Beautiful Ruins

Within the discipline of ‘urban exploration’ Stefan Baumann photographs abandoned homes, palaces, hotels and hospitals, capturing nature’s return into the built environment.

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When did you first start photographing abandoned spaces and why?

In 2012 I bought myself my first digital camera and shortly after that I got involved in the practice of urban exploring. Beside finding and documenting abandoned buildings, I have always loved to shoot architecture, natural landscapes and portraits.

Firstly, I have to find my way into the abandoned building, which is sometimes a big challenge. Once I am in, I try to capture the beauty in abandonment. My first locations were an abandoned saw mill and an unoccupied house close to my home. Since then, I have been driven to document how time and nature claim back what we once built and believed to last forever.

On one hand, I want to show what happens when mankind abandons a place to its fate and on the other hand I try to hold up a mirror to society and document the beauty of the unoccupied while thousands of new buildings are built every day. I also dislike the fact that there are so many people without homes, no matter if they are homeless, refugees or in another situation, while there is so many abandoned and forgotten spaces to live in.

Trees in abandoned buildings by Stefan Baumann
Trees in abandoned building by Stefan Baumann

What sort of feeling do you have when you walk into an abandoned space?

I love it when nature takes back what was once hers and when there are clearly visible signs that even massive structures cannot withstand the power of nature. I’m always fascinated by plants overtaking entire rooms and ivy finding its way through the tiniest cracks in walls, breaking the stone over time. It’s this strong surrealism, the high contrast between old, abandoned structures and new life, growing from what looks like hostile surroundings, that keeps me doing it.

Bar stools in abandoned buildings with grass by Stefan Baumann
Bar stools in abandoned building with grass by Stefan Baumann

Do you ever move things around for the shot or do you leave things as they are?

In most cases there is no need for moving around things; I try to document the moment like I experience it on location. Sometimes there maybe some kind of trash or a misplaced object disturbing the picture’s composition, which I may remove for the shot and place it back when I am finished. I also remove ugly graffiti or tags if possible. But I don’t clean up or stage whole scenes as I want to capture the place as it is.

Abandoned building by Stefan Baumann

What has been the most impressive abandoned space, from an architectural perspective, that you have photographed?

I have am really in love with a castle in France, which I have visited twice. Pictures of it on social media made me aware of the phenomenon of urban exploring and I spent a lot of time researching the exact location. The architecture of this building is so full of lovely details and the atrium in the entrance hall is just amazing. It was my first location abroad, but I was too inexperienced and lacking in architectural references at that time. I wasn’t totally satisfied with the outcome of my pictures, so I was very happy that I could return to this place with my wife two years later.

Do you know the history of the spaces before you photograph them? Or do you find out later on?

Sometimes I know the history of a place by researching it’s location in advance, sometimes I find clues and get to know its history while I am on location. In private houses you might find a lot of traces like calendars, diaries, letters or other personal belongings that were left behind. If the family that lived in a villa was very rich and had a lot of influence, you might even find their story in a book or some kind of chronicle. Knowing about the history of an abandoned place makes it more tangible and the visit more intense. It’s like you are allowed to dive into a former life, get to know the people who once lived there and get an idea of the daily lives.

 

Living room in abandoned building by Stefan Baumann
Urban exploration image by Stefan Baumann

Are there any spaces you hope to photograph? How do you find out about them?

I do want to visit abandoned places outside of Europe in the future. Countries like Japan or Georgia do have a huge attraction to me and offer some breathtaking abandoned places. But also the leftovers of the Soviet-era are on my bucket list; of huge monuments, impressive palaces and the like.

Also, visiting the exclusion zone in Fukushima is a big dream of mine; standing in one of the biggest abandoned spaces of our time, evacuated within hours. I’d love to explore the homes people had to leave in a rush, walk through empty shopping malls still filled with all the goods and many more. I can imagine the tremendous feeling walking this place and documenting the situation after the disaster. It would be a great opportunity for me.

Why are we fascinated with abandoned spaces, do you think?

Most people can’t believe the places I document are really unoccupied. There are always ask the same questions; ‘How can something so beautiful be abandoned?’ or ‘Why isn’t there anybody who wants to renovate this place?’ and I have to admit, I sometime ask myself these questions too. Sadness is a big emotion when looking at my photos, sometimes mixed with a little fear. But there is hope too. I think abandoned places are popular these days as a lot of people feel some sort of insecurity when thinking of the future of mankind and the planet we are living on.

You can follow Stefan here. 

Nature invades an abandoned building. By Stefan Baumann