Payphoneographer– Photographing the Urban Phone

Found on Twitter. You can follow the Instagram account or see the photos on Tumblr.

I think this is a great idea for backyard urban exploration. I don’t own or use a cell phone so I do still think about payphones, notice where they are and I’m glad to still see them around, and functional.

The classic steel/aluminum phone booth that we all remember was invented and manufactured by Benner-Nawman. In 1948, the Pacific Telephone Company had their corporate headquarters in San Francisco. They called Rollie Nawman and asked him to design and produce a telephone booth made of aluminum and glass to replace the wooden phone booths that they had in service at the time. With Pacific Telephone’s adoption of the very first design the company began making thousands of telephone booths and enclosures used by every major Telephone Company here in the United States and in 45 other countries; many of those enclosures are still in use today. With the advent of the cell phone, payphones were on the decline, and with them, the phone booth itself. In 2005, Benner-Nawman sold off all remaining stock and got out of the phone booth business. Myrmidon-PBG bought most of B-N’s stock, presumably for servicing old booths.

The above information is from the Flickr group for Phone Booths.

Discarded Objects

Junk collectors and urban explorers have a lot in common.

We both like old, neglected, forgotten stuff. There are treasures tossed out on sidewalks, ditches and parking lots. Explore your local area from the perspective of a freecycler or junk picker (there are other names for it, too many to list). What can you find to make an interesting photograph from the discarded stuff people glance at and walk right on by every day.

Found objects are interesting and you can decide whether to leave them or take them (there are less ethics when something has been thrown out rather than being on the property of an abandoned building).

  • If you collect found objects (in a theme?) you could create a study of them in your photographs. What are there differences? How were they found? Could they still be useful in some way?
  • If you leave discarded objects where they are you could see how they change as time passes. Some may get taken, kicked around or moved in one way or another. Some will not fare well in the outdoors with rain, wind or sun.

Either way, discarded things are worth noticing and available right in your own local area – without bending any laws.

Todd Fisher’s photos of New York in winter show us slushy, dirty snow. Household objects, TVs, and chairs, have been chucked unlovingly onto the street. The home comforts look strange in their new, hostile setting.

snowdaystoddfishervia – Dazed – The photographer mourning the loss of dirty NYC

Start Noticing Layers in the Urban Environment

I may be weird but I especially like the little details like painted over numbers and such. Something rusty draws me just as much as something shiny.

We recently did a couple of Thomasson exercises in my class (which focuses on the politics of ‘ruin porn’ and urban exploration), and it was an excellent way to help my students, who are mostly freshman, get to know their campus and start noticing the changes and layers in the urban environment around them. In this post, I’ll be sharing what we discovered and what I learned about using Thomassons as a teaching tool.

Source: Thomassons: Indiana University Edition | Rust Belt Anthro

Backyard Digging as Urban Exploration

Who thinks of digging around in your own backyard (or front yard) as exploring? Yet, it is. Does it only count if you actually find something interesting? backyarddigging

A Note to Curious Explorers

Four women stop to explore an abandoned property, on impulse. They post the video to YouTube and are condemned for what they have done. The comments go too far. As a woman explorer myself I wonder why there are so many videos just like this (from males) and they do not get this kind of response.

This is what I posted:

The comments are too extreme. I’ve seen a lot of men/ boys posting the same or far riskier stuff. Why so much backlash when it’s a group of women who really didn’t vandalize or steal anything?

I’m not voting your video down or asking you to take it down. I think you took a few risks more than you needed to but I do understand the curiousity to see an old place. I’m glad you did not take anything. I explore in rural Ontario and the only thing I leave with are my memories and photographs too.

Anyway, mainly ladies, if you explore a condemned property and become injured it is not fair to the property owner(s) as they would be responsible for whatever happens to you while you are on their property. A place which is condemned is not just an empty house. There was very likely structural damage to that house. It is good you were unable to enter it. Floors may have been unsafe from dampness, etc. You were not prepared for that kind of risk to yourselves. Though, it was good that you stuck together and did not have just one person on her own.

One other thing to be aware of are the outside dangers on an abandoned property, especially when the ground was covered with snow. Stray animals are one thing, chances are you would at least see them or they would not approach a group of people. But, the bigger risk is the covered ground because you can’t see what you are walking on. Possibly broken glass, nails which could go through your shoes. Also, wells and other holes which are not marked or covered securely/ safely.

I still enjoy finding an old place and documenting it with photographs. I don’t use video because I prefer still photos so I can get a better, close up look at all the elements of the property. I usually explore with another person and I almost never enter any buildings. Mostly because the places I like to see are very derelict, beyond safe. Please be careful if you explore other places. Find out more about old architecture, history and safety while exploring.

Urban Exploration: Don’t Hurt the Spiders!

don't hurt the spidersIf you explore empty, forgotten and abandoned places you will be among spiders and other creatures. Just accept it as a fact. I do not understand spider hatred. What has any little spider ever done to you? People see a photo of a few spiders and start talking (ranting) about demolishing the building, setting it on fire, etc. Are they crazy?!

I like spiders. They eat other insects and in general they prefer to avoid larger animals (like people). Yes, there are some dangerous spiders. Not many here in Ontario. I have seen a black widow spider. I watched it for awhile and did not try to pick it up, set it on fire, stomp on it or in any other way bother it.

Take only photos and leave only footprints. Leave the spiders alone, don’t take their lives. Spiders and their web do add greatness to photographs when the light is right.

Urban Exploration with Drones

I’m not sure what a drone is versus what is not a drone. This video was taken with a quadcopter, to me it looks like what I’ve seen called a drone.


Seems a very smart way to search for abandoned houses, even on property you haven’t bought yourself. Unless your drone falls to the ground and you go in to retrieve it, you get a decent look without upsetting anyone worried about trespassers. If you spot something with the drone you can also map out the best route too.


Depending on how much magnification/ zoom your drone has you might be able to see a lot of detail. This is one of the best drone uses I have seen. (Other than defusing bombs, terrorists and deep sea exploration beyond the limits of human beings).

These images were from videos made by the property owner, Len Farneth. The first are views from the quadcopter (drone) and the second is a visit to see the house by foot.

An Urban Exploration Directory is Too Much Work

I had wanted (and tried!) to build an urban exploration directory of sites. I have experience building and maintaining a web directory, for years. But, I’m finding the project is too big and too vast to take on and build to my own standards of over-perfection. So, I am just working on a directory for Canadian urban exploration groups, photographers and resources.


I am still adding other links but I’m not going to focus on them. I may turn some of the links into pages sorted by location. But, that is down the road somewhere.