This months guest is a great explorer with a passion for industrial sites. His images are easily recognisable, as he has a very individual style of processing. Having followed his work for some time, I am pleased to introduce July 2011′s special guest, Talk Urbex’s very own, Mr Monster.
1. Can you tell us a little about yourself
I was born and raised in Vienna city. I never had much money or expensive stuff to play with. As a kid, around the age of 8, I used to play in the huge abandoned main hospital which was around the corner from where I lived. So a 5 minute walk was needed to exit the normal day life and enter a strange and spooky world. I loved to be there.
In my youth I started DJ’ing…early 90′s hardcore was the game! Then I got involved in the free party scene and started travelling around with sound system pirates like Spiraltribe. It was a great time…but as times changed I was starting with graffiti. I painted everything anywhere, until I got caught. Some “friends” were talking to the police, so I went to jail for 13 months and the damage ratio was around 260,000€ which I still have to pay. I work for television as a camera operator and audio engineer. It’s a good job and keeps me alive.
…and finally I found my love MELA, who is always good to me and knows what’s best for me. I wouldn’t be in such good condition without her…thank you my love!
After getting caught I was looking for a safer way to do my graffiti. So, I went to a big concrete plant which is painted all over, so it’s no trouble to add a few of my works there. I was always obsessed by mechanical and robotic stuff…that was what my art was mostly inspired by…robots and mecha stuff!
My girl came along and took some shots while I was painting.
I’d already stumbled over Opacity in those days. Which is a very great website with a lot of cool pictures from abandoned places hosted and shot by Mr. Motts. I was always wondering how he gets his shots to look so unnatural or cgi like!
Time was passing and I started to use the camera from my girl for a few shots in abandoned surroundings and instantly I got stuck to it.
I met some Austrian photographers who were somehow more into “urbex”. Then I figured out about that big scene, the way of working with HDR technique and how to create a very moody scene with the use of HDR photography. I stumbled over Andre Govia’s work…which inspired me most. I had to learn anything about this new HDR technique. It was over! No way around, no way back…I reminded myself of playing in a big abandoned hospital as a kid, so that’s maybe what I am all about…haha
Now I am addicted to the game and I will not stop in the next years. Too much on my list to see, too many really friendly guys to meet around the whole globe.
Let’s see what and where the game is getting me!
2. So, for you exploring came before photography?
Yes, I started photography just for the exploring. Well I did some hobby shots of nature and architecture stuff…but more the tourist way. My job as camera operator gave me a lot of benefits…like exposure,dof and composition knowledge. So, I could go instantly into the post processing, which took the most time to get used to. I started to do my HDRs with JPEGs …didn’t knew about RAW or TIFF..hahaha. All that came step by step and with the great help of the information which I gained via the Talk Urbex forum. Thank you guys for that!
3. What’s in your kit bag when you go exploring?
My Tamrac bag contains:
Samyang 8mm fish
Next lenses I will buy are a 35mm and a 28mm prime lens. I have a kit lens (18-200mm) as well, but I never use it, as well as my 150-500mm Sigma (only for wildlife and lunar shots). I have the 580 ex flash which I have also never used.
Also I carry:
Olight M30 Triton 700 Lumen torch
Powershot D10 (water resistant compact camera)
Tools for fixing tripod and camera quick release plates, will add a tool to gain more easy access soon.
ID card or passport
Batteries and enough spare CF cards
Doeskin to clean lens, as well as some alcoholic tapes
Rocket air pump for quick dust cleaning
…and much more stuff which is useful in exploring abandoned places, like since our last trip in Austria where Frits got hurt I carry a bandage for little wounds. Also, I recommend a rope as a useful tool. I always have a special place for my gas masks and prop stuff!
Lastly, I leave some small place on the outside of my bag to attach:
Water bottle or several Red Bulls
Talk Urbex cards to represent the realness
Something good to smoke
My keys…to get back home
Lighter for smoke
…and of course I carry my tripod PROB055x with my 498RC2 ball head, but it doesn’t fit in my bag…I can attach it, but mostly I just carry it handhold…hahaha! Since I can film HDV, I am looking forward to get me the 503hdv video head and a Merlin Steadicam.
That’s it so far!
4. If money was no option, what kit would you buy?
If money is no option i would go for a RED EPIC to shoot proper HDR movies, add a Steadicam (a real one) and of course I would go full frame as well as large frame, add a beamsplitter rig for 3D and HDR DSLR. Plus lots of expensive prop stuff and a Toyota Supra MK4 to get quicker from location to location.
