Making the ugly look beautiful

A shot from the top of the Zurich building
A shot from the top of the Zurich building
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‘LEAVE nothing but footprints’ is their motto. And it’s something the players in the secretive world of urban exploration live by.

As these stunning photographs show, urbexers – as they call themselves – make the ugly beautiful by capturing the derelict insides of long-abandoned buildings, steeped in decay, and creating the most incredible images.

Grand Hall at Graylingwell

Grand Hall at Graylingwell

Urbexers Oliver Nelson and Robbie Khan, who share a passion for photography, have been indulging their love of derelict buildings for the past three years.

They’ve captured amazing views from the top of the empty Zurich building in Portsmouth, photographed peeling paint on the walls of the former mental hospital Graylingwell, in Chichester, the corridors at the former Haslar Hospital in Gosport and ripped seats at the former Cosham cinema.

Through their lenses Oliver and Robbie find beauty in the most unexpected places.

They are joined regularly by a small band of urbexers from the Portsmouth area who travel across the south to abandoned buildings to capture crumbling former mansions, hospitals and offices.

The old Odeon cinema in Cosham High Street was Oliver’s first urbex.

The 32-year-old, from Portchester, said: ‘I was nervous at first because it was dark and it was quite a dangerous environment.

‘There was every chance we’d come across a junkie or someone in there. We had to crawl through vents to get in. It was nerve-wracking but exhilarating.

‘But taking photographs can take quite a while so after three or four hours it wasn’t so scary. You get used to it.’

Urbexers are not breaking any laws because trespass is a civil matter.

They take care never to move or break anything and only get in through entrances made previously by people who have usually gone to strip the place of anything valuable.

Oliver says: ‘We go armed only with a tripod, a camera and lunch.’

Robbie, 28, from Gosport, adds: ‘We try to keep it exactly as we find it. There is an urbex motto, “take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints” and that’s what we stick by.

‘I love the reaction I get to photographs of what at first looks ugly but the pictures make beautiful.’

At West Park Mental Hospital, in Surrey, Oliver said it was as if patients had been ‘plucked from their beds’.

He adds: ‘It’s been empty at least 20 years but the bed sheets were half drawn, the bedside tables had people’s spectacles on them. There were glasses filled with mould where liquid had been left in them. It was amazing to see it had just been left like that.

‘I get quite a buzz from opening doors that haven’t been opened for God knows how long.’

Locations of potential explorations are given in online forums devoted to the hobby. And urbexers never go out exploring alone – there are always at least two people.

Both men give their friends and family the exact details of where they are going and when they should expect them home, just in case there is an accident.

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To see more of Oliver or Robbie’s work, and that of other urbexers from the Portsmouth area, go along to The End is Coming exhibition at Room 237, Elm Grove, Southsea.

Other artists include Wesley Brown, Rhys Edwards, Trevor Bishenden, Boogie Trix.

The opening night is November 2 and an after party will be held at The Loft, in Albert Road. The exhibition runs for a week and all the money raised will go towards a fund set up to help with health care costs of a former urbexer.

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