British photographers and self-described “urban explorers” Daniel Marbaix and Daniel Barter see beauty amid the desolation of abandoned buildings.
Their shoots have brought them to defunct factories, mines and houses of worship around the world, from their native England to Japan. For their first book, they captured the forgotten structures of the eastern United States: ruins of churches and theaters in New York City, derelict train stations, asylums and factories in the Rust Belt.
Images from “States of Decay,” published in July, evoke different reactions, especially the book’s cover. Shot by Barter, it shows an American flag hanging over a defaced frieze of the Last Supper. Barter said the image reflects the separation of church and state in a reference to American politics.
Citing an “explorers’ code,” the photographers chose not to provide specific information about the locations of their shoots. Indeed, the decaying structure may or may not reflect a general decline in the surrounding area, regardless of the state of the structure.
A shared fascination with old buildings brought the photographers together. Barter’s love of old buildings started as a child. Growing up in North London, he and a few friends would climb a fence after school and play inside a derelict airplane.
“The combination of leather and shiny metal switches was a formative experience for me,” said Barter, 29. “If I close my eyes, I can almost still smell it.” When he grew older, Barter studied restoration art in college, and that knowledge transformed his interest into a job as a professional photographer.
Meanwhile, Marbaix studied zoology at Royal Holloway, University of London, and somehow fell in love with photography.
“My courses seemed to just spill over into exploring the urban environment and that led to photography,” said Marbaix, 33. “I have not looked back since.”
When the two first met through friends in a pub in London of 2011, they were competing photographers. But after they learned of their mutual interest in taking photos of “older building and artifacts,” a friendship developed that has led to many adventures, for work and pleasure — often both.
Poking around abandoned buildings has led to a few close calls with authorities, the “Dan duo” said. The mixture of luck and adrenaline has concocted a slew of comical memories for the pair as well as some great shots.
Although many of their shoots might appear to be planned and organized, most of the time they’re produced during holidays and trips with friends and family.
“There is not a method to the madness. We just do whatever we feel like,” Marbaix said.
While they continue to work on projects centered on the unseen and unfamiliar in Britain, they’re looking forward to more adventures.
“We are told that we are too old to be doing this sort of thing,” said Marbaix. “But honestly I could care less. My mother loves it and that’s all that matters.”
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