…but if money is no option the list would never end..hahahaha
5. What’s your most memorable explore and why?
Hmmm…not easy to say.
I had a very epic trip at West Park, which I will keep in my mind till I die.
I also loved the trips to power plant IM and ECVB, because it suits my addiction to the mechanical stuff!
…but I think the most amazing place I’ve been to is the fairytale castle…which looks like straight out of the Arabian nights fairytales! Most greatest place on earth…thank you gods of urbex to let me see this place!
…but hopefully I will find some more awesome stuff and have great times with all the great explorers. Always have a great time with all you guys!
6. Which location do you most want to visit and why?
Well there’s a bunch of mega places waiting for the Monster!
At the top of my list is definitely the Horror Labs in Belgium. I’ve been there but an old police general or something, like kicked our asses off the site before we gained access. Too bad, I heard there’s not much left inside now.
Next to the Horror Labs there a few high rated locations on my top ten:
1. Horror Labs
5. Chambre du Comerce
6. High Royds Asylum
7. Some old tesla coils in the Ukraine.
8. The Black Widow submarine UK
9. Denbigh Asylum
10. Lost city of Famagusta
…but there’s so many more places I really have to see… like lots of great asylums in the UK before they’re gone, would love to organise an asylum tour in 2012.
Lots of great and undiscovered power stations and industrial sites…lots of amazing châteaus and castles.
…and I have to do a revisit at:
Power plant IM incl. cooling tower – most awesome plant
Fairytale Castle – i would prefer to die there.
ECVB – cant get enough of this place
Nuclear Power plant Z. – most futuristic site ever!
Home of the Count – a very nice, big and undiscovered castle
Cobra Power station – still have to gain access to the turbine hall and control room
NGTE – still need to abseil in to cell 3 and shoot cell 1, 2, 3 west and the plant house as well as the control room remains un-Monstered!
So there’s sooo much waiting……I need more time!
7. How did you develop your processing style, can you talk us through your work-flow and what would you do next to develop your style?
Well it took me a long time to get my style of processing. I started shooting straight shots, no HDR. When I discovered HDR, I started to shoot HDRs with JPEGs. A lot of trial and error followed. I discovered the power of RAW. So, I started shooting in RAW and processing the HDR to a TIFF. I did not do much in Photoshop. I then started to dodge and burn…getting more addicted to Photoshop, I started to see what I could get out of it, which took some getting used to. There was a lot of trial and error all the time…until I developed my style.
Well after a long time of trial and error, I’ve found a good way of processing, I still have to learn so much, you can never be too good!
My work-flow is hard to describe as it depends on the shot itself,the light situation and many more, but all in one its like…
Open the RAWs in Photomatix and merge via detail enhancer. Here I’ve got my personal settings which will remain a secret, but I can say the strength, luminosity and micro-contrasts stay most of the time on 100. I do not go for too much white or gamma at the tone settings, the black should also stay very low, when not even 0000. I do not use smoothing in the miscellaneous settings as long as it isn’t needed (it’s needed when your white areas are covered with a grey film or if the noise is too strong).
After that I save the file as 16-bit TIFF and export it straight to Photoshop. Here I dodge, burn and blur several dark, bright or noisy parts of the image. It’s like painting over it, until I get a good result. I stamp away unwanted stuff or transform to straighten the shot, get rid of the CA’s and noise. I add a vignette (handmade with a big brush and soft edge). After that, I have a personal action which brings out all the detail and sharpness. This action covers up to 20 steps…which makes my processing a bit quicker. I add an unsharp mask as well as a gradation curve to get even more impact. For that I use masks to not take the effect on the whole image because some parts may not need more unsharp or other adjustments.
I have the Topaz and Nik Soft tools, but I do not use them to much. Dfine 2.0 is good for noise I think.
That’s the important part of my processing, anything else depends totally on the shot, but for the web version I add a watermark.
I still have a lot to learn, for sure I have to develop my Photoshop skills as I am way too slow and my work-flow can get a bit more professional. I know what I want and how I get it in Photoshop…but I am sure its not the best or fastest way. Also I believe that there’s way more to get out of a HDR exposure series then I do…all this will be developed step by step!
As well I want to do more illustrations, as I really like what a good illustration can add to a picture. I also want to develop my prop shots, now I’m about to get serious props for my shots. Not only do you need a mask….you need whole outfits, tools and masks…and a good idea behind every shot! So stay tuned guys…sickness will come!
Next to my passion of taking pictures I also love to film stuff, the next step in the brain of a Monster is to make HDR movies. This is what I am working on right now…did some test shots with a single 7d …but will develop this very soon.
