“Decay is a kind of art which is created by time and nature. It’s not easy to recreate. I think abandoned buildings look way more fascinating than modern ones. They have great colours and textures. Often you can find great history, beautiful architecture and antiques inside those buildings.”
Bob Thissen is a 31-year-old photographer, animator and nomad, hailing from Hererlen, the Netherlands.
His images of stark decay in immense and often former luxurious and influential places have been used around the internet for years. Almost every major British national newspaper has featured them, from the Daily Mail to the Express.
Thissen has been researching and photographing abandoned buildings for ten years, his dedication to capturing the ‘beauty of decay’ is unparalleled.
“I like the unknown, not knowing what you can expect or what adventure will come. I try abandoned places nobody dares to go or go to countries no other urban explorers visit. The more difficult it is to get or get inside, the more memorable the trip will be. So I rarely ask permission to shoot.
I take a lot of risks to take the perfect picture. Every weekend is another memorable adventure in another country. Two weeks ago, I was hiking to a building on the top of a mountain in the snow and freezing cold. Last week, I found myself lost in the African desert searching for abandoned places and in a few days, I will be visiting abandoned theme parks in Taiwan’s jungle. It’s an addiction.”
In 2013 Thissen attended the MAD Faculty in Genk, Belgium. Focusing on motion design, special effects and 3D and building his portfolio of stop motion films. Graduating with a high distinction in a Master course of Animation with his stop-motion short movie Nothing Beside Remains.
“Toon Loenders [a tutor] inspired me with his stop motion lessons. Not the tiny stop motion made in studios, but real size. As I already knew how photography worked I started experimenting with filming and photographing techniques combined with animation.
“During my holidays I helped my teacher with a few stop motion projects. I learned that you can animate literally everything. Water, sand, garbage, you name it!
“In my final year I had carte blanche to make an animation movie. So I thought: why not combine my two biggest passions, urban exploring and stop motion.
“I explore the most beautiful abandoned buildings worldwide and bring them back alive with stop motion. It’s raw action, beauty shots and animation techniques combined. This project was also really long and frustrating, but it was really fun travelling and shooting inside various abandoned buildings. I already miss it!”
Thissen’s photos emanate with the tragedy of the locations. Places that have hours of work poured into them, places that were previously filled with people, now stand forgotten and decrepit.
The fragility of human consumption is implied clearly by the degradation of such grandiose buildings.
Each photograph raises the questions: Why was it left? Who occupied it?
How has the building evaded the usual passage of being disposed of or being preserved? How can such edifices be simply overlooked by many people. Each holds an interesting story.
A Soviet monument at Buzludzha, left to the snow, has been there since the iron curtain fell in 1989 and Bulgaria moved into a time of democracy.
Now shrouded in snow, desolate atop a mountain like the ideology that left the place long ago.
Thissen prefers to shoot large open spaces, “I don’t often shoot details,” he specifies. The colossal spaces he shoots adds to the air of decay, the often ambiguity of the space providing immeasurable intrigue.
Large spaces in decay are more thought provoking to a viewer. We are used to seeing small things, shops or even boarded up houses.
But the scale of the decay in Thissen’s photos draws the eyes in, looking around the image as if exploring the location for themselves.
Buildings such as these are often not open for access to the public, they are genuinely boarded up or they are just difficult to reach.
The images provide a look into a world that not many eyes have seen and stimulates the curiosity we all have for the things we are forbidden to see.
This image of depreciating cars in a forest is one with an extra level of interest.
The classic cars hark back to a different time, their decay symbolises perfectly the passage of time and the ephemeral nature of civilisation’s possessions.
The cars, once prized, polished and luxurious , now sit abandoned in a forest.
The cars once belonged to Walter Dean Lewis’ parents, who started a general store that sold car parts in 1931. In 32 acres in a forest in Georgia, the collection grew from having 40 in the 1970s to 400 now.
The cars haven’t been moved in decades with trees growing around them and often through, with some being lifted into the air.
“My inspiration for work comes when I am walking in abandoned buildings. I let the buildings inspire me.”
Lewis stopped selling the car parts in 2009 after realising he’d make more money using the area as a museum, providing many photographers with a muse.
“Decay is a kind of art which is created by time and nature. It’s not easy to recreate. I think abandoned buildings look way more fascinating than modern ones.
“They have great colours and textures. Often you can find great history, beautiful architecture and antiques inside those buildings. It’s great to explore it on your own instead instead of going to a crowded expensive tour in a museum. It’s so much more than just urban exploring.
“As I travel everywhere for abandoned buildings, it’s a nice way to explore the world. You visit places almost no tourists come, you meet nice people and learn a lot about countries and history.”
Thissen also creates animation, but keeps abandoned buildings as a motif in his work. Thissen took a trip through Europe with close friend Jeroen after graduating, also studying on the course.
They slept, ate and animated in abandoned buildings, getting chased by ‘junkies’, police and even once getting locked in a castle.
“I never take the easy way. I had a lot of setbacks.” Thissen explains, buildings were inaccessible or demolished already.
Although finding it difficult to put several animations together into a story, and finding some of his work not turning out as well as hoped, the pair persevered continuing on with their distinction to also be nominated at many international film festival.
After graduating he started a company called “Slammer!” with his teacher focusing on working in animation.
“We did a few commercial assignments, but Toon told me he wanted to do non-commercial stuff. We started to try to sell two concepts, and both got funded.
“One of them is the TV series Exitus which was broadcasted on national TV in The Netherlands and Belgium. It’s actually a follow up from my graduation movie Nothing Beside Remains.”
In 2014, Thissen’s company, Slammer!, was funded by the VAF for two projects: Exitus, an eight episode TV series broadcasted in The Netherlands and Belgium and Prospero, a 360-degrees short movie.
Thissen also freelances at a regional broadcast TV station called L1. He is working on another short film, based on an abandoned building. With plans to become a full time urban explorer and visit the abandoned highlights of the world.
Documenting his travels and adventures of Youtube is another way to experience his work.
“I bought a compact drone and stabilized camera to record my adventures in the future, like the TV series but much more daring and pure, without a film crew. The first adventure is already online on my Youtube channel. ”
When it comes to film the inspiration is Patrick Boivin, who makes experimental short films.
“With Nothing Beside Remains I combined my two biggest passions. Stop motion and urban exploring. I want to show people the beauty of abandoned buildings. It’s a shame they aren’t used anymore. Those buildings were built to last forever.
Great architecture and history is disappearing every day, only because of money. Modern buildings are most of the time really ugly and only temporary.
“I often come across beautiful abandoned buildings, decaying and forgotten and next to it they are constructing the same kind of building, only 100 times uglier. Why not renovate the old one?
“I try to re-use those abandoned buildings and bring them back alive with animations or use them for settings in my film work. I also re-use these buildings as a free stay overnight or as a studio.
“With pictures I automatically document places to keep it as a memory when it’s demolished. Especially old fashioned industry landscapes are disappearing fast,” Thiessen told us.
“Blast furnaces, power stations and steel plants are rapidly being closed and demolished. Most people think industrial buildings are ugly, but for me it’s a piece of art.
“In the early 1900’s they thought people would work harder if they worked in a beautiful building. So you can see a lot of decorations in industrial locations also.
“Through my animations, videos and pictures I want to show the beauty of those places to people.”
Feature Image provided by Bob Thissen