A couple of months back I received an e-mail from a high school student who was interested in asking me some questions for an article which would later be included in the local school newspaper. Generally I don't care much to complete interviews, but the particular questions asked caught my interest, so I decided to go ahead and provide my responses.
1) When did you realize you were interested in photography?
I started taking a camera along with me on adventures in 2006. At this point in time I had little interest in photography, I mostly just enjoyed capturing short videos. However my friend who would accompany me on explorations also brought a camera so he influenced me to start taking photos just for the fun of it. It wasn't until I discovered the website www.opacity.us in early 2007 that I began to acquire a more in depth interest into the realm of photography. The images I viewed on Opacity marked the first time I ever saw pictures of abandonments composed in an artful and pleasing manner. Seeing those images very much inspired me to research and learn more about photography. Later that year I purchased a digital SLR camera and ever since I've been learning photography techniques and tricks as I go.
2) Is there a specific kind of camera you use when photographing at a location?
When I first started taking pictures it was with various point n' shoot cameras. However everything from 2007 to current date, has been shot with my Nikon D40 digital camera. For a number of years I just shot with the basic 18-55mm kit lens. More recently I have purchased a wide-angle lens which I find myself shooting with most frequently. One day I would like to upgrade to a better camera, but that will put quite a significant dent in the wallet. For now I'm content with what I have as it suits me well.
3) How long have you been photographing locations, and which one was your first?
I have been photographing ruins since 2006, although not every location I explore I deem worthy of photographing. The first building I ever explored and photographed was a small abandoned house located down the road from where I lived. I titled the residence the "Chain Saw House" because of the old rusty chainsaw I found in the living room of the home. I remember being terrified of entering the house, but my curiosity eventually got the best of me to where I built up the courage to enter. The interior of the house was an absolute pigsty and smelt atrocious, but I thought it was amazing that everything had been left behind, left just to succumb to the elements. I made many additional tips back to the house and spent hours digging through all that had been left inside. In August 2007 the house was demolished.
4) How do you generally find information out about your locations?
The internet is by far the greatest tool for finding locations and related information, such as history and pictures. Also dumb luck plays a big role. Sometimes just driving around unfamiliar areas will yield to some fairly interesting results. The Urban Exploration community is another source for information. Plenty of location whereabouts are passed around by messages on web forums, but often these communities are not very accepting towards outsiders. Also scouring online aerial imagery websites such as Google and Bing Maps is incredibly helpful. If one is really determined and ambitious a visit to the local library to sift through various records can turn up some surprising information. But at the end of the day, the internet is where I find most information.
5) How do you go about finding the locations you blog and photograph?
When I first started exploring I was limited by how far I could peddle my bicycle, so just about all of the locations I found were a result of luck and keeping an eye peeled for places which appeared decrepit. In later years the internet, specifically the various exploration forums played a big role. Presently I have established a small but fairly tight-knit group of explorer friends, and between our knowledge we have a mental map of various places to explore and photograph. Also just completing a Google search for abandoned buildings will turn up a number of well known and photographed, but still interesting locations.
6) What was the scariest or most awkward situation you found yourself in at a location?
I've gotten myself into a number of sketchy situations while exploring. Ranging from hiding from security to escaping from a recently vacated prison a friend and I stupidly managed to lock ourselves into. I wouldn't feel comfortable going too in depth about these situations, but it's when you let your guard down that events often take a turn for the worst. A story I will go into begins while exploring a old abandoned steel mill. While walking around inside I received a text message from my buddy who was poking around another section of the mill, stating that he spotted people inside. Because of the type of location we were exploring I immediately assumed that it was security. So I hastily grabbed my backpack and dodged into a darkened interior area of the mill. Because I was in such a panic I had not taken the time to grab my flashlight from my backpack, and as a result I fell down a small opening. Fortunately it was only about a three foot drop and I only sustained a few scratches. However I could have easily fell down a much deeper shaft. Luckily that day I had to the chance to learn from such a mistake, as it could have easily turned into a much more serious matter. As it turns out the people my friend spotted were just other explorers.
7) As someone who is interested in exploring the types of facilities you have explored but has not done so as much, I am curious as to what advice you would give a newbie with regards to making sure a location is safe to explore.
My honest advice would be that no location is really "safe to explore". It's the thrill and danger associated with adventure and exploring that attracts me to such an activity in the first place. Certainly some places are more structurally sound than other, but at the end of the day you're putting yourself into potentially dangerous situations by entraining into abandonments or any off limits area for that matter. However anyone with a curious mind can easily over look the dangerous, and to that I recommend just exploring only what you feel comfortable doing. Some people will recommend never exploring alone and while the old saying is true that there is safety in numbers, there is also a certain sense of serenity correlated with exploring solo. Many places especially hospitals and industrial sites have security, so often times a little planning must be initiated before just walking onto a derelict property. I would recommend always bringing at least a flash light and a cellphone, but beyond that just be smart and have fun.
8) Finally, what are your plans for the future?
I am currently enrolled in college, so my plans for the immediate future are to graduate on time and to obtain a job that will pay the bills and allow me to have excess money to spend on activities such as exploring. Beyond that I haven't really thought much about. It would be fun to travel the United States and explore the various ruins across the country, but that is something that requires money and a great deal of time. For now I just take life one day at a time.