Freaktography Urban Exploring 2014 Year in Review

At the end of the 2013 exploring season I had reached my goal of bigger and better rooftopping, and I had upped the ante in terms of more risky locations.  Coming into the 2014 season I had a few goals

1 – Get so know some of my photography “internet friends” in person.

2 – Discover even more great locations.

3 – Go to Detroit

4 – Continue to improve upon my photography skills and practice more techniques.

I started the 2014 exploring season by climbing two rooftops in Toronto, I climbed up a popular site downtown and then I went on to climb up 65 floors to the top of a new condo tower by the lake.  Three of the shots I took on this night would end up being selected as first runner up at the Toronto Urban Photography Festival.  This made the effort well worth it, this night was in the middle of a brutal ice storm that had gripped the city.  Being right by the lake made the cold blowing wind just that much colder, it was an exhausting climb with all my warm winter gear on me plus the camera and gear.  At the end of the night, I left very tired and fully satisfied!

January 2014

 

A few weeks later in January I got together with my partner in crime RiddimRyder Photography and we headed out very early for a marathon day of exploring an abandoned power plant, we made our way inside and didn’t come out for almost 8 hours.

When we left the power plant, RiddimRyder and I had some more left in us, so we took a night time run at a vacant waterpark in Toronto that had been well traveled in recent months by local explorers.  Things were going well until Riddims camera froze from the cold weather, he lost all of his shots from the day.  Luckily he was able to get a forensic recovery program and managed to get all shots back at full resolution.

February 2014 started off lucky, RiddimRyder and I took a run a former corporate head office building that had only been seen by few explorers and had not been accessed in a very long time, this place was dark which made for some fun times playing with light

We spent a great deal of time here and then our luck ran out, after I dropped Riddim off at his car I took a run at a great looking storm drain that I had been eyeing for quite some time, it was a long cold walk underground, but well worth it!

March 2014

March was a very successful month, where I only visited three locations however two of them were top notch explores and the other was a 4th visit to the tallest condo tower in North America.

The first weekend of March I took a risky run at a hospital in London, I had tried a few times in the past and got caught once and failed the rest.  This time, I was getting in no matter what, I got lucky and managed to bypass the security patrols and cameras.  As far as I know, I am one of a very small handful of explorers to see the inside of South Street Hospital in London Ontario, before demolition started.  The highlight was the morgue, deep in a dark corner of the basement.

Also in March, during a brutal snowstorm I explored a house where I would make a find like no other that I have ever heard of.  I explored a home in Ontario, only explored by a few who had missed a very important item.  On my explore of this house, I found a bag full of cash – almost $7,000 to be exact in mainly US currency.   You can read the story on facebook, and here on my website

Leaving this house after many hours of exploring and pondering moral decisions, I made my way to another time capsule/treasure chest not far away but ended up getting stuck in a massive snow drift on my way – I should have known better to want more after visiting such an exceptional location.

Fast forward a few weeks, I met up with a couple of guys I had known online for some time, Bad Peter and Banditt both from Toronto, we took a trip up one of Toronto’s most climbed condo construction sites.

After this climb I headed over to the now demolished (new) Don Jail in Toronto but it was far too dark to shoot, I got off one shot and headed to the Docks to get a skyline shot and to whip some steel wool!

April 2014

April was an incredibly busy month, I headed out with Darko Photo, whom I had come to know well online but we had not yet met in person.  We planned a marathon day of exploring at the beginning of April which resulted in 7 great locations, one of which was a vacant psychiatric facility that had closed recently.  Unfortunately our visit would be cut short after we met up with the one maintenance person in the tunnels, who happened to be doing his final rounds of the day before heading home.  I believe that Darko and I were the first ones to get access to this location, our visit was short – but I did redeem myself later on..more on this in May.

Also in April was one of the highlights of my year – a marathon day exploring in Detroit, my first time.  I was accompanied once again by Banditt, and our local hosts for the day were Ed Serecky, Mike Kline and Vishal Patel – all solid guys from the Detroit area. Our day ended with two theaters, two churches, a school and a former luxury hotel.  It was an excellent day shooting with great company and exploring some great places.

I closed off April 2014 with a visit to a simple abandoned house in my area, after visiting Detroit I suffered a bit of an exploring hangover, but I had the opportunity and this is a place I had tried before but it was locked up.

After the successes of April I feel like it was just setting me up for what was to come in May and June.  Together with RiddimRyder we went full tilt into a very busy summer of exploring, simple abandoned houses to massive industrial locations, psychiatric facilities and more!  May started with an abandoned psychiatric hospital in Ontario that is known for trespassing tickets and high security.  It was first cracked by Banditt years before but recently more and more people began attempting this location.  It was a high risk spot that was worth the consequences, it has a morgue, a bowling alley, swimming pool and lots of decay.  Riddim had ventured in on his own one weekend and passed the details to me, there had been stories of workers wandering in and out at random, on my visit I did see these people and their cars, but they had not seen me.

