Exploring Obscure Places – Part 3 of 5

The Informants

Pete Löfstedt was the only informant of a potential six I was actually able to get a consented formal interview from. This was highly disappointing as I wanted to represent a balanced demographic. I spent countless days begging and pleading with others to consent and participate over the course of this term, but to no avail. The most disappointing informant of all was the one and only female I had lined up to speak with. I spent hours and hours communicating with her setting up interviews that she would fail to attend. This does effectively crush my idea of studying gender with first hand sources.

In order to get a balanced result, I decided to use two short films (both in bibliography). Between Pete and the videos, I fill in the gaps and expand with both a book entitled Access All Areas: A Users Guide to the Art of Urban Exploring and a bricolage of my own personal knowledge. The data is broken down into categories for clarity.

It was interesting interviewing Pete because he had his own interpretations and had not researched in depth about the subject. In fact, until the actual point of interview Pete had not thought about his experiences from an academic perspective. With this, his answers were very organic. I started by asking Pete to define urban exploring in two different ways to start the conversation, and then get straight into the full interview.

Pete underground exploring a pitch black drain hole (lit by flash). Click for larger.

Pete underground exploring a pitch black drain hole (lit by flash). Click for larger.

I. Defining Urban Exploring

In the past, urban exploring material was transmitted through informal culture to other explorers. Perhaps the largest breakthrough in exploring research, while not considered academic in the traditional sense, was a book published by a life-long explorer Jeff Chapman.  Jeff was extremely active in the exploring world, and was especially focused on rights and procedures of an explorer. Unfortunately he died months after his book was published in December 2004, and it was re-released as an official publication in 2005. Chapman often went by the (now) massively popular alias ‘Ninjalicious’, and his book reflects this. In conducting any form of exploration, this is the handbook and manual, so it was appropriate to use this in my study.

Chapman was clever and articulated his thoughts quite well, and he often talks of the “social engineering” aspect of exploring (Chapman 2005, 29). With this, it seemed only fair to include his definition of urban exploring,

“[An] interior tourism that allows the curious-minded to discover a world of behind-the-scenes sights like forgotten subbasements, engine rooms, rooftops, abandoned mineshafts, secret tunnels, abandoned factories and other places not designed for public usage. Urban exploration is a thrilling, mind-expanding hobby that encourages our natural instincts to explore and play in our own environment” (Chapman 2005, 5).

This answer is less organic and animated than Pete’s, however. While it holds great value, it lacks the spontaneity involved in urban exploring. Pete takes my question quite literal when I ask him to define the subject, and addresses the issues of illegality head on, “I would say that it’s like breaking and entering, but with rules. And… it’s just going into places where you wouldn’t ordinarily see or even particularly think of. Places you wouldn’t, or most people wouldn’t really want to be …just to see it before it’s gone. Or, just to see the way things have degraded since they fell out of use” (2010).

Next, I asked Pete to define it again, but this time to an outsider (I used his grandmother as an example). His response, “Probably would just avoid explaining it… I think I would present it a little differently… going to a place to document it” (2010). After some fumbling with words, Pete finally settled on, “you’re basically preserving something through documentation and kind of going in there and doing the dirty work yourself so other people can see” (2010).

II. Preparing and Equipping

Pete explained his attire and methodology hinged on the location he was planning on visiting. “If you are going out somewhere in the countryside you probably don’t need to do it at nighttime because there is no security of any type… you don’t have anything to hide from. Depending on how far you are going, I mean yeah you make it a day-trip. If it’s someplace you can stay for a day without getting in any trouble… and you are not going to run out of things to look at. I would say in the daytime you don’t even have to worry how you are dressed as much because you just look like a casual walker, or hiker, or something like that. But at night, you kinda gotta change your attire a little… you are going to want to throw in a little more black. When you are downtown and there is a lot of people around you would definitely want to do it at night, and, like, the later the better” (2010).

“Things to take with you, I’d say, maybe a crowbar [laughter], I don’t know it depends – only for gentle nudging, not for actual forceful breaking. …I like gloves because there is a lot of, you know, rusted metal around in these places and just things you do not want to touch. …If you are going into a building that’s been abandoned for a long time there is a lot stuff inside of it that’s probably got some nasty smells going on so you’re going to want to have, probably, a mask of some type – just to keep you from getting asbestos poisoning or lung damage from mould, or whatever the hell else happens to be in there” (Pete 2010).

Inside a typical abandoned home. Click for larger.

Inside a typical abandoned home. Click for larger.

III. The Exploration

Being an explorer myself, I tried to find a way to distance myself from the interview and this research. I decided to not ask the question of how an exploration unfolds, but instead asked what makes for a ‘good’ exploration. Pete responded,something that’s not too hard to get into, and something that’s got like, a lot of floors that are not full of holes, maybe – something that’s got like a lot of old artefacts. [A] snapshot of in time kind of thing, where there is, you know, everything that people were using every day and it’s just suddenly abandoned for some reason. I like places that look like everybody just got up and left, immediately, and didn’t really take anything with them” (2010).

Next I asked Pete about active buildings versus abandonments. “I’m not very daring with the active buildings… I don’t really like altercations with security personnel and especially not the police. …I find abandonments more interesting, just because people leave like little pieces of their lives behind and you can kinda have a peek in and try and figure like out what someone was like, or… what they were doing when they left got up and left” (Pete 2010).

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