Freaktography Urban Exploring and Photography Year in Review – 2015
Every year at the end of and beginning of a year of Urban Exploring I look ahead and wonder what unknown locations will present themselves next and what were my highlights of the year that has passed.
In 2014 my urban exploring highlights were an abandoned industrial automotive plant, a long overdue visit to an abandoned power plant, finally getting inside a vacant psychiatric hospital that I’d been eyeing for some time and lastly, stumbling upon a stash of money hidden behind a mattress in what I called The House of Treasures.
Moving to January 2015, I was still thinking of what a great year 2014 was and I had only told a small handful of people about the money I found back at the beginning of the year. On January 7th the world was dealing with a terrorist attack at the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris, France. This attack killed 12 people, injured many and kept the world on it’s toes worrying about what might happen next, and where. I decided now was the time to put some good news out there to whomever would listen and find it an uplifting story, so I sat and I wrote my story of how I found $6,800 in an abandoned house and together with a good friend, we tracked down the rightful owner and we returned every penny back to her, a sweet and pleasant woman from Northern Ontario who had no idea that her grandfather had stashed his savings from a fruit stand in a mattress, where it sat for over 30 years.
I submitted the story to a photography website called PetaPixel, thinking the photography community may find it interesting, I knew the Urban Exploring community would enjoy it so I hoped that perhaps the photography community might as well. They accepted my submission and published it immediately on their blog, the story became a huge hit instantly, with comments to the positive and negative, with praise and condemnation. The story then was picked up by a number of other news sites and blogs and within a week my story had been published and translated in newspapers and websites all around the world. None of this was my intention and I would never have imagined that the story would have gone so viral, so fast. Notes, comments, emails and messages poured in from all over, mostly with praise and compliments, peppered with the odd note of criticism that I had no right being there, I should have kept the money, I am a trespasser etc – I took the bad with the god, and there was much more good!
I was contacted a couple of weeks later by a representative for the Ellen DeGeneres show asking if I would be interested in telling story, I told them I would only come on the show if my friend who helped me find the lady, and the lady herself would accompany me – unfortunately I was not able to contact the woman and the opportunity was lost – but that’s okay!
On to exploring, 2014 presented me with many opportunities from hospitals to industrial to broken down houses and fully intact homes full of contents and valuables. 2015 would be no different, at the end of 2015 I would have 82 new folders from 82 abandoned/vacant locations from Ontario, Detroit and Buffalo, in addition to 4 rooftops and one little drain excursion.
My year started with a great new abandoned food production factory in Southern Ontario, followed by a revisit to an excellent industrial spot and then later in February RiddimRyder and I got ourselves into one wing of a freshly vacated hospital in Ontario.
With a slow but successful January and February, I had an extremely busy march with a number of good quality abandoned houses, a nighttime return to the food production plant, some steel wool spinning in a classic Toronto abandoned building and spending my birthday exploring in Detroit with my friend PKDanno.
April started off with an email from a well known photographer named Spencer Wynn, he does this things he calls “The Hello Project” in which he photographs and interviews people whom he finds interesting and shares their stories on his blog project. I met Spencer on a cold April night at an old factory in Toronto and watched Spencer work his magic with his lights and white smoke bombs as he photographed me in a near pitch black room. His Freaktography blog post was finished and published on April 25th with a small write up about who I am, and what I do.
Back to exploring, April was the month that RiddimRyder, PKDanno and I had full and complete access to a large vacant hospital in Ontario. We also spent an entire day shooting abandoned houses all around parts of the province. We had a couple of run ins with local farmers/landowners but at the end of the day we came back happy after a long day of shooting and a successful hospital explore.
May 2015 was one of the most interesting months of the year for exploring for a number of reasons.
- Finally after many years of being watched by security and far too much risk to access, a long abandoned former insane asylum was explored by another photographer. Knowing how fast people would be to want to get in here, I quickly made plans to head to the location and luckily I was one of the first to get inside before the explorer parade made its way through
- On our second visit to the vacant hospital, Riddim, Danno and I found something in the psychiatric hospital library called a “Symptom Index”. This box was indexed with all sorts of odd topics that (at the time) were treated as psychiatric symptoms. I returned to photograph and catalogue as many of these as I could for a blog post, at the request of many of my Facebook, Instagram followers and fellow explorers. You can view that blog post here
- Three very special houses opened up for exploring in May, one was a house where the owner had allegedly died in the bedroom, another was an abandoned house where someone was storing a collection of old horse drawn hearse carriages and the third was a home I had been watching for over a year and I knew that when I finally got to explore it, that it would be a spectacular house inside – you can see that house here.
