Touring Through An Abandoned Candy Factory
“The adrenaline rush of exploring these places adds to the entire experience.” ~ Rob V: Urbex Photographer
URBAN EXPLORATION – Definition: The exploration of man-made structures, usually abandoned ruins or not usually seen components of the man-made environment. Photography and historical interest/documentation are heavily featured in the hobby. (Also referred to as: Urbex or UE)
The Secret Location
With months of anticipation, and many weeks of preparation – we were finally on our way! It was now the beginning of March and I was driving to, and only minutes away from joining up with photographer extraordinaire: Rob Vantyghem. We were meeting on this day for an exclusive segment I was lucky enough to be producing for Trueblue Magazine about Urban (Decay) Exploration. We planned to enter an off-limits location and shoot video and photography. We set out to learn hands-on about the concept, and even about the man behind the lens using the interview. But the kicker? I still had no idea where we were going – other than it was an hour drive from where we would meet in Ontario, Canada.
I could surmise that the place we were headed was going to be a top-shelf choice by Rob. After all, he has considered himself a ‘serious photographer’ for at least 8 years. Rob’s passion and respect for Urban Exploration accounts for a large portion of that experience. But he has been shooting photography even since childhood, when he started with his Dad’s Pentax. On top of that, Rob and I have been friends since we were in our early teens. So I knew we were in good hands – but even still – I did not know almost any aspects of our destination. Other than it was industrial in nature, and ‘covered in 3 or 4 inches of solid ice usually this time of year’ – according to Rob.
And to say the anticipation between the 4 of us in the car had reached a feverish pitch would be an understatement. Not to mention preparing to bring my eldest son with us on the journey, as well as another friend and budding enthusiast, Diana can be trickier when you have no idea where you are going. Rob helped with that, by ensuring we were prepared with the required gear and physical aspects of the location. The lack of details made my mind race with possibilities, and now we were literally racing towards the destination piled into the car with our gear (and fear) at hand. I felt it was the perfect time to have the location revealed to me. The look on Rob’s face after I asked him was priceless, and told me it was all worth the wait.
With a grin, Rob replied: “Paul, we’re going to an abandoned candy factory, man!”
What An Experience
“See the hole in that big door?! When we park the car, walk directly into that hole! Oh and uh, try to look like you belong.”
Those were our host’s famous last words as we finally came upon the whole reason we had awoken so early and why we had planned for months. A candy factory of all places, and as the car rounded about to park as Rob had indicated, I was soaking in the visual of the exterior of the place we had come to conquer. What a gem! We methodically ensured our gear and tech was in proper place, and then trudged through more than 2 feet of fresh unfettered snow. I remember vividly the deafening speechless silence, with just the sound of my heartbeat being constantly crashed apart by the crunching feet into the deep and packed snow the whole way towards the building.
I switched between staring at the all-important ‘hole in that big door’, to absorbing the majestic art nouveau architecture that stretched out before us. A century-turned megalith of white and lime brick, covered in the most glass block treatment I have ever seen in my life. Towering smoke stacks and a monstrous warehouse that seemed to go on forever. This was just the beginning, as we used an improvised ‘buddy system’ to hoist each other into the hole (like we belonged). My son and I looked at each other at one point, silently saying: “Ok, here goes nothing!” And then *POOF*! We were on the other side of that hole in the big door, and inside the abandoned candy factory. We had also entered a whole new universe!
Rob had been to this place at least a handful of times, so he knew how to handle the daunting task of finding our way around and knowing how to access the best places to take pictures and film the footage you can enjoy in the video above. Therefore, we were quickly whisked up and away to our first destination in the factory: the GIANT ingredient vats and silos! We were very short-of-breath just from marching through the snow over the vast property to reach inside the building, and now Rob had us hiking up an uncountable number of metal steps and staircases until we reached the top of the giant vats – out of breath and dumbstruck. What a view! This was the location of the pictures with Diana wearing the trademarked gas mask that Rob said he enjoys to include in his work. He stated, “I also add my own twist to some of my work by portraying a sort of ‘after the fallout’ theme by creating a scene with the location and using props. It makes for interesting and unique work.”
We needed to rush to the silos because the lighting was perfect and would not stay that way for much longer. Another advantage of Rob’s experience was knowing this kind of thing, and it came up over and over again. Even knowing that it was critical for us to visit in the time of season that we were, because otherwise the 3-4 inches of ice that covered almost all the floors and walls and everything else would all be water and we wouldn’t have been able to even access the magic locations that we discovered. A point that probably keeps many explorers from appreciating everything this location has to offer.
