"Take nothing but photographs, leave nothing but footprints."
Sometimes one man’s hellish nightmare can be another man’s heavenly dream. Such is the case with Tom Kirsh, the 27-year-old graphic designer and programmer from Brooklyn, New York, whose passions include your average 27-year year-old passions like rock climbing, drawing and drumming, but also includes a passionate obsession for a peculiar hobby known as Urban Exploration.
For those unenlightened to the darkness, Mr. Kirsh, along with a growing number of people, travel thousands of miles to far-off lands with the sole purpose of locating, infiltrating and documenting abandoned bastions of urban decay. His mesmerizing website, Opacity, is packed with eerily beautiful photographs of these forgotten spaces dripping with the slow intrusion of neglect and decay as nature reclaims its rightful territory.
Kirsh describes the essence of the experience this way: “Floors collapse and walls cave in without care; if you get hurt, no one is here to help you. This is a lonesome alien world whose dark corners and peeling walls have gotten a hold of me and many others; this affinity for derelict structures and often dangerous excitement is the core essence of urban exploring that drives me.”
Forgotten French factories, squalid Swedish sanatoriums, battered Bavarian breweries are his Louvre and Basilica. Even in their dilapidated states, these building are often huge, public structures containing some of the finest craftsmanship of their day. Crumbling ornate tiles, rusting iron work and splintering wood staircases sag next to soaring Greek columns covered in mold and graffiti. Also referred to as "urban spelunking" and "building hacking," urban exploration, or Urbex for short, was formerly confined to a small band of underground enthusiasts who quietly shared their love and respect for these structures and the history behind them. But over the last couple of years, urban explorers have been forced out the moldy darkness and into the harsh glare of the media spotlight, fueled by recent media exposure on popular cable TV shows like the Discovery Channel’s “Urban Explorers” and MTV’s “Fear.”
So now, as with anything inherently cool, popular culture gets its greedy claws into something pure, commercializes it and in the blink of an eye, Urban Exploration becomes urban exploitation as hordes of new converts converge on these sites without the respect of purists such as Tom Kirsh, who live and explore by the rule: "Take nothing but photographs, leave nothing but footprints.”
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