June 2015 was a slow month, I managed to get out on two road trips but while the month was slow, the quality of the abandoned houses I visited was high. My friend Paul , also known as Crazy Car Club was kind enough to share with me a number of great spots out his way. One of these is what some call “Somewhere House”, it is a mid century time capsule straight out of the Brady Bunch.
The Summer, Fall and Winter of 2015 proved to be some of the busiest months of the year for exploring. In July I spent a very long day exploring from Southern Ontario into Buffalo, New York. An automotive plant that had closed some years ago was on my radar for some time so RiddimRyder and LowKey Photography joined me in a trip to see what we could learn about this place. LowKey had been in some time before so he knew the lay of the land, we managed to have total access to the plant and came out filthy and greasy after almost 4 hours.
When we were done at the plant, I made my way to Buffalo to explore some abandoned churches before going on a guided tour of the former Buffalo State Asylum, now known as the Richardson Olmstead Complex. The facility is being restored and renovated into a resort and conference center and every summer they offer paid tours for photographers to shoot the derelict and still abandoned parts of the building. Lastly I ended that day in another “Time Capsule” house that a very good friend shared with me. He had scouted this house on a number of occasions and was certain that this was indeed a long abandoned house, left this way following the death of its owners.
The rest of 2015 consisted of many long and exhausting days, early mornings and long drives all around Ontario. More fully intact houses, hospitals, abandoned houses, industrial facilities – there never seems to be a shortage of locations to shoot for those who seek out and photograph abandoned buildings. In the heat of the summer of 2015 I visited a house that a number of others had been to, but none had managed to get inside, through intuition and simply looking past the end of my nose – I was able access the interior of the house. After two visits to capture it all, I am quite certain I will never see another house quite like this one.
Rather than finish the year off month by month I will just share here a gallery of highlights from the last half of 2015.
In addition to my usual Urban Exploring, I have also been trying to focus on some more traditional photography when and where I am able. In the summer I had the opportunity to photograph Niagara Falls from a helicopter for work, we took four passes over The Falls and around the Skylon Tower and at the end of the day I was very happy with the results.
In the summer, I took a trip to Vancouver for work and while in the city I took some time off to explore the city and see what I could find of interest to photograph. I found Vancouver to be a very photogenic city with lots to capture.
In September I took part in my third annual Day in the Life of Burlington Photography competition. The goal is to capture 40 images in a 24 hour period, you are not allowed to delete any photos you don’t like, and you are not allowed to edit or alter any of the images. Of the 40 images taken you may submit two shots to any of 5 categories. I won 1st place in the “Places” Category with an image I took at sunrise of a reflection pool by Lake Ontario.
Lastly, I didn’t spend nearly as much time Rooftopping in 2015 as I wanted to or as I have in previous years, but I did get up four or 5 times in total in 2015. I also was invited by the Toronto Camera Club to give a two hour presentation on Rooftopping Photography, my second presentation gig of the year as I was also invited by the Newmarket Photography club to give a presentation on Urban Exploration Photography. Presenting my photography and stories in this manor was not something I would have ever thought of doing, util I was asked to do it. I really enjoyed telling the stories behind the photographs and both audiences at both clubs really seemed to enjoy what I had to present. I hope to do this again in 2016
My fiance and I worked together on this video to show at the Toronto Camera Club presentation, I now feature it on the home page of my website
In 2015 I also launched a project that has been on my mind for a long time, the Roadside Memorial Project. This project is meant to document as many of these roadside memorials that you see all along highways and backroads as possible, where I can I provide a back story however unfortunately many of these roadside memorials are anonymous and no longer have a name.
I’ve enjoyed a great year of exploring and continuing to learn the art of photography and I look forward to what 2016 has to offer. My list of places to explore in 2016 is already growing and I can’t wait to see what comes my way.
Thanks again to all who follow along every day and thanks to those who took the time to read all 3,000 words of this long and drawn out 2015 Freaktography Urban Exploring and Photography Year in Review.