In mid May, RiddimRyder and I decided to take another crack at the Psychiatric Hospital where Darko and I had been caught a few months before, we had high hopes of getting in but we also had to be realistic that we would either not get in, or we would get caught once in – all chances we were willing to take.  The way in that Darko and I used was not an option this time, but we did find a couple of other ways in, 1 – very tough and cramped and 2 – very easy but also very out in the open, we opted for #2, and it worked.  Within minutes we were inside…and we stayed inside, undetected for over 3 hours.  This place was great, where it lacked in decay and contents, it made up with it’s vast underground tunnel system that connects all of the buildings.  But the big prize was the morgue, an impeccable stainless steel morgue fridge, fully in fact, two sided, with the body trays.  It is probably the best morgue that Ontario has to offer!

 

Following this explore, I checked out a spot in the United States that is not far from my family cottage.  This place was a pretty well kept secret for quite a while and I`m told it was once full of furniture and belongings.  It`s a creepy looking old spot in the middle of nowhere, it has great decay and some excellent staircases.  I went with my friends Dan Cog and Dan Pawlowski, be sure to check out their work. We shared some laughs and took in this quiet and secluded spot until we ran out of light.  I returned early the next morning to find that an entire wall in the “newspaper room” had collapsed – right where I had been standing just hours before!

Finally, I closed off the month of May by exploring a very exciting industrial location that was first cracked by my friend ZenCanadian.  The specifics of this location were a closely guarded secret, for all the right reasons, but RiddimRyder and I worked together using clues to locate this spot.  I would end up going 3 more times after my first visit.  When I left the lab, I headed to a closed down high school in Toronto that was about to be torn down and converted into condo’s.  After that, deeper into Toronto in hopes of doing some rooftopping but this night was not my lucky night.  I ventured over to a major shopping mall with a distinct glass roof and popped off a few shots from there, just to say I did it!

I closed off the month of May 2014 with one last climb up to the top of North America’s tallest condo tower.   The view from this tower and crane are like none other in the city, so I took one last hike up the stairs and up the crane to enjoy this view and take in all in once more.

June 2014

June is, without a doubt the best month of the entire year.  All the roofs, all the amazing abandoned houses, even a day in Detroit can’t compare to what RiddimRyder and I did together in June of 2014.  It started off with a flop, we returned to the Psych hospital in hopes of getting into a few of the spots we had missed on the last visit – but it was not to be.  They had sealed every possible way in, and they did a fantastic job at it – we were locked out.  So instead we headed to a few other places around the area – we failed at a few, then we went to a sure thing.  A burnt out church that had once been part of a very large educational facility.  It was a short visit, but good for a few shots.

After we left here and failed at an attempt at a small factory, RiddimRyder and I decided to go for the Holy Grail, a vacant industrial location that (as far as we knew at that point in time) had not been cracked by anyone. This place was massive and we had fully banked on failing after the long hike in the rain to get there.

I can’t explain the feeling we both had when we realized we were inside, fully expecting to be caught within seconds.  We knew time was of the essence so we got right to business, it was hard to not lose eachother in there with the size and all there was to see.  We always made sure to let the other know which way we were heading.  There were multiple levels, long lines and conveyor belts, robots, the power was still on so we had some good light to work with.  There were also tire tracks, fresh ones and well a well traveled road way so we knew at some point we would have to duck and hide, or get caught – we had no idea how often security patrolled.

Click the arrows to view the slideshow

Just after this last picture was taken we decided we should head somewhere off the path and wait out security for a while, as we had been here 2 hours or so and seen nothing.  Just as we walked away and headed to a dark spot a golf cart whipped around a corner and we had no time to hide, we had been caught.  We scared the crap out of the old ex military man, turned security guard.  He lit up a smoke right away, I considered asking him if he should be doing that in here….

Once he realized we weren’t thieves or scrappers his demeanor changed and chatted about the plant and future plans for it, he used to work here when it was active.  The kind man put us in the back of his golf cart and gave us a full tour of the facility, we asked questions that he should not have answered which helped our return visit.  We met with his superior at the gate and they asked a few questions about why we were in there etc.  After that they drove us to my car and told us not to come back.    We didn’t listen, more to come in July.

Our visit cut short, we headed to a few other small locations on our way back home.  First, an abandoned house that was full of old retro 80’s toys.

Following this, we visited a church that is not abandoned or vacant, but it is rarely used and it made for some pretty good shots.

