Decayed Richmond: Urban explorers document life of vacant buildings

Posted at 6:47 PM, Feb 03, 2012
and last updated 2012-02-28 17:31:28-05

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) –  As much as building owners try, leave one vacant long enough and the humanity creeps back in.

Sometimes it’s the homeless.  Or druggies looking for a place to hide and get high. Graffiti artists – or vandals, depending on your viewpoint – use the blank walls as canvasses.

All of it makes for a fascinating environment that a group of so-called urban explorers – most of them VCU students – who are photographing and filming a documentary project known as Decayed Richmond.

“We’re just trying to have  a documentary about urban decay, urban abandonment, urban exploring, people who go into tunnels, abandoned buildings, abandoned factories, things like that,” said the founder of the project, a free-lance photographer who wanted to remain anonymous. “There’s going to be no propaganda attached to the film,” he added. “We’re going to interview explorers, graffiti artists, locals, law enforcement, city officials.”

This city is a treasure trove of historic, vacant buildings. The Fulton Gas Works or the old FFV Interbake bakery complex on W. Broad Street next to the Children’s Museum.

These urban explorers are like true cavers – take nothing but photos and memories, leave nothing but footprints.

“I just photograph it as is,” the photographer said. “Don’t move anything around. I leave everything as it was.”

Each building takes on a life on its own, based on its history, what’s left behind, how the human re-occupiers have used it and how the elements work on all those ingredients.

“Nature takes over the building,” the project’s founder said. “Humanity leaves the building, the artists create the artwork and nature curates it.”

Of course, they are breaking trespass laws, which is why they’re anonymous, although the founder sees what they do as artistic reporting.

This crew of college students needs a little more money to finish their project. To find out more about the project, go to