Urban Exploration (or Experiment, for some) a.k.a Urbex, in its truest sense, was coined in the early 1980s.
However, historically, Urban Exploration as such, has been practiced by people for centuries, as evidenced by the many artistic “retros” in ancient arts, such as Egyptomania, or neo-classicist paintings. What were the old neo-classic painters visiting the world’s ancient cities, if not Urbexers ? Or the Romantics walking through Roman ruins across Europe ? Not to mention the ever popular macabre “excursions” in the catacombs and other mass graves.
These are all examples of how human being have always searched for a materialization of the decayed or the forbiden through drawing and painting.
The cultural origins of the modern urbex movement, however, should certainly also include old-school mountaineering, caving, treking to ghost towns, a bit of steampunk and of course, horror films with all their abandoned cabins and cemeteries. Not to mention more recent reality shows, such as Ghost Hunters.
Luc Besson’s film Subway, is what did it for me. Wreck diving later sealed the deal.
For a more recent vision of Urbex history however, we can all mostly agree that the term comes from “Urban Exploration”, which was created by Ninjalicious in the 1990s. It then (and still does) refer to an activity of visiting places, abandoned or not, and generally prohibited, or at least difficult to access . The term stuck.
What is very much unclear, however, is how urbex will evolve in the future. If it will roll back privatisation or resist surveillance culture. On site, it is painfully obvious how technology is completly changing the game.
I use to deal with closed doors, guards and the occasional dog. Now we’re talking cameras and movement detecting alarm system. Surely drone surveillance is not far aways.
Counter-intuitively tough, technolgy could also be our savior. Cameras are getting smaller, and more importantly, much better in low lighting conditions, they can now be sneaked-in almost anywhere. I use to have to carry flood lights around: no more, as I now can produce 6400 ISO images, with acceptable levels of noise. As for drones, if they can be used for surveillance, they might also be used to photograph places that were completly out of reach a few years ago. I’ve seen drones penetrate walled building through the third floor, tour the place, and come back with their precious photo cargo…
One can also consider modern optical trespasses, such as practised by Trevor Paglen, whose ultra-long-lens peer into the classified landscapes of the American security complex, making visible what the state keenly wishes to keep unseen.
Soooo Urbex, I’d say.