PhotoXplorers… Do we really need more of this stuff?


I am sure many of you know of this site already. I always seem so out of the loop on this stuff, I never watch T.V. and only rarely rent DVD’s to watch, so this site is new to me.

PhotoXplorers follows an adventurous band of guerrilla art force photographers/urban explorers as they ‘slip’ behind the barricades to capture haunting images of abandoned buildings and structures from around the world. The production values of the videos, and the photographs made by this group are amazing. I really think there is a tonne of talent here and I am sure most of us would love to access the subject matter these guys photograph (old mega-factories and abandoned urban buildings). Watching the videos is entertaining to say the least with the MTV-style flashing frames and jumping music.

But… my concern with PhotoXplorers is the glorification of the illegal explorations of private properties (yes, they say not to do it… but that is like having your parents tell you not to smoke dope, will most people really listen?). Rather than go through appropriate channels to get permission onto private property, these guys trespass to get the photos they want. Photography already has a bad name and photographers are facing more and more restrictions daily as the general public sees us as uncaring mauraders who steal privacy and break laws.

Out in the real world photographers are not trusted. No wonder! Over and over the theme that getting the photo is all that matters is recurring on many photo websites and forums. Indeed, there are numerous websites already dedicated to telling people how to get to these abandoned places and how to ‘sneak’ in unlawfully. PhotoXplorers further feeds into the machismo warrior mentality that too many photographers already have.

What ever happened to ethics and morals in photography?

14 Responses to “PhotoXplorers… Do we really need more of this stuff?”

  1. This raises some really interesting questions Darwin. You might be interested in reading the Ethics page on the Infiltration zine web site found here:

    Infiltraion was a Toronto-based zine about “going places you’re not supposed to go”. I neither specifically condone nor condemn the practice of urban exploration, but I think it brings up some excellent questions regarding the sometimes blurry distinction between public and private space; about who controls access and why.

    As for me, I’m still pretty content to follow the rules, but maybe I’m just shy.

    Thanks! Mike

  2. Interesting post. I think photography in general might be going through puberty? Most photographers are not sure if they are artists or engineers operating a new machine with limitless boundaries. Maybe it is hitting the rebelling stage of its existence on the planet now? Is it still cool to smoke or do something that many are not willing to try? It was when I was 15. Although I never smoked, I did push the limits of legality on many other missions. The louder you yell and the crazier your approach to life when you are 15 the more attention you get. So maybe it is just about that? Unfortunately, what is the cost of the final outcome?

  3. I saw this show when I was State-side. At first I was amazed by the mainstream rebellious exposure this show got. Then I thought, would I feel good about my trespassing to get that ‘trophy’ shot? I’m torn by the ethics.

  4. I always thought a rebellious streak in general is a good thing to have but in this case I agree with you. There’s nothing heroic or redeeming about invading someone else’s property. I had two close calls myself in small towns when I was photographing old buildings (legally, from a public road). In one case a man walked up to me accompanied with a snarling dog and said “I know what you’re doing”. I didn’t wait around to ask what he meant. On another case, an old woman came at me holding a shotgun. Good thing I always prefer working while out and as far from other people as I can.
    I also find Jay’s observation about photography going through puberty very intriguing. The more I think about it, the more it rings true. Then again, I think most everything in the mass media is aimed at people in their teens to mid-20s.


  5. What ever happened to ethics and morals in photography? They seem to have disappeared about the same time that “stealing” music online became fashionable. Seems there is a paradigm shift in morals. Can’t say that I care too much for it.

  6. I wonder how these photographers would like their copyright rights infringed upon….

  7. Since this isn’t news I seriously doubt they have any protections at all. Really the only way to curb this kind of activity would be for the property owners to not only tresspass them (using the photos/video as evidence) but bring action against all parties involved. I would think that not only these folks but also the producers and such should be liable. If nothing else they should be able to ask for seizure of all rights, content, and proceeds from the illegal activities.

    I would think that signing a liability waver would satisfy most any property owner, especially if they are getting paid something for the trouble. So I really see no reason other than their lack of honesty and integrity that they trespass. Of course it could be that they are just incredibly lazy!

  8. Interesting discussion that seems to err on the conservative side, which surprises me a bit.

    The other week: At sunrise I photographed some 5000 year old standing stones out in a field. Around noon I wondered around a 2000 year old broch on the edge of the sea. Towards the afternoon I came upon an abandoned house, probably vacated 40-50 years ago, which I also proceeded to photograph.

