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.
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.
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.