Interview: Bryce Wilson lives his life
Bryce Wilson is one of Australia’s most well-known and most controversial urban explorers. He became a lightning rod for criticism after images he posted of his very first climb – a 304-meter crane on Melbourne’s 72-story Prima Pearl construction site – went viral in 2014, setting off a firestorm of attention from the media as well as disdain and even threats from fellow urbexers.
In “Urbex – Enter at Your Own Risk,” Bryce climbs a unique conical tower in Melbourne, where he’s apprehended. He scales a cathedral for dramatic nighttime vistas and makes a daring return to the site of his 2014 crane climb, now a completed residential tower.
Bryce claims he doesn’t do urban exploration for attention but rather to challenge himself and create extraordinary photos. As he explains it, he’s “at the opposite end of the spectrum” from those who climb buildings for fun – for him, it’s a means of overcoming the past.
Something You Said photographer Damon Collum talks to him to find out more:
I think by now most people are familiar with what ‘urban exploring’ is and that it entails discovering those places and spaces that are either abandoned and left forgotten, or places that might be off limits or difficult to access. What are some misconceptions about urban exploring?
A misconception about Urban Exploration is that the ‘explorers’ that do this are badass, or special, or unique. We’re all humans. I choose to push my personal boundaries in the pursuit of self-development, and to live my life as much as I can. There’s an element of pursuing art, but just the same as a burger is the sum of its components, there are different motivations to exploration. I’ve worked in an office. I’ve done the 9-to-5 and it’s not the answer to life or an endgame. Fear of the unknown – comfort zones – rob us of our ability to act independently, and we should do our best to overcome any fears as often as possible.
Does all urban exploration have to be illegal? And on that note, if it was completely legal, would you still want to be involved or count it as a hobby?
There is an element of transgression to Urban Exploration, where overcoming the ‘No you cannot do that!’ signs and voices is freeing, and cathartic. I have always pursued Urban Exploration as a means to take photographs in unique locations, but I do tend to focus on environments that are difficult to access because of the challenge. It makes that moment when you know you have the ‘perfect shot’ all the more sweeter.
Drains or topside? And why?
‘Topside’, because I am not interested in being stuck underground in the event of a flash storm or cave-in. I don’t think I am claustrophobic, but I do hate the feeling of knowing I am ‘trapped’ in a airplane while over and ocean, simply because I’d like to be able to go outside and walk around.
People taking photos of burning steel wool on long exposure have recently caused great locations to burn down and sites have long since been locked down due to over exposure from photography being posted on social media. Do you feel by exposing sites through photography in such a way is actually detrimental to the hobby?
Spinning steel wool and taking long exposures is a hacky practice and style, often implemented by what I would call ‘Internet photographers’. The goal is ‘Likes’ and Internet points, as opposed to any real interest or passion for photography and art. Elitist? Sure, but in my experience, that’s what it is. There really are no regulations around location anonymity, or how ‘spots’ must be preserved. There is a sense of competition in Urban Exploration and if you aren’t first, you’re last. That being said, it is our role as humans to preserve and take care of our planet, and any actions that endanger that – whether it be destructive practices such as Fracking or spinning steel wool in wooden structures – are not a good idea.
Siologen coined the term ‘Urbex’ many years ago, and in his own words rues the day it became part of the lexicon of urban exploration. What effects do you think social media and the popularisation of Urbex have had on it as an underground past time? Inevitably once something leaves the dark corners of culture and pops up on popular media does it not lose its credibility?
Cultural appropriation is everywhere in a world that values the ‘idea’ of something more than the reality. Sometimes advertisements/billboards are painted with spray paint, not because they’re graffiti, but because it has an edge to it. People will continue to explore if they are truly passionate about the pursuit of Urban Exploration, or they will use the popularisation of Urban Exploration as an excuse to distance themselves, and entrench the ‘Us vs. Them’ mentality, which ties into the idea of Question One (you’re not cool or badass for taking photographs off of buildings or construction sites, anybody CAN do it, and I encourage them to explore their own world – mentally and physically).
What is your holy grail? What have you not explored that you would like to?
My Holy Grail is to win World Press Photo one day, and to produce a critically acclaimed documentary like ‘Restrepo’. I care about photojournalism, and recently I have been focusing on the conflict in Ukraine’s east. I have embedded with the Ukrainian military as a combat photojournalist, and while it’s something new to me, I hope to continue doing it and providing a real service to the world. There is a new development starting – Australia 108 – and I might have something in store for that one day…
“And finally, take only photos, leave only footprints” , what is your view on this long held motto of urban exploration?
It’s a tacky cliche often touted by people trying to convince themselves they’re ‘better’ versions of other people, as if their perception of the hobby is more pure and real than someone else’s.
You can watch Bryce and other urban explorers risk life and limb to get inside, above, and around some of the most forbidden places on Earth by heading over to Red Bull TV.
Interview by Damon Collum.