There’s more to urban exploration than hidden alleys and abandoned buildings. Dive behind-the-scenes with these six daring photographers as they seek out and shoot the secret corners of major cities.
“Urbex” is an abbreviation of “urban exploration,” the practice of exploring the undiscovered areas o f metropolises around the world. Within the urbex community, there are several niches. There are those who seek out abandoned houses and industrial structures, those who prefer systems of underground tunnels, and those who climb rooftops for an unexpected city view. They are all united by a shared passion for the unknown, and they almost always bring their cameras. To give you a sense of the scope of this particular trend, Instagram hosts over five million photographs tagged #urbex.
While viewers recognize urban explorers for their daring feats, this kind of photography is about more than the adrenaline rush. Great urbex photography carries a message about our history and its preservation. When others turn their lenses to the “next big thing,” a few courageous individuals seek out the forgotten, the invisible, the derelict, or the overlooked. Without some of these artists, records of certain areas simply wouldn’t exist. In that sense, urbex is a kind of visual love letter to our cities and a reminder of our past.
For that reason, we asked six urbex photographers of all sorts to give us a behind-the-scenes look at some of their adventures. Time and again, they stressed the importance of safety, and they also explained the rules associated with the urbex community. If we are to preserve these places, we must respect them, so throughout this article, you’ll also find variations on the popular urbex saying, “Take nothing but photographs; leave nothing but footprints.” So, read on to learn more.
1. “I like adventure, but I always stay within certain limits.”
Image by Cristian Lipovan. Gear: Canon 5D Mark III camera, Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 lens. Settings: Focal length 16mm; f10; ISO 100 (this frame is made of 5 exposures: -6, -3, 0, +3, +6).
What’s the story behind this photo?
This photo is one of my favorites. The first time I found this place on the Internet, I knew I wanted to explore it. I made a big effort to get there, and I had great expectations. This is a mansion on the outskirts of Paris in a wealthy neighborhood. Getting inside was an adventure. I had to climb a two-meter wall, walk through the yard to the building, and then climb the facade to the balcony, where I managed to get inside.
Image by Cristian Lipovan.
I find locations from my travels and explorations all over the world, and I also find some during my many hours on the Internet, where I look for all sorts of clues and information. Additionally, I have a few virtual friends, and we share locations with one another because we trust each other not to destroy or take anything from those locations.
In most places, I can get in without asking for someone else’s approval, but it’s very important to remember the saying, “Leave nothing but footprints, take nothing but photos!” I always respect this rule, without exception.
Be appropriately equipped, and always be careful when shooting in places that are in serious degradation because most are in the process of collapsing. Many of the places I photograph are pretty risky, so I’m very careful about where I’m going. I like adventure, but I always stay within certain limits.
2. “Make sure you know exactly where you’re going and how safe the location is.”
Image by Benjamin Beech. Gear: Canon 5D Mark III camera, 28mm lens. Settings: Exposure 1/90 sec; f8; ISO 400.
What’s the story behind this photo?
I am interested in abandoned places, or haikyo in Japanese (I live in Japan). It has been my hobby to explore and photograph abandoned places for the past five years, mainly in Japan but occasionally in other countries too.
This is an abandoned Iron Smelting Factory in rural Japan. It was first built in the 1880s, and it was used for over a hundred years before finally closing its doors in the year 2000. It has sat abandoned and unused ever since. I visited this place two years ago on a cold, wet late-autumn day as a storm was moving into the region.
The imminent storm with the moody skies overhead and the deep red autumnal colors created an amazing atmosphere, which made for some great photographing. Inside the building were rooms of belongings and work offices untouched for almost two decades. This has to be one of my favorite explorations to date.