In the dog­house

Ur­ban ex­plo­ration with our four-legged friends

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Re­centy, I started ex­plor­ing aban­doned places and build­ings – bet­ter known as ‘ur­ban ex­plo­ration’ or ‘urbex’. I’m fas­ci­nated by how Mother Na­ture is tak­ing back what once be­longed to her.

I came up with the idea to let Claire, my bull ter­rier, pose as a model in these aban­doned build­ings. This re­sulted in a se­ries called Furbex, urbex pho­tog­ra­phy with a furry twist.

The ur­ban ad­ven­tures with Claire were also a means to cre­at­ing a pos­i­tive im­age of a breed that is of­ten mis­un­der­stood. The bull ter­rier is a sweet-tem­pered clown­ish dog; they love hu­mans and their com­pan­ion­ship.

The pho­tos were taken at sites across Europe, some of which no longer ex­ist be­cause they have since been de­mol­ished or re­stored. We strictly fol­low the urbex rules, but not all of our vis­its have been le­gal; some­times it’s not pos­si­ble to ask per­mis­sion be­cause the own­ers are de­ceased, or no one

– not even the neigh­bours – know if there are any own­ers. We al­ways leave the place un­touched and use the motto, “take only pic­tures, leave only paw­prints.” That means we never break any­thing to en­ter a site; there must be an ex­ist­ing en­trance, oth­er­wise it’s a no-go. No van­dal­ism, no theft, we’re there to take pho­tos.

As for Claire and my safety, we don’t take any risks, it’s just not worth it. This means a lot of prepa­ra­tion at home and, if a lo­ca­tion doesn’t feel safe, even af­ter trav­el­ling hun­dreds of miles, we don’t go in. I’ve got spe­cial boots, and so has Claire. While en­ter­ing a build­ing Claire is kept on a short leash all the time, only al­lowed off-leash when she’s pos­ing.

The begin­ning

When I started the project I did have a book idea in mind. I’m not new to book pub­lish­ing, hav­ing self-pub­lished two bull ter­rier books – a his­tory book and a cof­fee-ta­ble book – but this time I wanted to do it ‘right’ and chose to look for a pub­lisher. Thanks to win­ning the Wildlife cat­e­gory of the Out­door Pho­tog­ra­pher of the Year com­pe­ti­tion, I came into con­tact with Am­monite Press. When I showed them a se­lec­tion of pho­to­graphs they were very en­thu­si­as­tic.

I have worked with Nikon kit since I started as a pro pho­tog­ra­pher. I be­gan the Furbex se­ries us­ing a Nikon D800 with Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 and Tok­ina 16-28mm f/2.8. Last year, I bought the Nikon D850 and re­cently the Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 to re­place the Tok­ina. The lat­ter is my favourite lens for Furbex. I now use both cam­eras; D850 with 14-24mm and D800 with 24-70mm.

There’s is so much to see and cap­ture in these build­ings. How­ever, light con­di­tions are far from ideal, nonethe­less I only make use of ex­ist­ing light; it’s the best way to show the beauty and decay of them. In the scarce light, shut­ter speeds of one, two or even four sec­onds are re­quired to cap­ture Claire pos­ing in rooms where day­light does its ut­most to pen­e­trate. The dy­namic range of the D800 and D850 is a mas­sive help in these spots.

Dif­fer­ent lo­ca­tions throw up dif­fer­ent chal­lenges: sneak­ing into an Ital­ian cas­tle in the mid­dle of the night to avoid the vil­lagers, then wait­ing hours for the first ray of light to ap­pear; be­ing in­side an aban­doned or­phan­age when ma­chines sud­denly turn up to level the ground – the only thing we could do was walk out with a poker face, wishing the spec­ta­tors a good morn­ing and leav­ing quickly…

Furbex: A Dog’s Life of Ur­ban Ex­plo­ration by Alice Van Kem­pen is pub­lished by Am­monite Press, £12.99

The only thing we could do is walk out with a poker face, wishing the sur­prised spec­ta­tors a good morn­ing and leav­ing quickly…

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