Dusty, decrepit, terrifying: the abandoned places of photographer Thomas Windisch

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This article appeared in Issue 13 of Umbrella 
 
There’s something about an abandoned place that fascinates us. 
 
Maybe it’s the clues that suggest what was there before or the mystery of why the place was left exactly as it was. Perhaps it’s the the suspicion that we might never know. 
 
Austrian photographer Thomas Windisch has made a full-time hobby of finding and exploring these decaying time capsules – documenting his adventures with an ever-growing collection of beautiful photographs. We caught up with him to talk about his passion for urban exploration and the responsibilities that come with it
 
Umbrella: Hi, Thomas. What inspired you to start exploring abandoned places? 
Thomas Windisch: I bought a starter camera on my 30th birthday, went on my first exploration and took some photos because I loved the places I visited. I’ve always liked to photograph new things and combine my passion for photography with my love for history, travelling and adventure. I try to photograph as many places as possible, because they won’t be there forever.
 
U: What are your favourite buildings?
TW: Industrial sites, because there’s a lot to see and you get an understanding how things like paper or textiles were produced in the past. And of course, medical locations like hospitals, asylums or morgues. They’re usually really creepy and contain emotive scenes to capture. And you can do a lot of research there how people were treated in the past. 
 
U: How do you discover these places?
TW: A major part is research on the web, and I sometimes get help by networking, but that only works if you’re trustworthy and a social person. You can also find amazing places while driving or walking around, in time you develop an eye for it. And sometimes you get insider tips from locals – they know really cool hidden places, because most likely they played there when they were kids.
 
U: You’ve said you never take things away as souvenirs. Why?
TW: I want to preserve the places as they are, so future visitors can experience them like I did with every little  detail, because details matter. You could say it’s like visiting a dripstone cave or an archeological site. If every tourist takes a piece as a souvenir, sooner or later the place is destroyed and there’s nothing left to see.
 
U: Can you feel the presence of people who were there before?
TW: Well, I don’t see ghosts or hear voices. Of course, there are places where you’re captured by the past, because they’re so intense. They ignite my imagination and I can see how they’ve been in the past and what might have happened there. Unfortunately the most common sign of people is vandalism or dumped garbage.
 
U: What’s the most unsettling place you’ve visited?
TW: There are a few italian manicomios (asylums) which are very creepy. Empty hallways, overgrown windows and objects like electroshock devices, straitjackets or operating chairs – just like a horror movie set. We also visited an abandoned prison – beside feeling caged everywhere inside, we met a former inmate with his friends on location who rampaged in one of the cellblocks.

U:Have you ever injured yourself?
TW: No, just a few scratches and bruises. But it’d be foolish to think that there are no major risks when entering buildings liable to collapse or roping down into old mines. All you can do is minimise the risks with training, equipment and preparation. And have a trustworthy mate with you if things go wrong.
 
U: Where are you going next?
TW: I have several tours in eight european countries in the pipeline, but unfortunately I have only five vacation days left this year so I’ll have to make a decision. Most likely I’ll pick out some eye-candy I definitely need to see and do a ‘Eurotrip’.
 
All images copyright Thomas Windisch: thw.photography
Show your support: patreon.com/twindisch








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