Dutch photographer Brian Precious Decay photographs abandoned sites across Europe
He's shot castles, hospitals and factories in countries like Germany, Poland and Italy
He often risks arrest at the hands of local authorities
The derelict is not the first thing that most people would choose to study, but neglected and rotting structures are photographer Brian Precious Decay’s specialty.
A 40-year old executive at a transport company by day, he visits abandoned buildings in his spare time – from sorry-looking children’s camps and vacant hospitals to run-down castles – creating haunting images of places reduced to just a shadow of their former selves.
Precious Decay is a pseudonym, but the photographer has asked not to reveal his real name because what he does may be considered trespassing.
The interest in all things abandoned was spurred by his hometown of Rotterdam, which was almost completely destroyed during World War II. A photography course in 2010 then set the wheels in motion.
While there is a melancholic beauty his work, he readily admits that his style is niche and not something most people would want to place on their living room wall.
Here, he discusses how to find appeal in unexpected places.
How do you scout locations?
It’s really a way of life because you have to look on Google Earth to search for areas where you see the grass has not been mowed. You check the newspapers for messages for hospitals that are out of use.
It takes a lot of time, and I have two small kids and a family. It takes a lot of money.
In the Netherlands, where I live, buildings that are abandoned get boarded up. Belgium is a two-hour drive from my home, but you can also go to France, Germany, Austria and further and further. Hotels and plane tickets add up.
What region have you found to be the most fertile for abandoned sites?
The former East Germany, which used to be divided by the Berlin Wall. There are a lot of abandoned buildings there.
Also, in the skiing areas in the Czech Republic or in Germany. At one point people went skiing and hotels popped up, but when people went elsewhere they had to close down. In Austria, there’s a ski town that’s almost completely abandoned.
The Netherlands doesn’t really have castles like they do in Italy and Poland. They cost a lot of money and, especially when they deteriorate, renovation costs are pretty high. The renovation costs are then higher than the worth of the buildings, so then it just keeps on deteriorating. Even demolishing is more expensive than leaving it to rot.
Do you often run into obstacles while photographing derelict structures?
Normally, if they see us with a camera they think we’re okay. We’re not destroying stuff. I want to shoot pictures of how I found it. If I start moving stuff then you get a staged living room. It’s not real.
We usually go early in the morning when the sun is just coming up and everyone is sleeping. If there’s a gate, we may climb over the gate or we find a hole in the gate. We don’t break stuff. The worse thing the police can say is delete your pictures but that’s it. It’s a bit of a thrill.
What is your most memorable shoot?
There was a big castle in Belgium. We’d been there several times, but we could never find an entry. As a rule, we don’t break in. It should be open or else you don’t enter.
We went at five in the morning. We took pictures. There was a Jeep circling around the castle continuously. We thought this was not good, but we continued because nobody called us. We thought we needed to step out and the police showed up. They asked us what we’re doing here. They checked what was in our car and that no stuff was taken in our bags.
So we went to the police station, got mugshots, but they let us leave. Once we stepped out, we had a beer but then chose to go to a factory nearby to photograph some more.
What do you find beautiful about decay?
The history of the place, definitely. Nature taking over too. Sometimes you see a roof collapsed and moss growing on the floor. If you leave it as it is, a tree will grow in the house, and things like that are what fascinates people, I think.
I don’t see it as negative. Decay can be very beautiful but it’s personal. A lot of people like the pictures because it raises questions but to hang it on your living room wall, that’s another question.
This interview has been edited for clarity. You can follow Brian Precious Decay on Facebook here.