THE EYE OF THE VAGABOND - Urbex Session, beware of the unknown

Raphael has launched a few years ago Urbex Session, a website and YouTube channel dedicated to urban exploration. From his journeys with his companion Marie to abandoned places across France and the world, he brings back beautiful photos, offbeat reports and terrifying stories.

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How did you start practicing Urbex?

The idea of practicing Urbex came completely by chance, in February 2013, I wasn’t inspired to fill a week of vacation with my companion Marie, so we’ve organised a road trip in France dotted with stages related to the most somber French news (Auxerre for Emile Louis, Nantes for Xavier de Ligonnes, Dannes for the Jourdain Brothers, etc ...). An original idea to discover our country through a gloomy angle. To complete our itinerary, we added abandoned places. Some explorations that will have given us the taste and addiction to disused places. A passion that still pursues us to this day.

Why did you decide to stage yourself with rabbit masks and romanced stories?

When we discovered that the practice of Urbex was something quite widespread in the world, we’ve noticed that many explorers were staging their pictures by wearing gas masks to highlight the apocalyptic side of the thing. For once, we wanted to naturally do something more offbeat, less serious and so I looked into a trunk full of disguises and found masks of rabbits. It could have been other masks, other animals but I only had it in stock.

As for our romanced stories, it's because I'm passionate about writing since my young age, much more than photography. Before actively practicing Urbex, I spent my time writing sketches scripts and short films, and you can see on my Youtube channel, my Urbex videos are mixing derision and exploration.

So to combine Urbex and writing, I had the idea to accompany most of my photographic reports with fictional stories. For the most part, these are macabre stories written in the 100th degree that have always, to my great surprise, a credibility for most readers. The interest also to write stories is to avoid telling the real history of places to give too precise indications of the place, and keep its confidentiality. To avoid writing always the same thing, the same descriptions and the same clichés based on "Nature takes back its rights" or "Time is suspended", I think it's less idiotic to invent. I have also released last June a novel called "Putrefaction - Voyage au bout de l’immodel" which is inspired by some stories on the website. The novel is a road trip through France in which the main character explores abandoned places related to news, which is not far from my reality.

What are the basic rules for practicing Urbex? Are they different in France and abroad?

The rules if we can call them rules is primarily an ordinary way of life, that is to say not to break, vandalise, steal the least of things in an abandoned place. Many think naively or intentionally that since it is abandoned, we can recover everything except that it always belongs to someone and that it always looks like theft. Apart from that, there are few nuances in the way of practicing or fueling your passion depending on the country, what may differ may be that for example in Japan, the United States, the addresses are easily found on the internet there are even directories while in France, it is much less easy even if it is regrettable that there are in recent years websites that offer addresses of abandoned places for a fee.

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What is your best exploration ?

Difficult to choose, I could cite Chernobyl, as it represents a bit of the Grail for any explorer, it is an extraordinary and exciting experience. Having the opportunity to go back in time, return to the past in the heart of a city and villages still in their own juice is something fabulous. Discovering the Soviet era in this way is much more immersive than a museum. There is everything there, cemeteries of cars, trucks, boats, buildings as far as the eye can see, cinemas, a pool and so on, not forgetting of course the famous nuclear power station. To explore this area well, it takes at least a week, since I only made it in one day, I can not wait to go back.

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What are the places (in France and abroad) that you would like to explore?

I would deeply like to make a road trip in the Eastern countries like Romania, Kosovo, Latvia, Bulgaria, Ukraine, there is an abandoned heritage that is important and it is because I am also passionate about the history common to all these countries. But the current reality is quite different, dad of three babies, it is difficult to organise expeditions as far away. This is also why I start actively exploring my department of Gironde that allows me from time to time to make beautiful discoveries, Urbex is everywhere, you just need to observe.

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