Tim Frawley lives in Sydney. And like tens of thousands of others around the world, Tim dabbles in a spot of trespassing in his spare time. At least, that’s the 'legal definition' of the act and art of Urban Exploration (or Urbex, as it’s more commonly known). But what have we ever learned from the ‘legal definition’?
Tim is no mere trespasser. He’s a man who thinks exploring the things we have built and abandoned can offer valuable life lessons and, more immediately, valuable adventures. Tim uses his skills as a photographer to help capture and share his explorations with the Urbex community and the wider world. His output is prolific and his photos profound.
Despite the word ‘abandoned’ suggesting there is nothing or noone to see, each of Tim’s photographs tell a story. The subjects of the photographs – buildings, walls, equipment, furniture – represent ideas, ways of living, daily routines, hopes and aspirations that have been left behind. They are forgotten museums of human history and Urbexers are, in a way, our curators.
We caught up with Tim to find out more about the Urbex phenomenon and his part in it.
Tim - who are you, where do you live and what do you do?
I’m a photographer from Sydney and a lover of adventure.
Tell me a bit about Urbex. What is it and where does it originate from?
Everyone has a little bit of a different ‘definition’ of Urbex, but for me, urban exploration is about exploring the places that time has forgotten.
As for its origins, its hard to say. Some people say it began in Europe, while others claim America was the birthplace. Even Russia has a good case that they started it.. but I don’t think it began in any one particular place.
How did you first get involved in Urbex and how long have you been doing it?
I used to be into street art and graffiti. I was never any good at either, so I used to go and take photos and just appreciate it. There was an old factory in Sydney (which has now fallen to the hands of developers) which I used to frequent as the art was always changing and it was easy to get into.
I met a few people there who told me about some other similar places. I went and checked them out and then the same thing kept happening - hearing of new places from people I met - so I just kept adventuring around photographing them all.
I started noticing a pattern in my photography: I was focusing less on the street art of these places and more on the places themselves. I realised that the places I was enjoying the most were the ones with less graffiti and a bit of rusty charm and history about them.
What is it about Urbex that appeals to you?
It’s funny trying to explain to people why I spend my free time wandering around these dirty places, and I never expect people to understand. But these places offer something different from day-to-day life.
They are dark, grimy and dirty, but at the same time still charming and beautiful. I enjoy the challenge of trying to capture these places in a way for people to look at and see the same kind of beauty as I do.
Why do you think it's important for us to explore the places we live and not just other countries?
Australia might not have the extravagant abandonments that other countries do, but we still have some pretty cool sites and sometimes you discover things you never even knew. For example, I was showing my dad some photos from a power plant I explored and he informed me my pop used to work there. Then he gave me a run down of the whole place - he had been there several times when he was younger.
Do you have any personal highlights from your time spent Urbexing? What's the coolest thing or place you've found?
I have many! I was lucky enough to go to Chernobyl (on my honeymoon, nice and romantic), which was just an incredible experience and an extremely hard one to describe. A whole city that was just evacuated so quickly and still sits today like it did 30 years ago.
There was so much to take in. Seeing things in the classrooms like gas masks and posters on how to defend against tank attacks - it was an eye-opener to how different life was on the other side of the world 30 years ago.
What about the creepiest or spookiest place?
Beelitz Heilstätten in Germany. Beelitz is a huge military hospital complex outside of Berlin and was used during the World Wars (Hitler and Honecker were treated for injuries sustained in World War I here). It was also apparently used as cage for all sorts of inhuman experiments, so going into this place with a stigma and history like that was creepy from the word go.
The place itself was actually beautiful: several amazing buildings spread out over what I can imagine used to be manicured grounds…but are now of course overgrown.
The architecture inside of the buildings was like nothing I had ever seen: grand staircases and delicate detail throughout the buildings. There were some rooms that gave you a reality too - and you'd realised that you may be standing in the exact same place that one of the most evil men in history may have once stood.
Do you think Sydney is a particularly good city for exploring abandoned buildings? Where are some of your favourite places to explore?
Sydney doesn’t have much left to explore anymore, at least not for me. There are plenty of drains and rooftops to be explored, but that’s not really my cup of tea. With the huge rise in demand and value of property anything that has been left abandoned or unused is snapped up by developers. Now you need to venture outside of the city and outside of Sydney to really uncover the gems.
What do you say to the people who think Urbex is just 'glorified trespassing' or too dangerous?
Urban exploring can be dangerous. People have died doing it but people have also died surfing, snowboarding or crossing the road. It’s a matter of using your own judgement and assessing whether it's dangerous or not.
As for ’glorified trespassing’, I have had that term thrown at me quite a lot. We may go and explore properties that don’t belong to us, but when these places have been left for decades to rot away and no one cares for them anymore, what harm are we doing? I respect these places and know they're not my property...so I treat them with respect.