How did you find Hellingly?
Before Urbex (urban exploring) I used to, still do, document Street art and graffiti and I saw some pictures on the net of graffiti in Hellingly. I wasn’t too impressed with the graffiti but the asylum looked interesting. Now 2 1/2 years later it is being demolished and new houses have already started to go up. Hellingly was such a great location, as security was almost non existent at that time, we used to explore there almost every weekend. If someone had set up a cafe in the middle of the site they would have had very good business with all the explorers using it at the weekends.
Were you shooting alone?
The very first visit a friend from the street art scene met me there. I think he had been before and so the 2 of us explored together. It seems ages ago now but I still remember that first explore, it was my first asylum and definitely the ‘spookiest’ of all the asylums I have visited. I don’t know exactly what it was about the place but it did seem to have a strange aura to it. Also it was massive, you could so easily get lost in one of the many corridors, which I did at one time. Ended up almost running around in a panik. This was the one time I did go alone. I was on the first floor and I could hear footsteps below me on the ground floor so I had to mind I didn’t bump into them, as I thought it must be the security. A few days later I found out it was a flickr contact of mine that had come all the way over from France for the day. I did eventually meet him a couple years later.
How did you treat the photos to give them that surreal, almost painted, aesthetic?
It was my first experiment with HDR. High Dynamic Range imaging where you take multiple exposures of varying levels and then merge them together and then you can either get a more realistic image or go the other end of the spectrum and exaggerate the image for artistic effect. Well it was all new to me and I went well Over The Top, which in my opinion suited the subject well at the time.
What has the response been to the series of photographs?
Suddenly I was getting literally hundreds of thousands of hits, maybe 10,000 a day for weeks. I found the source, someone had put a link to it on Digg and a big debate started over the HDR and how OTT it was and a lot of people were asking if I would put the original shots up too so they could see the difference. The HDR shots got about 5 times as many hits and comments as the straight shots though. As they say, HDR is like marmite, you either like it or hate it. My HDR is much more subtle nowadays and that’s the way I prefer it but there are so many photographers going so over the top with HDR, they all start to look the same to me. My Hellingly shots were also on a blog (sorry my main computer broke down yesterday and can’t find a link to the source) as being the ‘Scariest place on earth’. Only because the processing had made the pictures look like they were straight out of Silent Hill.
You are a pro film editor, are there parallels between editing and photography?
I would like to think so. I approach taking photographs much the same way a cinematographer would go about shooting a scene. Start of with a master shot and then if the scene needs more go in for the medium shot and then the close shot. A few people find beauty in close shots but I love a good wide establishing shot showing all the decay and years of neglect. I’m interested more in the architecture than the detail.
Check out Romany WG on his Flickr Stream