Lastly, we passed an abandoned house on our way home that was worth stopping for a quick visit.

Having spent all of June on the ground in abandoned places I was craving a night of rooftopping in Toronto.  I had recently picked up a new wide angle lens and had yet to use it for rooftopping and cityscape shooting.  I called up two “internet friends” who I had not met in person to see if they were up for a climb.  I called Paul Hillier and Javin Lau, both well known photographers in Toronto who’s work I had been following for some time. Meeting an internet friend in person for the first time is always weird, but once we got over that part, it was a great night.  Paul and I had met up first and failed at our first few attempts until Javin called and gave us a sure thing to shoot from, he would meet us there.  Paul and I made our way up before sunset, which was perfect as we got in full daylight shots, sunset shots and then the night shots.  This roof gave an excellent close up view of the Toronto Skyline

 

I closed off June with a visit to a simple abandoned place that is one of the most photogenic houses in the province.

 

July 2014

RiddimRyder and I needed to redeem ourselves at the industrial plant where we had been caught in June, so we set out with a new plan, with intel that was accidentally given to us by the security guards and a full day to do it.  Our day started early, we arrived around 9am and took the long walk in and executed our plan perfectly.  We spent the entire day inside, ducking in and out to avoid the patrols, we had lunch on the roof, popped back inside to shoot some more until we eventually saw the security patrol.  We ran for the exits and hid out for a while, happy with how much we had shot inside, we headed to some of the other outbuildings on this massive piece of property, the outbuildings turned out to be just as good as the main building.  We executed a flawless plan, made it in and out (and all around) without being detected.  I have yet to see one photo from this location from any other explorers, however a few have felt the need to let us know we were not the first to explore this place – when I challenged them to show me the proof, those messages went unanswered.   I was recently told by a friend on instagram that he had been in a couple of times.  I was pleased to hear that a seasoned explorer had been inside and would be showing me his pics soon.  I am very surprised to not see more people trying to shoot this location, it really is one of the best locations in the area for fun, for risk and for size!

Following the epic explore above I reached out to friends Neil Ta, Ben Roffelsen and Paul Hillier to meet up for some rooftopping downtown.   Neil and I started off at our first rooftop and were met by Paul up top, we then moved closer to the lake for a great skyline view at night where Ben met us.  I had typically done rooftopping alone in all my climbs over the last year or so, I found the experience of shooting with friends much more enjoyable.  Feeding off of eachother, learning some tips or just stop shooting and enjoy the company.  This was one of my favourite nights out on the roofs.

The rest of July was spent exploring solo, I felt a need to bring myself back down to earth after feeling on top of the world following the industrial location Riddim and I had made our way into. A friend had given me some intel on two excellent abandoned houses in his area that I would no doubt love and spend a great deal of time shooting.  The first one, the home and farm of a man who worked for Ontario Hydro, inside the basement was a wall stacked with every single issue of Time Magazine ever published, a complete history of the world, rotting in the basement.  This home also had fully intact bedrooms, a fully furnished kitchen and many other surprises.

From here, I drove further up the highway and well into the backroads to explore a house that is so well hidden I can’t imagine how anyone would have found it.  Access was almost impossible, and would have been if I were 10 pounds heavier!

 

Late July presented two other abandoned houses not far from home, one was a simple empty house that was going to be demolished and the other was a house packed full of belongings that was very well hidden behind tree’s and brush.  Unfortunately what looked to be the best part of the house was not accessible as the top floor had crashed onto the main floor which had crashed into the basement, it wasn’t worth falling into the basement to climb over and get those shots, was still an excellent explore!

 

 

At the end of July I had my sights set on a large skyway bridge that was under construction in my city, a massive renovation project that saw the entire bridge covered in scaffolding from bottom to top.

August and September 2014 were busy months personally however I was able to focus on some different projects, I used the time I had to shoot some traditional photography around my local area as well as near my cottage.  Shooting abandoned places and cityscapes the way I had been had actually taught me a great deal about photography techniques and to be more comfortable with my cameras settings.

 

In August I also set out to try street photography, a genre that is one of the most difficult to master and be comfortable with.  This is an area I want to try much more in 2015

Also in August, I took my daughter to the abandoned county home near my cottage with the idea to shoot her in a few scenes. She has shown a keen interest in what I do and she even points out old creepy houses for me whenever we drive by them.  The visit was quick, as she was a bit scared – and when she spotted a bird flying around inside, it was over!

In September I received a call that I never could have imagined would come my way.  Warner Brothers Studios in California called and wanted to licence one of my photographs for use in a television show they are working on.  The details were rough but they simply wanted to know if this is something that would interest me.  We talked numbers and usage and specifics and after a few phone calls the deal was done.  I would sell a photo I took while rooftopping in Toronto to be used as a scene background in episode 2 of The Flash.  The scene was done and over in seconds but was still extremely exciting to see how they used my photo.

