FORBIDDEN PLACES: Urban explorers reveal their crimes at photography show

A pair of urban explorers’ vague plan to turn their Polaroid photos of a closed industrial facility on the outskirts of Edmonton into a public exhibition has become a reality – now hopefully Leila Sidi and Alex Hindle won’t get arrested at their own show.

“Crimes of Adventure in the Polaroid Apocalypse” opens Saturday night at Bohemia (10217 97 Street).

They acknowledge that their presence at the site they visited was trespassing, which is why they aren’t saying exactly which facility it is. The sprawling complex once employed thousands of people so you may be able to figure it out for yourself. Over the past three years Hindle and Sidi have been to the site dozens of times and took pictures at all times of the day and night. Some of the shots were with an old-fashioned Polaroid – from a stock of expired film they were able to get hold of – while others were taken with more conventional cameras. Not once did they encounter security.

“I can’t deny that we weren’t supposed to be there, but we weren’t causing any harm,” Hindle says, adding that the lack of security meant they had lots of time to set up their shots. “We never felt the need to rush.”

The facility was being dismantled during their later visits and the photographers say they felt compelled to take the pictures to create a lasting memory.

“Going back to the site so many times, it became personal to us,” Sidi says. “It seems like a morbid subject, not just to be fascinated with, but to find really beautiful. I think we live in a city that’s concerned with what’s on the surface. We tear down what’s old. In a city like that, there’s people that want to see what’s underneath. People are wondering what history are we erasing?”

Websites where urban explorers display their photography have been around for some time, but one in particular from Russia caught a lot of people’s attention earlier this year. Photographer Lana Sator sneaked into an NPO Energomash rocket facility on the outskirts of Moscow by jumping the fence and, un-noticed in the still-active complex, documented the experience with some amazingly beautiful photos. It apparently got her into trouble with Russian authorities, but the site with its eerie pictures is still up.

Urban explorers are nothing new, either, but it’s only in the last 15 years that people have started to identify themselves as such, says Hindle, along with the amount of interest there seems to be in urban explorer art.

“I don’t know if it’s at an all-time high, but there’s certainly a lot of excellent photography out there,” he says.

The Polaroid film – acquired at a provincial government auction and long expired (making everything look a bit blue) – combined with the decay of the facility make Hindle and Sidi’s pictures look like something drawn in a Batman comic. They consider it symbolic that they’ve used an outdated medium to document an outdated facility.

As part of the opening night at Bohemia, DJ Tavia Daylene will play music to enhance an apocalyptic theme. The signs describing the photos, meanwhile, will be made from label makers, old maps and electrical drawings that were found at the site.

There’s no cover charge for the event. Food bank donations will be accepted. Everyone is welcome who’s over 18 – even security guards.