Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Vile Urban Decay Temptress

I have been given a title and while I feel most people would take exception to the vile part, I'll let it slide.

A handful of years ago I learned of a fascinating hobby: urban exploration.  UE is the art of gaining access to and photographing abandoned buildings.  It is not a particularly legal hobby, unless you are very lucky, but many say that's part of the thrill.  In all honesty I would like my urban explorations to be filled with as little threat of law enforcement activity as humanly possible. 

The big issues stem from safety and getting lumped into the same category as taggers and scrappers.  A good, true urban explorer's motto should be "take only pictures, leave only foot prints", however we are looked at in the same light as punk kids with nothing better to do than roll out with cans of spray paint or launch old toilets out of second or higher story windows just because they like the crash and scrappers out to leech every free penny they can with no regard to the destruction they leave behind.

The appeal of urban exploration is multi-faceted and every explorer you talk to will have different reasons for why they chose it as a hobby.  Some live for the adrenaline rush at the thought of getting caught and the more difficult a location is to enter, the better.  Others, like me, lean towards the history, documentation and Story Factor of dying breeds of architecture.

I have not been exploring in over a year but my itchy shutter finger is a constant reminder of how much I miss it.  It's been my plan to share my stories from the locations I've seen and today seems like a good ohe to start at the beginning.

Her First Time

Once upon a time I saw an impressive picture of an even more impressive (and creepy) abandoned building.  It spoke volumes to me and thus began my education of UEing.  Research eventually led me to a forum site that I stalked extensively before joining.  After much more stalking I slowly started participating in discussion threads and ventured out to do my own research, trying to find the physical locations of all the incredible pictures I was exposed to.

More time passed and I made some friends (one in particular who I can't appreciate enough for his guidance) and was invited along on a group adventure to an abandoned mill.

Access to the building wasn't easy and blood was rushing through my body so fast I could barely hear anything but muffled swooshing in my ears as I tried to keep up with the crowd.  This panic-filled adrenaline drove my determination to NOT be the person that held everyone up with my inexperience and less than stellar athletic capabilities. I would not be bested by the large, awkwardly hinged window we had to climb through and choosing speed over safety used the back of my leg over the metal rod running along the sill to pull myself through:

In this hobby you just walk that off.

Once inside it was a little bit easier to breath but overwhelming in a completely different way.  The location was MASSIVE and trying to find a place to start shooting was intense.  I held back, letting the other more experienced photographers work their way through, partly to not get in their way, partly to try to hide my incompetence.

One fellow explorer had lent me a spare tripod though it must have been apparent I had no clue how to use it.  I stood back awkwardly, pointing and shooting my new DLSR Cannon as it if was an Olympus.  He held back and helped show me some tricks that helped transform my shots from this:

To this (thank you KTS!):

The rest of our exploration was fairly uneventful and FAST!  For more seasoned explorers the two hours we spent there was more than enough time.  I think I could have spent an entire weekend in that location and still not have seen everything it had to offer.  Being very much along for the ride I saw as much as I could in the small window of time I had.


By this point it was not even lunch time and since we'd already trucked on up the road the majority voted to to further to another location.  A more difficult location.  A location that should not have been attempted with a dozen people, a late start and no real planning.  That, however, is a story for another day.


  1. You're welcome! :) This was your first place? I thought you had done a bunch of other places before this place. I can't want to hear your take of the 2nd location that day... what a trip!


  2. You know, I kept going back and forth whether this was the first... now that I've claimed it as such I should poke back and see, the Jars miiight have actually come first!

  3. I think the stuff in VA and maybe even that place in Howard/Carroll County that keeps burning you did before this place. But maybe I'm losing it in my old age.