October 2014

October 2014 was a very busy month, after a hiatus of way too many months, RiddimRyder and I finally got back together for two awesome tours of abandoned places across Ontario.  The first tour we also brought along our friend Kronix, who I had not yet been introduced to but had been wanting to meet.  We headed north with our eyes set on one specific house. An abandoned house with a distinct red carpet, full of furniture, beds still made and many many belongings.  There were a select few explorers who had tried to keep this one under wraps and specifically out of our hands.  The politics of urban exploring. Regardless, RiddimRyder and I were able to locate the house, and a few others near it so we set out on a long day of driving, exploring, ball busting and incredible selfies!

Fast forward a few weeks, still in October RiddimRyder and I had planned a day long marathon explore across southern Ontario and we invited a handful of friends.  Together with KronixFinz, VeeDub, Phrenzee and Charles Bodi we set out on a day that would end with 8 locations visited, lots of laughs and some of the best Urban Exploring Crew Shots I have ever seen!!

Here is a mash up of all of the days locations:

November 2014

With the year nearly over, Riddim and I set out in hopes of getting into an abandoned jail that had not seen much action in recent years, a few explorers here and there had managed to get in, but the jail is constantly watched and any openings that may be available are very quickly welded shut.  We set out on a long drive, fully expecting a fail – so we had some solid back ups.  We did indeed fail, we found a way into a guard tower – but not into the main jail.  With our tails between our legs we headed back onto the highway to the next location which would end up being a goldmine for photography…Thanks to my friend Jerm IX for his help on the locations here!

Next we headed to an abandoned private hospital that also had not seen much activity save for a handful of explorers.  We didn’t expect to get inside here and were pleasantly surprised to find a tight squeeze big enough to let us in!  It was pitch black inside as most of the windows are boarded, it made for a great explore but was very tough to shoot in such low light.

Finally, we ended the day at one of the most visited and most trashed locations in the province, what was once a boys school turned POW camp, now has Heritage Status – but I don’t see what can possibly be done to preserve this place.

To close out the year in style, Riddim and I set out for southwestern Ontario with a list of sure thing locations, each spot would hold a number of pleasant surprises for us.  We hit three houses, and a school – two of the houses turned out to be incredible and the school didn’t have much to offer.  As always, Riddim and I are well known for our crew shots and the creative ways that we use the items we find in these abandoned places, today was no different!

Finally, my last time shooting in 2014 was on a rooftop in Toronto, well, almost a rooftop – more like the top floor balconies of unfinished condo units in a building under construction.  One thing I had not yet experienced was shooting the city on a foggy night.  This night was perfect for shooting, I hadn’t been on a rooftop since July and had been itching to get back up and do some shooting.

 

Some other highlights of the year were being selected to show my work with many great and talented artists at the Toronto Urban Photography Festival.  It was an honour to be selected at first runner up alongside so many great photographers.  It was great to meet Vik Pahwa and Michael Pietrocarlo in person and get to know them a bit.

In 2013 I was approached by Huffington Post Canada to blog about my experiences in Urban Exploring, the great thing about this opportunity is that I am in full control of the content that is published so I can give as much or as little information as I want while (hopefully) putting urban exploring in a positive light in the public eye.  I had four stories published in 2014.

UE Magazine printed an article I had written on how I discovered rooftopping, it was great to see my work featured in print publication!

In September, Canadian Geographic Magazine selected one of my rooftopping photos as 1st runner up in their Skyward Photo contest, I won a great new camera bag as well as a few other exiting things.

Moving into 2015 I hope to continue getting to know the many photographers in the community who I’ve come to know online.  Spend more time shooting with those who I met in 2014 and continue to learn from them. Continue pushing limits and boundaries to find new locations, however big or small and seek new perspectives and different angles in those locations that have been seen by many.

Street photography and traditional photography will hopefully open up new skills and opportunities for me in 2015 as I continue to learn and try new things.  I also plan to give myself new projects to work on and present online in 2015.

Thanks to my main exploring partner RiddimRyder for all the good times and solid locations – I can’t wait to see what 2015 has in store for us!!!

Lastly, thank you to all who follow along every day and every week and to those who give positive and constructive feedback on the work I present to the online photography community and enthusiasts.

To follow along with my explores and for a quick escape every day you can follow me on my Freaktography Facebook page and Flickr for daily uploads.  I often post behind the scenes shots and throwback shots on my Freaktography Instagram page.   Also check out my website www.freaktography.ca for in depth galleries of all my explores dating back to 2012 and updated regularly.

– Freaktography, January 2015

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