Jeremy Gibbs, aka Romany WG, is one of the most talented urbex and street art photographer of these past years. He published 2 books on the topics.
The tears of Doel by Steaz & Wacks
A man in his fifties with two kids, he studied arts, graphic design and then became a feature film editor, before seriously turning to exploring abandoned places in 2008. His “appetite for destruction” (a wink to a famous Guns & Roses album) led him to publish a collective book in 2010, 'Beauty in Decay', in which 49 international urbex photographers show the best of their work (mostly in HDR). This year, a second book, 'Out of Sight', displays a collection of his most beautiful images of art found in abandoned places in Europe including the works of Roa, Faunagraphic, Phlegm, Aryz, Refreshink, Djalouz, Resto1981 among others.
This interview follow the first letters of the word “DERILICTION”…French readers will find a version on Fatcap.org with its translation “DECREPITUDE”.
Dereliction: for you has it become an addiction?
I guess it has been in the past, I don't know about the present. I was addicted at first for sure, but I have visited so many great places now and the really great places I need to visit are running short. Hopefully we'll never run out of places to visit, or maybe we'll just have to search further afield. There's not so many places I'm interested in exploring in the UK, I tend to try to get over to Europe every 3 months and do a road trip taking in as many places as I can. There's much more beauty in the decay over there, especially Italy where you can find amazing frescos and stunning architecture just left to the elements. Such a shame, but it is our job/hobby to document for posterity.
Pyestock (UK National Gas Turbine Establishment)
Emotionally speaking, what are your top-5 spots and why?
I guess my top 5, in no particular order would be Beelitz, Zeche Hugo, Chambre du Commerce, le Chai à vin, & Le Théâtre de Reines (not its real name).
'Beelitz' as it was one of the first places I saw on the net and seems to be the 'mecca' for most urban explorers. It is a vast hospital complex in Germany, near Berlin. Most of the buildings have been well and truly trashed over the years but there are 3 outstanding pavilions left, locked up, and those are the ones that are just beautiful to photograph.
'Zeche Hugo' just has to be seen to be believed. It is very surreal. Thousands of kaues hang from long chains from the ceiling. These kaues or baskets, is where the miners would place their clothes and then walk naked to their lockers and put on their work clothes. I just walked into this room and was hit the WOW factor.
The 'Chambre du Commerce' is just stunning Victorian architecture. When you are in the middle of this space you would have no idea you were slap bang in the middle of one of Belgiums busiest cities. I don't even know if the locals know it is here, but I guess they will soon as it is being restored and transformed into a shopping arcade and restaurant complex. Well that's what they say, it will probably still be like this in the next decade, we'll see.
Le 'Chai à Vin' is an avant garde building from 1950. It looks nothing special from the outside but inside it is a photographers dream.
'Le Theatre de Reines'. The locals don't even know this place exists. Again, right in the centre of the town in a building a few centuries older than the interior so very easy to walk by without giving it a second glance. Not so much decay but just stunning architecture. I've always had a soft spot for Art Deco and this location doesn't let you down.
Revenants, it is often said, haunt certain places you visit. Do you believe in them?
No I don't, or I guess I wouldn't go exploring half of these places by myself. If I come across one I'll let you know. Although I have cut my solo hospital visits short once or twice if only 'cos these places can be so vast and when you're in the totally dark basements and you hear a door creaking or 'footsteps' your mind does get the better of you. I put it down to watching too many horror movies when I was younger.
Echoes of all sorts of artists appear in your Flickr gallery, which ones do inspire you the most?
I don't feel that any of the artists actually 'inspire' me being mainly a photographer rather than an artist, but the artists work that I enjoy coming across the most are :
Aryz - He is just off the wall with his work right now. I don't think I have ever seen a mediocre piece from him, just unbelievable what he can do with an 18' pole and a small roller.
C215 - Probably the most prolific street artist in the world. I can't use enough superlatives about Christians art. Always a nice surprise to come across his work and in my opinion one of the only artists whose work connects to passersby that come across his street pieces.
Da Mental Vaporz - Undoubtably the best crew out there right now. Their work never ceases to amaze, just outrageous!
DMV wall - London Meeting of Styles 2010
Lots of photographers use HDR, can you tell us more about it and what you think of this technique?
