Report of my First Lecture at Reigate Photographic Society – by Peter Flower

I presented my first talk to Reigate Photographic Society in January 2014, and was extremely chuffed with the detailed report written by member Peter Flower. I don’t know why I never linked to it back then, but am making up for that now by reproducing the report with Peter’s kind permission.

Extract of the text for the report by Peter Flower that appeared in Newsletter No. 58, published on the web site in early 2014. More recent Newsletter items can be accessed from the Home page of the web site at:

Urban Exploration To Fine Art: A Photographic Journey – 13 January 2014 – Viveca Koh ARPS

Report by Peter Flower

A new year. A new term –  ‘UrbEx’. The first talk of 2014 introduced us to a very different genre of photography. Certainly a category that would not have been attempted by most of us. Viveca is an architectural librarian whose interests extend to art and abandoned buildings. ‘UrbEx’ is the short-hand term for urban exploration, an activity that involves enthusiasts in visiting and photographing unoccupied and derelict buildings.

Many will be familiar with the photographs of derelict and abandoned old buildings from the past. Classic popular examples have included those such as long-abandoned homes in the dust-bowl states of America and sand-filled houses in the Namib desert. Nearer to home, disused factories and buildings have been a popular subject. However, the majority of these have been photographed from the exterior or where open access is readily available. The challenge for UrbEx ‘warriors’ is to gain entry to buildings where access is not obviously evident. The challenge is to identify and gain access to new prospects before other members of the UrbEx community.

Viveca explained that she is a self-taught fine art photographer who sees potential images everywhere around, often things that many seem to miss or simply pass by. Abandoned buildings are a passion, as are the details of places that attract her eye, the minutiae that collects in hidden corners, the small parts of bigger things that are fascinating in their own right. These buildings are a ready source of inspiration and she explained the thrill of discovering, gaining access and photographing a new site before others. She stressed, however, that there was a code of conduct that forbade breaking into properties, unlike squatters who might be also be on the lookout for empty residences. The motto was ‘Take only photographs, leave only footsteps’. A rare occasion might arise to rearrange some artefacts to provide a better composition but otherwise the policy was to leave everything as seen and undisturbed.

Her involvement originated in April 2009 when she visited a derelict asylum. West Park Asylum, Epsom, was an abandoned building that she had revisited a number of times and she showed many photographs of this site. This had changed over the years as parts of the building were demolished or general decay had taken place. There were many other examples, including an abandoned mortuary, where the remaining equipment gave a clear indication of its purpose, and a disused Belgian power station. It was interesting to see the sorts of equipment that had been left behind. More worrying was the evidence in some institutions of the written records that had been discarded. Whilst photographing at the Belgian power station Viveca became aware that they were not alone. Some distance away some people were stealing cable and scrap metal and she actually captured the metal thieves in one of her pictures.  This highlighted the fact that caution needed to be exercised. Other inhabitants of buildings, whether temporary or squatters, might not be friendly.

Viveca explained that she had originally used film cameras such as the Pentax K1000 and an Olympus OM4 Ti with spot metering but obtained a Nikon D700 digital camera in 2008. Because of the tight interior spaces she liked wide angle lenses and had made use of a 16mm fish-eye lens. More recently she had used a Panasonic Lumix LX3 camera. This has the equivalent of a 24mm widest aperture zoom lens with an f/2.0 – f/2.8 aperture, making it very suitable for the situations that she encounters. She dislikes the use of flash, preferring to use natural lighting despite the difficulties that this can present in getting well-exposed results. However, she does use a light-painting technique with hand-held lamps in some circumstances and uses a tripod where lighting levels are low.

As might be expected many of the derelict buildings had been subjected to visits by graffiti artists. Viveca had captured some of their work on camera. The following photograph shows a Banksy-style black and white picture on the interior wall of one building.


Man in top hat painted on wall of derelict Hellingly Asylum by artist Req, West Sussex

Another photograph shows the ‘signature’ image – a stylised dog – of another graffiti artist. In this case the picture has been overlaid with an image of peeling paint from another photograph.

Room in derelict Hellingly Asylum, West Sussex. Cracked paint texture overlay, dog painting on mantelpiece by Luke da Duke

This is an example of a technique that Viveca is increasingly using in her work. She enhances many of her photographs with texture layers and overlays, experimenting with digital double exposure and using old documents that she has collected to add a different dimension to the work in question.

Viveca was awarded a Licentiateship Distinction in 2010 by the Royal Photographic Society and in June 2011 was successful in attaining an Associateship Distinction. She is now planning ahead for a Fellowship. Although her interests remain with UrbEx projects she is increasingly aiming towards the production of artistic and creative images. In addition to her involvement with the RPS she has exhibited in a number of venues and all her photographs are sold as signed numbered Limited Edition Giclée prints.

A few more of her images are shown below, but a much greater selection can be found on her web site at –

Photo illustration of section model of pigeon

The final photograph is a multiple-image self-portrait of Viveca.

Self portrait to represent visually depression, texture overlay

Viveca’s talk gave an interesting insight into a different genre of photographic activity and was a stimulating way to start off the 2014 programme of events.

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