Vincent Jarroux captures the remains of our society

Urban exploration, abbreviated as urbex (from the English urban exploration), consists in visiting and photographing places built and abandoned by humans or inaccessible to the public. Rule: don’t break anything, don’t force anything open to get these post-apocalyptic clichés of modern poetry. Migration.

Photos from the city survey: "Childhood".  (VINCENT JARROUX)

His references: films by John Carpenter, Dario Argento, George A. Romero, including cult video games of the 21st century such as Resident Evil or Silent Hill. Atmospheres that influenced his sensibility. Meeting Vincent Jarroux, who tells us about his experiences with urbex.

Photos from the city survey: "Fatality".  (VINCENT JARROUX)

Culture Franceinfo: what was your first encounter with urbex?
Vincent Jarroux : I was taking photos long before urbex. It’s true that urbex makes it possible to create photos with an atypical, completely unique and dark atmosphere, which I like: all my creations – I also make a little music – are actually quite dark.

I started in 2015. At that time I was in Montpellier and I had a work colleague who was doing photography and urbex. I’m a project manager at Orange and I don’t do photography or urbex for a living, it’s a hobby. It always appealed to me, but the complexity of finding places put me off a bit. He showed me places and that got me going. I started calling the archives in Béziers to get information about these abandoned places and one thing led to another, I met people, talked about places and developed bonds of trust, but not with everyone!

Why ? Is it a specific environment?
It’s actually quite a strange environment: there are people who stake their existence on the number of seats they have and their rarity. There is a community of small groups that meet and exchange on social media, but the mentality is not very open. He still remains very jealous and the number of people ready to help can be counted on the fingers of one hand! I do a little less now because of the mentality.

The practice has become democratized. For example, I know very well Romain Thierry, an urbexer specializing in photos of abandoned pianos. They try to make a living with books and photo exhibitions, but few manage to make a living: some make videos on YouTube. I decided to have my secure job on the side!

What are the urbexer codes of conduct?
Everyone adapts their code of ethics, but I personally only enter places open to the four winds: they are often badly damaged by time, such as a falling tree breaking a wall. You are not allowed to touch anything, steal anything, just walk around and take pictures. But since the photographic aspect is very important to me, I sometimes allow myself to stage the scenes accordingly direction of light. I’m more of a photographer than an urbexer!

Why do we have to hide the addresses of these abandoned places?
I really preserve them as much as possible, I never indicated the places in my photos: it’s just creating an image, an atmosphere. It was still confidential as a practice in 2015, then started to become more popular in 2017–2018. After the pandemic, for example, people started a business listing spots on the Internet and selling them individually, or even complete maps of the spots.

What does the urbexer risk?
Transitioning into real estate can be a real challenge. Private property may be violated. Therefore, we should not encourage people to go to places that are not abandoned: some videos were filmed in castles where all the furniture was still inside. I met owners in tears who saw their property die through YouTube videos showing how to get into their castle. The aspect of discretion is lost. There are urbexers who like to crochet, go to places that are supposed to be abandoned, but are not. Some entered military territory to photograph abandoned tanks and planes and were caught by the police. Overall, this often results in high fines.

It is better to go at least in two, because there is some danger in the activity if, for example, the somewhat limited floor gives way. I remember on some floors it felt like I was walking on moss.

What types of places have you visited?
Since 2015, I had to visit about 200 places, mainly in France and Italythey have between 350 and 400 photos. I focus my research more specifically on manor houses, castles, individual houses, but not on industrial sites. I like wrecked cars and ships. My theme is forgetting.

How do you prepare for a site visit?
In general, the search for places is prepared in advance. I recognize some of them, but it takes an incredible amount of energy and time. I also often find them thanks to an article on the Internet, which indicates, for example, that it is a boarding school. There are also Google Maps and Google Earth, excellent tools for identifying and viewing them, for example, that the roof is damaged and there is no activity around it!

Which abandoned place struck you the most?
It was a Catholic boarding school in a rather harsh region of France that I attended when I first started. There were holes in the walls and roof, it was badly damaged. It was a big slap in the face, there was an atmosphere that really hit me with this exploration that lasted all day. It was a place full of history where many things happened. Abandoned since the 1980s, the pantry still contained bottles of Teisseire and tins of dumplings. I came back last year and the place is unrecognizable, time has taken its toll. In 2015 there were few passages, therefore few graffiti and tags: I am now trying to find places that are preserved from this!

The photo taken there is on display at my house: it is a photo of a school desk with the sun shining on it. It’s a really beautiful photo that I love.

Photos from the city survey: "Education".  (VINCENT JARROUX)

What are you trying to express in yours? pictures ?
I prefer to shoot from October to March. In the summer, the light is too harsh and doesn’t match my state of mind. I look for a certain homogeneity in relation to my overall work: the guiding idea is to create an atmosphere. I consider my photographs to be dark, but they offer a piece of fantasy to the question of self. Shooting in natural light guides my decision, but I use digital technology to work on photo processing, to desaturate colors.

Your project Fatality it was exhibited at Galerie Rastoll in Paris in May 2023 and was then selected for the Phot’Aubrac festival in September 2023 in the church of Notre-Dame-des-Pauvres. Is a new exhibition being prepared?
Yes, maybe for 2024 or 2025. It doesn’t necessarily have to be just urbex. The exhibition was to be called Solitude.

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