UrbEx and Me

Growing up in New York City gave me a very strong appreciation for architecture. After all, I was surrounded by some of the grandest and most densely packed buildings on the planet. However, that appreciation didn’t fully mature until I began immersing myself in photography during my freshman year of college in 1996. Fortunately, Syracuse University, my alma mater, had a wonderful selection of architectural styles on display throughout the vast campus, so my fascination with buildings continued to grow. It wasn’t until later on, when I moved to New England, that I discovered my love of a different type of architectural photography. No, these buildings were not quite like the ones that I was used to. They were not kept, maintained or even inhabited. Rather, they were forlorn, empty and left to the whims of time and nature. Alas, I had discovered Urban Exploration, or UrbEx, photography.

My passion for this type of photography led me to research more about other locations strewn about the US and the rest of the world, which naturally led me to other photographers who were more like pioneers in this wholly hushed realm of architectural photography. Two photographers who I feel represent the best of Urban Exploration, and am lucky enough to call good friends, are Sean Galbraith and Todd Sipes. I’ve known both of these fellas for a while but have known of them for even longer. So, when I decided to put a crash course post together that would help other interested photographers and explorers learn more about this genre, these two guys immediately came to mind for two reasons: 1. Sean has been part of a wonderful video series called, photoXplorers, that I have known about for years which is dedicated to UrbEx and 2. Todd just released the first and only book dedicated to UrbEx. But before we dive into those projects, let me share some brief details about Sean and Todd.

A bit about Sean Galbraith

Sean has been “exploring” since 2005. Initially, he started out interested in street and architectural photography, which lead to an obsession with abandoned buildings. To further extend his passion as an explorer, Sean began his career as an urban planner. Sean learned photography in the digital era, but got bored with it and sold all his digital gear for good ol’ analog film gear in 2008. He now primarily shoot 4×5 film, and sometimes medium format. Eventually, Sean teamed up with several other explorers to photograph abandoned building and put on several gallery shows. This lead to opening a permanent gallery for a few years and ultimately to the TV show, “photoXplorers.”

A bit about Todd Sipes

Todd has been exploring places that were off-limits since he was a kid but never thought about taking pictures of them. He got into photography in 2010 and while learning the craft, many of the “normal” genres didn’t excite him. Growing up in the Bay Area, Todd would go out to shoot the Golden Gate Bridge at sunrise and quickly learned two things: anyone can get the exact same shot as him and they can probably do it better. This made him realize that he wanted to shoot things that most people wouldn’t or couldn’t. Around that time, he had gotten wind of some hidden military bunkers that are still peppered throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. So, Todd made it his mission to find these bunkers and photograph them. After he found his first bunker, he was hooked. From Todd’s perspective, he now gets to shoot historical places that only a handful of people will ever SEE, let alone photograph.

Now for the good stuff

I had mentioned earlier that there is actual material that I want to refer to for this primer, right? Well, I wasn’t lying. For those budding UrbEx photographers who want to get a deeper understanding of what’s involved, how to maximize your chances of success, and what some best practices are, I strongly recommend picking up a copy of Todd’s newly released book, “Urban Exploration Photography,” which goes into wonderfully extensive details around the theory, practice, and ideology around Urban Exploration.

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To further immerse yourselves in what Urban Exploration really feels like, I also highly recommend the wonderful video series called “photoXplorers,” which includes Sean, as well as photographers Russell Brohier, Steve Jacobs, Mathew Merrett and Laurin Jeffrey.  The new second season of this series was released just a few weeks ago and you can watch it below. Also be sure to watch the other episodes and clips found in this embedded YouTube playlist.

So there you have it. Between Todd and Sean, and the work that they’ve released, you have one of the best troves of knowledge around Urban Exploration photography. Use it well.

To learn more about Sean Galbraith, click here.

To learn more about Todd Sipes, click here.

Excerpts from Urban Exploration Photography were used with the author’s permission