Set, fittingly, in the formerly abandoned church building of Left Bank Leeds, Abandoned Yorkshire is an exhibition showcasing the urban exploration photography of the eponymous collective, who scale drainpipes and risk the law to preserve a sense of heritage. Their photographs have a strange beauty, with mould on the floor even seeming pretty, and paint peeling to reveal a sunflower from the wallpaper underneath.
Some of the buildings almost look still lived in, until you notice the cracked paint in the corner of the photo. The contrast between the everyday setting and worn-out fixtures is unsettling. There’s an eeriness, particularly in a photograph of a tiled room with a dentist chair, or of the corridor of an abandoned girls’ school, all blue, with a room in the end lit yellow by sun. The collective utilises highly saturated colours, existing patterns, and the symmetry of arches and glass structures to draw the eye.
Many of the rooms photographed still seem grand— a cinema, a church, a masonic lodge with a chandelier—but they focus on mundane objects too, with close-ups of pin-up calendars, curtains, or spools of rotten thread. Some tell stories: one with an empty wheelchair turned as if to stare out the window. In another, there’s a seminary room with writing still on the blackboard — although the collective has had fun writing “I shall not break into abandoned building [sic]“.
This issue itself is controversial, although Abandoned Yorkshire prides itself on never forcing entry. But if they hadn’t taken photographs (and a few risks) some of these buildings would be lost to us, having been burnt down or demolished after they were visited. For some, it‘s simply about the thrill and freedom of reclaiming beauty they’re not usually allowed access to, no matter the consequences.
(Image courtesy of Joe Pickles)