Urban exploration is the art of visiting and documenting abandoned man-made structures, buildings, and ruins that are generally closed to the public. Popular urban explorers Fran and Rebecca at Abandoned Central gave us an in depth look at the process and what challenges they face when locating and photographing various properties:
Give us a little background – Who is “AbandonedCentral” and how did you get started in the world of abandoned building exploration?
Abandoned Central is a couple things. Myself and my girlfriend, Rebecca (@_bword) are two urban explorers that travel around the country to photograph and document abandoned structures left to decay. More recently, we decided to start a feature page on Instagram so that we could showcase other photographers work and their perspectives on different abandoned places. Abandoned Central has also put together a YouTube channel that gives a very unique perspective on some of the explores we go on. I handle all of the video production for our YouTube channel and Rebecca manages the Instagram. Our Instagram page has several moderators that feature different photographers work on a daily basis. We will also be featuring videos on our YouTube channel that have been edited and submitted by various photographers as well. The whole point to Abandoned Central is to create a community of explorers to document and bring these forgotten structures back to life through our photography.
What is your process like for finding and then photographing these locations as well as reaching out and collaborating with other urban exploration photographers?
The process for finding new locations can be tricky. It’s a lot of time spent doing research on Google which can get pretty frustrating. Having friends in other cities helps a lot. Instagram is great for networking and meeting photographers in other areas. When I first started shooting abandoned places and was traveling for work, I would go shoot by myself with almost no info on the spots which was pretty sketchy at times. Meeting with a local who knows the area and location you are shooting is the best thing you can do.
What are your favorite abandoned sites you have come across so far?
My favorite top 5 abandoned places I have explored so far would be The Silver Dome Stadium, a massive 16 million dollar Mansion, A Hospital in California, A Medical School on the East Coast, and 6 Flags Great Adventure.
What risks do you face when doing exploration? Any crazy stories from a site visit?
There are many risks you face when Urban Exploring. The worst one is being caught by the cops. Other issues would be getting in and out of the spot safely. Sometimes they include some dangerous climbs or going through broken windows. Another terrible thing you almost always run into at some point is poison ivy.
I have two pretty wild stories to share. The first one we were at a Church in LA that used to be abandoned but now is being renovated. I have been to the church before when it was covered in graffiti so I didn’t care to go inside much, but we still did anyway. We all had a bad feeling about it because there was a lot of people around but we decided to hop the fence and go inside anyway. A campus cop saw us and called the police. Within 15 minutes they had 2 streets shut down and over 15 cops cars outside with a helicopter over the church yelling for us to come out. It felt like a scene right out of a movie. As we approach the cops at the fence we jumped, there was 8-10 guns pointed in our faces. We spent a couple hours in a holding cell that night then had to fly back to LA for court three weeks later. When we got to the court we found out they never turned in the paperwork for the case and that they still have a year to charge us. I have another crazy story of my camera bag getting stolen by a scrapper at an abandoned medical school. I actually have a video of the entire thing happening on our YouTube channel Abandoned Central.
Do you ever find yourselves getting creeped out by the places you explore? Any buildings you won’t go back to?
I haven’t been creeped out much by any places I’ve been to. One place that was kind of creepy was an Abandoned Funeral home that I shot deep in the south but I haven’t came across a building yet that I wouldn’t go back into.
Your audience seems pretty diverse, what kinds of people do you find abandoned exploration most attracts?
I believe anyone that has a love for photography would be attracted to shooting the inside or outside of abandoned buildings. They are perfect for portraits and symmetry shots. The outsides of the buildings are for great landscape shots as well.
What cities are the best treasure troves of abandoned buildings?
My favorite cities that I have been to are Detroit, St. Louis, and Gary, Indiana. The whole town of Gary is basically abandoned. When we drove through Gary for the first time everyone in the car was freaking out because it was just block after block of abandoned buildings. It is actually nicknamed the butthole of America (you can Google that.)
What kind of roadblocked do you face when trying to gain access to a difficult location? Any sites you’ve been unable to reach?
Security is always the main issue when trying to get in the better spots. If it has something good inside to shoot there will usually be 1-2 security guards. Guarded locations also make it more fun, at least when you get to shoot it and don’t get caught. One place I went that I wasn’t able to get in was Charity Hospital. They already started the clean out and there was 50+ construction workers there. Thats a location that had armed security guards for a while. A good friend of mine @Sloppystick has been inside and shot the entire 19 story abandoned hospital.