Abandoned Europe

There’s a perpetual air of mystery surrounding the abandoned buildings of the world. Dutch photographer Hans van Vrouwerf aims to clear that mystery. He explores the rotting, decaying buildings left to the wild. Those asylums, factories, churches and other buildings exposed to the elements are treasure troves for photographers with unique settings, light and ambience.

Stories of loss, departure and separation lie hidden in these images. These photos live, they breathe. It’s a photography about human mankind itself, about everything having its time and everything a beginning and an end. Hans van Vrouwerf’s photographs capture, yes, time. Looking at them I can nearly smell the stale air in these dark, forgotten worlds, and you ask yourself again and again: why did they people leave. Some seemed to have left in a hurry, others left behind relative order and glimpses of their lives.

A Room With a View | Hans van Vrouwerf
A Room With a View | Hans van Vrouwerf

To find shuttered factories and industrial sites, Hans van Vrouwerf reads old news articles about companies that have gone under and uses Google Earth to locate them, working all over Europe. Getting inside is often the bigger challenge than the photography itself. He often has to enter through broken windows. Once, while wandering around a derelict Belgian factory with his camera, he was accosted by armed police officers wearing bulletproof vests.

All Work, No Play | Hans van Vrouwerf
All Work, No Play | Hans van Vrouwerf

THEME spoke to Hans about his work, technique, his motivation.

What fascinates you about this photography?

This photography is special, it’s very different and really challenging. We have to climb into buildings through broken windows, dodge security, go in at dark and so on. Once you’re in, the excitement remains and you just want to take great pictures. The adrenaline is rushing through your veins and a small mistake is easily made.

Best part is that you will most likely get a change to capture a scene that hardly anybody ever sees, the feeling of being alone in a place where it seems that they just left is a thing that makes it really special.

Another great thing is the light. It just is truly amazing. It’s different with inhabited places because the windows don’t get cleaned ever it seems to get a bit more diffuse by time…and we as photographers love diffuse light right?

Of course curiosity is always a winner and that’s just what keeps mee going in time after time. Just to show the world my images of places hardly seen before.

A Sad Scene | Hans van Vrouwerf
A Sad Scene | Hans van Vrouwerf

Mighty old continent! You find many crumbling industrial sites across Europe?

“Many” isn’t the right word, because it’s still a big search to find them. I think the world economy is changing at such a fast pace that some companies can’t keep up and the only solution is to close or leave the premises. Destruction of these buildings is usually too expensive, so they just leave it and let nature take over. But it can also happen that they move to another location and leave it as is. Can you imagine just leaving your house with everything in it to start somewhere else?

Order | Hans van Vrouwerf
Order | Hans van Vrouwerf

Do derelict factories have a different feel from other types of decaying buildings?

Industrial sites can be a bit depressing, mostly due to the fact people were fired, and you are inside a place where people used to earn their living. I’ve also seen places with thousands of dollars of stuff left in them, which is unbelievable. Usually the light and shadows show the beauty in buildings like this. Churches are different, abandoned because not enough people care about god anymore.

Can You Handle It | Hans van Vrouwerf
Can You Handle It | Hans van Vrouwerf

Where have you traveled in search of these sites?

I’ve traveled throughout Europe in search of these abandoned buildings, from deep in France to Poland and other countries. What I found there was decay and forgotten, almost eerie places that seem to grab you and just show you what happens when people leave and nature takes over. All of them have their own charm, but I favor the small houses, churches and monasteries.

Classroom | Hans van Vrouwerf
Classroom | Hans van Vrouwerf

What do you like about visiting religious buildings?

The best thing about visiting abandoned churches is that you can go everywhere. The complete silence, with only the sound of a camera shutter filling the space, is truly remarkable. When you visit a theater you feel like you’re the star of the night but there is no audience to see you. Empty seats covered in mold remind you of better days and show you the last show was years ago, the only public you might have are pigeons — that can actually scare you with their strange noises.

Typo? | Hans van Vrouwerf
Typo? | Hans van Vrouwerf

Your favorite building you’ve ever photographed?

