Troy Paiva boldly goes where you’re not supposed to go. In Night Vision: The Art of Urban Exploration, he glides through abandoned industrial complexes, military installations, junkyards, asylums, hotels, and gas stations, capturing stunning images of urban decay. Troy is one of the foremost photographers of the UrbEx (or UE) movement and his distinctive blend of atmospheric night photos and lighting effects are the visual hallmarks of a scene whose participants seek to investigate, to discover, and to soak up a forbidden atmosphere. I caught up with Troy last week to talk about his work.
How do you see yourself within the context of the UrbEx movement?
People have photographed ruins since the invention of the camera. People have taken pictures at night and done light painting almost as long. As near as I can figure though, I was the first person to combine all three. I’m amazed that so many people are doing UE night work now and it’s a thrill to be the guy that invented a whole genre of photography like that. But when all is said and done, I’m just another tourist wandering the ruins, taking it all in. UE is generally a secretive pastime. Most of us are loners and don’t talk much about what we do. Consequently, I think UE is bigger than any one person.
What draws you to exploring these abandoned spaces?
The epic solitude and the mystery. Alone, at night, these places take on an amazingly surreal atmosphere, totally unlike the “real world.”
Can you share any particularly vivid experiences you had during your explorations?
There’s nothing that can prepare a person for the sight of a headless and wingless airliner sitting on its belly in the sand, or a tract of hundreds of homes, abandoned on a decommissioned military base in the middle of nowhere. I love the moments like that: they are timeless explorations of just how small humans are in the grand scheme of things.
How did you first get into photography?
I am a career graphic designer and illustrator. Back in the late 80s I was painting and drawing for a major toy company as a full time job. The last thing I felt like doing when I got home was drawing and painting, so I was desperate to find a new creative outlet which was separate from my day job. I stumbled onto night photography and immediately connected it with the abandoned places I was already exploring. I hit the ground running and never looked back.
Do you have a favorite image from the book?
No, that’s like picking a favorite child! The airplane Boneyard is my favorite location, though, because it’s just so unique. So consequently it’s probably my favorite section of the book.
What would you like people to take away from Night Vision?
That we are living in a golden age of abandonment and urban exploration. There were more buildings and infrastructure built in the 20th century than in all the rest of human history combined. I want it to make others feel like getting their shoes dirty too and also, to give the “armchair explorer” a chance to experience these places.
Have more questions for Troy? Ask away! He’s volunteered to guest moderate the comments, so now’s your chance to find out everything you wanted to know about UrbEx, night photography, and headless airliners.