In this showcase series we feature the urban exploration (Urbex) photography of Yannick Vandermolen.
Jan, can you tell us a little about your background?
I live in Belgium, and I’m working both as a graphic designer and webdesigner. I had some photography courses during my artistic studies, but I never practiced it much after it. I’ve been playing guitar in band for some years, and I really began practicing photography when the band split in 2008-2009.
In 2008, my wife bought a reflex, a Nikon D60, because she was working on a stop motion short film, so I borrowed it and began photography. I do mostly urbex photography (urban exploration), which consists mostly in exploring abandoned places.
Can you tell us more about this Prison 15H series?
I’ve already explored many places, but I never had the opportunity to visit a prison. When I heard about this prison, I really wanted to see it by myself. Abandoned places can tell a lot of stories, and for sure this one had a lot to tell.
I can’t really say when it’s been abandoned, but it must have been quite recently because I found papers dating from 2010 inside it, and that’s really great because you can get a good idea of what it must be like to be in jail in 2010. I even managed to find a small folder which was given to the prisoners when they arrived there, explaining the way the prison was running; schedules of the day, what they can do and what they can’t, it was very interesting.
This prison is built on star shaped model. This means that the main entrance is made of a rotunda, from which you can access three wings with the block cells. Each block cell contains several floors, it’s really huge.
It’s also divided in two different section : there’s the star shaped building which is the men’s prison, and just beside of it, but separated by a big wall, there’s the women’s prison. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find any access to the women’s prison.
Though abandoned, the place sees many visitors : photographers, street artists, vandals, copper thieves,… We met a few photographers while exploring it, and we’ve seen many graffitis and of course the work of the copper thieves, but fortunately we didn’t met any of them.
I’ve never crossed the path of copper thieves, but I’ve heard that if you meet them, you’d better run away. I thought this place would be very oppressive, but I didn’t felt like it, I’ve been in places that I’ve found much creepier than this one, but it’s all a question of personal feelings.
What equipment do you use?
I use Nikon cameras. I worked with a D3000 for some years, which I was happy with, but I felt limited after some time. I didn’t want to buy a full frame because I would have to buy new lenses and also because it’s heavier than an APS-C. When Nikon released the Nikon D7100, I thought it was what I was looking for, so I bought it.
For the lenses, I mainly use the 18-105mm that comes with the D7100. Not a perfect lens, but not a bad one either. I mostly use this one because I don’t like to change lenses while exploring. You know, abandoned places can be very windy and dusty, and the 18-105mm is a very zoom… Other than this lens, I also use a Nikkor 35mm 1.8 AF and an old Nikkor 50mm 1.4 without AF that I bought on a flea market.
I really like these two lenses, the image quality can’t be compared to those of a zoom. I also plan to buy a Nikon wide angle lens in the near future, something like a 10mm, because I’m sometimes being frustrated not to be able to take the shot that I want just because I’m against a wall or there’s a hole behind me.
I’m always working with a tripod because I’m often in very dark areas. Another reason why I work with a tripod is that I make HDR. I’m a Linux user, so I use only open-source softwares. I use Darktable for the Raw files, Luminance HDR for creating the HDR files, and then I use Gimp for the final touches.
Do you any plans for a new series in the near future?
Of course, I plan to work on new series. I still have a lot of pictures to work on, I try to go on exploration once a week, sometimes twice. There are a lot of abandoned places in Belgium.
I’d like to do more residential places like old houses or castles. Speaking of castles, there’s one that I’d really like to shoot, I already went there once, but couldn’t find any entrance. The place is also very well secured with guards patrolling the area, but it’s an incredible place.
I didn’t had much times these last weeks to go on exploration because I’m preparing an exhibition of my work in an art gallery and it takes me a lot of times. I also started a 365 project to force me to do something else than my usual urbex shots. It’s a very hard but also a very rewarding experience. I would highly recommend doing it to any photographer that feels stuck in his style and wants to refresh.
Photophique has express permission to publish these images and Yannick Vandermolen retains full copyright to all photographs featured in this Urbex photography series.