There is something excruciatingly emotional about the loneliness of buildings abandoned to decay. I touched on it in my previous post Cold War ghosts: legacies in concrete and film and thought it a fairly solitary interest of mine.
I was completely wrong.
Sitting on the train tonight, and casually flicking through the Evening Standard, I came across an article on the UrbEx movement – UrbEx short for ‘Urban Exploration’. UrbExers combine a passion for adventure and exploration with a love of crumbling urban landscapes, testing the boundaries of the law in terms of trespass and safety. Regardless of your view of this last particular aspect, the results of their efforts can be startlingly beautiful and moving, capturing that sense of past lives that haunts abandoned buildings.
The Standard’s definition of UrbEx is succinct:
“Urban Exploration is the art of gaining access to parts of the city that are off-limits, including catacombs, tunnels, abandoned industrial sites and old municipal buildings. This often involves trespassing but rarely breaking and entering, as true UrbExers make their way in through existing breaches and frown upon theft. If caught, they will usually be escorted from the premises without prosecution. Dangers such as rotting floors, asbestos and faulty electrics are set against the adrenaline of discovery. Most UrbExers are keen photographers, drawn to the beauty of decay and, as Scott Cadman says, “being as far away from other people as possible”.
Cadman is a seasoned UrbExer with a stunning gallery of photographs. His series on West Park Mental Hospital are particularly amazing – click on the corridor picture below to see his UrbEx collection:
Flickr is host to dozens of UrbEx collections, many of which are pooled. Both urban explorers and UrBexer’s (Urban Exploration) are two such pools worth checking out if you find yourself mesmerised as I do by these broken, empty buildings.
Thierry Buysse is a Belgian UrbExer whose website is simply stunning. Closer to home, urbex|uk is a stylishly minimalist site that highlights some of the UK’s most striking abandoned buildings. There are even UK forums such as 28dayslater where enthusiasts can discuss different sites.
And the cross-over into art doesn’t end with photography.
Urban Explorers: Into The Dark is an award-winning U.S. documentary. Even if you never get around to watching the film, you can see it clipped on CBS: