Urban Exploration – Italy

urban exploration photography from Italy urbex

A whole bunch’o’photos from the slog around Italy. Would it stop raining? Would it stop being 40 degrees centigrade? Who built a wall where I want to drive the car? All important questions, no logical answers.

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Zurich House, Portsmouth – Urban Exploration.

Urban Exploration photographs from Zurich House in Portsmouth, Hampshire.

Standing all dark, reflective and shiny in-between Portsmouth’s Victoria Park and Commercial Road shopping misery is the former Zurich House building. Built in 1973 (designed by the Gollins, Melvin and Ward Partnership) and standing at roughly 60 meters it has been a prominent view point on the city’s skyline for some time now.

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Exploring Readings Rooftops.

urban exploration on readings rooftops at night header image

For most people a night on the town involves getting drunk at your local spoons and stumbling into a kebab shop at 2am. For some of us it means a night on the roof tops. For the past couple of weeks myself and a good buddy had been planning to have a look at a disused victorian underground reservoir simply because it looked like the Mines of Moria from Lord of the Rings. This plan was cut short when we found all the access points had been sealed shut by quarter of inch thick metal plates and anti-vandal nuts. So, I gave a friend a call to see what activities he was planning for the evening, and made a detour to Reading.

I make no secret of it, I love rooftops. The challenge and risk they can present getting on to them is half of the fun of a good urban exploration experience. The photography is simply a secondary activity most of the time. Our first port of call was just outside of one the car-parks in Reading Town centre. Access via some finely constructed scaffolding made the ascent easy. The climb up did highlight that I need to find a better tripod/bag solution to free up both hands as I had to put the tripod on the boards above me, climb up the ladder, pick up tripod and repeat which made for slow movement.

We spent about an hour up here, everyone grabbing a couple of shots and just enjoying the view for what it was. We then climbed back down to ground level and quickly headed to the nearest Tescos for some food (anyone passing through Bordon….dont buy a coffee at the machine in Tesco’s….warmed up crap!). We then darted around the corner, nipped down a side access road and hit the rooftops of the main high street. We walked, climbed and scrambled the length of the roofs for about 20 minutes before finding an open rooftop work room that provided some heat and a chance to dig my down jacket out.

About a year ago, I read an article about how to use ETTR (expose to the right) to photograph the Milky Way in a light polluted environment by Justin Ng. ETTR is a technique that involves exposing a frame so that most of the tones in an image sit towards the pure white range (right hand side) of the histogram without clipping the highlights. This gives you substantially more shadow data and allows you to bring details out during post that you could not otherwise see. Whilst your image may appear overexposed, as long as you have not clipped the highlights you can use a couple of editing techniques to bring the image back to a correct exposure but have sufficient data in the file to bring out the dark and shadow tones without too much noise being created. I used this technique on the shot below with the end result of my face looking like a beacon of glowing light. Good times.

After some more running around across icy roof tops we headed over to the highest peak in Reading. My friends previous attempts at access proved to be a fine balancing act on empty barrels before clambering over the main fence on to a staircase. This time round access was easier and a bit more fun, weaving in and out of walkways and car parks before making the hefty climb up what felt like 1,000,000 steps. I stopped off on a few floors and each was the same, trashed and dismantled with most signs of previous use removed in prep for demolition.. Had I not been so tired I would have grabbed a couple of shots, but it was the shot of Reading train station from an elevation I was after. On the way out we attracted attention of a NCP carparking attendant, not that it mattered, but it did make leaving a bit more rushed.

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Wandering In The Dark – The Odeon, Portsmouth.

Urban Exploration is nothing new, its been around a long time and has developed into a subculture itself over the past decade. For the uninitiated urban exploration (UE or urbex are other names) is the activity of exploring abandoned, disused or off limits places. For me the activity is one of escapism and challenge, the photography aspect is the excuse that pushes me to climb through razor wire or hide out for 16 hours to avoid arrest. But most of all I enjoy it because it is different, because it provides me with something else to do other than the daily grind.

It has been over a year and a half since I last engaged with UE, I took a big break after a trip to Italy and I only started again by stumbling across a local fledging who was just getting into UE and its dark underworlds of fun. After an attempt to access the Zurich Building for the 100th time I turned my eyes on the old Odeon Cinema in the North End area of Portsmouth.

