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13 November 2014

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You are in: Tyne > People > Your Stories > Urban exploration

Derelict building. Photo: Richard Shepherd

Richard photographs abandoned buildings

Urban exploration

Richard Shepherd photographs derelict buildings in the North East and further afield.

"Photography-wise I think there's nothing more boring than taking pictures of a flower, it's just so cliched and so overdone."

The stock sunsets and scenic views that grace the portfolios of many a photographer are a definite no-no for Richard Shepherd, from Gateshead.

Abandoned building. Photo: Richard Shepherd

Richard uses HDR photography

Derelict and abandoned buildings are much more to his taste.

Richard is an "urban explorer", one of an expanding, worldwide community of people who like to nose around places where they're not really allowed to be.

Disused factories, old asylums, abandoned shipyards, factories, and tunnels - all are of interest to the urban explorer.

Places that most people would just walk straight past, or else view as an eyesore, are right up their street.

"It's anything basically that people don't normally get to see," explains Richard, who publishes his photos under his nickname Shepy.

"I suppose it's just a curiosity you get as a kid and never grow out of. Most of the people I talk to have been doing it for years."

"Often when you get in there you just can't help but be overwhelmed by the history of the places."

Richard Shepherd

Historical record

As well as the curiosity factor there's also the adrenaline rush that comes with being somewhere you're not supposed to be.

But that's not really what motivates Richard to explore.

"Most of all I love the history of the places," he says. "Whenever I go to a site, if I know in advance, I'll research it and find out a bit about it. If I just happen by it while I'm out and about then I'll research it when I get home.

"Often when you get in there you just can't help but be overwhelmed by the history of the places, the architecture of them, they're just nice places to visit."

The explorers come from all walks of life, from architects to call centre workers.

Some focus on high structures, others prefer poking around underground. Top of Richard's list is anything with an engineering connection, like jet research facilities, but basically it's "the older the better".

Corridor in derelict building. Photo: Richard Shepherd

Exploring can be dangerous

Once inside a site Richard takes lots of photographs which he edits later to produce very stylised images which have a video-game quality.

He's conscious he's recording places that might not be around much longer. Indeed several of the buildings he's explored have now been demolished.

Safety issues

There's no getting away from the fact that it's a potentially dangerous pastime. Derelict buildings may be structurally unsafe so there is always the risk of injury and there may be dust or asbestos in the air.

There is also the danger of running into people who have very different motives from themselves, such as metal thieves.

Richard takes these safety issues seriously and won't explore anywhere on his own.

"Personally I think it's very dangerous to do it [on your own]. There's a lot of places with damaged floors, rotten woodwork. I've seen people almost go through floors a number of times, so I personally won't go out without at least one person.

Corridor in derelict building. Photo: Richard Shepherd

Richard's photos have a video game feel

"If I'm stuck in the middle of a derelict asylum and I fall and break my leg I need to know there's someone who can show the emergency services where I am, if it comes to that. It never has, we've never had anyone seriously hurt, but there's always a first.

"It's all about being careful. For example when I go out I wear army issue boots, which have a steel plate in the sole, so if I stand on a nail then it's not going to go in my foot.

"And we'll wear respirator masks if it's going to be a dusty or asbestos environment."


With safety in mind urban explorers are also cautious about who they share information with on their internet forums.

"We're very careful about access info. We don't give it out to anybody who we don't know is able to do it," Richard says.

"Even when you join the forums you get very limited access until you've proven yourself, done a couple of visits to simple sites with people, and we know you can be trusted and you're not going to hurt yourself."

Urban explorers also run the risk of being arrested.

Derelict building. Photo: Richard Shepherd

It's "the older the better" for Richard

If you go onto property without the owner's permission, you are trespassing.

Trespass is a civil offence, not a criminal offence. That means the issue is between the explorer and the landowner and doesn't involve the police. In other countries, however, the law may be different.

Richard himself has been arrested a couple of times but never charged with anything.

The explorers say they do not damage anything and are just taking photographs.

Richard says they do always try to get permission to visit somewhere if they can "but there's not always that option".

And the explorers aren't going to stop what they are doing now. Richard certainly can't imagine life without it.

"Over the Christmas and New Year I didn't get chance to go out for a month and a half and by the time I got out half-way through January I was gagging to get out there," he says. "You do miss it."

last updated: 20/08/2008 at 17:18
created: 20/08/2008

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