Lot's of photographers used HDR badly don't you mean? In my opinion, if you can tell it's HDR then it's not very well done. Like most photographers starting to use HDR my first photographs were well over the top, I can't even look at them now. I use HDR only on graffiti when the sun is behind the piece rather than in front. If the light is in front of the piece there's absolutely no reason for HDR. If I travel to Barcelona just to photograph an Aryz piece and the sun is in the wrong place, then yes I will revert to HDR to bring out the painting more. In Urbex locations it's a bit different as most of these places are not well lit and you need to bring out the details more. I personally don't use tonemapping nowadays, I use fusion which is much more subtle, I hope.
In a nutshell, can you remind us of the “Urbexer’s rules”?
'Take only pictures, leave only footprints'. I don't know how many people keep to these rules. Also we don't break into these places either, that would be 'breaking and entering' which you can probably get arrested for whereas if it's only trespassing it's very hard for them to press charges.
Can you report special anecdotes that occurred during your underground trips?
I was exploring a castle in Belgium with my 18 year old son and we were caught by the Military Police. They made us show them all the photographs we had taken, not just of that location but all the others on our European trip,. We were then asked to delete the pictures from that particular location. Just before we were let go I asked them why they had wanted to see all our pictures from the other sites. They told us that they get a lot of paedophiles using the castle as a backdrop. Great. I look like a paedophile!
Another time my car was set on fire as I was inside a building photographing the graffiti. This was 40 miles South of Paris. I was left with no car, no passport, no money, no fun! It cost me a fortune as when I arrived back in the UK I found out I wasn't insured to go abroad.
Trespassing danger, exploring wastelands, all this is a common hobby nowadays, why according to you?
I think we are all secretly explorers. Everyone remembers the vacant old house on the corner of the street when we were kids and the stories we all used to make up to scare one another. I still have very vivid memories of my first explore when I was still in shorts. There's not so much danger out there if you are careful but all it would take is one nasty accident, some bad press and things will change.
If not indiscreet, how do you find your spots?
Much the same way as photographers of street art find their spots. There is a massive network or urban explorers and urban exploring forums out there. You build up a network of friends with the same interests and pass on and swap information. Of course the very best of them find these spots in the first place. I would also guess that the explorers that have been around for years have got fed up with the influx of the modern day explorer and gone underground again, I don't blame them. Too many forums name these sites and then you get the wrong sort of people exploring them. By wrong I mean the scrap metal merchants and the kids that go just to cause havoc and wreck the places. It happens unfortunately but we all have our own agendas. Some go to paint graffiti, some go to destroy the place, some to take photographs, some go to loot what's left. We all have the same rights, which is none by the way, we shouldn't be there by law.
Out of Sight, Beauty in Decay…you never stop! Can you introduce these books to our readers?
'Beauty in Decay' is the very best pictures (mostly HDR) of abandoned places from around the world, 49 contributing photographers and the text beautifully written by Patrick Potter who has really captured the whole Urban exploring ethos.
West Park Asylum corridors (UK)
'Out of Sight' is just my photographs of the art I find in abandoned spaces. This to me is the purest art form. Nothing to sell, most of the times the pieces aren't even signed, just art painted to get out of the rain, still illegal and hardly anybody except a handful of photographers and explorers see in the flesh.
'Altered Images' has just come out a couple of weeks ago. 50 photographers from 18 different countries showcasing the very best of photomanipulation.
And ALL available here ;)
Photo Credit: Max Sauco
News/projects you would like to tell us about?
News and projects? Best to keep those under my hat right now, just in case they don't happen. I am looking to go back to film, if only to experiment. It just happens that the 3 photographers I admire the most right now all seem to work with medium format cameras and film. Watch this space. Also. Not much of an exclusive but Beauty in Decay II will be out in 2012.
Interview & translation into French (see Fatcap.org): Chrixcel.
Pics : Romany WG.
We French readers do regret those books are only available in English language, as it is also useful to read the text accompanying the beautiful images...a word to the wise;)
The 3 books are publishes by Carpet Bombing Culture :
Gloomy atmospheres, stunning spots, 'escheresque' architectures, timeless colors and patterns...the reader won't get enough of these forgotten spaces that 49 photographers share with us for this collective 192-page book.
The works of some great graffiti-artists are "out of sight" of the public, so here they are in this 192-page portfolio. It is difficult to be exhaustive as this kind of art has considerably been developed for quite a few years now, but we appreciate the quality of image and photographic composition.
To be discovered...