Photographer captures haunting beauty in abandoned buildings

Andre Govia has explored more than 800 locations to document what we've long forgotten

Yahoo News
Andre Govia photography
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In one photograph, a tattered and filthy stuffed toy bear rests against a patterned Victorian backdrop. To its right is a blue-and-gold junk-filled jewelry box. To its left is a blackened bath brush with a white horse-shaped handle. Immediately in front lies a black-and-white photo of a car occupied by an unidentifiable woman with a blank face. On the photo’s edge is an orange pamphlet that says merely: “SACRED HEART BOARDING & DAY SCHOOL.”

In another photograph, one mannequin stares at another, its arms and legs ripped from a cracked and peeling torso that juts from the moss-covered ground. The second mannequin’s back is torn open to reveal wires and various parts. On the side, more mannequin detritus — a severed left arm here and a pale left leg there — covers the turf.

A third image focuses on a downed chandelier, a ghostly remnant in an otherwise empty hotel ballroom.

These haunting scenes from abandoned locations — hospitals, schools, houses, hotels, asylums and more — are what Andre Govia photographs. The London film-and-TV professional documents these buildings’ off-limits (and sometimes guarded) premises throughout Europe and often captures them exactly the way their occupants left them: cluttered, dusty, silent and honestly creepy.

He shared some of his beautiful and haunting work with Yahoo News this week.

“We all have an interest in the unknown from an early age,” Govia says. “Curiosity is in our nature. Urban explorers take that [a] step further.”

He began to “urban explore” — as he calls it — in 1999 before he started photographing locations. Adding photography to his visits offered an additional challenge.

“When I am inside an old manor house or long-closed mental asylum, for example, I view this as my job to relay the mood and feel of the photo in the best way I can to the followers of my work and place them in the room with me,” Govia told Yahoo News. “If it has a cold chill, then I will reflect this in the same way as if it was dark and dusty.”

Most of his photos show artifacts as he found them. He will occasionally move an object around but never from room to room. For example, he says that if he spots an old wheelchair in a long, dark corridor, he may carry it to where light from a door will catch it.

“Creativity can be helpful,” Govia said.

He said he tries to keep a low profile and has had run-ins with security and police: “As urban explorers, we are always aware that we are still breaking laws by even being on premises without permission. [We] understand the reason why we would never be allowed in by the owners with all health and safety risks involved. We keep a low profile, but to be honest that’s part of the rush of why real explorers do this. Guards and police are part of the deal and we have to respect the fact that they are doing their job.”

In the hotel ballroom, for instance, Govia explained his visit as “a cool but short explore due to the police arriving to stop play.” Outings usually consist of two to four explorers and benefit, he said, from fewer people because they can go unnoticed.

Govia, who has explored more than 800 abandoned buildings, finds them through “lots of homework” and by communicating with contacts in what he calls an “urban network.” He wouldn’t identify any locations specifically.

Govia says he prefers abandoned spots that were once hospitals, schools and manor houses. But, in a broader sense, he favors buildings that give him a sense of “the history of where I am exploring, why it has become abandoned and what the future holds.”

View more of Govia’s work on Flickr.

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