But thanks to Rob and Trueblue Magazine – we were able to see it all – and now, so are you!
( Candy Factory Highlights )
- Perfectly Pyramidical Piles of Snow: Explorers are respectful, so they remain intact. Adding to the pristine, yet abandoned feel.
- The Maddening Machinery: Due to the proprietary manufacturing of candy, the machinery and tech was mind-boggling.
- The Engrained Ingredients: Not just falling out of the vat silos, giant piles of dextrose and corn starch still fill some rooms.
- The Crazy Box Room: Unfathomable number of old decaying boxes piled in a huge room lit by a mosaic of glass block and ice.
- Everything Entombed In Ice: From walls to floors, and ceilings to doors. We even skated ourselves around most of the time.
- The Bombed-Out Boardroom: Executive my ass! Well, not anymore. Wood-paneled penthouse in candy land, pulverized to bits.
- The Hidden Generator Space: Down below it all. In a room vast and yet hidden – almost impossible to find. Best photos though.
Trueblue Chats With Rob Vantyghem
TB: Thank you for all of the photos and original video footage. Why the attraction to abandoned places?
RV: The interest started when I was a kid, exploring abandoned farm houses that we found in my area. I remember one big old house in particular that was full of old items including a piano and many other belongings left behind by the people that use to live there. The adrenaline rush exploring this place is a memory I’ll never forget. The stories we all used to make up to scare one another was crazy! Maybe subconsciously I want to relive the first time I visited this abandoned place as a kid. Like an addict who wants to find the rush of his first dose again. It’s about finding the beauty in decay. Feeling a sense of peace while exploring. Seeing nature conquering what man has left behind to rot. A variety of places that most people will never see, from old hospitals, asylums, theatres and schools to powers plants and other industrial places. They often have a long and interesting history and each of them having their own story to tell. Capturing these places with their old decaying architecture, post-apocalyptic scenes, and seeing what is left behind is a big part of it for me.
TB: Breathtaking pictures! What do you shoot with?
RV: Right now I’m shooting with a Canon 5dm2 – and usually a wide angle lens.
TB: Your Urban Exploration experience. What does it mean to you?
RV: It has taken me to many different places across the U.S, Canada and Europe. Opened the door to traveling and doing many road trips. It also has given me an excellent opportunity to meet some amazing people, friendships that remain for a lifetime from the adventures we experienced together. For me it’s all about having a good time, exploring interesting locations, being creative with photography, and keeping each other safe. Oh and maybe an epic pizza or burger with a beer after is always a plus.
TB: Can you describe your best exploration?
RV: My favourite location is a certain abandoned state hospital on the east coast of the U.S. I guess because of its enormous size and maze like corridors that lead to all kinds of different rooms. Knowing the history and finding old photographs while exploring the place really spikes the interest. This place is well over 100 years old and use to have a purpose to try and so called ‘help people’ but these barbaric methods have long been stopped. Exploring a place like this that is so old with history, derelict, vast, and has beautiful architecture is truly amazing.
TB: What was your worst experience?
RV: I had several bad experiences, but it never stopped me from going on the next tour. From rusty nails to cuts and bruises, it comes with the territory. Probably the worst experience I can remember was hiding in a lower tunnel inside a large factory for several hours because we sought safety from a crazy caretaker. In the end we left, but just barely. These are risks we take every trip to live our passion.
TB: Are there other kinds of photography you are interested in?
RV: Yes there are different things I like to shoot outside of urban exploring, such as urban architecture, travel photography, night photography, time lapse, and studio. Photography has so many different sides to it that one can stay interested a very long time!
TB: Some photographers Rob likes to follow?
RV: Current favourites include: Andre Govia, Christophe Dessaigne, and Jeremy Gibbs. They’ve reached a level of storytelling through photography and their work continues to inspire me.
TB: Do you SELL your work?
RV: Yes. My photography is for sale – please inquire through my website: frozenlight.ca
TB: Where can we see MORE of your Urban Exploration work?
RV: You can visit my Flickr to browse more photography: MY FLICKR
TB: Any tips for a photographer who wants to try Urban Exploration?
RV: Research local places that interest you. Dress properly. Carry a flashlight. Don’t break or ruin anything. And of course – be safe!