The factory

Possessing only a pair of wire cutters, a single camera, and their curiosity, two urban explorers venture into an abandoned factory…and then they saw flashing lights.

“What did you get?”

We step just inside of a patch of darkness. Jay starts jerking at a yellow handle in his black book bag. It breaks free. He shows me a pair of industrial wire cutters. He grins.

“You know when you’re playing a video game, and you get an item that unlocks everything? That’s what I feel like just happened.”

We step out from underneath the tree, and start making our way back to his apartment. It was too early.

We had been scouring this one building for almost a week. It looked incredible from the outside. It was a factory that had been abandoned for decades. Standing tall in the middle of the busiest intersection in town, its impermeability was taunting.

We don’t do drugs, but I guess I could compare the craving to find out what was inside of there to a starving junkie looking for a fix. But we both knew it was something much deeper than that. It was an innate urge, yes. It’s natural to be fascinated with the unknown. You do some wild things when you’re growing up in a city where you don’t know who you are or where your place in this world is. There’s nothing wrong with that. I guess.

We begin walking down the cracked brick sidewalk. As a kid that used to live in the suburbs, you’re surprised by the amount of light pollution the city spews. The urban ambience illuminates the way. When we get back to Jay’s place, we start gathering our equipment, and wait until midnight.

We get our bikes, and start stumbling down the fire escape of his kitchen. I remember seeing a pair of red children’s shoes hanging out of his neighbor’s broken window, and went to grab my camera. I decided against it, and made a mental note to get a shot of it on the way back.

I get a running start before I hop on, and the seat doesn’t fit me. It didn’t matter. I wouldn’t be there for long. Jay takes lead in front of me, and he keeps looking back at me.

We lock our bikes together, and hide them behind a dumpster two blocks away.
We were both in a trance. We take all the back alleys until we have to cross the main road. No cars were coming. It was strange. Perfect.

We both jog towards the fence. Jay starts working on the barbed wire while I start stacking tires up against a painter’s ladder. I go first.

I can hear my heart pounding inside my head. Jay hands me his bag, and I help him over. No turning back now.

We start taking large gallops over the tall grass. We sprint towards the side door once we hit the flat top.

The door was unlocked, but there was something behind it. I gave it my best effort, and then let Jay try. A swift kick. I heard something break.


“Is there anyone in here?”


Its pitch black. My palms sweaty, I start fumbling for my flash light.

There was a bookcase that appeared to be scorched. We walk, cautiously, through row upon row of aisles. The paint was peeling off the walls, and there weren’t the usual signs of makeshift beds left by squatters. We felt privileged to be one of the first to find a way in. Almost everything was intact. It was so strange.

We find a staircase and start climbing it to the top floor. I hear something and my heart drops. Jay’s cell phone.

He answers it. It’s his girlfriend.

“Are you serious, man?”

“Sorry, dude.”

I trip over a loose tile and stumble through the last flight.

“Be careful, the floor is bad.”

There’s a large iron-wrought machine in the middle of the top floor. All four walls are covered in windows. There’s a vent on the side with air roaring through it.

I stand, gawking at how incredible the lighting is. With each step the floor crunches. I look more carefully, and the entire floor in carpeted in stale crackers. The smell was unforgettable. Not in a bad way, though.

This was worth it.

In the far reach of the room, I notice a random spray paint can. I walk over to it. It’s half full. I try the nozzle and it erupts onto my hand. I drop it and it starts fizzing out like a soda. The taste of flat black tar fills the room.

The panes in the windows, melted from decades of neglect, reminded me of painted glass in a cathedral. The tungsten light illuminating a machine that Baby Boomers worked on. I could only imagine how hot this place was during the day, and having to work long shifts with a large oven in the center of the room—only being cooled by a vent that worked off of the barometric differential. It made me appreciate my life.

“We’re overstaying our welcome.”

I walk over to the window while Jay is rummaging through artifacts. My nerves were hypersensitive. Every creak in the building dumped adrenalin into my bloodstream.

It was really strange looking at the urban sprawl from that angle, with each window pane framing a shot. I wanted to absorb that feeling of looking down onto a world that had no idea you existed.

We see blue lights. Gotta go.

I didn’t have to tell Jay anything. We start skidding through the room, crackers clumping together with each footprint.

We take large gulps of stairs. I wonder if this is how the former employees felt when this place caught fire so many years ago.

Paranoia set in.

We burst into the world, and a cool breeze cuts through my shirt. We’re running. Sirens screaming.

We dart through open traffic, and toss our bags into a dumpster. We split up.

A few seconds later I see an ambulance racing past. That can’t be for us. We both start laughing, nervously. Oscillating frequencies went in and out of my mind. It was 3 am, and I was wide awake. “This is what it’s all about,” I thought.

We weren’t afraid of anything anymore.

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Decayed Richmond

Decayed Richmond started out with a couple of kids living each day one night at a time. We never planned for this to happen. It is a project that encompasses the phenomenon of urban exploration and the counter-culture associated with it. What started out as a photoblog has turned into a documentary to be distributed by Sink/Swim Press.

Notice: Comments that are not conducive to an interesting and thoughtful conversation may be removed at the editor’s discretion.

  1. Richmond kid’s, “urban exploring” this makes me sick to my stomach. Sounds like a couple of boys trying to catch a break because they cannot fit the shoes of adulthood. The graff, speaks for itself and the last thing we need is more RVA kid’s with a DSLR riding our coat tails so they can have more followers on tumblr. Submitting this stupid story is one step back for the freedom of youthful culture.

  2. RVA Elitist on said:

    Yeah man, we’re from RVA and we need to be Elitist about everything. Decayed Richmond is lame, and so is living life, let’s all just off ourselves.

    Yeah, these guys are definitely riding your coat tails by documenting graffiti and abandoned buildings anonymously, they get all the credz bro! I bet you feel really good about yourself after you posted that.

    Do you write Bert or something?

  3. Joe. on said:

    I agree with Ace, but mainly because I don’t think these are very interesting photos nor an interesting story. Seems like an enthusiastic blog post.

  4. A studio? Weird, last time i checked an extra room in my mom’s house was called a spare room. Urban exploring snitches.

  5. Lol. ^^^ You guys are funny. I wish I was an artfag that took everything seriously.

  6. Sean Yeager on said:

    Personally I’m fascinated by seeing places that are off-limits to most, and that I just don’t have the balls to venture into.

    These artifacts of Richmond’s history should be open to those who are interested rather than left to deteriorate. I figure many of these buildings and spaces will one day fall into terrible disrepair (if they haven’t already) and then into the earth, never to be seen again. What do we learn from that?

    Since documenting the rise and fall of industry’s infrastructure was not a priority when these buildings were being built and in operation, I’m glad someone is taking the time (even if illegal) to make a record of what once was by looking at what is now. Without that we may never know what history these buildings and properties have left behind.

  7. I loved exploring neglected places like this when I was younger. Judging by the pictures, you guys visited the Fulton Gas Works Site. FYI-it’s highly polluted with the byproducts of the gasification process…

  8. I’m all for documenting urban decay, but this series comes off a bit pretentious.

    I’d love to see some clear pictures and less of the “we’re enlightened” vibe.

  9. Ace of Base on said:

    Personally, I love digging through old buildings and exploring things that are left to rot into time. is a great site

    Keep it up..

    Ace, what is your favorite documentary?

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