Some people call it Urban Exploration, we call it Urbex. The police may say we're trespassing, you may say we're just plain out of our minds, but we like to say we're artists and explorers, photographing and documenting the gradual process of urban decay. To put it simply, my family likes to infiltrate abandoned buildings and take pictures.
While traveling the world, you'll probably end up visiting a lot of museums - art galleries, history exhibitions and archaeological collections. For me, abandoned buildings are my favourite type of museum - the "hidden art museums" of the world. As you wander around these buildings devoid of human life, you will experience a new type of museum - one covered in stunning graffiti, vines tumbling in through glassless windows and light pouring over the colorful floor.
There is something incredibly exhilarating about exploring abandoned buildings, and at the same time very sobering. As a photographer and environmental scientist, seeing Nature reclaiming her land is always very powerful. Modern civilisation has been built by beating Nature down, by building towering cities and concrete jungles. If urbex has taught me anything, it is that Nature will always win. I've seen trees growing out of walls and flowers blooming through cracks in cement floors. Nature will always be stronger than us and urbex is one of the best ways to see the balance of power.
Urban exploration is not for the weak-hearted. There will be times when you question your sanity and whether or not zombies do actually exist. But there's nothing like exploring the shell of a building that used to be the school, home or workplace of people years ago. Urbex is an incredible adventure, however like most adventures, it comes with some rules that you have to follow in order to stay safe and protect your surroundings:
1. Never explore alone
Safety is paramount when exploring abandoned buildings as it can be a very dangerous activity, so always ensure you bring a "partner-in-crime." This way if anything should happen to you, you have someone who can give you a hand or call the emergency services if something goes wrong. With that being said, it's probably best to not go in large groups as it will make you more obvious - the last thing you want.
The golden rule of urbex is to leave the property exactly the way you found it when you arrived. That means moving nothing, stealing nothing and breaking nothing. Although the walls of these buildings may be covered with graffiti and the floors littered with trash, remember that we are explorers, not vandals. Respect the history and integrity of the building you are exploring so that other urbexers can enjoy it safely in the future.
3. Never break anything in order to enter
This form of adventure is probably not the most legal travel activity, however us urban explorers never "break and enter." Remember this: if you cannot find an easy entrance point to the premises - do not enter! Never force your way into a building - only use preexisting entrances. Look for breaks in chain-link fences or missing doors.
4. Never run
If you are ever in a situation in which you see another person while exploring, your immediate impulse may be to run away (because what you're doing is most likely illegal). Breathe. Stay calm. And whatever you do, do not run. This is for two main reasons. Firstly, abandoned buildings are not always the most solid and safest structures and therefore whenever you're exploring you always need to be aware of where you are stepping, where you are putting your weight. While running you are unlikely to be paying attention to your surroundings which could get you in dangerous situations.
Secondly, by running you give the perception that you know you are in the wrong. If someone approaches you and asks what you are doing, just calmly explain you are there to take photographs. You might be surprised at their response - on one of our urbex adventures in Morocco, the man we ran into actually gave us a tour around the complex, showing us the best places for taking photos.
(Also be careful - running and making loud noises are the best ways of attracting unwanted attention, especially from all the zombies that live in abandoned buildings...)
5. Have fun but be safe
Urbex can be exhilarating and fun, however make sure safety always comes first. Ensure that you have the right equipment: sturdy hiking shoes, a bottle of water, snacks, appropriate clothing, a phone in case of emergencies and a flashlight if you're planning on exploring after dark. Additionally it must be noted that it is becoming more common in the Urbex community to wear a face mask to protect yourself from dust and particulate matter in the air.
Be smart. Do your research beforehand. Don't enter a location where there are guards present. Don't step somewhere that looks dodgy. Don't walk under ceilings that look like they may collapse on you. Don't bring or do drugs, you're already doing something illegal, why would you want to have yet another reason for the police to arrest you? When you're safe, you'll have a great time.
Climbing up a storage tank at an abandoned cooling tower in Belgium
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