My absolute number one is a Belgian monastery that has now been reconverted, which is a good thing. The old building had character, long hallways with peeling paint, and a lot of stuff was still there. The hallways were almost like a maze and it was a real joy to explore and photograph this building. Almost every building has its own character, and with the right amount of time and the correct light it can become extraordinary.

Pinocchio, Don't Lie | Hans van Vrouwerf
Pinocchio, Don’t Lie | Hans van Vrouwerf

What’s in your bag, Hans?

It’s a Nikon (sorry Canon fanboys), a D800. This camera never failed me and I have two bodies. Lenses are the Tokina 16-28mm F2.8 AT-X, Samyang 14mm F2.8 ED AS IF Tamron 24-70mm F2.8 SP and the Nikon 50mm F1.8 G. All this is used on a Manfrotto 055xprob tripod with 804 RC2 head. I carry it in a Kata bag that looks terrible and is covered with dust, scratches and dirt.

Post-processing?

On a 27″ Mac with Datacolor Spider for calibration, CS Photoshop and Lightroom plus Nik filters and Macphun Intensify and Tonality.

Boiler Room | Hans van Vrouwerf
Boiler Room | Hans van Vrouwerf

Hans van Vrouwerf started his photographic career after having worked in the international corporate world for over a decade. He followed a proper photography education in the late hours after work. One day, he photographed an old stone factory nearby. He was hooked and started to travel throughout Europe in search of old abandoned buildings. In the meanwhile he started his own photography company PhotoSolutions. Hans van Vrouwerf is currently working on a book.

Says Hans:

If you don’t build your dream, someone else will hire you to build theirs!

Hallway | Hans van Vrouwerf
Hallway | Hans van Vrouwerf
All That's Left | Hans van Vrouwerf
All That’s Left | Hans van Vrouwerf
Well Preserved | Hans van Vrouwerf
Well Preserved | Hans van Vrouwerf
Going Against the Grain | Hans van Vrouwerf
Going Against the Grain | Hans van Vrouwerf
I Need a Doctor | Hans van Vrouwerf
I Need a Doctor | Hans van Vrouwerf
Last Stand | Hans van Vrouwerf
Last Stand | Hans van Vrouwerf
Almighty | Hans van Vrouwerf
Almighty | Hans van Vrouwerf
Leave While You Can | Hans van Vrouwerf
Leave While You Can | Hans van Vrouwerf
Peeling Paint & Curly Wallpaper | Hans van Vrouwerf
Peeling Paint & Curly Wallpaper | Hans van Vrouwerf
Isolation | Hans van Vrouwerf
Isolation | Hans van Vrouwerf
One Upon a Time | Hans van Vrouwerf
One Upon a Time | Hans van Vrouwerf
Perfect World | Hans van Vrouwerf
Perfect World | Hans van Vrouwerf
R.I.P. | Hans van Vrouwerf
R.I.P. | Hans van Vrouwerf
Masterroom | Hans van Vrouwerf
Masterroom | Hans van Vrouwerf
A Night at the Opera | Hans van Vrouwerf
A Night at the Opera | Hans van Vrouwerf
Prime Time | Hans van Vrouwerf
Prime Time | Hans van Vrouwerf
Memories | Hans van Vrouwerf
Memories | Hans van Vrouwerf
Gone | Hans van Vrouwerf
Gone | Hans van Vrouwerf
The Sofa | Hans van Vrouwerf
The Sofa | Hans van Vrouwerf
The Chair | Hans van Vrouwerf
The Chair | Hans van Vrouwerf
Church of Doom | Hans van Vrouwerf
Church of Doom | Hans van Vrouwerf
Father & Son | Hans van Vrouwerf
Father & Son | Hans van Vrouwerf




  • thanks Dan for the article!

    and thanks to Hans for these fantastic images and the interview!
    The light is amazing and perfect and the compositions make me feel beeing there.
    Everybody, how likes these images and abandoned places should go to Hans web site and enjoy these and many more.
    Thanks
    dierk