August sees a film editor, street art/graffiti documentarian and urban explorer take the guest spot of the month. Jeremy Gibbs has a fantastic online portfolio – check it out here!
Romanywg needs no further introduction – enjoy the interview
So Jeremy, can you start by telling us a bit about yourself?
I am a Film Editor (Imdb – Jeremy Gibbs) by day and a documentarian of Street Art/Graffiti and more recently Urban Exploration when I’m not working. Studied art and then graphic design and then Punk came along. Carried a camera around with me to all the early punk gigs circa 1976-80 and have been approached to put a book together which I am currently in the middle of. Stopped taking photographs when kids and my career took over, but have recently bought my first DSLR (as the Nikon D700 takes all my old SLR lenses) and just wish I had taken the plunge earlier.
Your profile has lots of missions, can you share your best urban exploration experience and let us know why?
I really havn’t done too many missions, only 6 different locations to date although I have revisited some of those sites many times. My best/favorite place I have visited so far has to be West Park. There are so many personal belongings and memories still to be found there, the place still seems to have a soul. Not like Hellingly where the whole site has now been trashed and for that reason sadly is not worth visiting anymore. West Park leaves many unanswered questions that the viewer, by looking at the photos, can come up with their own answers. I try to build up a complete picture of each location with wide shots of each ward and then closer shots of details like a clockradio or pairs of shoes, objects that might seem mundane on their own but with an overview of a set can hopefully show the viewer a more complete picture of these amazing places.
What do you shoot and whats your typical urbex lens selection
I shoot with a Nikon D700 and keep a Nikon 24-70mm on it at all times. Recently bought a Nikon 14 -24mm for those shots that you just can’t quite get with the 24mm and have just taken delivery on a 15mm Sigma Fisheye. Backup is a Canon 50D with a 17-85mm and a 70-300mm
Do you prefer derelict hospitals/asylums or industrial and why?
I like them both. Havn’t taken too many Industrial sites, just Shoreham Cement Works, but I love the photos from there and would really like to visit Calbecq in Belgium before it is all demolished. I’ve seen some wonderful shots of Clabecq on flickr. You can be more abstract and experimental with Industrial sites whereas with Asylums your dealing with a totally different kettle of fish. Abandoned Industrial sites show us a side that not many people will have seen before, things just aren’t built like that these days and it is so important to document them before they are all demolished
The Asylums that were all closed down in the Thatcher years, around the late 1980′s early 90′s, were vast sites once occupied with thousands of patients. There were many newspaper scandals around that period all telling similar stories of abuse and inhumane treatment of patients who were out of sight and out of mind of the public, hidden away in institutions,. Because of the human element these places grip our imaginations and they sure do wander whilst you’re walking around. In these places you come across corridors and corridors of tiny 8′ x 6′ rooms, hardly room to swing a cat. They are like prison cells, these people had done nothing wrong other than be ‘unstable’, it’s important to document these places and hopefully open other people eyes to the inhumane way patients were dealt with in these Victorian Institutions
What got you into urban exploration?
I knew nothing about Urban Exploring at all until about 6 months ago, so I’m really a newbee. The graffiti/Street Artists (The Best Ever Crew) got in touch with me saying they wanted to paint in an abandoned asylum and had heard that West Park in Epsom was a good place to possibly paint, so I went along to take a look for them. I drove through the main gates and parked up and took a stroll around the boarded up buildings but could find no entry point, so took a couple of pics and left. I googled West Park that night and saw that there were recent pics of the interior on flickr so there had to be a way in that I had missed, so I went back there the following day. This time I entered by foot, it was February and there was heavy snow on the ground and I could see by the footprints that there had been plenty of other people around. I still couldn’t find any access points and just took a couple of pics through the broken windows and started to walk around the perimeter of the boarded up buildings when a security guard came round the corner and I was escorted off the premises. The adrenaline that kicks in when you think you may be caught or are being watched and knowing that you are trespassing is all part of the game and one of the many reasons I now enjoy Urban Exploring. It’s a drug and I’m addicted!
Whats the craziest/scariest experience when on a mission and what was it that spooked you?
Nothing too exciting has happened as yet. Put my foot through the floor at West Park the other day but somehow you expect that at some point. Was glad I had someone else to press the shutter when I climbed into the Morgue Fridge at Hellingly recently. I had found a white sheet in the main hall and a dirty old board near the mortuary. But as I started to climb onto the board and position myself the board started to roll backwards on the rollers. I was slowly coming back out arse first but fortunately I was saved by a helping hand. Surprisingly it didn’t spook me out, I found it quite serine lying there
So, what location is coming up on your next mission?
So many sites I would like to visit. There is a certain Asylum in Norfolk that looks amazing
When the kids are back at school I hope to drive to Belgium to visit an abandoned factory that has a lot of street art/graffiti that I would love to photograph and then on to Germany and the Coalmine Zeche Hugo and then Beelitz Heilstätten, the barracks Krampnitz in Potsdam, the list goes on. Will also stay around Berlin for a couple days and document the street art there.
Whats your recommendation on equipment to take on a mission?
Something lighter than a Nikon D700! There were 5 of us in West Park recently and one of the corridors had been bricked up so we all had to climb over this 8 ft breeze block wall. I went over first and then everyone else passed their cameras and tripods over. Mine must have weighed around twice as much as all the others and 3 times as much as some. The camera and lens weighs 2100grms and the tripod 2100grms and the Manfrotto another 600grms that’s nearly 11lbs without the other lenses and HD movie camera. It all gets very heavy after a whole day out without food or drink and just running on adrenaline but I wouldn’t change a thing. The Nikon is the best camera for the job. IMO
Finally, what is your recommendations to someone wanting to start urban exploring?
Join Flickr, which I am the greatest fan of. Amazing site. Leave comments on the photographers you like the work of and ask questions. Google ‘Abandoned sites’ and collect as much information as you can about any particular site you are interested in visiting. The one greatest thing about Urbex is that the community is always willing to give you as much information as you need and are really helpful and usually more than willing for another face to join them on a mission. But…. always tell someone where you’re going. I often go alone (only because I usually go in the week when most people are at work) but always tell my partner where I am going, just in case
Thanks to Jeremy for a great interview!