A brief history of the building from cinematreasures.org

“The Portsmouth Odeon opened on 14th December 1936 with Sydney Howard in “Chick”. It was the largest and most expensive Andrew Mather designed Odeon of that year. Total seating was provided for 1,824, with 1,224 in stalls and 600 in balcony. It has an impressive monolithic tower frontage in cream faience with vertical green bands and a roof of red Spanish tiles. The auditorium’s ornate decoration included tall murals on side walls depicting film subjects. In 2007 the Freehold on the building was sold by Odeon Theatres Ltd. and after a few false roumors of closure, the final performances were held on 10th January 2008.”

Initially I thought it wasn’t going to be as visually stunning when compared to many places I have been to. It was very much just a reason to do something to get the life flowing through my veins again. So a couple of us found ourselves one evening darting through the side access of an empty house, jumping the wall in the back garden and starting what has turned out to be a rather nice little mini project.

The main building itself has two points of access. The lower screen you access by climbing up a small wall with the help of a gridded fence and jumping through a window. The lower screen is flooded as are the toilets next to the screen making the water rank with sewage and when you walk on the main stage you can run the risk of dropping into god knows what as its made of wood, and has been submerged in water for years. The below shots were taken whilst standing on the vents as they are metal and solid.

The below image is the lowest of the cinema screens and highlights perfectly why the building became abandoned. Access to this area is gained from the outside by climbing up on to the right hand section and entering through an empty window.

urban explore at the odeon cinema in north end, portsmouth.
Exiting swiftly the way you came in, the way into the main section is down the alley to the left. The first two smaller screens are about 10 seconds from the door, the one below is the left hand one with a ton of stuff in the doorway.
urban explore at the odeon cinema in north end, portsmouth.
Getting into the projector room for the lower two screens involves climbing into the access corridor through one of a couple of holes that have been punched into the walls that joins both cinemas. There is no real equipment in these rooms now, as I believe they were stripped when the cinema was closed, but there is plenty of film reel scattered around the floor. The floor itself is slowly going south, so be careful in here.
urban explore at the odeon cinema in north end, portsmouth.
urban explore at the odeon cinema in north end, portsmouth.
urban explore at the odeon cinema in north end, portsmouth.

The main screen is where all the fun is at. It is a shining example of the retro style cinema screens odean theatres were modelled on: a beautiful curved symmetrical room and amazing stylings. The first visit here I didn’t have time to shoot what I had in mind, so the shots below were from trips number two and three. I used two different trigger systems, a tripod, a 7dayshop pro ball head and two yongnuo flashguns to light the below shots.

urban explore at the odeon cinema in north end, portsmouth.
urban explore at the odeon cinema in north end, portsmouth.
urban explore at the odeon cinema in north end, portsmouth.
urban explore at the odeon cinema in north end, portsmouth.
urban explore at the odeon cinema in north end, portsmouth.
Moving through to the back of the screen there is a small access hole that leads into a largish cavity with what appears to be a cooling system of some type. It is this area that has a small hole high up off the ground that I climbed up to and through. This leads into the main roof cavity and thankfully has an installed wooden walkway that allows you to navigate this area.
urban explore at the odeon cinema in north end, portsmouth.
urban explore at the odeon cinema in north end, portsmouth.
urban explore at the odeon cinema in north end, portsmouth.
At the far end of the roof cavity is a small hatch and with a couple of swift kicks it came open and led out onto the roof. I have seen many different views of Portsmouth now from up high and this one is just another to add to the collection.
urban explore at the odeon cinema in north end, portsmouth.
urban explore at the odeon cinema in north end, portsmouth.
The projector room for the main auditorium is in a similar sort of state as the one for the two smaller screens. No equipment, warped flooring, but a nice view of the main screen through the projector slots.
urban explore at the odeon cinema in north end, portsmouth.
urban explore at the odeon cinema in north end, portsmouth.
urban explore at the odeon cinema in north end, portsmouth.

Four weeks after our first visit, this little mini project that has filled my mind somewhat as a much needed distraction is now complete. Whilst I love the adventures these types of places can give me, it is a crying shame that such a wonderful building has been left to rot from the ground up. The cost of restoring the building itself would be in the millions and demolishing it would not be much cheaper.

If you do ever fancy a trip into this echo of an art deco past then do exercise caution. All long term abandoned buildings have their structural faults in the shape of loose walls and dodgy flooring. If you do try to access the roof make sure you are strong enough for the short climb as it hangs about 8 feet over some steel work that will cause you damage if you fall and when you do get in through the access hole keep your weight over the girders until you get onto the walkway as it is a long way down to the cinema floor.

urban explore at the odeon cinema in north end, portsmouth.
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