Abandoned places are exciting locations for the urban explorer. Other common terms for urban exploration (also abbreviated as urbex or UE) include infiltration, draining, urban caving, urban spelunking, urban rock climbing, and building hacking. Urban explorers search for abandoned places and objects that are waiting to be rediscovered and try to capture the romantic and aesthetic atmosphere of their surroundings on camera. Many urban explorers are especially fascinated by the authenticity emitted from these lost places. These buildings reshaped by their decay are a stark contrast to the new modern buildings surrounding them. Thus, many lost places photographers find it liberating and relaxing to escape from civilisation for a bit.
Very frequently surreal motifs can be discovered amongst the overgrown walls and bizarre graffiti. Besides just the exploration of these urban relics, the main motivation of many urban explorers is to artistically capture these surreal surroundings on camera.
The American geographer and urban explorer Bradley L. Garret, currently living in the UK, theorised that urban exploration is a reaction to the growing surveillance and control experienced in public spaces.
There are some basic rules of conduct you should observe when entering abandoned places to ensure your safety. First and foremost, you should never explore deserted places by yourself. It’s best to be accompanied by a knowledgeable person who lives in the area. For some lost places, there are even professional tours available, for example the famous Beelitz Heilstätten in Brandenburg (Germany).
A higher degree of alertness is imperative when you enter lost places. Hasty walking and careless actions can result in severe injury – especially if the building is in danger of collapsing. You should always keep an eye out for decaying floors and ceilings. Safety first! Some urban explorers even tell stories about how whole floors have collapsed while they were exploring. If you’re unsure about the stability of a floor you’re walking on of if the floorboards are creaking a bit too much, it’s best to be safe and just go back.
Entering private property without permission is usually trespassing. In English law, trespassing to land is defined as the “unjustifiable interference with land which is in the immediate and exclusive possession of another.” The maximum penalty for the offence is a term of not more than 51 weeks imprisonment or a fine of up to £5,000 (or both).
Many urban explorers enter abandoned sites without the required permission and are thus trespassing, strictly speaking. The owners of these buildings are sometimes very difficult to find or have very little understanding of the hobby of urban exploring. The urban explorer, however, is not trespassing in order to deface the property, steal things, or to cause other damages. They’re only there to be able to do their hobby, namely exploring and photographing these special locations.
While going urban exploring, there’s an unwritten rule: take nothing but pictures – leave nothing but footprints! Every serious urban explorer adheres to this unwritten rule. Unfortunately, not only urban explorers enter these abandoned places, but also sometimes hooligans and violent individuals. They destroy the interior and leave behind heaps of rubbish. Urban explorers can’t stand this. All they want is to explore and photograph places that have been under the sole influence of nature for past decades.
The urban exploration scene abhors people who just enter these abandoned places and buildings to steal. It happens again and again that people like copper thieves gain access to unguarded industrial areas, old villas, and other ruins to tear down the walls and steal copper wiring. They then turn around and sell the copper for a profit.