“And the sign said anybody caught trespassing would be shot on sight
So I jumped on the fence and yelled at the house, Hey! What gives you the right?”
– Five Man Electrical Band
By Bob Lussier, Photographer
One of my favorite genres of photography is Urban Exploration (Urbex). I love shooting and viewing images of old forgotten places and urban decay.
My corner of the world was built in the 19th century along the Merrimack River in Massachusetts. It was the cradle of the Industrial Revolution in America. In its wake it left behind, seemingly, countless old mill buildings that have been struggling for over half a century to find new purpose.
The majority of my Urbex work has centered around these historic treasures, prompting several of my regular readers to ask, “how do you get access?”
I’ve threatened all of the questioners with a blog post on the issue, so I’m thrilled to write this one for Artistic Photo Canvas.
Is it Urbex if you have permission?
In its strictest sense, Urbex evokes images of skulking through the dark, hopping fences and dodging security guards, all in the name of adventure and capturing awesomely gorgeous and gritty images. But that’s breaking and entering and that is illegal. I would NEVER do such a thing (cough, cough).
With all due respect to the 5 Man Electrical Band, trespassing is trespassing. There is risk in ignoring the “No Trespassing” signs. While getting past them legally may not bring out your photographic Indiana Jones, it will certainly lead to a stress-free shoot. It will also help build your reputation and open more doors for you. I mean that in a very literal sense.
My initial foray into the mills lead to additional introductions and additional photo shoots.
Find the owner.
Finding property owners can require a bit of detective work. Leverage your own contacts in town. Chances are you know someone who knows someone who is associated with the property. Contact the local historical society. Is the property for sale? If so, contact the real estate agent. Diligence pays off here.
When you find the owner, just ask. You may be surprised at people’s willingness to allow you to shoot their property.
My buildings, the mills (yes, I consider them mine), were begging to be photographed in HDR. News of the pending demolition of a set of smokestacks and boiler house at the old Wood Mill site in Lawrence, MA prompted me to contact the developer. After a couple of emails and a game of phone tag, I was introduced to the developer’s project manager. He was receptive to my request and helped clear the way.