Let’s say you knew where something really beautiful was, but somebody kept it locked away because their insurance company told them to. It’s not in anybody’s home. You didn’t want to steal or damage it. The only thing you wanted to take was pictures. Would you trespass to do it?
A lot of people have been delving into secret places, abandoned places, seeking out the mysterious internal organs of our civilization. This passion is called Urban Exploration. Many urban explorers specialize in old factories and like to take pictures of them. This is the photography of industrial decay.
At first it was just the obsession of many isolated shutterbugs from America, Canada and Western Europe. But many of these photographers started posting their pictures of abandoned factories on Flickr. It became its own genre, similar to the way cat videos have become so big on YouTube. One such photographer, a Canadian named Chris Smart, saw an opportunity to bring these photos and photographers together in an internet community. Thus was born the Industrial Decay Network.
The IDN at first just supported an amazing photo blog. But then Chris had the idea to release the best photos in book form. Perhaps he could have hooked some mainstream publisher, but it’s not clear whether one would have been interested in an anthology of photos literally and figuratively from the underground, so in the spirit of DIY he went to a company that helps people publish their own books, Blurb, giving rise to three books (so far) IDN01, IDN02 and Chris’s own book Surface.
What is the appeal of these photos? At first glance you might think they’re just pictures of creepy old buildings with lots of puddles and peeling paint. Actually, that is part of the appeal: they’re immensely atmospheric and the photographers work to accentuate this characteristic. If you have a taste for dark beauty, you will find it here.
But the images are more than that. They are majestic, full of titanic spaces and distant vanishing points. They are like the ruins of Greek and Roman temples.
They also connect us to history and to the roots of our civilization. IDN and urban exploration generally are a corrective to our tendency to be cut off from the vital substrate of the world, barricaded behind our iPods and video games.
Lastly the factory machines have a steampunk quality, like Jules Verne. The technology in the IDN photos is often only 20-40 years old and has a vaguely science fiction-y quality to it. All of this truly fuels the imagination.
There’s a lot of this material out there, so dig in. The pictures on this page are from IDN02, which is in my opinion the best of the books so far. Happy exploring!