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Between Nowhere and Never – A World that’s Hidden Within our World

I’m creating a manifesto of the momentariness of things. As a wanderer of wastelands I journey all over the world, trying to capture the momentum of splendour still undisturbed by the turmoil and temptations of modern society. I’m a vagabond for lost beauty, a chronicler of forgotten magnificence.

My photos depict a parallel world, a world that’s hidden within our world. Most of the time we’re not aware of their existence, yet these abandoned places are embedded into our everyday lives. And it’s this everyday life – with all its chaos and worries – that I want to run away from. Escapism is at the basis of my explorations, and it’s the solitude I want to capture and share through my photographs.

The origins of my photography started way back when I was 14 years old. My dad gave me an old analogue Pentax camera, and I started to experiment with long exposure shots and black & white film. And so it happened that the town where I grew up featured a lot of abandonments: castles, villas, factories… From a very young age my friends and I would venture into those forbidden structures and make them ours, turning them into our playgrounds. I’ve been documenting abandoned places since my childhood. I reflect my juvenile times a lot. We were without a care in the world, already venturing beyond any boundaries that could be implied on us. With the passing of time our lives become inevitably chaotic, complex and stressful.

A lot of research goes into finding these places. This is probably the most time-consuming part of photographing them. Once you compiled a list of possible locations to photograph, one needs to travel to them and find out the hard way if they’re still existent and accessible. I’ve returned from many trips empty handed because the locations were demolished, renovated or just not accessible. And that’s a part the audience isn’t aware of. It’s the journey, not the destination, I tell myself many times. But it’s also very rewarding to find untouched places and be able to enter as the first person. Pure bliss.

My working process is scouting the location first to check for possible compositions, point of views and angles. I would then setup my camera and start composing pictures, working my way through the building floor after floor. My trips mostly consist of 8 days straight up, so that’s a lot of locations and data that is being recorded. Once home I would backup all these images on separate hard drives. And let it rest for a while before processing it and compiling my series.

The most difficult part of the creation is the actual processing of my pictures. I’d rather venture abroad than to sit in front of a computer editing pictures. I now have a backlog of 6 years of untouched photos that need to be processed. I will do them, eventually. But it will be a long and intense process. Fact is: abandoned locations disappear. There’s a time pressure in photographing them, because by next month the spot you want to photograph can go up in flames. Hence my rule: first the travels. The processing can wait.

I don’t think there’s any moment in time when I claimed: “I’m going to be an artist”. It’s who you are and what’s in you. It’s that intangible passion that’s rooted deep within you that results into something. Whatever form or shape it would take. It’s just there, and needs to get out.

My mom was an art teacher and painter, and my dad did some photography as well. Think I inherited the creativity from them.

I’m working part-time as a graphic designer in a big advertising agency. When I’m not venturing abroad and making pictures, I layout stuff and design ads and websites. That would be a normal day.

Once I’m in an exploring mode there’s no longer any definition of a day anymore. A day can start at 04:00 AM when you need to pre-dawn a location to get in unseen, waiting for the first light. A day can start at 11:00 AM when a nighttime exploration from the previous night rendered me numb. Fact is: exploring days are long and exhausting. Doing thousands of miles on a single trip, with each day multiple hikes and adventures and climbs. One the most rewarding moments of such long days are the evenings: arriving in an unknown town at 22:00 PM, finding a restaurant that’s still open, crash it, and eat whatever they’re still serving. Sniffing up the couleur locale, chatting with hotel and restaurant owners, meeting locals, drinking moonshine liquor. Good times guaranteed!

This is the story about photographing the Buzludha monument, in Bulgaria. I did it in 2013, during one of the harshest winters of Bulgaria. Most definitely in my top 3 of Best Explores ever.

I rented a 4×4 car at the airport of Sofia, and adventure started right there. Instead of having a car rental at the airport, we opted for a non kosher cheap-as-fuck car rental from an independent company. Not sure if you could call it a company, I think it was just a person who rented out his car. I had to pick it up at at dodgy spot outside the terminal, at 23 o’clock at night, with hush-hush arrangements. They gave me an old eighties 4×4 jeep that was pretty much slated for demolition. Great! With no satnav I travelled Bulgaria, just relying on a couple of printouts from Google Maps. Worked like a charm.

Doing the Buzludzha monument in winter time requires the proper preparation: we drove the 4×4 in the deep snow as far as we could, and dropped it somewhere “near” the area of the monument. Winter was in full swing, and the temperature was -15°C. The snow and the wind turned this place into a white hell. We put on our snow racket shoes and hiked another 45 minutes through the deep snow, with barely any direction. At last we finally stumbled upon the monument, it was only visible within 10 meters distance.

And there you are. Full of joy and excitement. Seeing this enormous building for the first time up close. Touching it. Feeling it. You’re completely in awe! Speechless. And you think the hard work is all done, and you’ll be able to capture it with your camera…

Was I wrong! We still had to face the biggest challenge: getting up. The big hall is at level two of the building. There are two flights of staircases, and both of them were transformed into frozen waterfalls. It had been raining a lot in the previous months, and all that water turned into a solid massive block of ice. We couldn’t get up. It was just impossible to go up the stairs. What followed was a dangerous climb upwards, laying flat on our belly, and pulling us up by using debris and rocks sticking out of the ice. While holding our backpacks and tripods. Quite the endeavour. My buddy slipped and fell, bruising the complete left side of his body. The things we do to get a pic…

Edward Burtynsky, Andreas Gursky, Yves Marchand & Romain Meffre are my main influences. I admire their perfectionism and truly inspiring work.

Sense of scale. I love huge artworks with enormous dimensions. The photographic artwork of Andreas Gursky is mindblowing. Guernica from Pablo Picasso is astonishing. It’s the type of artwork that allows you to sit in front of it for a couple of hours and be totally immersed by it. Love that.

My heart can also be easily captured by pictures that ooze a lot of mood, like nightscapes with undefinable objects. Or timeless pieces of photographers documenting unique scenery like the closed-of-world of Italian asylums or the rural life in the Caucasus. So much good work out there.

Reginald Van de Velde

Reginald Van de Velde (Belgium, 1975) scouts the unknown and the unseen. As a devoted traveller, he journeys into forsaken places all over the world, trying to capture the momentum of a fragile abandonment.

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