‘Anybody who moves around buildings and abandoned places is an explorer of sorts,’ says James Kerwin. The UK-based photographer has taken it further than most, spending his free time rediscovering forgotten buildings in the backlands of France, Italy and eastern Europe.

Kerwin is part of a group of urban explorers who document abandoned structures, casting these dilapidated relics in a new light.

‘There’s a sad side of such buildings being left to rot but, in many cases, an explorer’s photos can lead to a building being purchased and saved,’ he says. ‘It’s not all doom and gloom!’

One such example is an aristocratic manor house in Poland, abandoned during the country’s communist regime. The building is currently being restored as a hotel.

james Kerwin photography
Photography: James Kerwin

There’s an underlying sense of adventure and possibility to his photographs. ‘I hope my images leave people asking questions,’ he adds.

For most urban explorers, documenting the space is secondary to exploring it, but for Kerwin they’re two halves of the same coin: ‘My main interest is the photography that I can create – but I also love the experience and memories that I create on my travels.’

Kerwin spends weeks researching sites, and is particularly drawn to asylums, chapels and ornate villas. But his green-filled spaces are perhaps the most dramatic. These images show the inherent beauty of nature and its power to reclaim these man-made structures.

james Kerwin photography
Photography: James Kerwin

Urban explorers are fiercely protective of their architectural finds – as you might expect – because where they lead, vandals often try to follow. ‘Giving away the location leaves these buildings vulnerable to graffiti, vandalism and even fire,’ Kerwin says.

He does however reveal that some of his most fruitful finds have been in Bulgaria, Ukraine and Italy, which ‘has by far the most beautiful, and most untouched buildings’.

So what are his tips for would-be urban explorers? ‘Do your research online and [start with your] local area – there are more disused buildings than you’d expect. Gain an understanding of your local laws. And always take a friend along: abandoned spaces are dangerous and usually closed for a reason. Even after four years, I rarely go solo…’

Photograph James Kerwin
Photography: James Kerwin

Kerwin’s kit bag

– Canon 5DSR
– Several lenses, including: Canon 85mm F/1.8, 50mm F/1.4, TS 17mm F/4 and 16-35 F/4 L; Sigma 24-105mm F/4, 40mm F/2.8 pancake
– For my UrbEx work, I never leave without my Gitzo Adventure II tripod (with a Manfrotto geared head). My 16-35 and T/s lenses are essential too
– I always take a P2 torch, spare batteries, and face masks (for dust and asbestos)
– A DSLR clamp for fixing my camera to banisters or railings, which is great if you’re high up (but only use it with a lighter lens, such as the 40mm pancake)

Read next: Photographer Raphael Olivier brings Pyongyang’s pop-coloured landmarks to life

Latest Stories

Latest

Share Tweet
+