COLLECTIVE: URBAN EXPLORATION

July 4, 2014
URBAN EXPLORATION

In the fifth issue of Collective, we look to moments frozen in time, rediscovered through stories hidden beneath the realms of conventional culture.

No practice is more relevant to this theme than Urban Exploration; the act of documenting abandoned premises hidden from society, seeking out memories of the past and uncovering clues into our cultural history.

To help explore further, we caught up with Greg aka. Banjo – a man who’s been documenting the decay since 2007 on one of the UK’s most noted Urban Exploration websites.

Myself, and my friend Jason, are Urban Explorers from Birmingham, UK. Our aim is to photograph and record buildings and places that will soon be lost forever. From World War 2 military ruins and bunkers, to abandoned mental asylums and derelict industries. These locations can be found all over the county in the most unlikely of places.

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UO: So Banjo, how did you first catch the Urban Exploration bug?

Banjo: I think it would be hard to say when I first caught the exploring bug. I guess as a kid I was always quite inquisitive and I used to sneak into places I shouldn’t have with my friends. As we got older, I got into photography and it just felt like a natural progression. I’ve always loved that decayed, grungy look that you can only find in buildings that have been left behind for so long.

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UO: It must be pretty creepy walking around these old locations; does fear come into play when you first approach a new building? Have you ever almost walked away?

B: These buildings can feel creepy, but generally there’s no risk. These days I find myself more worried about security guards and scrap thieves, rather than ghosts and ghouls. I guess the more you do something the less creepy it becomes, you become desensitised.

One time that does come to mind is a few years ago, when trying to explore one very old manor house. I knew that the only way to get the shots was to sneak in at the dead of night and set up camp in the building until first light. So off I went at 3 in the morning, on a cold January evening, across a field and through a window into the building. I found a spot in the basement (no windows for people to see my light) and bedded down until the morning. I can tell you, I didn’t get much sleep that night.

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UO: Seeing people’s belongings left behind must be a surreal experience – does it ever stir some emotions when you find specific items?

B: I find it absolutely fascinating; these items were once loved and cherished possessions. Their owners, for one reason or another, forgot them and left them behind. Sometimes I will find letters and photographs and catch a glimpse into a person’s life at that moment in time. It really gives a feel to the building and the people who once lived here.

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UO: Where would you say is the most interesting place you’ve visited?

B: It is very hard to choose just one, but if I had to, I would say Beelitz Heilstätten Sanatorium, just outside Berlin. The Sanatorium was first an asylum before becoming a Military hospital during World War 1. There were so many layers of history to this place, which could literally be seen through things like the peeling paint and murals on the walls. It was fascinating to see the enormous size of this place and its incredible architecture. We spent two full days exploring the many buildings and I still don’t feel that we covered half of it; I’d love to go back soon.

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UO: Is there anywhere exciting you’re yet to explore?

B: Every weekend I have a list as long as my arm of places around the UK that I want to visit, and there is always more to add to it. Right now I’m planning a trip around France and Belgium, ten days travelling and hitting some of the spots on my even longer European list of locations. That’s what I love about exploration, there is always somewhere else to go, another thing to see and more adventures to be had.

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UO: Is there any advice you would give to those interested in exploring similar locations?

B: Do your research. Find out as much as you can. Does it have security? What kind of security? What are you likely to find? What equipment will you need?

Take a friend – exploring alone can be very dangerous. If you get hurt or you get into danger, you’ll need someone to help you.

Keep your group small. As I said, take a friend, but don’t take ten. Keep your numbers low and you will make less noise and be less likely to be spotted.

Wear a decent pair of boots. Just the other month, I was exploring a building on the fly and was only wearing a pair of old trainers. Alas, I stepped on a rusty nail that went through my foot. I lost a lot of blood and it earned me a trip to the hospital, a tetanus injection, a pair of crutches and some antibiotics.

Know your legalities – UK laws are very flexible with regard to urban exploration. Trespassing is not a crime, as long as you do not damage the property or intend to steal anything. If I get caught by the police, 9 times out of 10 I’ll explain what I’m doing, show them my photos and they will just ask me to move on.


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UO: If you were trapped in time, which era would you most like to stay in?
B: I think I would like to have been trapped in the 50′s; the industrial landscape still booming, the art deco style and the growth of exciting technologies like electricity, Radio and TV. I think it would have been a very interesting time to be around.

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