As my friend has got a 7d as well and we will build a beamsplitter to make serious HDR movies!
Next to all this, I am working on my first book ‘Dead Environments’, which is nearly finished…but still needs a publisher, as I don’t want to go for blurb, because that would make the book too expensive!
8. You do a lot of crazy prop stuff, is your work-flow different for these types of shots?
Doing crazy prop stuff is what makes a good exploration to me, it’s always funny to do those freaking stuff and of course I want to show what I am all about…hahaha
The work-flow is similar to the normal shots or at least the post-work is, the only different is in shooting. I do the HDR like I used to do without the people or props. Then I set up the scene and take a lower aperture and focus on the subject (with the camera still on the same angle). I could crank up the ISO if its really dark and go for a 3 bracketing series +/-2, in this time the subject must freeze. I do the rest then with de-ghosting in Photomatix…which works good! If its to dark, I can also make a single RAW HDR from the subject. As I all ready have a shot without the subject which gets the full tonal contrast its enough to make a single RAW HDR and after I will merge the subject to the normal taken 6-9 ev’s HDR.
9. Do you move things around to get better a composition or do you just shoot as you find it, untouched?
Well most of the time I don’t touch stuff, but sometimes I move a chair or stuff, but not too often …I prefer to shoot what i find. When it comes to prop shots its sometimes necessary to move stuff a bit!
10. What about the urbex scene in Austria? Is it hard to gain access to Austria’s locations?
I think it’s not that hard here in Austria, most locations here are very easy to gain access. If it’s hard to get in, it’s not because of security, it’s because most places are very well locked and barred…so its common to do it Spiderman style! I do not have any fears of security or police, so it’s no problem for me access most places…all I need is time and knowledge of the place. I must say that most of the places which get shut down, get demolished a few days after…to find a long abandoned place is not that easy here, but still we have lots of good stuff to see in Austria.
11.What are your top three points for people wanting to start exploring?
1. Do not make any damage or steal stuff!
2. Do not post the actual location or co-ordinates in the web.
3. Respect each other.
Plus some more…
4. Do not fear the security, he’s only doing his job and he’s not a superman.
5. Do not wear colourful clothes.
6. Check out the surroundings before the action.
7. Avoid getting caught by being as silent as possible!
12.Who would make up your ultimate crew?
I know it’s more easy to stay a small group but if I really could choose my favourite crew,it would look like this:
2. Frits Vrielink
3. Bas van Dujin
6. Critical Mass
10. Andre Govia
16. Stygian Echo
17. Dr. Baab
21. Romany WG
I know there are way more cool guys out there and I really would love to meet all of you. If 24 fellas in one crew is too much, I will stay at home…hahahaha
Let’s see it in September…when a big team of 15 people will hit Germany!
13. Who would you like to see as the next guest of the month?
But what makes me became a Monster?
Well its easy!
Without all you great artists I would never pushed my self so far.
Its not only because of http://www.opacity.com, which was my first contact to urban exploring, no, it came from all of you guys. Flickr is a great place for urban explorers. So I want to thank all you guys at Flickr for taking me to a world where I finally feel at home! You all showed me how beautiful the world of decay is…and how much possibility stands behind the post-processing of a good shot. Of course I have to thank Mr.Motts for the first introduction with his beautiful view of the abandoned world.
What really pushed me a level further was the great community of Talk Urbex and the possibility to became a part of a really great family. Thank you Dave for giving me this great chance, you’re my urbex boss…hahaha
Also I have to thank some more great guys:
Frits Vrielink and Bas van Dujin for everything, you guys are some serious mofo’s, really great company, thank you for everything!
Odin’s raven, shando and D-Kay, for the great time and awesome places in the UK and the grand last West Park meet up.
Aimed.be and StaticPulse for the great time in Belgium, you’re a very special guy Jim and of course you’re da man Danny!
Stygian Echo for all his effort for our great tours we planed – du hast dir die 5€ verdient junge!
Daknoll for the possibility to get access to the Psychiatric Hospital S.
Also I want to thank:
- Dr. Baab
- il COE
- Romany WG
- Andre Govia
- Bertus van der Vorstenbosch
- Wolf-Ulf Wulfrolf
and thank you Lucy for the interview!
I am sure I forgot many of you, I’m sorry my Alzheimer’s is getting stronger and stronger, but you know I really want to thank you as well!
My last shout will go to my love Mela. Thank you for everything, for all the hard times you had with the Monster. Being with you is the best thing that happened in my life!
I LOVE YOU!
Big thanks to Chris, for this awesome interview. Please take the time to visit his Flickr photostream to see more of his amazing images.