Over the last year, urban exploration has really exploded in the Greater Toronto Area especially with sites such as Infiltration leading the way through the dark. Couple this phenomenon with an interest in photography and end up with a photoblog filled with interesting shots of abandoned places, all within a short drive from Toronto. Last week, I met with Andrew of worksongs.com and we had a chance to do a bit of urban exploring of our own right in the city.
PJ: So you have a photoblog at worksongs.com. What made you start your photoblog? And how long have you been doing this?
AE: Worksongs, which will have been online for just over a year now, was started for several different reasons. I suppose the biggest one was that I saw it as being a good way to encourage me to pick up the camera on a routine basis and maybe even improve over time. Then there are the typical reasons, like me wanting to have a bit of an audience– one that’s willing to give me feedback on pictures I post. It just seemed like a fun concept.
PJ: where did the name of your blog, Worksongs come from?
AE: It came from the song Finest Worksong by R.E.M. I just thought it sounded good with the .com at the end of it. It was registered before I even considered using it for photography, so really, if there is a connection between the name and the types of pictures I post (and I’m sure there are one or two) then it’s purely coincidental.
A shot of Andrew in an abandoned ballroom.
PJ: What equipment do you carry with you to create the shot in the field?
AE: I shoot primarly with a EOS 300D and the much-scorned 18-55mm kit lens mainly because the 18mm end of it works so well in large interior spaces. I also have a few film cameras that I’ll use whenever I can afford to; an Olympus XA, Pentax KX and a medium format Rolleicord Vb that I picked up recently at Value Village. For a tripod I use a sturdy Manfrotto 190CL with a 3-way pan/tilt head which comes in handy for the architectural stuff where it’s important to be able to lock a certain axis in place.
PJ: I noticed that you have an affinity for photographing abandoned places and not so abandoned industrial places? What drew you towards this subject matter?
AE: I suppose I just like taking pictures of areas that haven’t yet been photographed let alone seen by most people before. It’s as simple as that. I don’t have the money to go on photo-shoots to exotic locations around the world so for me, this is the next best thing. I find to be a good way to deal with the occasional ennui that I feel for the city of Toronto and its surrounding areas. The fact that I can drive 15 minutes and get inside one of the world’s largest power plants is slightly more appealing to me than, say, taking pictures of things along Queen Street. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, it’s just that on a personal level, I don’t find it to be as enlightening.
Photo by Andrew : The Toronto Power Company Building in Niagara Falls.
PJ: What is the most interesting location you have photographed? Why?
AE: I tend to like the big locations with a lot of grandiose history behind them. The Toronto Power Company building in Niagara Falls pretty much fits this bill; a hydroelectric generating station built at the turn of the century that’s been sitting still for the past thirty or so years. It was built during a time when the efforts to draw electricity by using water from the Falls were at the forefront of modern engineering. It’s an exceptional place. Not only is it technologically interesting, but the building itself is very much a work of art. It’s not very often you encounter roman pillars, marble walls, cathedral ceilings and patterned mosaic floors inside an industrial space. That the designers took the time to try and make something that’s essentially utilitarian look so beautiful makes it one of the most inspiring places I’ve ever had the opportunity to visit.
PJ: I know some of the places you have been, have security measures in place. Have you ever been approached by someone (ie security) on any of your expeditions? If so, what was the outcome? What was your explanation?
AE: I’ve been fairly lucky in that I’ve only really been caught once. This was inside an automotive plant in Oshawa that had recently closed down where I ran into two guards. After I explained why I was there, they were understanding enough to just let me off with a warning. The camera and tripod I had with me probably helped lend a bit credence to my story so they were fairly nice about it all. Since then I’ve managed to convince myself that this golden “I’m a photographer” line will get me off the hook every time. I haven’t had to repeat it yet, but really, the worst thing I could ever see happening is me receiving a trespassing fine, or maybe a good talking to.
photo by Andrew
PJ: Urban exploration is not always the safest of hobbies. What precautions do you take? Do you always have someone with you?
AE: While I’ve done my share of solo exploring, lately I’ve been doing more with other people, only because I find that it’s more fun. I suppose abandoned places can be unsafe, but not in the way most people think of them to be. Most people tend to think that they’re places where you could fall to your death or encounter an axe murderer. I suppose anything could happen, but as far as I’m concerned, the dangerous part comes more from exposure to things like asbestos, PCBs, lead, pigeon shit, you name it. Whether you’re alone or with a group of twelve people, exposure to these things could lead to some serious health problems down the road. As far as general precautions go, staying alert and wearing a proper respirator mask are your two best bets. A lot of it’s just common sense though. Stuff like “if the floor wobbles too much, then don’t try walking on it.”
PJ: Have you ever been contacted to remove images from your site, because of the nature of the photography?
AE: Only once. The owner of a chair manufacturing company claimed that a picture I took inside one of their abandoned warehouses was showing up on Google and causing certain buyers to doubt the legitimacy of their business. It was more laughable than anything. I mean, really.
Photo by Andrew : At a decommissioned nickel refinery in Sudbury
PJ: How do you source the locations that you want to visit? I assume there must be a lot of research behind the scenes. Are you a part of any online Urban Explorer communities?
AE: I’m a member of the Urban Exploration Resource which, despite all its internal wrangling is still a decent way for like-minded people to get together and a valuable resource for the beginner. As far as research and planning goes, there isn’t really a whole lot that goes into it. I tend to get impatient when it comes to entering buildings. Occasionally, search engines and (more recently) Google’s satellite maps have played a role in researching a location, but generally speaking, if I drive by something that looks abandoned, I’ll try and be inside it that very same day.
PJ: I know there are certain philsophies and beliefs when it comes to urban exploration. Which ones do you believe in and follow?
AE: “Take only pictures, leave only footprints” is the most oft-quoted rule and is probably the only one that can get you into the most trouble with the Urban Exploration community if it’s not adhered to. I tend to be a bit more relaxed about it. I realize that a lot of people doing this stuff are in their teens, so I can understand how a window might get broken here or a little something might get stolen there. While I don’t like locations that have been vandalized, I’m not about to get all preachy about what are essentially derelict buildings. Besides, part of the fun comes in trying to find good places that haven’t been raided by anyone yet. It’s what I spend half my time doing.
PJ: Worksongs is over a year old now, where do you see yourself progressing in terms of photography over the next year? What direction would you like to persue?
AE: Lately I’ve become more interested in taking pictures of people and I’d like to keep on that path to see where it all leads. Right now I don’t have a whole lot of confidence in that area so it’s definitely something I’d like to try and improve. It’s funny, I think I worry about getting caught taking someone’s picture more than I do getting arrested for trespassing.
You can check out Andrew’s photoblogs.org profile and add him as a favorite