November 6, 2015

Welcome to Friday. You made it through another crazy week, so treat yourself to a little slice of calm with Friday I’m In Love, our weekly feature dedicated to digging up the artists and photographers we’re going heart-eye emoji for.

There’s something deliciously secretive and alluring about the abandoned. Houses that slumber, long empty and coated in a layer of silence and stillness echo with an almost tangible pulse of lives lived long ago. Evidence of previous occupants lie scattered in the debris, in the clock on the mantelpiece that has stopped ticking, in the lone photograph hanging on the wall and in the indented armchair in the corner of the room.

Urban explorer, Thomas Windisch tells us about discovering his love for urban photography, the challenges he’s faced to get the perfect shot (involving a rubber boat) and how he thrives on the challenge and adventure of urban exploration.

UO: Tell us a little about your story so far

Well, it’s kind of a crazy story, or at least to me it still is. About three years ago on my 30th birthday, I bought a starter camera with kit lens because I thought I was now old enough to value photography itself. And I just started to take pictures. You know, flowers, portraits of friends, animals in the zoo and stuff like that. I saw some ‘abandoned places’ pictures on the web, took some of my own and it was fun – I also got a great response from friends, so I made my first website. After that, things went crazy – people started to follow me on social media, they liked my pictures and as my skills and knowledge improved, magazines started asking for pictures and interviews. If someone told me that three years ago, I would have called him crazy!

UO: Where does your passion for photography come from?

I think I’m now mature enough to value photography itself, and I see the world through different eyes since I’ve been doing photography. I always liked to be creative and create things; when I was a child I drew and painted a lot and I made some sculptures too, but I was never really good at it. Photography fits perfectly with my other passions like history, travelling and experiencing adventures on the way. That’s why urban exploration is the perfect genre for me, because it combines all of these elements.

UO: What is it about the derelict and abandoned that captures your imagination?

I like it when decay and nature reclaim buildings, because it adds a bit of a surreal and mystic touch to the scenes I capture. Usually you can imagine how the places have been in the past when people lived or worked there. It’s also the thought that nothing really lasts forever and sooner or later we´ll all be gone; and so will the things we build, the things we own or work for all our lives.

UO: How do you go about scouting locations for each shoot?

A big part of it is research on the web, and I sometimes get help by networking on certain spots, but that just works if you´re trustworthy and a social person. You can also find amazing places if you keep your eyes open, by driving or walking around somewhere. In time, you develop an eye for it.

UO: What has been one of the biggest challenges you’ve faced in order to get the perfect shot?

Beside the usual challenges in this genre, like great differences in brightness or very limited space, a real challenge is often the path to the location you want to capture. My friend Stefan and I saw pictures of a junkyard in a cave and we just had to see it. As we took a flight, we had to leave our climbing gear at home. We knew there was also an underground lake, so we brought two rubber boats. The entrance was a small tunnel, filled with knee deep water, followed by a 30 meter drop-off in complete darkness. As you free climb that drop with just a headlight on, tripod and camera equipment strapped to your back and a rubber boat each, you realize it´s not the most sensible thing to be doing. But when you´ve sucessfully inflated the rubber boat with your smoker’s lung, paddled across the icecold lake with your hands, (sat in a rubber boat which is meant to carry 90kg when your bodyweight and equipment is over 100kg) and you finally get that shot you tried so hard for – it’s simply unbelievable! Of course you have to do the same on the way back up!

UO: Tell us a little about the inspiration behind the abandoned living spaces shoot?

It’s always interesting to see other people’s living spaces because everyone is unique and so are their homes. If you´re invited to a friends house for dinner, you get invited to a personal, non public area and it’s usually interesting to look around – but of course, they only show you what they want you to see so usually you can’t “explore” their home and it pretty much stays a secret. The thing with abandoned living spaces is that you can explore and see everything the former residents left behind. There is no one to stop you before entering the bedroom, or to give you information on the things you find, like old diarys, wedding photos and other personal items. So in my mind I create my own stories about what I see and try to capture them in my photographs.

UO: How would you describe your style in three words?

Dark, emotive, vintage

UO: How long do you spend on location and do you bring anyone with you?

I´m never alone, usually we´re two to four people who team up for a tour. That’s not only due to time-saving and cost-reducing reasons, but also to have friends by my side who share the same passion about photography and exploring like I do, and I can rely on them if things get worse. The time on location varies widely – there are so called “one shot wonders” where I´m done in ten minutes. The longest time I´ve spent on a single location was 12 hours nonstop in an Italian asylum and I still haven`t seen everything there.

UO: What themes do you enjoy exploring in your work?

In general I love locations with moss, fern and ivy, a lot of decay and no vandalism. They can be creepy asylums or warm and cosy living spaces where you feel welcome, although they´re abandoned. So basically everything which has great scenes to capture. On the other hand, I also visit places which aren´t a treat for the eyes but they´re challenging and adventurous and that’s a part of the game I enjoy as well.

UO: What or who inspires your work?

The what: It’s really inspiring when you trigger emotions with your photographs, or for instance you get a message like, “Hey, I was really inspired when I saw your photos, so I bought a camera and started right over”. There’s no better sign of appreciation for your work as a photographer than that. The who: My friend Stefan Baumann and I often do locations together and we both get out with totally different shots. Later, at home I see pictures of his and I ask myself why I didn`t see this perspective when I was there; so quite literally speaking he often helps me to see and find a different point of view, and I´m really grateful for that.