique connection to and I try to revisit them, whenever I can. Due to the vandalism it is a mixed feeling though, as I see the deterioration in negative ways sometimes.
Is everything photographed as is or do you stage some of the photos?
I don't stage any pictures. Everything you see in them is just the way I discovered it. The only manipulation of the pictures is the post-processing, after I have taken them. I sometimes slightly change the hues to augment a feeling through the new color. This also gives my Photographs a sense of individuality and it makes my work recognizable.