BBC Mundo—Culture and Society August 10, 2010

Adventures of Photographing the Forgotton

Written by Abraham Zamorano; English translation by Chloe Bowen Lee Plaza Piano

Gallery of Urban Exploration Photos on BBC

You get the biggest adrenaline rush exploring this fantastic world that goes unnoticed by most people.” So Dave Baker describes the “photography of decay,” “guerilla photography,” or what the participants prefer to call “urban exploration.”

Urban exploration is to delve into the ruins of a hospital in an abandoned military post, to explore tunnels or churches, ghost towns … to witness how time passes in abandonments, and above all, to portray the beauty in decay, to expose the dark side of the city.

“Not to take anything but photographs and leave nothing more than footprints:” Urbex Rule

Urbex is to enjoy the torrent of paradoxical emotions that are triggered by the emptiness left by an abandonment and involves breaking many rules except one: “Do not take anything but photographs, and leave nothing more than footprints.”

They are explorers in a world in which few remote exotic locations remain to discover, where practically there is no room for “settlers” or “Magellans.”

These adventurers enjoy that despite everything, there is still room for the thrill of entering into unknown places in the most unlikely place: The city.


For some it is a game. Mainly driven by curiosity, they enter into haunted houses and return with a prize – spectacular images that show that there is beauty in disorder and desolation.

Urbex The term was coined in 1996 by “Ninjalicious”, the pseudonym used by Jeff Chapman (1973-2005), founder of “Infiltration,” a publication for fans of urbex.

But to explain the beginnings of an activity like this, it must be traced back through the history of mankind, because exploring is innate to humans.

However, experts on the exploration of the hidden side of the city, urbex fans signal the starting point of urban exploration adventure with Aspairt Philibert, who explored the catacombs of Paris in 1793 with a torch.

Aspairt’s lifeless body was found 11 years later.

Hazardous Hobby

A beam that comes out of nowhere, an unstable floor, a slip on a ladder, a stumble – there are many dangers awaiting those who put themselves here where they can make no calls.

Fennema Svenne recognizes that this is something “at least a little dangerous.” “Anyone who says otherwise is lying,” he adds.

“Of course the explorers pay a lot of attention to the issue of security. But it is unpredictable every little risk that you will uncover.”

Fennema also admits that “there are accidents” that in some cases have been fatal. “So I never go alone. Sometimes I do, but then I am more careful and don’t take risks.”

According to Scott Haefner, “Urbex involves trespassing on other people’s property and inherent risks, such as security guards, dogs, motion sensors, arrests …”

“Other risks include the structure of buildings, exposure to chemicals or harmful substances …”


But when one is talking about urbex, it is inevitable to talk about what for many is the authentic reference: the Ukrainian town of Chernobyl, abandoned since the 1986 nuclear accident.

This is an entire city in ruins, an underworld for nearly 25 years left waiting for the explorer. An incomparably photogenic scene frozen in time, devastated by the passing of years, at the mercy of the imagination of the photographer.

“It is difficult to separate photography and exploration, both are part of the experience. For me, photography is the main reason, but I also get an adrenaline rush and satisfy my innate curiosity.” Scott Haefner

“It’s the most exciting location,” said Dave Baker, founder of Talk Urbex website.

“Walking through the streets and see everything as it was when the incident happened. It is hard to imagine the emotion you feel,” Baker told the BBC.

Timm Suess was there, and his photographs will form part of the book “Beauty in Decay.”

“I planned the trip to Chernobyl for two years. It is the site that everyone says you have to go when you’re into urban exploration.”

But there are others,” Says Scott Haefner, such as Hashima Island, which in Japanese means “the island of the sea battle,” referring to the Second World War. Inhabited between 1887 and 1974, today it is all a ghost island.

Or the huge hospital complex in which Adolf Hitler was treated after the Battle of the Somme during the First World War.


To Dave Baker, above all it is about curiosity. “We need to know what was there. We have to know what’s behind closed doors. It is like a hunger which grows more and more the more you eat.”

“You can travel hundreds of miles or even travel to other countries just to get to a place to explore that has not been opened in years to photograph artifacts that bear witness to the history of the place,” said Baker told the BBC.

Haefner points out that the “venture into places normally forbidden,” to “wander through abandoned relics can be a visceral experience and even surreal.”

“I’ve been in amazing places that few people have had the opportunity to see, such as former Cold War nuclear missile silos 45 meters underground,” Haefner told the BBC.

“It is difficult to separate photography and exploration, both are part of the experience. For me, photography is the main reason, but I also get an adrenaline rush and satisfy my innate curiosity.”

Original article on BBC Mundo (in Spanish)

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