    Where does the line exist between an abandoned structure that is ‘morally wrong’ to enter vs. some ‘historic’ structure/ruin where it is perfectly fine to enter? Is it simply a scale based on a structure being abandoned more than XX years ago? Is it when a shift of cultures occur? Only if the owner allows?

    Bodie, California was set up as a state park in 1962. Would it have been wrong to enter the ‘ghost town’ in say, 1920? why or why not. How about any of the other ghost towns around, that are just sitting there, with plenty of ‘no trespassing’ signs fading away in the sun and wind.

    Does a building being located in a city give it a different classification as to enter or not? If so, then I assume most of the posted here would also be against the famous artist/squat houses set up in east Berlin during the early 90’s in the vacuum left by the fall of the wall. Indeed, even to this day, east Germany is full of empty husks of buildings, in cities and the countryside, just waiting there until they finally crumble. Why not go in, have a look, create some beautiful photos…

  9. […] Darwin Wiggett’s thoughts on the show “PhotoeXplorers”. […]

  10. I’m one of the photographers on the show. First, thanks for watching.

    My/our photographic interest is (obviously) abandoned buildings, and we’ve been doing this for many years. On occasion, we have sought and received permission to visit and photograph locations. Most times, though, we don’t seek permission (and, in our experience, most locations are owned by the municipality for unpaid taxes and permission wouldn’t be granted anyway).

    Our goal wasn’t to glorify trespassing, but since that is an integral component of what we do (though, not all jurisidictions have “trespassing” laws to make it illegal) it is unavoidable.

    As for photographic “ethics”, to each their own. We don’t damage the buildings, we don’t break into them, we don’t steal from them. Ultimately, when we leave a place there should be nothing different from when we arrived (other than it has been well documented in its current condition). I find nothing unethical in what I/we do (not surprisingly). I find taking photos of strangers on the street without their previously given permission to be much more unethical than anything I do, and yet “street photography” is a well tread genre.

    I’m happy to answer any questions about the show and further the discussion.

    • Hi Sean,

      Thanks for taking the time to write!

      I agree with you 100% about street photography. I think it is totally unethical to make photos of anyone without permission. Overall, more and more I get a bad taste in my mouth that photographers will do anything to get the shot.

      Wildlife shooters push the animals and cause stress and displacement. Celbetrity photographers invade the personal lifes of the rich and famous. Journalistics push to get the ‘story’ often without concern, or regard or aid to the ‘victims’. People tresspass on private property because to get the ‘killer’ shot. It is all the same to me, a blatant disregard for other people’s rights just so we can get the shot we want.

      For me, there is a world of amazing photography out there that can be made without harming anyone, without invading privacy or personal property, and without making people feel bad about us as photographers. We do not need to break lwas or harm others to make fine images.

      I understand you respect and love your subject and cause no harm, but your actions make others want to emulate you and so photographers everywhere will sneak onto property that is private and posted. In the end even if no one gets hurt or arrested in the process, the mere act of trespassing gives us all a bad name. In the future things will just keep getting more difficult for photographers – there will be more restrictions, more vigilence, less tolerance for what we do simply because we feel we have the ‘right’ to do as we damn well please.

    • Georgia Burnette Says:

      I love the show, I also love to visit old industrial buildings of any genre. Sorry everyone is on their uppers about trespassing, ethics, etc. The photography brings to light history of another time and place. Relax and enjoy it!
      Georgia Burnette

  11. I hate to think how many important photographs would not have been taken and events documented if concern for someone else’s concept of photography a whole had to be considered before the shutter was pressed.

    If my actions make someone else want to emulate me, I hope they are safe and share a similar sense of ethics. Others’ actions made me want to emulate them, in getting into photography, in wanting to exhibit my work, and in wanting to go places I’m not supposed to go. We all make our own decisions, ultimately, however, and take responsibility for our own actions.

    Would you have similar concerns if there was no trespassing law, such as is the case with Scotland?

  12. It’s a bigger crime to leave such places derelict than to take photos there without permission.
    Here in Lithuania (where I currently live) most places are being abandoned in a consequence of corruption, fraud and so on. My pictures are like a silent call to what’s happening around us and that this isn’t right. How can a man who was a candidate for a president of our country buy a big house in the center of a capital with a scenic view and great history, a manor outside the town and leave them abandoned? This is a Crime!

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